Hands-On: Klipsch iFi (Pre-Production) | iLounge Article

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Hands-On: Klipsch iFi (Pre-Production)

Because of the high level of interest in Klipsch’s new iFi speaker system, we’re happy to present this expanded, feature-length preview of the hardware. However, the iFi units currently making their way into reviewers’ hands are not final production hardware, and as such we will not assign a grade or treat the unit as finished until we’ve had an opportunity to use the actual systems shipping to stores. As we note below, there is at least one noteworthy glitch Klipsch has attributed to the early status of the unit we’ve received, so we hope you’ll wait for our coverage of the final iFi production run model before making your ultimate buying decision.

Big News, Big Speakers

Every “first” for the iPod market is a cause for celebration around iLounge, and in that regard Klipsch’s release of the iFi ($399.99) is an exciting event indeed. Last year, speaker systems dedicated to the iPod hit the $200 and $300 price thresholds for the first time; if nothing else, the 2005 debut of iFi suggests that there is now enough of a market for premium iPod audio components to keep a major speaker manufacturer happy.

 

Klipsch definitely fits that bill. Its refrigerator-sized $15,000 speakers remain the envy of serious audiophiles, even though the company now offers entry-level $100 systems (see our ProMedia Ultra 2.0 coverage, here) that can be carried with two hands. When that inexpensive system was released late last year, Klipsch told iLounge that it was working on something that would prove a better value than Bose’s astonishingly popular $299 SoundDock. We were intrigued. And surprised when iFi was actually revealed.

 

 

Given its pricing, the iFi system wisely straddles the fence between an iPod-specific speaker system and a more general-purpose multimedia system. Unlike the SoundDock, it includes an audio line-in port that can be connected via cable to your computer or another stereo audio source. Like the SoundDock (and less expensive systems), it includes a iPod dock and a remote control, thereby adding value that a traditional multimedia speaker system does not. Both audio sources can be connected at once, so iPod music can be playing in the background while you’re using a computer - a nice feature for those whose iTunes libraries aren’t handy.

Remote Control

iFi’s metallic gray plastic remote control is oval in shape and features five rubber buttons, organized vertically. Plus and minus control the speakers’ volume, track up and down (rather than right and left) control the iPod’s current track, and play/pause turns both the system and iPod on and off. That’s one less button than Bose’s SoundDock remote control, which unnecessarily offers separate power controls for the speakers and iPod. Even if you’re using the iFi with both a computer and the iPod at once, pressing the play/pause button to pause the iPod achieves the same function as turning the iPod off by itself.

 

There are three interesting things about the remote control: first and most positive, it’s RF-based rather than Infrared, an improvement on Bose’s offering that Klipsch claims works from a distance of 100 feet (not including the impact of going through walls), and doesn’t require a line-of-sight view of the iFi’s dock. Our preliminary testing yielded solid results regardless of whether objects were in the remote’s way. Second and less positive, the remote’s orientation of track forward and backward buttons upwards and downwards is a little unusual - left and right would have made more sense. Third and least positive, our first remote didn’t work at all - an issue Klipsch attributed to the pre-final production status of the early unit. However, a second remote we received today worked perfectly, and we hope that the final production hardware doesn’t have remote-related issues of any sort.

Control Dock

The iFi’s dock - called the Control Dock - is also made from metallic gray plastic, and includes five sizers to fit varying sizes of iPods and iPod minis. Early 1G/2G iPods and iPod shuffles can’t be docked, but can connect via the audio port on the subwoofer’s rear. Shaped somewhat like a flattened egg, the Control Dock includes two buttons that flank a subtle dial: there’s a “subwoofer” button, a “mute/standby” button, and a panel of LED lights. Press the subwoofer button and the dial allows you to adjust the strength of the subwoofer’s rumble, as indicated by lights on the LED panel. A second press (or never hitting it in the first place) turns the dial into a volume knob, with levels similarly indicated on the panel. The mute/standby button quiets the system (but doesn’t pause iPod play) with one press, indicating mute mode with a flashing of the LED panel, and turns everything off when held down.

 

What’s missing from an audio standpoint is a treble control, a feature we’d noted to Klipsch some months ago that we loved in JBL’s systems, but aren’t surprised to see that they omitted. In a reference-grade system, accuracy is typically the aim rather than user-adjustable settings, but we (and many readers) enjoy the feature when it’s included.

Unfortunately, in a more significant design limitation paralleling the SoundDock, iFi’s dock doesn’t synchronize your iPod with your computer - a greater omission in the case of the iFi because of the ease with which its three detachable components would intergrate with a computer. Consequently, you dock your iPod in iFi for music and charging, but not for computer syncing - a limitation we wish had been engineered around.

The Speakers and Early Words on Audio Quality

The more significant distinction between SoundDock and iFi is the quality of the components used in iFi’s speakers. Rather than designing the system around a small bass speaker and satellites, the company opted to use relatively substantial components from the lower-end of its reference (read: low-distortion) series of products. iFi thus includes an eight-inch subwoofer that the company describes in serious tones as a “woofer” because of its bass resonance, and two RSX-3 satellites that are larger and more impressive than the parts in the highly-rated JBL Creatures (iLounge rating: A) and Encounters (iLounge rating: A-). Because of all the parts and their weight, the iFi box was so large and heavy that the FedEx guy needed help carrying it - a major difference with the all-but-portable SoundDock.

 

The satellites even include magnetically detachable plastic and fabric grille guards that can be used or left off as you prefer. The speakers look at least as good without them, but we’ve tended to keep ours on - they add a touch of class to the techie look of the unmasked RSX-3s.

 

 

Though we don’t want to draw complete conclusions on the iFi’s audio quality until we have a truly final review unit in hand, the pre-production iFis offer a sonic experience that outstrips Bose’s - and pretty much all other iPod-specific speaker systems - by a fair margin. You’d have to be deaf not to notice the bass power of the included subwoofer, which doesn’t need to be on full blast to create sub-sonic vibrations, and creates rich sound regardless of whether it’s filling a room or playing quietly. And because of the unit’s three-piece design and included cabling, you have the freedom to create as much stereo separation between the satellites as you desire - something missing from the SoundDock. Connection of the cables is effortlessly easy because of good quality cabling and speaker terminal design, while the firing angle of each speaker can also be adjusted via a screw on its base.

 

We’ll have more to say on the system’s audio quality and comparative performance in our review of the final product, but for now, it suffices to say that Klipsch’s premium pricing is attributable to iFi’s sound and the remote-controlled iPod dock. As similar and/or smaller systems could be assembled at lower prices, our review will look carefully at the iFi’s value and performance compared with other available options.

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Comments

1

Envious of Klipsch?  You know, three decades ago their corner Klipschorns were kinda cool, but that was then, regardless of any inferences of quality because of today’s pricing.  Besides, $15k/per is unfortunately NO BIG DEAL these days for a top end speaker.

The biggest concern I’d have about Klipsch multimedia/amped gear is not with the sonic performance of their speakers per se, but with their amplification designs and built quality of electronics.  The ProMedia units I’ve tried (GMX and Ultra) for use on our own home PCs have been major letdowns in their built quality and/or durability.  One gets a warm, pleasant sonic reproduction out of these units, but who can stand the pops and clicks from the amp circuitry, or the complete crash and burn with one GMX set we tried and were forced to return.

After this design hits stores shelves, not until I read some positive long-term reviews about this system will I even consider another Klipsch amped product.  For now, I certainly will steer well clear.

Posted by flatline response on May 25, 2005 at 9:57 PM (CDT)

2

Thanks a ton for adding this preview.  I have been buzzing the forums and the ‘net looking for some information on the release date and first looks at the system.

I have been holding off and holding off on getting a new system - and have been waiting for the iFi very expectantly.  I will hold off until a full review comes forth - but thanks for at least giving me a glance!

Posted by Hot Karl on May 26, 2005 at 12:17 AM (CDT)

3

I have an old (mid-90s) set of AR powered multimedia speakers with a woofer that cost about $300 at the time. Assuming that Klipsch irons out the design problems in this syste (for instance, I don’t understand why they couldn’t add an Apple docking port socket to allow iTunes synchronization) it will probably provide superior sound quality to my old ARs, at a reasonable price for the features.

However, my ARs still sound so good that it would be hard to justify replacing them with the Klipsch speakers until the internal amp dies.

Posted by FloydC on May 26, 2005 at 3:12 PM (CDT)

4

lms007: It’s may or may not be noteworthy that Klipsch outsources their amplifiers for the ProMedia line, which was something that I didn’t know previously.  But that doesn’t change the fact that the name ‘Klipsch’ is still on the box.  The end user generally doesn’t care who Klipsch uses as a subcontractor, only that the pieces work, and work well.

As for the subwoofers in their ProMedia line: the GMX 2.1 set we retired from PC use but still have set up for hooking up an iPod (via line out through the dock) or Zen took a LONG time to finally burn out (perhaps?) its idiosyncracies. Within two months of use and ownership, the sub amp developed intermittent pops, which were always very annoying and occasionally VERY loud.  Even after putting the thing on a HTS5000 Monster Cable power stabilizer I ‘borrowed’ from one of our hi-fi setups, the GMX sub still continued to emit the intermittent pops that plagued it before.

By now it was long past the 14-day return period, and no way was I going to pay for the s/h to send it back to Klipsch for repair/replacement; it just wasn’t worth it.  We ended up moving it on our backup PC until cries from the family over the pops forced me to yank it altogether and use it as a stand-alone for MP3 players in the workshop (drill presses and table saws do a great job in drowning out audio pops in faulty audio equipment).

The odd thing about this GMX 2.1 set was that with constant use the amp actually IMPROVED in minimizing the frequency of pops until now it rarely make those abhorrent sounds.  Who knows; maybe it’s the sawdust.  But in the meantime the satellites now have developed a low level hum which fortunately is seldom noticeable at moderate to loud volume, but quite annoying during quiet passages, such as those in classical or jazz recordings. Well at least all I have to do is switch on the plunge router and…“Hum? What hum?”

After all the trials with Klipsch’s multimedia products, all I can say is that I’m glad I never eBay’d my old but trusty set of Monsoon MM1000s.  Long live planar magnetic, even if Sonogistix itself isn’t around to build ‘em anymore.

Posted by flatline response on May 27, 2005 at 3:56 AM (CDT)

5

A note on docking capabilities:
These speakers aren’t meant to be computer speakers. Just look at them.

The iFi is a home stereo system with iPod integration. If you have your computer in your living room, or just have a small apartment, docking might be useful.
Otherwise docking really isn’t that useful.

Posted by iBode on May 29, 2005 at 4:55 PM (CDT)

6

$400 for something that only adds speakers to an iPod?

No CD.

No radio.

Just some speakers and an amp.

<Dr Evil>Riiiight</Dr Evil>

Or you could buy a small hifi with a line in for the same money and get a radio, CD etc etc as well.

We have a Denon DM30 (I think it is) in the bedroom and it’s excellent and I just connect the iPod to that.

A MUCH better way to spend several hundred $/£ I reckon….

Posted by PugRallye on May 31, 2005 at 7:38 AM (CDT)

7

Mine’s louder.

<_<
>_>

Yeah. I may look into it. It really depends on the price. Or if it’s close to X-mas.

Posted by KillerChainsawBunny in Alabama on May 31, 2005 at 7:37 PM (CDT)

8

PugRallye , there are a lot more expensive speakers than just 400 bucks. heck, there are speakers that are over 10 grand without power. Its all relative. This is a 400 dollar speaker system, if you want a radio and a cd player a cup holder or a hair blower it would be more money. Klipsch is not trying to trick anyone here, its just a really good set of speakers. And in terms of how much real speakers cost these are actually pretty cheap.

Posted by Fa04u12 on June 2, 2005 at 5:05 AM (CDT)

9

“Real speakers” don’t use a sub woofer and two little satellites.

These are not “hifi”.

These are a marketing exercise to people who want to spend a lot of money on some speakers for their beloved iPod.

I would wager that something like a Denon DM30 or whatever it is we have would sound better than these.

Small speakers simply don’t have the ability to move lots of air.

I bought a similar thing for the PC recently from a company called Tradex in the UK - two funky, clear satellites and a clear, egg like sub and an amp - only they were £15 - less than $30!!

Sure, if all you want is some speakers that can only be used with an iPod and have $400 burning a hole in your pocket then get them.

But it’s a(nother iPod based) waste of money….

Posted by PugRallye on June 3, 2005 at 5:04 AM (CDT)

10

I was about to buy a Bose SoundDock Digital Music System for my iPod when I heard comments about the Klipsch iFi…has anyone performed a real-comparison-test to see what the differences are??

Posted by new@ipod on June 10, 2005 at 5:33 PM (CDT)

11

“the iFi offers a sonic experience that outstrips Bose’s - and pretty much all other iPod-specific speaker systems - by a fair margin”

They are two different systems for different purposes. The bose is small and portable, the Klipsch is a stationary sound system. Klipsch is far (very far) better for sound quality, but you sacrifice size and portability.

Posted by Fa04u12 on July 14, 2005 at 7:08 AM (CDT)

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