Review: Klipsch RoomGroove Wireless iPod Speaker
Pros: A sharp-looking all-in-one iPod speaker system with a mechanized front dock and the ability to send and receive audio wirelessly using Klipsch’s proprietary 2.4GHz KlipschCast standard. Includes Infrared remote control and unique hideaway power supply. Impressive wireless performance, with greater than 100-foot broadcasting/receiving distance, low noise, and no obvious interference.
Cons: Doesn’t deliver a wireless audio experience right out of the box; requires purchase of second KlipschCast-ready audio device, such as a second RoomGroove, in order to take advantage of wireless feature. Each RoomGroove unit depends on power outlet and is unable to run off of batteries; so system is almost exclusively for use indoors. Sound quality is, as with all wireless systems, not equivalent to what can be had for same price or less without wireless feature.
“Wireless.” In the world of iPod audio equipment, the word has two meanings: one is ideal, the other practical. The ideal wireless device doesn’t use wires to connect to anything, except a power recharger. It can be taken and used anywhere, at any time, except perhaps in the cabin of a moving plane. Practically, however, most wireless iPod audio devices require one or two wires. They are tethered to something, such as a wall power outlet or a sophisticated audio system. You buy them not because you can use them anywhere, but because they break the traditionally wired link between your iPod and whatever is playing its audio. For that convenience, companies typically charge around $100 over the price of a comparable wired device, sometimes a little less, but most often more.
Today, we are separately reviewing three new wireless speaker systems for the iPod, each of which takes a slightly different and interesting approach to the concept of “practical wireless audio.” The least expensive system is from Brookstone, and called the Wireless Music System for iPod ($199); it includes two globe-shaped white and silver speakers, a wireless iPod transmitting base, an Infrared remote control, and three wired power adapters. Next is Evolve ($300) from Griffin, which includes two cube-shaped black and gray speakers, a wireless iPod transmitting base, an RF remote control, and one wired power adapter. Finally, there’s Klipsch’s RoomGroove ($300), an all-in-one unit with built-in speakers and an iPod dock, as well as one Infrared remote control. Klipsch requires the purchase of at least two RoomGroove units to take advantage of its wireless functionality, each with its own wired power adapter.
In quick summary, each of these three systems has something new to offer iPod owners with an interest in wireless audio, but Griffin’s Evolve is the smartest of the three, and the best overall value for the dollar. Budget-conscious users willing to compromise will find plenty to like in the derivative Brookstone option, while more audio quality-conscious users with considerably higher budgets should consider Klipsch’s, but Evolve comes closest to striking the right balance between looks, features, and pricing. Read on for details on Klipsch’s RoomGroove; our reviews of Griffin’s and Brookstone’s alternatives are linked separately.
Of all of the wireless speakers we have reviewed, the RoomGroove is most interesting because of what it is not: Klipsch has designed a wireless audio system that doesn’t in any way look like a wireless audio system, and needn’t even be used as one. In fact, the handsome if decidedly masculine all-in-one black and silver enclosure looks a lot like a more deluxe, larger version of the company’s earlier iGroove SXT: both systems use fabric speaker grilles and silver metal bases at a time when most companies have gone with more plastic-heavy designs. Those touches aside, they clearly drew inspiration from Bose’s popular SoundDock, using a similar convex front speaker grille, a front-mounted iPod dock, and a plastic rear cabinet with a chamber for the system’s speaker drivers. By wireless standards, it’s notable that there aren’t any antennas here, battery packs, or fancy wireless doohickies: you just get the speaker, a power supply and cable, an Infrared remote control, and iPod-specific Universal Dock Adapters. That’s it.
Klipsch’s treatment of these parts is sort of interesting. For some reason, it went through the trouble to mechanize the front iPod dock, so that it pops out to dock your iPod and slides back in when you want it out of view. You need to press on the front of the dock to make it pop out, which it will only do when the power is turned on. The power supply is big, but has rubber straps to manage the cord, and unusually clips onto RoomGroove’s back to reduce cable clutter. We haven’t seen anything quite like this on an iPod speaker before, and it’s a nice idea if your chosen wall outlet and speaker location accommodate it. And though it still uses line-of-sight-limited Infrared technology, which isn’t useful if you want to control the iPod or speakers from a room away, the remote is a little more complex than iGroove SXT’s, with the ability to control iPod tracks, play/pause status, and volume, as well as buttons to change wireless and wired audio input sources.
Size aside, what’s different between the systems is what’s inside. Both combine 2.5” full-range drivers with twin tweeters, but the tweeters are .75” in iGroove SXT and 1” in RoomGroove; SXT is actually specced to reach both a little higher and a little lower (60Hz to 20KHz) in frequency than RoomGroove (65Hz to 17KHz), while the heavier, larger RoomGroove can go a little louder (98dB versus 90). Put another way, RoomGroove is in the same league as a very good $150 iPod speaker dock on sound quality. Of course, the bigger difference—and the one that’s supposed to justify the price difference—is in the wireless hardware that’s only in RoomGroove: a proprietary 2.4GHz transceiver system called “KlipschCast,” which is capable of sending RoomGroove’s music out to other KlipschCast devices within a 150-foot radius, and receiving broadcasts from other KlipschCast devices in the same radius.
Under one usage scenario, you buy RoomGroove, plug it in, and use it without any other Klipsch wireless devices in your home. For the $300 asking price—wisely reduced early on by Klipsch from $350—you’d have a standalone system that’s a little under the audio performance of Bose’s popular but not spectacular-sounding SoundDock. We placed both systems next to each other, along with the other wireless systems we’re reviewing today, and there was no doubt that RoomGroove sounded the closest in sound quality to the SoundDock: Klipsch’s larger design had the edge in bass response, but also missed its marks in midrange and high-frequency presence detail. RoomGroove sounded smooth and pleasant, and had a bit more low-end, but the SoundDock—a system not known for its detail or treble—surprisingly sounded a little more dynamic and clearer at comparable volume levels. By comparison, Griffin’s Evolve and Brookstone’s Wireless Music System each fell below Klipsch’s clarity and range on audio performance, which wasn’t surprising given that their drivers, enclosure designs, battery performance, and other features are so different from Klipsch’s.
The other, Klipsch-suggested usage scenarios are these: you buy two RoomGrooves and use them together. Or, you buy one RoomGroove and other KlipschCast wireless audio devices, and use them together: for instance, Klipsch has a $1,300 KlipschCast DVD entertainment system planned for Spring 2008. Audio from your iPod in one room can go into the iPod-less RoomGroove in another room, or a KlipschCast DVD player can wirelessly send audio to the RoomGroove in the room next door. The KlipschCast wireless technology is proprietary rather than open to use with other companies’ wireless devices, and our testing was limited to two RoomGrooves, but in principle, audio from any KlipschCast wireless device should work and sound the same as what we heard.
One obvious down side to the Klipsch wireless approach is its price. Unlike the Griffin and Brookstone speakers we reviewed today, $300 spent here does not buy you an actual wireless system: rather, you’ll need to shell out $600 before you can hear music streaming wirelessly through RoomGroove, and quite possibly a lot more if you want to hear DVD or other types of wireless audio through it. Additionally, unlike the Griffin and Brookstone speaker, you’re always going to be tethered to a wall outlet: RoomGroove doesn’t run off of battery power, and depends upon that nice wall adapter mentioned before. For all of its convenience and simplicity, you can’t pick the system up and take it outside, unless of course you have a safe outlet someplace out there.
RoomGroove’s benefit is its sound quality. Over several weeks of testing, we played lossless and compressed iPod music from one RoomGroove to the other, and found two things: first, the sound quality was basically indistinguishable between the two units, whether the iPod was docked inside or wirelessly synced, and second, Klipsch’s audio works from distances that were at least equivalent, if not superior to the other solutions we’ve tested. Audio from the RoomGroove didn’t experience hiccups at the 100-foot mark where Griffin’s and Brookstone’s did, and the sound was the same from over 100 feet away as it was 1 foot away from the source. Notably, we achieved these results even in an environment with an existing wireless network in place, and multiple neighboring networks competing with it in the air; Klipsch says that its technology automatically adapts to and avoids existing wireless hardware in the same spectrum, and it works well. On a semi-related note, the company has kept amplifier noise down to a barely audible level, too. The only limitation we could hear on Klipsch’s claimed “CD-quality audio” wireless performance was that which was imposed by the RoomGroove’s simple speaker array itself; our last lingering question was how the system’s chips would perform with higher-end drivers.
We did experience one wireless-related hiccup early in our testing: initial setup and synchronization. At first, RoomGroove’s wireless buttons—though clearly marked and nicely placed on the unit’s top front face—didn’t appear to be properly pairing two systems we had set up without initially synchronizing them in the same room. Try as we might, we couldn’t get system 2 to play back system 1’s iPod music from afar, and system 2 kept flashing its red “Listen” light as if it couldn’t hear anything in the house. So we brought them into the same room, checked to be sure that they were set on the same channel—they were—and used the Listen button again. Lo and behold, the wireless connection worked, and we never experienced any synchronization issues after that. While we were working on getting the RoomGrooves to talk, we wished there was a way to make the synchronization process even more straightforward, but if you start the sync process in one room, and follow Klipsch’s instructions, you shouldn’t experience much of a problem.
All things considered, RoomGroove is different enough in concept from the other wireless speakers we’ve tested that we wouldn’t call them directly comparable: because you can’t do anything wireless with it right out of the box, RoomGroove is more of an iPod speaker dock with a wireless option than a wireless audio system, and its present appeal depends on one’s interest in either buying additional $300 speaker docks or waiting on future Klipsch product rollouts. Without question, RoomGroove delivers good sound in a sharp if familiar package, and makes wireless listening fairly easy if you’re willing to shell out for additional hardware. However, unless you are so motivated by an interest in multi-room simultaneous iPod audio transmission that you’d be willing to pay $300 per room for the privilege, we’d be inclined to recommend the purchase of one or more similar-sounding iGroove SXTs instead; similarly, the less expensive options we’ve reviewed today will give you an immediate wireless audio experience at a lower price, with commensurately lower fidelity.