If you live in a small apartment, it can be difficult choosing a speaker setup that fits your needs - whatever you choose needs to be compact, have a bunch of inputs, offer powerful, precise sound and work wirelessly.
While those conditions often make soundbars a good choice for most people, they rarely match the sound stage and imaging of a good set of stereo speakers.
Enter the Klipsch R-51PM. For those who want better sound or simply love the aesthetic of having bookshelf speakers, it's a great choice.
To wit, these compact speakers punch way above their weight in terms of sound and features and will only set you back around $500 (£399, around AU$700).
The Klipsch R-51PM feature the company’s renown horn tweeters and cooper-colored woofers. Out of the box, this beauty is hidden behind the magnetic cloth covers but they’re easy to remove and replace. Plus, the speaker’s sound isn’t affected whether you have the cloth covers on or off.
Like many powered bookshelf speakers today, the R-51PM features a right speaker that works as the master and a left speaker that’s simply connected by speaker wire. This means all of your inputs and controls are located behind the right speaker.
In terms of inputs, the Klipsch R-51PM features USB for hooking up a computer, which supports up to 24-bit/96kHz formats. Other inputs include Optical for your TV, a 3.5mm aux, phono or line input for turntable, and a sub out if you wish to add a subwoofer.
The speakers are powered by a single power cable and feature a Class-D amp, which means the speakers are extremely efficient. It doesn’t take much power for these speakers to get loud. There’s also a single volume knob/button, which allows you to cycle through sources on the speaker if you can’t find your remote.
Speaking of the remote, the included remote is excellent with a logical layout and buttons for individual sources, instead of requiring you to cycle through them. There’s also a small LED on the right speaker that shows you which input is currently selected, which is handy and can be disabled when watching movies to get rid of its distracting glow.
Klipsch is known for excellent sound quality and that’s apparent with the R-51PM - the speakers offer a rich and dynamic sound that leans slightly on the warmer side of the spectrum. This means rock and pop music sound amazing and fun, without being too analytical. Although Klipsch calls this a “Reference” speaker, we found it more of a fun, musical experience than more reference audiophile speakers like the KEF LS50 and LS50 Wireless.
More surprising, however, is just how much bass these small speakers provided. Thanks to the “Dynamic Bass EQ,” the speakers provides deep and powerful bass response no matter the volume. This solves one of the biggest problems with bass response from bookshelf speakers. With the Dynamic Bass EQ disabled, music sounded flat at lower volumes and we missed the richness that the EQ provided.
If you intend to keep these speakers at a high volume for a long period of time, though, you may want to disable the EQ to tame the bass. Thankfully switching the EQ is as easy as holding a button on the remote for three seconds.
The R-51PM provide an excellent sense of space with a wide soundstage and relatively good imaging. This means you’ll be able to hear precisely where each instrument is coming from. However, we wished the speakers had more depth, as instruments are presented all on the same plane. They’re also very forward-sounding, which is exciting and makes you feel like you’re in the front row of the concert but some listeners may prefer a more laid-back sound.
Unfortunately, audio purists will be less than pleased to find out that the R-51PM doesn’t support any hi-res audio codecs like aptX, aptX HD, or LDAC.
While they're versatile enough to work anywhere, they sound particularly good as a pair of TV speakers. The only problem with that setup, however, is that the speakers turn on automatically with your TV, but unfortunately doesn’t turn off automatically when you turn the TV off. The good news is that they do time out after 15 minutes and turn themselves off, if you're patient.
Last but not least, the internal phono stage sounds average. (Thankfully, you’re not forced to use it.) There’s a switch that allows you to switch from phono to line-in. It’s nice that it’s included and great for those just getting into the turntable hobby - as you level-up your audio system, the Klipsch R-51PM will grow with you too.
After spending several weeks with the Klipsch R-51PM, we came away impressed with the package Klipsch put together. Compared to the soundbars in the same price range, we prefer the R-51PM by far, allowing more flexible inputs and versatility. They also sound excellent, getting extremely loud without ever distorting.
If you’ve been eyeing the KEF LS50 Wireless but can’t bring yourself to drop $2,200 (£2,000, about AU$2,840) on a pair of speakers, you’ll get about 70% of the performance and features with the Klipsch R-51PM.
Sure, they don’t feature network connectivity, Spotify Connect, and aren’t the last word in resolution and imaging - but, for the price, it’s hard to do better. That said, if you can stretch your budget to $1,000 (£1000 / AU$1895), the KEF LSX are an excellent choice for those who prefer a balanced sound.
Expect to see the Klipsch R-51PM on our list of the best stereo speakers