Review: Klipsch RF-7 III Floorstanding Speakers

An audio enthusiast’s choice of speakers is a deeply personal decision. Often it’s a reflection the owner’s preferences when it comes to listening, with a focus on power, or detail, or bass extension, or imaging, or low distortion… the list goes on. Typically, getting all of these qualities at once is an expensive proposition. But with its RF-7 III towers ($1799 on Amazon), Klipsch offers endgame performance for what amounts to the sales tax an audiophile would pay on a few feet of “audiophile” speaker cable that you might find at a high-end audio show.

Klipsch hand-crafts the RF-7 III in Hope, Arkansas, the result being a spectacular speaker. These are precisely what you would call “real deal” Klipsch and a range-topping modern manifestation of the company’s signature “no bullshit” approach to great sound.

Here’s a brief video that summarizes the RF-7 III experience:

Features and Specifications

RF-7 III speakers are large 2-way towers, each with dual 10″ woofers and a Tractrix-horn 1.75″ titanium compression-driver tweeter that offers 90 x 90-degree dispersion. This is a winning combo performance-wise, with well-matched dispersion characteristics between the drivers, very high sensitivity, killer bass extension, and “looks to kill” these are the flagship Klipsch towers to get, if you want it all.

These towers have a rated frequency response of 32-25,000 Hz (+/-3 dB), 100 dB sensitivity, and 250 watts RMS power handling. In other words, you’re looking at speakers that can take care of business—all on their own with no sub required—for many recordings in many music genres. And as you’ll read below, real-world performance in the bass department was even better than the specs would indicate—as usual, YMMV.

Notably, these are assembled in Hope, Arkansas to a high standard of fit-and-finish. The result is a gorgeous speaker available that’s in three real-wood veneer finishes: Black ash, walnut, or natural cherry. The speakers featured in this review have the natural cherry finish.

RF-7 III cabinets feature a multi-chamber design where each woofer operates in a discrete enclosure—a “dual-chamber” configuration where each 10-inch woofer gets its own Tractrix port. The advantage of using dual chambers as it prevents soundwave interactions between the two woofers that could otherwise cause output nonlinearities.

The woofers feature rigid cast-aluminum frames and dual shorting rings, to keep distortion to a minimum. As for the tweeter, not only is it a newly-designed, proper, 1.75″ compression-driver but it’s paired with Klipsch’s compressed molded rubber Tractrix horn that has served the company well on its Reference Premiere line and is now available on the RF-7 III.

These full-size tower speakers measure 49″ (H) x 13.875″ (W) x 18.875″ (D) and weight 97 pounds each! These speakers ship with magnetically attachable grills that I never even bothered taking out of the packaging; I can’t imagine who would want to hide these gorgeous speakers behind cloth.

Setup

I pulled off the unboxing of these RF-7 IIIs solo, but make no mistake these are enormous speakers that take some effort to move around. I used these Klipsch with two different receiver-based sound systems, one a “pure 2-channel rig anchored by the Yamaha R-N803 stereo receiver featuring YPOA room correction (reviewed here) and the other a 2.1 system running on a NAD T777 AV receiver and with dual GoldenEar ForceField 5 subwoofers handling bass. This latter system features Dirac Live room correction.

The speakers stayed in the same place in both systems, all I did was swap speaker cables. Both YPAO and Dirac Live saw the same room interactions under the Schroeder frequency that’s around 320 Hz in my room. For what it’s worth, both room correction solutions were better than using none and both dialed down the bass to compensate for room gain. However Dirac Live was the better of the two, regardless of whether I ran the T777 in 2.0 or 2.1 mode. You need a larger room that my living room for these speakers to play flat, But the good news is that having to dial down the bass to get flat response is actually making things easier for your amp.

In terms of positioning, I didn’t break any new ground versus what audiophiles have been doing for decades. The speakers are located 8 feet apart, measured tweeter to tweeter, and adding my head to the equation forms a triangle with each speaker being about 10 feet away from my ears. The pair is slightly toed-in but not fully. The front of each speaker is about 3 feet out from the back wall, and there’s a gorgeous 75″ Samsung Q8FN QLED resting between the pair. I used Roon along with a Tidal HiFi account to stream lossless CD-quality and hi-res music directly to the T777 wirelessly via Bluesound, and to the Yamaha with a digital-optical connection attached to a PC running Roon.

When I ran the pair with subwoofers, which to be honest was most of the time, I used an 80 Hz crossover.

Performance

To this day, many music lovers associate horns with a harsher sound than domes, but that’s a false impression based on experiences with cheap PA systems and designs that predate the era of computer modeling. Today, a well-designed horn plus compression driver tweeter can sound smooth as silk, which is the case here with the RF-7 III towers. Highs are crystal clear and possess exquisite detail but have no harshness to them whatsoever.

To say there’s zero listening fatigue is almost an understatement! It’s more like listening to these energizes you and makes you want to hear more. I listened to these speakers all day long, for days and days in a row as I worked, and never wanted to take a break from their superb sound. On the contrary, the main impulse I often felt was to turn up the volume to live music levels and just soak in the super sound.

When I configured the system using the NAD T777 and Dirac Live, I was heartened to see the RF-7 III towers naturally measure very close to the default “optimal” house curve Dirac uses. This is a quality shared by other top-performing speakers I have heard and measured in my room and is an indication of proper, thoughtful design. The main issue I encountered was that room gain boosted bass a lot, but room correction took care of that.

To my ears, these are the best-sounding Klipsch towers yet since distortion and dynamic compression are nowhere to be found. Because I live in a city and do not own a nightclub, I am not able to use these speakers to their full capacity. The hardware limits are somewhere above any level of output that I find justifiable. Now, I will grant that I have heard systems that punch above this weight class, but none are packaged to deliver their wallop with a design that passes for a “normal” tower speaker. In other words, this is the most attractive speaker that I’ve seen plus heard that combines the qualities of a high-end PA rig with the refinement and aesthetics of a consumer product.

When it comes to music, these speakers are particularly forgiving and will render even a mediocre mix in an engaging way. This lets you explore all those rock classics the way they were meant to be enjoyed, maybe with a beer or a bit of herbal refreshment and definitely with the volume turned way up. From Pink Floyd to P.I.L. to Led Zeppelin to The Beatles, I had a blast blasting the RF-7 IIIs.

In terms of catalog, I spend most of my days listening to rap, reggae dub, and various flavors of electronica including ambient, minimal, dubstep, drum & bass, and industrial. I had the pleasure of experiencing numerous new releases for the first time with the RF-7 IIIs. The Orb’s No Sounds Out of Bounds is as rich and complex and groovy as anything the group has put out in two decades. A$AP Rocky’s latest album, Testing, pushes production boundaries for a rap release; it’s full of fat beats and spacy synthesis with dubsteppy textures all over. A real pleasure to hear the rapped (and sung) vocals so clearly while the tracks explode in trippy collages of sound.

Any doubts as to the versatility of the RF-7 III speakers melts away in consideration of how they handle a great classical recording. Since I’m from Philly I opted for a bit of Eugene Ormandy’s conducting magic and queued up the ole standby, Symphony No. 9. No subs, duh. Gorgeous, OK? Like… ahhh, I forgot how powerful an experience this is when done right. Congrats to the tweeters because there’s nothing worse than a crescendo that gets ruined by a sibilant tweeter. These Klipsch… pure silky sound. No joke, these speakers do classical better than almost anything I have heard and there is ZERO notion that you are listening to a horn.

Skinny Puppy’s Last Rights is at once harsh and beautiful. Some of the sounds the goth/industrial outfit conjures are unbelievably visceral and brutish assaults on any speaker system but these Klipsch raise the bar right up to apocalyptic. I revisited my youth when neighbors would threaten to kill me and blasted the closing track “Download” as loud as I was willing and could not help but notice that the system was still just cruising along like nothing was happening. I can’t count how many speakers and amps I have brought to their knees blasting “Download” so that’s a real feather in Klipsch’s cap.

I could go on forever about how great music sounds through these Klipsch. Instead, I’ll just note that they are obviously just as awesome for movies and video games, given that they have the complete package of wide response, powerful dynamics and surgical precision.

Conclusion

If you want it all—great looks and performance and craftsmanship—in speakers built in the USA (yes, using some foreign parts)—then the Klipsch RF-7 III speakers are absolutely one of the best deals out there. Then again, they are among the best speakers out there, period. There’s a reason Paul Klipsch has the word “bullshit” on his tie, and printed on buttons he wore and flashed: There are no magic speakers. There’s only physics and science, and at the end of the day the RF-7 III delivers incredible sound at any volume level because it possesses spare capacity when it comes to dynamic range that is not present in lesser speakers.

$3600 for a pair of speakers is no trivial sum. But, Klipsch has a track record that is the envy of other speaker-makers—its older models are considered classics and many of the company’s designs live on in the company’s Heritage series, which is also handcrafted in Arkansas. The point being these RF7-III towers are not going to be “obsolete” anytime soon. In fact, they will never be obsolete because they are so good, they are an “endgame” lifetime purchase. When viewed that way, not only are these Klipsch an obvious “Top Choice!” for 2018, they are one of the great bargains in the world of audio.

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