I’ve said it many times before: Everyone needs a soundbar. That is, everyone needs a convenient and intuitive way to upgrade their TV’s terrible sound. This, of course, doesn’t apply to A/V enthusiasts with speakers lining the walls (and/or ceiling) and a decked-out receiver. But for everyone else, a soundbar is pretty much mandatory.
But what if you could have a soundbar without having a soundbar? That’s essentially what Klipsch’s new powered bookshelf speakers, The Fives, provide. No longer in prototype stage, and freshly ready for CES 2020, The Fives utilize HDMI ARC connection (alongside a flurry of other features) for all the convenience of a minimalist sound solution — including basic control from, your TV remote — along with the added luxury of big drivers and true stereo separation.
For music lovers who watch a lot of TV (i.e., me), it’s a have-your-cake-and-eat-it innovation. And I honestly can’t believe I haven’t seen it sooner.
And your turntable, too
The Fives may be a hybrid sound system with plenty of modern features to gloat about, but the design is all Klipsch. That means sexy wood cabinets (available in woodgrain or matte black), either fabric or metal speaker screens, and tactile controls on top in the form of dual silver dials for volume and source control.
Speaking of which, these speakers offer something you’ll never find in a soundbar: A phono input. That means you can connect any turntable directly, without the need for a separate phono preamp. That saves you a bit of green, and some extra wiring as well.
Other connection points include 3.5mm analog input, optical digital input, USB audio connection, subwoofer out to upgrade from 2.0 to 2.1 sound, and, of course, Bluetooth. The only thing missing in this equation is direct Wi-Fi, but the speakers do offer high-resolution audio support via the USB input at 192kHz/24bit. You can also source sound from your TV’s onboard apps via either digital input.
A remote you can (almost) toss
The Fives come with their own remote, of course, which is read via a small IR bead on the front-right speaker. But most of the time, you’ll only need your TV remote or (when streaming) your phone. You’ll still want to hang on to the remote for those times you don’t feel like getting up and spinning the dial to change inputs.
I asked Klipsch if there was an app for redundancy, as well as EQ control, and I was told it is “on the way,” though I’ve been around long enough to know that it’s something not worth holding my breath for. Still, I regularly use a pair of KEF LSX speakers, and the biggest pain point is having to use a separate remote for volume control, which HDMI ARC alleviates for any modern TV via CEC control.
In the short demo I was given from the show floor, Klipsch’s latest speakers sounded like, well, Klipsch speakers.
That’s to say, they offered smooth, but peppy midrange sound, bright clarity on top, and more bass than I expected. The bi-amped drivers include an (almost) 5-inch woofer, and the same 1-inch tweeter Klipsch uses in its Reference speaker line.
I didn’t get enough time with the speakers for a definitive verdict, especially from the chaotic showroom floor at CES, but what I heard I liked. And one thing’s for sure: They get loud as hell. Again, the bass was more than enough for some bump to your favorite tunes, and even some cinematic rumble, though true movie lovers will want to pop in a subwoofer to get the “deep space” frequencies.
After my brief time with The Fives, I walked away very impressed. And most importantly, the “duh” moment I’ve been waiting years for — HDMI ARC in a quality pair of name-brand bookshelves — is more than enough to get me excited to spend more time with these bad boys.
The Fives will run you $800, and should be available in the next few months.
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