Klipsch The Fives Mclaren Edition Powered Speakers Review
The Fives McLaren Edition
AUD $2,499 RRP
Not so long ago, Klipsch launched The Fives, a compact pair of powered speakers that had a range of inputs, from phono and RCA line-in to optical digital, HDMI and wireless aptX Bluetooth. I was impressed, not least because – although far smaller – this little speaker set seemed to capture the authentic feel of listening to a full-size pair of Klipsch hi-fi designs. The Fives were feisty and fun and had plenty of pace and punch – even if they did lack subtlety.
Now, meet the McLaren Edition. It's considerably more expensive but is more than just the stock speaker with a go-faster stripe. Klipsch says this product is inspired by McLaren Racing's renowned design ethos and use of advanced materials, and it's fair to say that the standard model now looks pretty plain by comparison. Although perhaps not to everyone's taste, the jazzing-up of this dynamic duo is actually rather in keeping with The Fives' reason for being. Just like the sound, the looks of this new version draw attention; it's not backward in coming forward, you might say.
You get the same connectivity and functionality, but there have been some tweaks under the hood – specifically the use of carbon fibre in the cones of the mid/bass units. This material is famously stiff and light and highly suited to loudspeaker cone applications. Also, the Klipsch Connect app is now fully up and running – and one of the better such bits of software bundled with speakers in this class and category. It lets the listener customise the sound via the 3-band equaliser (bass, mid and treble), specify the speaker placement (which subtly affects the bass level), and set the subwoofer level and access the dynamic bass feature.
These new feature additions give an already pretty well voiced speaker system just that little more flexibility. I actually preferred to leave the settings flat – but that's only because I had them on proper 24” high hi-fi speaker stands, positioned 30cm from my listening room's boundary wall, slightly toed in. If you're using The Fives in less than ideal listening room conditions – and that will be many potential purchasers – then this new tweakability will be handy to have. The app also lets you download firmware updates and get one-tap access to support. Not that you'll need it, however, because – unlike some of its rivals – this speaker system is a cinch to set up and use.
Truth be told, the McLaren Edition changes are mostly cosmetic, but that's not to say they're not worthwhile. Thanks to the hand-painted matte black paint job with accents of McLaren's signature papaya orange colour, you certainly get a greater sense of occasion unboxing this swanky special edition. The tweeters and control panel get most of this, but I couldn't help but like the matching nylon braided power cables and umbilical cord. Best of all for me is the so-called 'stability pad', a rubber mat under the bottom of each speaker with the F1 intermediate tyre tread pattern ingrained. Funnily enough, it's actually functional and gave the speakers a very secure footing wherever I tried them. The result is that the McLaren Edition really 'pops' from an aesthetic point of view; it's as if this already capable speaker has come of age and gone out and bought itself a party suit.
In other respects, it's the same as the stock version of The Fives. That means a built-in 24-bit/192kHz DAC, the same 305x165x235mm MDF cabinets and weights for the primary and secondary speakers of 5.35kg and 4.85kg, respectively. The tweeter is Klipsch's 25mm titanium TLS vented tweeter, with the company's proprietary Tractrix horn, and a 110mm long-throw fibre composite coned mid/bass unit, loaded by a Tractrix port. Powering these are Class D power modules delivering a claimed 160W RMS; the design is bi-amped, with passive crossovers.
Unlike many of its similarly priced rivals – such as the Q Acoustics Q Active 200 and KEF LS50 II – this speaker system doesn't do network streaming; the only wireless you get is Bluetooth. Also, a physical connection is needed between each speaker, courtesy of a sturdy umbilical that takes the audio signal to the secondary speaker. In the McLaren Edition, needless to say, this cable is jazzed up in racing livery to match the power lead. I suspect some buyers will reject it for being semi-wired, whereas others will be attracted to it for this precise reason – wired is always better than wireless in terms of sound.
It's an exciting package, then – particularly if you're a fan of the Klipsch brand and its iconic products over the years. McLaren Racing fans will like it, too, because it's a little bit of exotica at a relatively affordable price – probably equivalent to the cost of one wheel nut on the legendary team's Formula 1 racing cars! Everything is well presented, and the speaker feels pretty classy to use, especially if you've come from cheap home audio. A decent wireless remote control is supplied, making the ownership experience nicer still.
Racy by name, and racy by nature. The McLaren Edition The Fives is one of the most charismatic powered speaker packages around, anywhere near this price. Fans of Klipsch will be well aware that the company's grown-up speakers are highly distinctive and famous for super-fast attack transients, thanks to their light drive units and horn loading. This makes for a grippy, involving, seat-of-the-pants sound that can be quite thrilling to listen to with the right music. This small speaker package gives you a taste of this experience, just like a McLaren road car must give a sense of what's possible from one of its racers.
No one would claim that this latest version of The Fives matches the dizzy heights of the latest La Scala, yet still, there's a certain love of life and sense of fun that the two very different designs share. This McLaren Edition confers greater smoothness, speed and sensitivity than the original version – to my ears at least, which admittedly have never been the same since I watched the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix from the rooftop of a building just fifty metres from the track! The result is that whatever type of programme material you play, you get a really musical sound.
That's not to say this speaker package is perfect; far from it. Via the Bluetooth input, there's a slight coarseness to the treble that's not apparent in similarly priced designs like the Q Acoustics Q Active 200 – but then again, the latter isn't as much fun to listen to. Cue up some classic rock in the shape of Rush's The Spirit of Radio, and the Klipsch system has decent bass for the size of the box, and it's taut, tuneful and well-controlled, so the bass drum plays in time with the snare and hi-hats, for example. The guitars don't screech but have a rawness to them that's authentic and enjoyable, and the vocals project well enough out of the box without grating. There's a slight lack of finesse, but that never hurt anyone at this price – especially when you're having fun.
Indeed, the McLaren Edition Klipsch The Fives is a great rock speaker package; never does it sit on the recording and subdue it – the emotion floods right out. I loved its handling of The Rolling Stones' Start Me Up via its optical digital in; this input gave the best results of all from my CD transport and came over fast and punchy, making my feet tap. With smoother fare, like Randy Crawford's You Might Need Somebody, there was a great sense of drive to the beat; this speaker system made it seem more of a rock track and less of a soul one, in a way. It's fair to say it didn't entirely communicate the velvety sweetness of her vocals but instead focused on her phrasing – i.e. how she was singing in time to the beat.
This speaker system was fun with techno, too. The thumping drum'n'bass beat of Goldie's Timeless was very well carried, and the bassline remained intact at surprisingly high volumes where many rivals often give up and start making odd slurping or groaning noises. The track's biting drum machine hi-hat cymbal work was really well carried, even if it won no prizes for silkiness and refinement. The two speakers punched out a solid wall of sound between them, filling my medium-sized listening room better than I'd expected. Of course, it's no La Scala, but the likes of KEF's pricier LS 50 II really isn't any more expansive at high volumes either.
Overall then, Klipsch's new McLaren Edition is a worthy 'tune up' for The Fives. I really liked it, and even cynical old me was rather taken by the fancy paint job and other stylistic tweaks. The product is easy to use and bolstered by a new version of the app that's handy to have around. My only criticism at the price is that it's not network-capable, so the streaming only comes via Bluetooth; this might be an issue for some but not for others. Well worth an audition then, especially if you're a rock or dance music fan.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.