Klipsch - The Three - Review
Let's rewind the clock back to 1995. My very first HiFi loudspeakers were Polk Audio LS70s. At my local Audio King dealer I selected the LS70 over the Klipsch KG4.5. It was as decision I regretted so after the purchase. Less than a year later, I used Audio King's trade in policy to trade one pair of LS70s toward two pairs of KG5.5s. I was a sophomore in college and I gave the KG5.5s such a workout, that it was amazing they stayed in one piece. Not only did I move a few times (causing a few dings and dents), but I brought them to Milwaukee with me for a summer intership, chasing fugitives with the U.S. Marshals Service. Who wouldn't bring four large floorstanding speakers with them for a three month stint living with a few guys near the Marquette University campus? A Denon receiver and a Sony 100 CD changer completed the system. Oh what a summer that was.
Nostalgia aside, Klipsch has made many loudspeakers over the years that have provided countless hours of enjoyment to many people, myself included. At CES 2017, I accidentally stumbled upon the Klipsch booth on the main convention center floor. Klipsch's Steve Jain gave me a tour of what the company was introducing and I immediately fell in love with The Three loudspeaker from the Klipsch Heritage Wireless family of products.
I couldn't hear a proper demonstration because the CES show floor was so noisy, but I could see Klipsch checked the important boxes with respect to aesthetics and functionality. Shortly after CES the company sent me a pair of The Three wireless loudspeakers. My family has put these speakers through the wringer. From basic layman's usage to advanced audiophile pursuits. Oh what fun we've had.
The Three - The Concept
I briefly want to touch on the concept of a single chassis wireless loudspeaker. Before my time, many families had console stereos in the living room. When dad was listening to Dizzy Gillespie, so was the whole family. When guests were present at one's house, they could all sit in the living room and enjoy the latest Ray Charles album. Over the ensuing years, console stereos disappeared, as did the group listening experience.
Let's face it, nobody wants to go down to dad's cave to hear the latest high resolution remaster of Cream's Disraeli Gears. I would, but we should consider civilians rather than card-carryin', knuckle-draggin' audiophiles like ourselves.
This is where products such as The Three from Klipsch come into play. As The Computer Audiophile, I should have 30 million tracks available in every room of the house with a simple "Hey Alexa" or "OK Google" command. The fact is, I don't. I certainly have all of these technologies, but they are relegated to my listening room in the cold and dark basement.
When The Three arrived, I placed one right next to the kitchen table. In no time, I had my family either using it or asking me to put on the latest Beyonce. Family listening sessions are back in a big way, with The Three from Klipsch.
The Three - The Loudspeaker
The Three is possibly the most versatile loudspeaker I've used to date. In addition, it sounds great and looks great. Let's get into the details.
The Three's exterior is about as nice as I've seen in a product that doesn't require a second mortgage. It's a $399 complete system, with a lush looking, thick speaker grille made famous by Klipsch speakers from decades of old. The tactile spun copper switch and knobs are an immediate eye-catcher and ergonomic gem. Flipping the switch to turn the unit on or off has such a nice feel to it, that I actually use switch frequently. I can't say the same thing for any other gear in my house.
At the heart of The Three are loudspeaker drivers and an amplifier. The Three features two 2.25 high frequency drivers that Klipsch indicates are more full range than standard high frequency tweeters. The other drivers are a 5.25 long-throw woofer, and two 5.25 dual opposed passive radiators. Just hearing the term passive radiator brings back great memories of blasting the first couple Pearl Jam albums on a friend's older pair of Klipsch speakers with huge passive radiators. Good stuff. The Three is powered by a 60 Watt amplifier that pushes the drivers from 45 Hz to 20 kHz.
If the sound producing components are the heart of The Three, the brains are definitely the input-related electronics. I can't think of a relevant audio source that isn't compatible with The Three. Starting with analog, The Three features a 3.5 mm minijack input and standard RCA jacks that can switch between line and phono input. Yes, The Three has a built-in moving magnet phono preamplifier.
On the digital side, The Three features Bluetooth 4.0 (aptX capable), USB, and WiFi. Using Bluetooth, it's possible to stream anything to The Three. Set your computer or mobile device or whatever to connect to the unit and there you have it. USB is also as straightforward as it sounds. The Three appears as a USB DAC when connected to a computer. Connected to my macOS iMac, The Three didn't require separate device drivers. Klipsch offers drivers for Windows users who don't have a version of Windows 10 that includes native support for USB audio class 2. The USB interface supports PCM audio up through 24 bit / 192 kHz audio
The Three gets really interesting when we dig deeper into its WiFi capabilities. There are pros and cons that should be considered. The Three uses the DTS Play-Fi platform, like many other HiFi products. Klipsch offers a Klipsch-themed version of the DTS Play-Fi app in both the Apple and Android app stores.
Pros of The Three's WiFi / Play-Fi input are many. The unit supports streaming audio from several services including Pandora, Amazon Music, Tidal, SiriusXM, iHeart Radio, Napster, and Spotify (connect), and Deezer, among others. The Three also supports sending music from the storage on one's mobile device and from a DLNA server.
I used many services and methods to send audio to The Three over the last couple months. To me, the bread and butter of The Three is its compatibility with Spotify Connect. Spotify Connect works differently that all other streaming methods compatible with DTS Play-Fi products. Using the Spotify app on one's mobile device, one selects the single speaker for audio output, and the music is sent directly from the cloud to the speaker. The mobile device can be turned off or interrupted with a text or phone call, without causing issues with playback.
Using the Klipsch mobile app, I created a Spotify zone consisting of two 'Three' speakers. This isn't possible with the Spotify app alone. Once configured, the Spotify app can stream the same content to both speakers at once, as a single zone.
My family used Spotify exclusively with The Three (other than my testing). It worked fantastic and streamed without a single issue. Products that have connectivity issues or need to be fiddled with after a period of nonuse, are nonstarters in my house. If I have to tell my family, "wait a second while I reconfigure something on your phone real quick," after having set it up previously, my family won't use the product. I know, first world problems, but problems nonetheless. With The Three and Spotify Connect, not only could my family stream to the unit near the kitchen table, they could tap the device name within the Spotify app to select a different Klipsch speaker. It's really that easy and it worked every time.
Note: The Three can accept up through 24/96 audio over its WiFi connection. It's possible to play 24/192 over WiFi, but the app down samples the audio to 24/96. At first blush this seems like a problem, but at least The Three will play 24/192 music. Platforms such as Sonos, don't even let the user play high resolution, let alone down sample it on the fly for playback.
Before getting to the cons of The Three's WiFi / Play-Fi input, I want to stress that these are cons of the DTS platform, not of Klipsch. In addition, this isn't a review of the DTS platform, so I will only cover the cons briefly, in order to help people make a purchasing decision. Some people won't care a bit about these cons while others may consider them deal breakers.
My biggest complaint is that all the streaming services services (except Spotify) and methods of getting music to The Three (DLNA, etc...) require the audio to route through one's mobile device. Think about this for a second. The one device in our houses that runs from battery and frequently receives interruptions from messaging apps and phone calls, must route all the audio to DTS Play-Fi devices.
This issue is why I didn't use Tidal to stream lossless audio to The Three. Sure, The Three used lossless audio and its WiFi connection, but all the audio was dependent on my Google Pixel phone to receive the music from the cloud, then send it to loudspeaker. Whereas, Spotify streams directly to The Three over WiFi, using the mobile device as a simple remote control. Imagine if cable or satellite TV routed all the programming through the television's remote control. Talk about nonstarter.
Another con to the DTS Play-Fi platform, is that it's not DLNA compliant. DTS is very sneaky with its wording when it suggests these devices support DLNA. In order to use DLNA with something like The Three, one has to use a DTS app or Klipsch app, select the music from a DLNA server, then stream all the audio through one's mobile device to the audio device. True DLNA compatibility would enable one to use any DLNA server AND any DLNA control point device or application to select music that would stream directly from the server to the audio device, not routing through one's mobile device.
Considering this is a $399 product, I don't expect it to set the world on fire by supporting everything and I tend to give such products a little more slack than stratospherically priced components. Perhaps Klipsch can give DTS a little nudge to update its product, and push out a firmware update to each device, that changes how some of the features function.
The Three - The Sound
I love the sound of The Three from Klipsch. This $399 loudspeaker easily competes with some of the much more expensive devices in this product category. In fact, before spending more than $399 on such a product, I highly recommend checking out The Three.
My five year old daughter loves Journey, David Bowie, and The Beatles. We streamed these artists so much through The Three that the unit would have burn-in patterns if it was a television. I introduced my daughter to the Natalie Merchant version of Bowie's Space Oddity. Through The Three, both Natalie's rich voice and the rest of her band's instruments all sounded great. The bassline throughout this track had a thick, full-bodied groove to it that would surprise many listeners. The Three can put out serious bass.
This track is great for explaining the sound signature of The Three. Both the bass and the upper registers of Natalie's voice are a bit more present or up front than the other frequencies. The sound is similar to what has been called the Rock setting on many software equalizers. The U or V shape of the virtual knobs displays the rise in low and high frequencies (example). I must say, the sonic signature of The Three produces very enjoyable sound. At the same time, I'm willing to bet that 10 out of 10 (non-weirdos like me) people who heard The Three at my house would have no clue what I was talking about if I said certain frequencies were boosted a bit. They'd say it sounded awesome.
Streaming Pearl Jam's Breathe from its Backspacer album via Spotify, the sound is thoroughly enjoyable. Eddie's signature baritone is there to hear in all its glory. Switching to PJ's Yellow Ledbetter, Mike McCready's guitar opening sounds so great through The Three. The tone is really unexpectedly good through such an inexpensive and smallish device. Once the drums kick in, and I had it at a fairly high volume level, the The Three really shows its Klipsch heritage. I felt like I was abusing The Three, similar to the KG5.5s I had back in college. The Three showed no signs of a problem and kept on keeping on.
Given that my friends understand very little about audio, and usually turn up the volume well past fun levels, I like to test speakers such as The Three with loud hip hop. Thus, I set the volume to a "party" level and streamed Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind. The opening beat actually made me laugh to myself. I was surprised The Three didn't burst into pieces. It kept on playing very loud and vibrating everything around it that wasn't nailed down. I could sense the DSP kicking in a bit to keep the music acceptable. The highest frequencies were a bit bright, but overall the sound rocked. In fact, I just put the song on again and my very heavy solid wood slab desk is vibrating from The Three across the room.
Note: Serious competition for The Three is the Bluetooth only Peachtree Audio deepblue2, and the forthcoming deepblue Air that will feature full WiFi capability using the LinkPlay platform. The Three wins hands-down when it comes to looks and features currently available. The deepblue2 has a bit more neutral sound, but it's severely limited to Bluetooth only right now.
The Three - The Conclusion
My love affair with Klipsch continues with The Three. Sure I'm biased because I have fond memories of my KG5.5 speakers and the fun I had while using them back in the day, but this shouldn't take anything away from The Three. I really love the look of The Three, with its tactile spun copper switch and knobs, and its rich looking (and feeling) speaker grill. There's something to be said for flipping the switch to turn The Three on. It's like the switches in an older, more analog, airplane. One knows immediately the unit is on after flipping the switch. The Three has all the input options anyone could need, including MM for a turntable. This thing really shines when combined with Spotify Connect to stream endless music without restrictions. The sound that emanates from The Three is fun, enjoyable, exciting, bumping, powerful, and surprising. I had a blast listening to The Three reproduce everything from pop to jazz to rock and roll. If you're looking a speaker in this category, with all the inputs, looks, and sound quality most people need, and don't want to break the bank, The Three from Klipsch must make the list of potential purchases.