Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 Wireless

Klipsch's venerable ProMedia 2.1 speaker system has been around for nearly a decade, and has a deserved reputation for being one of the better subwoofer/satellite computer-speaker systems. The company recently introduced a wireless version, and while it lives up to its sibling's pedigree when it comes to audio quality, its wireless functionality is more limited in its appeal.

Wireless functionality aside, the ProMedia 2.1 Wireless is basically identical to the original ProMedia 2.1. As a 2.1 system, it uses left and right satellite speakers for higher frequencies along with a subwoofer/amplifier unit for lower frequencies. The chunky subwoofer-9.8 inches wide, 9.5 inches tall, and 10.2 inches deep-hosts a 6.5-inch driver in a ported enclosure to enhance bass response, along with a 50-Watt subwoofer amplifier and 35 Watts per channel for the left and right speakers.

On the back of the subwoofer are standard spring-clip speaker terminals for connecting the satellites, a permanently attached power cable, a connection for the system's pre-amp (control) module, and a Sync button for establishing a wireless connection. (More on these latter two features in a moment.) Also on the back of the subwoofer is the system's only power switch-like far too many other computer speakers we've tested, the ProMedia 2.1 requires you to crawl under your desk if you want to turn off the system to save energy.

Each of the ProMedia 2.1's satellite speakers is approximately 8.5 inches tall, 4.2 inches wide, and 5.7 inches deep-fairly large for computer-speaker satellites. On the front of each speaker, behind a removable, mesh-and-plastic grille, you'll find a 3-inch midrange driver and a 0.75-inch tweeter, the latter of which uses Klipsch's signature horn design. Each satellite rests on a metal, non-adjustable stand that angles the speaker slightly upward toward the listener's ears. (You can remove this stand and replace it with the $22 WB-1 Wall Bracket Accessory for wall mounting.) Each satellite's 10-foot cable is permanently attached in the rear.

The right-hand satellite also hosts an integrated pre-amp module, which connects to the subwoofer using a separate-though also permanently attached-cable. On the front panel, near the bottom of the speaker, are the main volume control and a separate subwoofer-level control; in between the two is a small, but nevertheless too-bright, power indicator. On the right-hand side of the module is a 1/8-inch headphone jack (which mutes the speakers' output when headphones are connected) and a 1/8-inch auxiliary input for connecting a wired audio source. When both wired and wireless audio sources are connected, the two signals are mixed.

Removing (some) wires

If reader comments on our news article about the ProMedia 2.1 Wireless are representative, many people are confused by exactly what the Wireless part of the system's name really means. Put simply, it means that there are no wires between your computer and the speaker system. It doesn't mean there are no wires between the ProMedia's satellites and subwoofer, or that the system magically gets power without a power cable.

This isn't surprising: a completely wireless system would require a transmitter at the source, a receiver at the base unit, an additional transmitter at the base for each speaker, and a separate receiver on each speaker. Plus each speaker and the sub would need its own amplifier. And that's just to get audio from the source to each speaker-if you want to get rid of power cables, too, each speaker and the sub would need its own battery. Needless to say, such a system would likely cost quite a bit more than $199, especially if it aimed to match the ProMedia 2.1's audio quality and power.

And the truth is that for many people, especially those using speakers on a desk or bookshelf, the cables between a subwoofer and satellites are only a minor inconvenience-they're much more of an issue with a 5.1 or 7.1 system, where the side and rear speakers are located across the room. It's the connection between the computer and the speaker system that's often the biggest limitation, especially if your computer is in a different part of the room than you want your speakers, or if you want the freedom to be able to move with your laptop, even to the next room, without interrupting your music. It's for these people that Klipsch designed the ProMedia 2.1 Wireless.

(The other scenario where the ProMedia 2.1 Wireless could come in handy is if you've got a laptop and a desktop computer: You could connect the desktop computer using the system's auxiliary input and use the wireless feature only when you want to listen to audio from your laptop.)

In other words, I don't knock the 2.1 Wireless for having some wires. What I do knock it for is Klipsch's choice of wireless technology: 2.4GHz RF (radio frequency).

Klipsch includes an RF USB dongle that plugs into one of your computer's USB ports; you connect the dongle, press the Sync button on the dongle and the corresponding button on the subwoofer unit, and in a few seconds the ProMedia 2.1 Wireless appears-on a Mac, in the Sound pane of System Preferences-as an audio output. The connection generally works well: Over a couple months of testing in a 2.4GHz-heavy environment, I experienced interference only a few times. And I could move over 20 feet from the system-with a wall or two in between-without interrupting the signal.

But by using RF technology, Klipsch has limited the system's usefulness: It can be used wirelessly only with computers, and because it requires a USB dongle, with only a single computer at a time. (Not to mention that you lose a USB port to a function that doesn't normally require it.) I also experienced a minor issue with the USB dongle itself. When testing the ProMedia 2.1 Wireless with a recent Mac mini, on a couple occasions the USB dongle prevented the Mac mini from booting; removing the dongle allowed the mini to start up, and I could then reinsert the dongle to use the speaker system.

Had Klipsch gone with Bluetooth, instead-an increasingly common approach-the ProMedia 2.1 Wireless would have worked with many recent computers, including any recent Mac, as well as the iPad, the iPhone, 2nd-generation or later iPod touch models, and many other audio sources. (Tip: the system's USB dongle does work with an iPad using the iPad Camera Connection Kit.) Audio quality would have been largely comparable, and you would have been able to pair multiple devices with the system (although you'd still be limited to streaming audio from one source at a time). My guess is that Klipsch decided against Bluetooth because so many older Windows PCs don't have it built in, so those computers would need a dongle anyway.

Bass kicker

If you've never heard the original ProMedia 2.1, that system is known for its great sound quality and impressive power-few computer-speaker systems I've heard can put out as much volume as the ProMedia 2.1 while still maintaining composure.

In my testing, the ProMedia 2.1 Wireless performed equally well: Treble response is clear, midrange is solid (though a tiny bit distant compared to the treble), and, when properly adjusted, bass is solid and viscerally powerful without being overwhelming. Like its fully wired sibling, the Wireless's standout attribute is that it mostly maintains this audio quality at loud volume levels. I did experience a bit of treble distortion at extremely high volumes, and, of course, a 6.5-inch woofer has its limits, as you'll discover if you crank the bass and volume levels too high. But used in your home or your office, I doubt you'll frequently-if ever-push the ProMedia that hard. (If you ever do, there's a replaceable fuse in the subwoofer.)

I did find the ProMedia 2.1's subwoofer be more sensitive to room placement than the subs for many other systems I've tested. Bass can be boomy if you place the subwoofer unit too close to a wall and don't compensate by turning down the Subwoofer level. But the fact that the subwoofer level is conveniently located on the right satellite makes such adjustments easy.

Macworld's buying advice

As a 2.1 speaker system, the ProMedia 2.1 Wireless performs essentially identically to the original ProMedia 2.1 speaker system-which is to say that it's an impressive system, especially if you're looking for power and bass kick. But the Wireless version is worth the $50 premium mainly if you want to be able to listen from across the room; if not, stick with the non-wireless version of the ProMedia 2.1 and use the money you save to expand your music library.

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