18 Apr Hyperphonix 45 Surround Loudspeaker Review by Stereonet
Michael Darroch – Krix Hyperphonix 45 Surround Loudspeaker Review – Steronet – 14 April 2023
With a 20 year passion for home cinema ensuring he will never be able to afford retirement, Michael’s days involve endless dad-jokes and enjoying the short time before his son is old enough to demand the home theatre becomes a temple to Frozen II.
ON-WALL/CEILING SURROUND LOUDSPEAKER
Australian brand Krix has been designing speakers for commercial cinemas since 1978 and has the proud distinction of being installed in thousands of cinemas across its native land and beyond. So the company is perfectly placed to transfer its skills to the booming domestic theatre market – a focus that has only grown as Krix continues developing products to meet home cinema’s increasing complexity.
Here we look at the Hyperphonix 45, whose story began in 2020 with the introduction of the Phonix 45. The arrival of Dolby’s game-changing Atmos audio format coincided with a giant leap in home cinema, both casual lounge and media room environments and dedicated cinema rooms, with impressive builds popping up at an accelerating rate. Krix has positioned itself to capitalise on the latter with products such as its dedicated Series X and Modular MX series.
Not only has the maturity and scale of the Atmos market led to 15-, 16- and even 32-channel processors becoming more common, but as the performance of the main L/C/R speakers has increased, so too have the demands placed on surround and height speakers to make the most of the complex placement needs of modern formats. Further adding to the complexity of a dedicated room is the tendency to have multiple rows of seating, driving an insatiable need for speakers and processing solutions that deliver not just single-point performance but a great experience in every seat in the room.
Key to this, says Krix, is ensuring that a listener is “on-axis” to a speaker as much as possible to reduce the amount of EQ and level adjustment needed to get consistent response seat-to-seat, thereby increasing the overall performance potential of a given system. Krix’s Home Cinema Designer, Michael Cox, told me that the 45 series began in the company’s own factory demo room. With a project brief that included showcasing a high channel count, the unique placement needs of the Atmos channels resulted in testing bespoke designs such as modifying Krix’s existing “traditional surround”, the Phonix, with a 30-degree baffle rather than the traditional 15 degrees to try and get the front height speakers more on-axis towards the listening position when ceiling mounted.
While this approach might have worked for this singular purpose, the realisation was that there was a need for a similar solution for other areas of the room, such as wide-channel and rear-height speakers. Ultimately Krix was determined to design a speaker that would be suitable for a variety of placement scenarios. The result was the Phonix 45 – a uniquely shaped speaker referred to as an “irregular hexagon” as it allows a horizontal or vertical orientation. From the perspective of size and practicality, it is no deeper than a Phonix flat, and with its rear-profile cut-out, it can be mounted into the corner of a wall or ceiling without interfering with a cornice up to 90mm. It was a design that ticked all the boxes to give freedom when designing a dedicated room within the newest 3D format parameters. Featuring the same drivers and performance specifications as the existing Phonix, the 45 was an instant hit with installers, quickly popping up in various local builds.
Noticing that the Phonix 45 was being used in increasingly larger rooms, Krix recognised that there was a need for the convenience of the 45 form factor, but with a higher performance envelope to ensure reference volume would continue to be within easy reach despite larger distances to the listening position. A Megaphonix 45 was never on the cards, according to Michael, as the demanding volume and depth requirements of its larger drivers would have been at odds with the convenience target of the 45 series. So instead, Krix looked at how the existing package might be redesigned to provide the needed boost in output without sacrificing the compact nature of the Phonix 45. Thus was born the Hyperphonix 45…
It’s easy to see this speaker as a Phonix 45 on steroids. Keeping essentially the same cabinet shape, Krix has added an in-house designed ninety-by-ninety degree waveguide to the 26mm tweeter, claimed to improve dispersion regardless of the orientation, and while the bass driver maintains the same 165mm diameter, it’s a completely new unit. Gone is the 33mm voice coil of the Phonix, and instead, we have a super-sized 50mm version in the Hyper. The end result of this is a speaker with superior claimed power handling (up to 250W RMS, vs. 150 watts) and an increased sensitivity of 92dB versus the 88dB of the standard Phonix, according to Krix.
Interestingly, the claimed frequency response in the lowest octaves has risen from 45Hz to 20kHz in the Phonix to 60Hz to 20kHz in the Hyper. This was a deliberate design choice to avoid increasing the depth of the cabinet to maintain the response. Being predominantly a surround/height speaker, it wouldn’t make sense to sacrifice its compact design to maintain a low-frequency response that’s not critical to the application and will largely be rolled off by crossover settings in the processor.
Externally the speaker maintains the same smooth, Cinema Black appearance, with the removable cloth grill and magnetic Krix badge to allow for orientation choice. While it might seem quite passive with its simple lines and dark colour, installed into your cinema, it makes a bold statement; you can’t mount a speaker like this to a wall or ceiling without it looking muscularly purposeful.
From a convenience point of view, Krix has made improvements, too – the original Phonix had to be ordered specifically as a flat-mount or angle-mount, depending on the intended use, due to the design of the bracket requiring different mounting points during manufacture. Realising this was an unnecessary complexity, Krix has introduced a unique L-shaped bracket that allows the same speaker design to be used for either flat or angled mounting – making ordering and installing much more forgiving. Find a ceiling beam behind your plasterboard and drill the bracket into place; the only proviso is while this can technically be a one-person job, it will be much easier with a friend. This is because the unusual shape of the cabinet means that the centre of gravity is in an awkward spot if you’re trying to both hold the speaker in place and insert the fasteners.
Putting Hyperphonix 45s in the place of my Phonix 45s, the Hypers immediately displayed all of the charm of the latter but with some obvious improvements. Most significant is the bump in sensitivity, as the extra 4dB necessitates a trim down in your receiver output levels. The welcome tonal neutrality is retained, however – although the revised tweeter shifts to feature a slight upper-frequency prominence, it’s not significant and certainly doesn’t impact the blend between the Hypers and Phonix speakers throughout the room. What does stand out is the increased area that maintains the on-axis response thanks to the ninety-degree by ninety-degree waveguide. The seat-to-seat response is arguably improved, with the Hypers providing a more impactful and detailed performance across my whole front row, compared to the Phonix 45s.
This is not to say that the Phonix 45 is wanting in any way, as it’s a brilliantly capable speaker – but in exchange for a slightly higher asking price, the Hyperphonix 45 can drive a larger space, with more apparent detail and greater flexibility on placement and seating. For example, the UHD release of 2013’s Oblivion adds a Dolby Atmos soundtrack which features prominently in the mid-movie sequence involving Jack and Julia being chased through a canyon by a group of combat pods. The Hyperphonix’s delicate yet confident mid and upper range allows the listener to be fully enveloped in the scene, providing realistic detail in moments like the waterfall trickling over and down the glass top of the bubble ship as it hides from the pursuing pods.
Conversely, its ‘hyper’ bass modules allow for the satisfyingly full-range reproduction of effects such as the ship’s jet engines roaring over the screen as it tries to escape danger. What I particularly appreciated about Hyperphonix was that, compared to many in-ceiling solutions, it felt uncompromising. There were incredible levels of output available to guarantee the height speakers would never be lost in the overall presentation, even in rooms featuring large main channel speakers. Yet, there was a level of resolution that ensured that the sounds playing above (or around you, depending on placement) maintained as much presence and character as the sounds coming from the main screen wall.
This is especially important for DTS-X titles like Jurassic World or Harry Potter, where the height presentation is less about bold, singular objects and often comprises a more surround-esque collection of ambient and primary effects. Having a robust speaker like the Hyperphonix 45 lends greater credibility to these delicate but more complex arrangements, allowing for immersion in DTS-X scenes like the crumbling brick wall opening up to Dragon Alley, the bustling chaos of Platform 9 and ¾, or the gentle crackling candles above the great hall in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Even purpose-built demonstrations, like the 2016 Dolby Atmos demonstration disc, allowed the Hypers to shine in subtle sequences like Audiosphere. The delicate ring of the higher notes was lent greater presence and delicacy, well supported by the revised tweeter and waveguide, and the lower frequency bounces given suitable percussive inflection with the responsive and capable bass driver. The placement of these notes was accurate and defined, no matter which seat I was in.
As a main or surround channel, the Hyperphonix 45 displays a lot of credibility too. Listening to When Was That by Angus and Julia Stone, and it delivered a compelling two-channel performance. The smooth vocals were reproduced with the subtle texture characteristic of the sibling duo, blended into the finely detailed acoustic guitar work. Despite the Hypers being a reasonably aggressive two-way design with a large bass driver and large tweeter waveguide, there was a good sense of balance across the frequency range.
That’s not to say this speaker isn’t capable of strong highs and lows, though. I punished the speakers with 1,2 Step from Ciara and I Know What You Want from Busta Rhymes to see how much output I could coax out. While I was only powering the drivers to half their rated output through my Marantz MM7025 power amplifier, this speaker used that power incredibly. The Hypers sent out all of the synth clicks, claps and riffs without waiver or hesitation. There was a resolute sharpness, but without the harshness that can be apparent in some horn-like waveguide designs.
I was impressed by how vocals displayed an accurate clarity at volume levels unsafe for my ears. Still, the real kick was in the bass response – the Hyperphonix gave force to every drum beat, moving an unbelievable amount of air. With the front-ported design, you will be inadvertently making yourself a neat little 4D cinema with the air displacement at high SPL – thankfully without any noticeable port noise. It’s a veritable hammer and feather combo!
Ultimately these qualities deliver perhaps the best 3D audio or surround performance available at this price point today – the level of accuracy and immersion created by the Hyperphonix 45 has to be heard to be believed. If you’re used to Atmos through an upfiring speaker, or even through an in-ceiling speaker – then the impact and quality of an installation using the Hypers as a surround or height is night and day. Sounds are no longer haphazardly thrown from driver to driver, nor is there a performance reduction between your stage and surrounds; the synergy between drivers creates a cohesive three-dimensional listening space which surpasses even the most well-featured commercial cinemas.
This said, there’s no denying that a relatively large cabinet design isn’t going to be suitable for all rooms. As a height speaker, those with low ceilings may struggle. Similarly, in a narrower room as a surround channel on a flat wall, you may be better considering the flat or in-wall Phonix/Megaphonix models. Still, it is unbeatable for corner or wide placement in these scenarios. Your biggest worry about installing the Hyperphonix will be revisiting your placement and acoustic room treatments to ensure you are getting the same performance out of your room as the speaker is delivering.
The Hyperphonix 45 is a brilliant all-purpose home theatre loudspeaker, then. Powerful enough to be used for the main channels in a smaller room, versatile enough to be placed as a surround, height or wide speaker in almost any sized room – it’s hard to think of an application it isn’t suited to. The small package, unique installation solution, high power handling and good sensitivity make it perfect for medium-to-large dedicated rooms involving just about any size of amplifier, with a neutral sound that broadly appeals to home cinema applications. Krix has engineered another winner, proving again that extensive real cinema experience provides the know-how to deliver in today’s toughest home cinema applications.