Not too long ago on a dreary fall day, I drove to the central Massachusetts home of Jim Lackey, president of the Framingham, Mass.-based specialty A/V store Natural Sound. Lackey, an A/V industry veteran with multiple decades of experience was excited to share the news that he and KLH Speakers president David Kelley were going to reintroduce one of the most iconic speakers in consumer electronics history: the KLH Model 9.
Kelley, who famously ran Klipsch years ago, was excited to share the news.
A true audiophile—but thankfully not one of those aggressive know-it-all Internet group types—Kelley had disappeared from the consumer market after leaving Klipsch three years ago. Remaining passionate about the market, he says his love of audio has never diminished, and by chance, the relaunch of KLH turned into fate.
“After leaving Klipsch I found that I loved the speaker business,” boasts Kelley.
“That was about three years ago. I love building things and the opportunity with KLH was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Later, I met Jim [Lackey] and we began to talk about the Model 9 and a new [KLH] radio. From there we focused on limited distribution and staying away from mass distribution for the new products.”
New KLH Designed for People
KLH hit the market with an affordable selection of floorstanding, bookshelf and architectural speakers, and a new version of the brand’s Model 8 radio.
“KLH is one of the most storied and revered audio brands in the world, founded by one of the most iconic engineers in the history of consumer electronics,” notes Kelley. “I am taking the brand back to its roots, to Henry’s [Kloss] mission to build world-class loudspeakers and radios at affordable prices. I am proud to be the new owner of KLH and will honor Henry and his many contributions to the audio industry through the introduction of our extraordinary new KLH products.”
Supporting the custom installation market, KLH introduced its Maxwell In-wall and in-ceiling loudspeakers, as well as its Faraday in-ceiling, in-wall and outdoor speakers, and an in-wall keypad. The Maxwell in-wall speakers range in cost from $500 each to $650 each, while the Maxwell in-ceiling products range in cost from $300 to $450 each. The Faraday in-ceiling products to range in cost from $100 to $300 each, with the Faraday in-wall models costing between $100 to $150 each. Additionally, the $200 VX-1 Voice-enabled Amplified Keypad features Wi-Fi, Bluetooth with aptX, and Amazon Alexa compatibility.
KLH Model 9 Addresses the Audio Enthusiast Market
Collaborating with Lackey—who brings a technical background and years of experience to aid Kelley—the duo’s combined passion for the golden era of consumer audio led to Kelley wanting to offer niche audiophiles a product that recalls the best of what is now a bygone era. Kelley explains that his market approach is to provide products to consumers at every level of the market, and in order to serve affluent audio enthusiasts, it made sense to bring back the Model 9 electrostatic speaker. “My goal is to take the company back to its roots. I think that products need to look good and sound good—and I think those qualities don’t need to be mutually exclusive.” — David Kelley, President, KLH Speakers. Lackey says the Model 9 retains the heritage that made the original a benchmark product. “The Model 9 will go into dedicated rooms. It is a 6-foot-tall, 2.5-feet wide speaker that is under 3 inches in depth,” he says.
“Back in the day the Model 9 played down to 40Hz, but because of the manufacturing requirements of the speaker, only about 5,000 pairs were made.” Taking a look at the new Model 9 ($12,499 each), KLH says the product like the original is a full-range electrostatic loudspeaker.
The speaker needs a minimum of 50 watts per channel and a maximum of 75 watts per channel, and the Model 9’s nominal impedance rating is 16 ohms. The product requires separate, outboard power supplies for each speaker, and it comes in a choice of mahogany, oiled walnut, and walnut trim finishes.
Currently there are no performance specifications available from KLH, but according to a 1975 review of the original Model 9 by Stereophile Magazine, “the system’s overall response, off tweeter axes, sounded almost perfectly smooth from well beyond audibility [14kHz in our case, and verified to beyond 20kHz with a condenser microphone] to around 40Hz.” Enthusiastically, Kelley says the new KLH will blend the best of the old, traditional audiophile hobby, with the lifestyle demands today’s consumer desire from audio products. “My goal is to take the company back to its roots,” he adds. “I think that products need to look good and sound good—and I think those qualities don’t need to be mutually exclusive.”
Original KLH Model 9 Speaker Still Rocks
After driving out to Central Mass. to spend some time with Jim Lackey and David Kelley and to learn about the classic Model 9, I came away realizing one thing: the Model 9 still has a place in consumer audio.
Lackey, who lives in a picturesque location outside of Worcester, Mass., built a top-level system in his home that includes a Rogers Audio 34S-1 integrated amplifier, as well as a Meridian Audio 218 zone controller, a Meridian Sooloos audio server, a Richard Gray’s Pole Pig power conditioner, cabling from Transparent Audio, and a Chattin Technology signal reintegration system. The Chattin products included an ACR-7 power integrator, a DSR-19 digital integrator, SLR7 integrators on the speakers, and an ASR-29S integrator on the preamplifier.
Chattin Technology says its products are, “based upon a new understanding of quantum electron behaviors,” and are designed to, “realign or reintegrate the voltage current relationships within the damaged signal.” A 40-plus-year-old pair of KLH Model 9s served as the main speakers for the setup.
Changing job titles, Lackey played DJ for the afternoon and grabbed his iPad, playing a handful of audiophile tracks from the Meridian Sooloos server. If KLH can replicate that kind of experience with its new version, the company will have a winning product to reestablish the brand in 2019. While I recognized how good the music sounded and was impressed, I wasn’t inspired or excited by what I heard. Switching gears, I asked Lackey if he had any classic rock music on the Meridian server. Responding yes, he fired up the song “Since I’ve Been Loving You” from Led Zeppelin III. I can honestly say it was a near-religious experience. That song provides lots of dynamics, and musically, a lot of surprises from a standard blues, I, IV, V type of song.
The detail on the song was impressive, from John Bonham’s squeaky kick drum pedal to the click between the bridge and neck pickups in what I believe is the toggle switch on Jimmy Page’s famous “number one” 1959 Gibson Les Paul. For comparison purposes, we also listened to the Zeppelin song again, removing the Chattin equipment, and while I don’t know what the products were doing, I did hear more resolution with the Chattin products and thought the soundstage had increased.
Listening to more classic rock with the full system, I was continually won over by the Classic 9’s dynamics, neutrality, and smoothness.
While too expensive for my budget, and realistically too big for my listening room, I can still walk away from a couple of hours of listening to the Model 9s and say: If KLH can replicate that kind of experience with its new version, the company will have a winning product to reestablish the brand in 2019.