I first heard the new KLH Albany speakers at this year’s AXPONA, and I liked what I heard. I wanted to hear more, so Jeff Dano of KLH® generously offered me the opportunity to review a pair of the company’s Albany bookshelf speakers.
For most music lovers, KLH is an iconic brand they associate with fond memories of affordable over-achieving speakers. KLH was founded in 1957 by Henry Kloss along with partners Malcom S. Low, and Josef Anton Hofmann. Among their most well-known innovations were the first full range electrostatic speaker, the Model Nine, and the price-to-performance champion of the early seventies, the Model Six.
Now here we are in 2019 and Dave Kelley, formerly of Klipsch, has come out of retirement to re-launch KLH with a new lineup of loudspeakers. His goal is to further the company’s original mission: offering an audiophile experience at affordable prices.
The $478.99 KLH Albanys are compact, two-way bookshelf speakers with a sealed acoustic suspension design. This decision to use acoustic suspension is a nod to Henry Kloss, who helped popularize this design with the Acoustic Research AR-1 speakers. While most bookshelf speakers of this size and price opt for a rear-ported design, using acoustic suspension offers several unique advantages.
One advantage is increased flexibility in placing and positioning these speakers. KLH recommends a distance of at least 12 inches away from any wall, which is pretty forgiving. Some speakers might produce unnaturally accented or bloated bass at only a foot away from the front wall, but this wasn’t my experience with the Albany speakers. This is a big plus, especially for today’s compact and modern living environments, where you might not always have the room for ideal speaker placement, but you want high-quality sound.
The design features a 5.25 inch woven Kevlar woofer paired with a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter situated inside a brushed aluminum linear response faceplate. This faceplate aids with imaging performance and ensures a wide treble dispersion. Lastly, and not expected at this price but certainly appreciated, the cabinets are flawlessly finished with real wood veneer available in black oak or walnut, and there are dual binding posts for bi-wiring.
Imaging and Midrange
The first attribute I noticed about the Albany speakers presentation is the amount of air and delicacy in the treble. This gives the highs a confident and slightly forward characteristic and contributes to the speaker’s excellent imaging performance. They surprised me in this regard, I wasn’t expecting this level of coherency and imaging at this price point.
The midrange is uncolored, with no unnatural or artificial boosting of any frequencies. They easily passed my jazz piano test, when I listened to the Hideaki Yoshioka Trio’s rendition of Henry Mancini’s“Moment to Moment”. They’re able to effortlessly reproduce a realistic-sounding grand piano with plenty of texture and resonance. When I played the Richard Wyands Trio’s cover of Duke Ellington’s classic“Lady of the Lavender Mist”, I was treated to beautiful tonality and grace. Their performance with intimately recorded piano jazz also exceeded my expectations and was thoroughly enjoyable.
Bass, Coherence, and Soundstage
The bass response is on the cool side of neutral, with clean tuneful bass that is never boomy or loose. If you are not accustomed to tight and somewhat lean bass, you might interpret the bass response to be lacking or thin. KLH seems to have taken a “studio monitor” type approach here with no mid-bass hump or boost. As a result, these probably wouldn’t be the best speakers for hip hop or electronic music at party volumes, without utilizing a subwoofer to bolster the lows.
Overall, the Albany speakers offer above-average coherence, a wide soundstage, and impressive imaging performance. They’re quick and musical, and they do a great job at reproducing upbeat percussion and complex passages. Rhythmically, they kept my foot tapping and never sounded dull or slow. Along with their neutral tone, I also find them to be transparent, providing a clean and detailed soundstage for your favorite performances.
KLH’s history of providing above-average sound for your dollar continues with their Albany speakers. The overall fit and finish of these speakers are much more than what you would expect. I think the most important thing to consider though is the price-to-performance ratio. At $478.99 they offer higher quality and more articulate treble than bookshelf speakers I’ve heard at the $1,500 price point. They even have a level of coherency that begins to match my $4,000 PMC twenty.22 speakers. Then, to sweeten the deal, there’s also a 10-year warranty.
There are, however, some limitations to their performance, of course. Is the bass the most complex and layered I’ve heard? No. Is the treble the most refined and pristine that I’ve experienced? No. That being said, would these speakers impress someone who’s putting together their first system and wants to maximize expenditures? Yes. Would they surprise and reward a seasoned audiophile, who is putting together a second system in a smaller room with a $500 speaker budget? Yes, absolutely. All in all, I was impressed.