KLH - 7.1 System Speaker

Posted by Doug Blackburn on Jun 1st 2019

I remember KLH from reading ad-free underground high-end audio magazines in the 1970s (primarily Stereophile and The Absolute Sound that were small self-published booklet-style magazines back then with no advertising, intentionally). KLH produced a flat-panel electrostatic loudspeaker in the early 1960s that set the audiophile community abuzz with its performance relative to other loudspeakers available at that time. It was a constant reference for newer designs trying to advance the capabilities of loudspeakers.

The KLH Model Nine became one of the first icons of high-end audio. It was an expensive beast, and the new incarnation of KLH is producing an updated version of the original KLH Model Nine. The price is now $24,997.98 a pair. This review focuses on the rest of the KLH product line that currently consists of moderately priced over-achieving loudspeakers. There is a full line of free-standing loudspeakers and a line of in-walls and in-ceilings with, undoubtedly, more to come. The review system included some ported (and tunable) models and some sealed box models.

All models used, other than the subwoofer, have passive crossovers and require an amplifier channel for each loudspeaker. KLH was revived a few years ago by former Klipsch Global Sales President and board member David P. Kelley, who put together a team of former Klipsch and other loudspeaker industry veterans to create the new line of KLH loudspeakers that started shipping in 2018. The original KLH was started in Cambridge, Massachusetts by three late 50s through early 60s audio godfathers, including the renowned Henry Kloss who pioneered many audio innovations with a number of companies, as well as manufacturing what was arguably the first home theatre projection system.

It employed a screen that was shaped like a rectangular 4:3 section of a sphere in order to reflect enough light back at the viewers to make the images appear satisfying. The new KLH is headquartered in Noblesville, Indiana (northeast of Indianapolis) with manufacturing done in China for the loudspeakers in the review system.

KLH’s modern reboot is positioning KLH as a producer of high value loudspeakers with modest cost while paying attention to performance, company heritage, and bringing back classic products like the Model Nine. KLH focuses on details that provide better sonic performance while keeping production costs and selling prices modest. All the loudspeakers in this review use the same 1-inch anodized aluminum dome tweeter and some combination of 4-, 5.25-, and 6.5-inch mid-woofers or woofers, all made with woven Kevlar. Kevlar is high-strength polymer that, in this case, is in fiber form, woven and combined with carbon fiber for even more strength. Each loudspeaker model simply requires an enclosure of the appropriate size/shape and a crossover customized for that with the Story and rotate it vertically to get the best sound across my three front seats. But in a room with different distances to seats, you may find your ideal setup is different than mine. This isn’t the first time I’ve needed to rotate a center-channel loudspeaker vertically in this room, but this room is the first room I’ve had for home theatre where the horizontal positioning of any center- channel loudspeaker was an issue. The previous rooms I’ve had were fine with M-T-M center-channel loudspeakers in the horizontal orientation. You may find the horizontal position and one port plug produces the best sound in your room/system. The only way to know if you are getting the best sound from the center channel is to experiment, giving yourself a couple of weeks to acclimate to each change you make before you decide whether the change was helpful or not. The Story integrated amazingly well with the Kendall towers to produce solid images across the front of the room.

The Beacon surrounds are a dipole design with the mid-bass drivers on top and the tweeters below. The two angled radiating surfaces direct the sound more forward/back than outward to the sides. This is advantageous when the width of your room requires the side surrounds not be aimed straight ahead—towards the nearest seat. The angled surfaces of the Beacon did indeed prevent the side surrounds from overpowering the closest seats while still delivering good surround effect. It is a mystery how KLH can produce a loudspeaker like this with four drivers and two crossovers per loudspeaker at such a modest cost. Tonally, these are a match for the front channels, and they do a great job of filling the sides of the room with sound without worries about the closest seats hearing too much of the side-sound. Like the Kendalls, the bass response of the Beacons was surprisingly good given the modest size/volume of the enclosure and their modest cost.

The small Ames bookshelf loudspeakers look fantastic. Nothing special about their shape, it’s just a matter of size/proportion and the appearance of the face of them without the grilles installed that makes them irresistible. There is something about their appearance that makes you want to pick them up and admire them.

Aside from their more limited low-bass capability (-3 dB at 60 Hz), the tonal match with the other larger models in the system was excellent. These are so small they are easy to hold in the palm of your hand. At 5 pounds, they are pretty heavy for their modest size. The face of the Ames is so small, the sides of the mid-bass driver and the top-bottom of the tweeter faceplate are trimmed straight, so all the metal work fits within the tiny face of the Ames.

Listening to the Ames alone in stereo just to see what they can deliver was interesting. While they won’t be mistaken for a much larger loudspeaker, the amount of bass you get out of these almost-tiny loudspeakers is surprising—especially at their price of just under $380 for the pair. The clarity of the mids and highs produced a nice soundstage with depth and width that was well supported down to 60 Hz. Nobody who understands loudspeakers would expect loudspeakers this small to produce as much low-frequency extension as the Ames. As with the best small loudspeakers, the Ames did a great job of not revealing their physical location.

Sounds created convincing sonic images that were detached from the physical location of the loudspeakers, a trait that makes surround sound as convincing as it can be. This also allows the diminutive Ames loudspeakers to produce very convincing sonic images to aid their use as surround sound loudspeakers. I have a small pair of British two-way loudspeakers, one of the types of loudspeakers the Brits seem to be especially adept at building and selling for under $500 per pair. The sound of the Ames loudspeakers is more neutral (Brits were a little “warm” sounding), highs are more detailed and extended, and the bass extension and “weight” were far better than the Brit two-ways. The Ames baby-bookshelf loudspeakers have replaced all earlier small two ways in the under-$500 category when I recommend small loudspeakers to others. I believe the Ames is so good that you could build an entire surround system using an Ames loudspeaker at each location and add a subwoofer. That could create a remarkable surround system for a small space or a “non-invasive” system for a family multi-function room where the system has to share living space with adults and/or kids. KLH provided their Windsor 12 subwoofer, the middle subwoofer in their current line-up of three subwoofer models. With a price of just under $600, you get bass down to the -3 dB spec of 32 Hz. The Windsor 12 has basic controls and inputs with stereo analog RCA inputs, one of which is labeled LFE, the connection that will be used in most home theatre setups. There are controls for volume, phase, and low-pass frequency. There’s an IEC socket for the power cord and removable grille cloth. The auto-sense power circuit turns the subwoofer on when there’s a signal present.

I found that mode worked very seamlessly without noises from the subwoofer when it goes to sleep or when it wakes up. The digital amplifier doesn’t generate much heat in the process of producing up to 200 Watts continuous or 400 Watts peak power for short bursts. The 12-inch driver is mounted on the front surface. There is a slot-loaded port at the bottom of the back of the subwoofer. For that port to work properly, the subwoofer will need some space behind and around it for the port to “breathe.”

In most systems with floor-standing left and right loudspeakers, those two loudspeakers may require a lot more amplifier power than smaller loudspeakers in the system due to their average or low efficiency/sensitivity. In this KLH system, the Kendall tower models are the most sensitive/efficient at 96 dB. All the other loudspeakers are less sensitive/efficient, but those don’t typically have to reproduce SPLs as high as the front left and right and perhaps the center channel in some cases. The tiny, yet irresistibly cute and purposeful Ames bookshelf loudspeakers were the least efficient/ sensitive at 87.5 dB. That’s a very average/common efficiency/sensitivity specification for loudspeakers, but in my review the Ames loudspeakers were used as rear surrounds so they don’t often get very loud compared to the “main” loudspeakers. Having a higher sensitivity/efficiency in the loudspeakers that play the loudest is a great way to improve the performance of the system by reducing power demands on the channels doing a lot of the high-level sounds we hear during movies.

Subjective Evaluation

Appearance-wise, I found the black oak finishes and silver highlights around the drivers on the front panels produced a feeling of competence, performance, and value while the loudspeakers were sitting silent in the room. Then the movie or music starts, the sound you hear is very much what you might expect from these loudspeakers, with their contemporary and competent appearance. More expensive loudspeakers almost inevitably will deliver more nuance, detail, texture, clarity, pitch detail, et al. But when your budget is $3,200 or less for the loudspeakers, this KLH system is the best choice I know of. If the budget was $5,000 for loudspeakers, I’d still go for this KLH system. These products demonstrate a high-performance-to-value ratio that is exceptional.

You get a high measure of fidelity when you hear Cat Stevens’ guitar, Elton John’s piano, or Miles Davis’ trumpet. Best of all, you don’t get off-putting edginess, grit, harshness, or other obviously negative traits inherent to products in this price range. The KLH system doesn’t give you everything captured in the recording that one might experience in systems two or three times the price, but it doesn’t reveal obvious problems either. And what you do hear is quite pleasant and attractive––movies or music. Yes, the system can do justice to Edge Of Tomorrow, giving a good accounting of the soundtrack that can be busy and loud when there’s combat in progress with those darn time-manipulating aliens.

Music listening took me back to some of my fondest memories of coming home from work as a fresh-out-of-college technician with ambitions of being an engineer and using the stereo music system I had at that time as the sonic equivalent of a double margarita.

That old system delivered some of the best relaxing and stress-relieving music listening I’ve ever experienced from an audio system. That’s what this KLH system delivers, it just does so much right.

Getting back to the Kendall tower loudspeakers and their 25 Hz bass capability… how do you get loudspeakers that cost just under $650 each to make nicely detailed bass down to 25 Hz? It’s almost insane to consider that being a possibility. Yet the KLH system does it. Well, the Kendall towers do it. The Windsor 12 subwoofer has a -3 dB point at 32 Hz… so the main left and right loudspeakers can do deeper bass than the subwoofer. Because of that, I did some experiments to find the best settings for crossovers, levels, and distances so I could get the best bass extension from the Kendalls and the Windsor 12 subwoofer. I experimented with setting the Kendalls to full-range versus limited range. The full-range option is often called “large” mode, indicating that the loudspeakers are capable of deep bass extension. As it turns out, I got what I felt were the best results with the Kendall towers set to “large” so none of the bass from the front left or right channels was sent to the subwoofer/LFE channel. The integration of the Windsor 12 subwoofer with the rest of the system was simple, requiring just a couple of minutes of experimenting with higher or lower crossover frequencies for each channel and loudspeaker type.

This was the first time I’ve experienced a system with left and right loudspeakers that would reproduce 25 Hz cleanly while the subwoofer doesn’t go quite as low. I got the best results with this setup when the front left and right loudspeakers, the Kendall towers, were set up as “Large” loudspeakers so the processor sends them full-range sound. I tried the system with and without the Windsor 12 subwoofer to listen to how a subwoofer that doesn’t quite match the low-frequency capability of the left and right loudspeakers would change the sound of the system. When the subwoofer was removed, 100 percent of the LFE bass and 100 percent of the bass frequencies below the crossover frequency you set for the other loudspeakers will get sent to the front left and right full-range loudspeakers. With the Windsor 12 subwoofer back in the system and the left and right Kendall towers set to large, they get only the bass for the left and right, while the subwoofer gets 100 percent of the LFE bass plus all the bass from the other channels. The results were interesting. I could have lived with the KLH system without the Windsor 12 subwoofer and would have been perfectly happy with the results if my budget wasn’t quite ready for the subwoofer. With the Windsor 12 subwoofer in the system, there was a slight sense of lost extension, but an increase in “weight” and “size” of bass frequencies.

The KLH system was fully capable of delivering musical nuance and feeling, keeping sad or reflective moments appropriately toned, yet conveying all the lightness and bounce in upbeat music. That helped keep music entertaining and more faithful to the original sound and intent of the music. Teens used to MP3/iTunes/streamed lossy music using ear buds will freak out when they hear lossless music or game soundtracks over the KLH system for the first time. The KLH system easily revealed the improvements in sound quality using three versions of the same music track at 256 kbps MP3 encoding, 16-bit/44.1 kHz CD resolution, and 24-bit/192 kHz high-resolution.

The KLH system clearly revealed on “Tea For The Tillerman,” the album title track for Cat Steven’s 1970s release, that the piano was a real grand piano and not an electronic piano, upright, or baby grand. Plucked strings were also nicely done with a nice sharp initial transient and good tone as the string resonates. The choir of voices was very obviously reproduced as one or more tracks of a group of individuals, and not a synthesized sound recognizable as a choir but not recognizable as individual voices; something that has happened with some moderate-cost KLH competitors.

The more music and movies I listened to, the more the picture of the KLH system revealed itself. My final verdict is that the KLH system very closely resembles the sound quality of an expensive audio system. Careful listeners will notice differences, especially in direct comparisons, but nobody in the audience will be disappointed by the sound of the KLH system. The KLH system has all the stuff you want it to have to make music and movies interesting at a lower-than-ever cost.

Visiting guests, who come over for a movie and may have heard a $70,000 system the last time they were here, had absolutely nothing but good things to say about the KLH system without having any idea of the cost of the KLH system compared to what they heard on the previous visit. Since all of them are using built-in loudspeakers in flat-screen TVs or a $150 soundbar, they are a pretty good for “person off the street” comments.

Probably the best trait of the KLH system is conveying the emotion in the music soundtrack, while dealing with the dialogue and everything else in the soundtrack with clarity and good dynamics.  Aquaman was an interesting movie over the KLH system. When the movie was over, I realized I hadn’t thought about the sound system one time during the entire movie. I was wrapped up in the great visuals, so the KLH system just disappeared from consciousness during the movie. That’s impressive for a modest-cost loudspeaker system. Hearing Aquaman weeks later on a system well over $70,000 was a different (Wow!) experience, no question about that, but the enjoyable experience with the KLH system wasn’t diminished. All the jingling coins, pounding Kongs, screaming tires, roaring engines, and spectacular crashes in Ready Player One were delivered with sufficient impact by the KLH system to get me stuck watching more of the movie than I wanted or expected to watch. Frantic dialogue was able to cut through the surrounding mayhem to stay intelligible even with lots of high SPLs flying around the room. Movie after movie told the same story, the KLH system was a playful partner, willing to take you into every movie. I never identified anything I would identify as a negative about the sound quality of any of the KLH loudspeakers considering the amazingly moderate prices for each of the models in the review system.

 Conclusion

The KLH system is difficult to fault at its MSRP of just under $3,200. Solid performance, combined with great looks, material quality, and design, make it impossible to not be impressed by the cost/performance ratio. These KLH loudspeakers, all of them, set benchmarks for low-bass capability and quality in their price/size category. The 25 Hz bass capability of the Kendall tower alone at under $1,300 a pair should make them front page news for the foreseeable future. Whether you need a modest-cost system for your main room, or for a second or third system in other areas of the house, the reviewed KLH system or one using even lower-cost KLH models could be the perfect solution. Tremendous value.   WSR

Highly recommended. 

“When Your Budget Is $3,200 Or Less... This KLH System Is The Best Choice I Know Of”



KLH Kendall Tower

  • Dual 6.5-inch woofers
  • Single 5.25-inch midrange
  • Frequency Response: 25-23,000 Hz (+/- 3 dB)
  • Sensitivity: 96 dB
  • Amplifier Power: 250 (Watts)
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 (Ohms)
  • Nominal crossover frequencies: 800 and 2,500 (Hz)
  • Dimensions: 40 H x 7.75 W x 14.75 D (inches)
  • Weight: 50 (pounds)
  • Designed in: Indiana, USA
  • Manufactured in: China
  • MSRP: $649.99 each / $1,299.98 per pair

KLH  Center Story Channel

  • Dual 5.25-inch mid/woofers
  • Frequency Response: 48-23,000 Hz (+/- 3 dB)
  • Sensitivity: 91 dB
  • Amplifier Power: 150 (Watts)
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 (Ohms)
  • Nominal crossover frequencies: 800 and 2,500 (Hz)
  • Dimensions: 7 H x 19 W x 9.25 D (inches)
  • Weight: 16 (pounds)
  • Designed in: Indiana, USA
  • Manufactured in: China
  • MSRP: $398.99 each
  • KLH Beacon Dipole Surround
  • Dual 5.25 inch mid/woofers
  • Dual 1-inch anodized aluminum dome tweeter
  • Dual threaded inserts in back to assist with wall mounting
  • Frequency Response: 50-23,000 Hz (+/- 3 dB)
  • Sensitivity: 91 dB
  • Amplifier Power: 125 (Watts)
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 (Ohms)
  • Nominal crossover frequency: 2,000 (Hz)
  • Dimensions: 11.25 H x 11.5 W x 6.375 D (inches)
  • Weight: 11.25 (pounds)

MSRP: $498.99 per pair

KLH Beacon Dipole Surround

  • Dual 5.25 inch mid/woofers
  • Dual 1-inch anodized aluminum dome tweeter
  • Dual threaded inserts in back to assist with wall mounting
  • Frequency Response: 50-23,000 Hz (+/- 3 dB)
  • Sensitivity: 91 dB
  • Amplifier Power: 125 (Watts)
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 (Ohms)
  • Nominal crossover frequency: 2,000 (Hz)
  • Dimensions: 11.25 H x 11.5 W x 6.375 D (inches)
  • Weight: 11.25 (pounds)

MSRP: $498.99 per pair

KLH Ames Bookshelf

  • 4-inch woven Kevlar mid/woofer
  • Magnetic grille attachment
  • Frequency Response: 60-23,000Hz (+/- 3 dB)
  • Sensitivity: 87.5 dB
  • Amplifier Power: 150 (Watts)
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 (Ohms)
  • Nominal crossover frequency: 2500 Hz
  • Dimensions: 7.5 H x 4.75 W x 6 D (inches)
  • Weight: 5 (pounds)

MSRP: $378.99 per pair

KLH Windsor 12 Subwoofer

  • 12-inch driver with cone material of poly-glass, woven Kevlar,
  • paper, CSX, and fiberglass
  • Simulated wood-grain black oak vinyl finish
  • Slot loaded (port) with vertical driver motion
  • Signal sensing Auto-On mode
  • Volume and Low Pass filter controls
  • Inputs: stereo analog line level, LFE, both RCA jacks
  • Phase Control: 0-180 degrees
  • Frequency Response: 30-160 Hz (+/- 3 dB)
  • Amplifier Power: 200 continuous, 400 peak (Watts)
  • Class D (digital) amplifier
  • Maximum SPL: 118 dB
  • Power Consumption: 200 Watts average, 100-120 and 220-
  • 240 VAC and 50/60 Hz
  • Dimensions: 17.8 H x 15.4 W x 18.1 D (inches)
  • Weight: 44.4 (pounds)

MSRP: $598.99 each