KLH KENDALL 5.2 SPEAKER SYSTEM REVIEW

Jan 21st 2019

HomeTheaterHiFi.com

The KLH products reviewed here form a 5.2 speaker system consisting of the top-of-the-line Kendall floorstanding speakers ($1,300/pair), Story center channel ($399 each), Beacon dipole surround speakers ($499/pair), and a pair of Windsor 10 subwoofers ($449 each).

At their price points, which are quite affordable, I did not expect much in terms of the internal components used, build quality, and/or finish. However, KLH managed to defy my expectations. The speakers use high-quality components throughout with solid build quality and finish which makes them comparable to what you would find from speakers offered at higher price points. My review below will give the readers some ideas on what these speakers bring to the table in terms of sonic performance and value.

Highlights

KLH Kendall 5.2 Speaker System High-quality speaker components. Great build quality and finish. Equally adept for stereo and surround applications. Great value products.

Introduction

The very beginning of the KLH speaker brand started in 1957 when Henry Kloss, Malcolm Low, and Josef Hofmann founded KLH Research and Development Corporation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The brand proved to be popular as it became known for high-quality speakers at affordable prices. The brand has been bought and sold a few times, and although the brand never really disappeared, its existence became very limited in the early part of the millennium. In 2017, KLH was purchased by David Kelley, a longtime Klipsch and VOXX executive, and renamed “KLH Audio”.

Under David Kelley’s leadership, the revival of the KLH brand seems to be going full steam, as exemplified by the launch of a full KLH speaker line at CEDIA Expo 2018 consisting of floorstanding, bookshelf, center-channel, surrounds, and subwoofers. Channeling the same spirit as the original KLH products, the current company seems determined to offer speakers that are within the affordable category. Even the current top-of-the-line product in this lineup, which is the Kendall floorstanding speaker included in the review system, carries a modest price tag of $1,300 per pair. The other speakers included as part of the review system are a Story center-channel speaker ($399 each), a pair of Beacon surround speakers ($499/pair), and a pair of Windsor 10 powered subwoofers ($449 each). The total cost of this whole 5.2 system is just a tad over $3,000 which can readily be considered a budget system for non-mass-market products like this. My review below will describe what you can expect to get from this system.

Design

The KLH speakers reviewed here have simple, classic enclosure designs by which I mean typical rectangular-box shapes (except for the Beacon surround speakers). Closer inspection reveals that these speakers use high-quality materials and components and are very well constructed. The simple knuckle-rap test on the speakers’ cabinet indicates that the speakers are well braced with no significant cabinets resonances. The black-oak wood-veneer finish of the review system is nice overall. If you think black is boring or does not match your room décor, KLH provides an option for an American walnut finish for the floorstanding, bookshelf, and center-channel speakers. It would be nice if this optional finish were also made available for the surround speakers and subwoofers. When it comes to room-décor considerations, a uniform system finish is often desirable.

Although affordably priced, these KLH speakers are equipped with high quality components. The Kendall, Story, and Beacon speakers use anodized aluminum tweeters and woven Kevlar midrange/bass drivers with die-cast aluminum driver baskets featuring oversize magnets. The drivers of the Windsor 10 subwoofers are made of proprietary blend of treated paper, Kevlar®, CSX and Polyglass. The crossover networks used in the speakers are custom and made from high-grade components. KLH also pays special attention to the faceplates of the tweeters and drivers, which are made from brushed aluminum and shaped to give the speakers a unique grille-off look. The binding posts of the speakers are of the high-quality five-way variety. I like the fact that the Kendall floorstanding and Story center-channel speakers also sport magnetically-attached speaker grilles, a feature normally found in speakers at higher price points.

Kendall floorstanding speakers

The Kendall floorstanding speakers employ a three-way bass-reflex design with two rear ports. Foam plugs to block these ports are supplied with the speaker for bass-response control. The Kendall is a medium-size floorstander and it looks deceivingly slim straight from the front as its width is about half of its depth. The whole speaker box sits on top of a black-satin rectangular plinth with threaded holes on the bottom for insertion of metal spikes or rubber feet. Since my room is carpeted, I used the metal spikes provided so that the speakers stood firmly on the floor. The grilles of the speakers attach using magnets. Each speaker has dual binding posts to accommodate bi-wire or bi-amplification configurations.

It comes with a default configuration that uses a pair of metal jumpers to connect the two sets of posts for single-wire application. Typically, the provision of dual binding posts is to allow powering the mid-range/tweeter and bass drivers using separate amplifiers. This is done to reduce the strain on the amplifier powering the mid-range/tweeter as the bass driver, which usually draws more power, is powered separately. But the KLH approach is different here. The crossover frequency of the dual binding posts is relatively high, thus bi-amping would power the tweeter separately from the mid-range and bass drivers. I was informed that this approach was done more for bi-wire applications to allow for tweaking the tweeter response through the impedance of the speaker wire used.


Kendall rear ports and speaker terminals

The Story center-channel speaker utilizes a two-way bass-reflex design with the tweeter in the center of the front baffle flanked by the two mid/bass drivers. These tweeter and mid/bass drivers are the same as the ones used in the Kendall. The two ports are located on the rear baffle. Foam plugs are also supplied for bass response adjustment of the center speaker. The speaker is also equipped with two sets of binding posts for a bi-wire/bi-amplification application. The Story can be categorized as a medium-size center-channel speaker which does not take up too much space for shelf/stand placement. It is also equipped with a magnetic grille.

As the typical placement of surround speakers is on or against the wall, the Beacon utilizes an acoustic-suspension design. The Beacon is a two-way dipole surround-speaker with its two tweeters and mid/bass drivers symmetrically placed on the angled front/side baffles for good sound dispersion. The drivers used are the same as the ones found in the Kendall and Story speakers. But unlike those speakers, the Beacon does not have a magnetic grille. Instead, it uses the traditional pin and cup grille attachments. A ¼” threaded insert is provided on the back of the speaker for easy wall mount.

The Windsor 10 powered subwoofer is relatively compact with a forward-facing 10″ driver. It has a base plate with the provision for adding spikes or rubber feet and a traditional cup-and-pin-attached grille. The Windsor 10 is a bass-reflex design with rear-slot port and sufficiently powered by a 150-W class-D amplifier. The control panel of the subwoofer, which is located on the back, sports a pair of line-level RCA inputs and three rotary knobs for crossover frequency, phase, and level adjustments. It also has a switch to set the subwoofer to be in ‘Auto-On’ or always ‘On’ state. I left this switch at ‘Auto-On’, which puts the subwoofer in sleep mode when no signal is detected after some time and wakes it up automatically when a signal is present. The Windsor 10 subwoofer has the typical frequency response of a compact subwoofer, which is 32 – 150 Hz. The Windsor 10 is not terribly heavy and thus I could move it around with relative ease for proper positioning during the setup.

During the review, the Kendall served as the main left and right front speakers, the Story as the center-channel speaker, the Beacons as the surround speakers, and the pair of Windsor 10 subwoofers handled the low frequency effect (LFE) channel. Amplifiers from Bel Canto (REF500S: stereo, 250 W per channel into 8 ohm, REF500M: mono 250 W into 8 ohm, and EVO200.6: 6 channels, 120 W per channel into 8 ohm) were used to drive the speakers. The front-end components used in the review included an AURALiC ARIES G1 music streamer and Bel Canto CD3t CD player in conjunction with the DAC3.7 from Bel Canto. A Classe CP-500 and Marantz AV8802 completed the stereo preamplification and the surround processing, respectively. The Kendall speakers were slightly toed-in to get good imaging during the stereo playback. They were situated about 9 ft apart from each other and pulled into the room at about 1.5 ft away from the front wall. The main listening position was equidistant to the speakers and formed roughly an equilateral triangle configuration. The Story center channel was placed right in the middle of the Kendall pair and put on the stand right below the TV at about a foot below the listener’s ear level. The Beacon surround speakers were put on the stands against the side walls at about 7 ft away from the main listening position with their tweeters about a foot above the ear level. The Windsor 10 subwoofers were placed near the front corners of the room to utilize the corner loading of the room.


Setup and In Use

I found that a good amount of break-in time was necessary to bring the speakers to their steady-state performance level. The sonic characters of the speakers noticeably changed for the better after some playing time, which was especially true for the Kendall. Right out of the box, the speakers sounded a bit hard and edgy especially in the mid-range region, but after break-in the sound became smoother and more natural with more bloom in the bass.

I extensively evaluated the Kendall speakers as a stereo pair during the review. As with other speakers that I reviewed, the first thing that I paid attention to was the balance across the sonic frequency spectrum. In my system, with the speakers situated 1.5 ft into the room from the front wall, I noticed a slight upper-bass emphasis. The interaction between the two bass-reflex ports with the wall was the likely culprit for this. In my case, blocking one of the ports on each speaker with the foam plug provided yielded the balanced response that best fit with my taste. Your mileage may vary, but definitely experimenting with the plugs is a worthy effort to get the best balanced sonic performance from the speakers.

Diana Krall “The Very Best of Diana Krall”

Even though the Kendall had impressed me from the get-go, they impressed me more after the balance across the frequency spectrum had been dialed in. As I listened to the track ‘S Wonderful from The Very Best of Diana Krall (2007) CD, I could not help noticing the speakers’ excellent mid-range clarity and presentation of details.

Diana Krall’s vocal in the track sounded sweet and full-bodied, giving a sense of vocal naturalism. The treble rendition was airy and sufficiently captured the details without being too bright. The center image created by the speakers was highly focused and projected slightly forward of the plane of the speakers, creating a sense of intimacy. Soundstage depth portrayed by the speakers might not be the best that I had heard from this track, but it was definitely sufficient to paint a believable presentation. Overall the speakers were quite engaging to listen to with their just-right conveyance of the musical rhythm and pace.


Beyonce “Lemonade"

The Kendall speakers were quite adept in conveying the bass content in the program materials. Their specifications indicate bass-extension capability down to 25 Hz (at -3 dB), but as always room size and acoustics would affect the actual results. Regardless of the actual low-frequency extension reached, these speakers never failed to convincingly convey the bass rhythms and attacks in the program materials evaluated.

The bass presentation was never too lifeless or dull. Beyonce’s Pray You Catch Me track from the Lemonade (2016) album contains significant bass spectrums throughout. As expected, the Kendall conveyed the bass notes and attacks in this track articulately. The 

I also experimented with using a subwoofer to enhance the lower register of the Kendall speakers in a 2.1 setup. Augmenting the Kendall with the Windsor 10 subwoofer, which was part of the review set, yielded only limited results as the subwoofer’s frequency response did not go very low (response roll-off starting at about 30 Hz). The Windsor 10 could enhance the mid-bass response but it did not add meaningful extension to the deep-bass output. A larger subwoofer with lower frequency extension would be needed if the purpose of the augmentation was to achieve flatter response to the very low audible frequency range. To this extent, I obtained a good result in extending the Kendall low-frequency response using my Hsu VTF-3R subwoofer that could reach down to 18 dB. In such a combination, a truly full-range frequency reproduction was successfully achieved.deep-bass portion of the track was not that obvious when I listened to it in my listening room, which is relatively large and open to other parts of the house. It was not that the deep-bass portion was missing from the response, it was just that it was not produced with sufficient intensity. The deep-bass portion was clearly there when I listened the speakers in my bedroom, which is a smaller volume.

It should be clear from my opinion above that the Kendall speakers were a strong performer in stereo applications. I found out that they were quite at home too for surround applications. The Kendall proved to be capable front anchors for the 5.2 KLH system evaluated here.

Good timbre match is an important element for a good surround speaker system and these KLH speakers nailed that. The fact that the five speakers in the system used the same type of tweeter and mid-bass drivers clearly helped in achieving this match. I did not detect any change in sonic characteristics as the sound panned across the speakers.

The Story center-channel speaker might look unassuming, but it was a very capable one. It produced dialogue in movies with good clarity without any hint of congestion even when played at a rather loud level. It was also quite capable in complementing the Kendall front speakers in conveying surround-music program material. During the evaluation, I did not feel the need to plug the speaker ports, as the speaker sat more than 2 ft away from the back wall and did not appear to exhibit upper-bass emphasis as did the Kendall in my room. The dispersion characteristics of the Story center channel were sufficiently good. Positioning it horizontally on the shelf a foot below the ear level did not prove to have a detrimental effect to its performance. Also, there was no noticeable degradation in sound clarity from this center channel as I shifted to the left or right by three or four feet away from the center seating position.

The Beacon surround speakers adeptly handled the distribution of rear/side sounds to generate realistic surround effects. I often use live TV surround sport broadcasts to test the capability of the surround speakers to create sonic envelopment and the Beacon did not disappoint in is regard. During the review, I watched several live football games in surround sound and the Beacon surely complemented the rest of the system well in recreating the stadium atmosphere, making me feel as if I were in the middle of cheering/jeering crowds.

Initially, I was rather skeptical with the Windsor 10 subwoofers. But it turned out my skepticism was unfounded. In my relatively big and open room, the two Windsor 10 subwoofers were able to provide the necessary oomph for the movies. When properly dialed in, these powered subwoofers had no problem in delivering the bass energy in the soundtrack. This was obvious when I played Proud Mary (2018) in Dolby Digital.

Not only that the movie was full of special sound effects that would really give the surround speaker system a serious workout, it also contained relatively quiet conversation passages that would expose the dynamics of the surround speaker system in handling both sides of the extremes. To my delight, this KLH speaker system had no problem in handling the soundtrack, delivering delicate sonic ambiance or background music with finesse as well as intense fighting or explosion scenes with impact. The bass rhythms underlying a good amount of the scenes in the movie were conveyed tunefully by the Windsor 10 subwoofers. Overall, this 5.2 KLH system delivered first-rate surround-sound performance that would surely enhance the movie watching experience.

Conclusions

KLH Kendall 5.2 Speaker System Review

The combination of strong sonic performance, use of quality components, excellent build quality, and affordability should make this KLH speakers a high bang-for-the-buck champ.

LIKES Excellent build quality and finish

Magnetically attached grilles

Use of quality components throughout

Excellent timbre matching among the speakers in the system

Great stereo and surround performances

WOULD LIKE TO SEE 

Other finish options

This new KLH 5.2 speaker system has convinced me that quality and performance do not have to come with a hefty price tag. Despite being affordable, these speakers utilize quality components throughout. Plus they are solidly built and excellently finished. More importantly, they exhibit strong stereo and surround performances and should have no difficulty in getting audio aficionados’ stamp of approval. These are undeniably hard-to-surpass high-performance-to-cost ratio products, which are easy for me to recommend. In this regard, the KLH 5.2 speaker system reviewed here is a winner in many respects and should pave the way nicely for the company’s revival of the brand.

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