Speakers and subs are the make-or-break components of home theater sound systems. It’s where “the rubber meets the road” and the challenge is to find the right speakers to get the most out of TV shows, movies, upmixed 2-channel music and multi-channel music. With its new speaker and subwoofer lineup, KLH Audio offers a compelling collection of high-performance speakers that both look and sound great. In this review we’ll take a look at a KLH 7.2.4 system that I used in an IMAX Enhanced home theater system.
Features and Specifications
Here’s the system featured in this review:
- Two KLH Kendall tower speakers
- Two KLH 12″ Windsor subwoofers
- One KLH Story center channel
- Four KLH Beacon surround speakers
- Four KLH Broadway elevation speakers
A Denon AVR-X8500H to care of all the processing and amplification for this rig. It is an IMAX Enhanced AVR that offers to 13.2-channel processing and amplification and is Denon’s flagship. It offers Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction and compatibility with the MultEQ editor app for fine-tuning.
On the video side the system paired a Sony VPL-VW295ES projector (also IMAX Enhanced) with a 110″ (diagonal) Ambient Visionaire screen by Screen Excellence. When combined with the Denon, it comprises a fully IMAX Enhanced system and the 7.2.4 speaker configuration meets IMAX specifications for an optimal speaker system, namely 7.2.4 speakers; you can see the specific requirements in this FAQ.
KLH Kendall ($649 each) are the foundation of the system and are very balanced, capable speakers that have deep bass extension and high power handling. Frequency response is rated at 25Hz-23kHz +/- 3dB which translates to real-world full-range response, once you factor in room gain. In a multichannel, multisub system this means you can choose any crossover point you like, even 40 Hz, and the speakers won’t complain. I use a universal 80 Hz crossover in my theater, and IMAX Enhanced applies its own bass management secret sauce with a 70 Hz crossover, so either way the Kendalls have plenty of bass extension to spare.
Each Kendall speaker features dual 6.5″ woven Kevlar woofers, one 5.25″ woman Kevlar midrange, as well as an anodized aluminum 1″ dome tweeter. Dual 5-way binding posts that allow for biamping are part of the package. Notably, each woofer gets its own internal chamber with a tuned port. The grill is magnetic and the speaker ships with spikes and rubber feet.
The Windsor 12 ($599) is a 12″ ported powered sub. It’s rated at 200 watts with 400 watt peaks. KLH lists frequency response as 30 Hz to 160 Hz. Post EQ, Audyssey reports flat response out to 20 Hz, which meets IMAX Enhanced requirements. Without EQ, the in-room response is only down by about 5 or 6 dB at 20 Hz. Feature-wise, you get controls for gain, low-pass, phase adjustment and auto power on/off.
The Windsor 12 is compact, attractive and affordable but it depends on the AVR or pre/pro providing the EQ/room correction to get the best integration, it does not provide onboard EQ/DSP.
KLH’s Story center channel ($399) has a 1″ aluminum dome tweeter and dual 5.25″ Kevlar mid/bass drivers in a sealed cabinet. It initially struck me as being (a bit) small for the 7.2.4 system, especially when considering the capabilities of the Kendalls. However, listening and measurements revealed it is a capable design—the drivers have plenty of guts. Some may balk at it being a 2-way MTM center, due to potential combing artifacts, but tonal balance was consistent regardless of where I sat.
Frequency response for the Story is rated as 48 Hz to 23 kHz +/-3 dB. That correlated well with Audyssey’s in-room measurements showing a – 3dB point around 30 Hz (un-EQ’d) which easily accommodates room correction and the 80 Hz crossover. Long story short, the Story center channel worked in this configuration.
KLH Beacon surround speakers ($499/pair) handled the surround-sound duties in this system. These sealed surrounds are designed to offer wide dispersion. KLH rates response as 50 Hz to 23 kHz. They are an aesthetic and tonal match for the rest of the system and are designed to be hung on a wall. Each speaker features two 1″ aluminum dome tweeters and two 5.25″ Kevlar mid/bass drivers.
For elevation, I used four KLH Broadway speakers ($499/pair) as speaker-toppers. These are Atmos-enabled speakers that fit perfectly on top of the towers, if you decide to use them that way, but can also be wall-mounted. Like the Beacon, the Broadway is rated as offering 50 Hz to 23 kHz response and Audyssey confirmed that post-EQ, roll-off does not begin until below 80 Hz, so they are good to go for elevation duty. A 1″ aluminum dome tweeter along with a 5.25″ Kevlar mid/woofer create the sound in this handy multipurpose speaker.
The Broadway is a sealed (acoustic suspension) 2-way speaker with a nominal impedance of 8 ohms (easy to drive), 150 watts power handling and a 2000-Hz crossover. Threaded inserts on that back facilitate on-wall installations.
|Model||Power Handling||Freq Response||Sensitivity||Impedance|
|Kendall||250 W||25 Hz – 23 kHz||96 dB (in-room)||8 ohms|
|Story||200 W||48 Hz – 23 kHz||91 dB (in-room)||8 ohms|
|Beacon||150 W||50 Hz – 23 kHz||91 dB (in-room)||8 ohms|
|Broadway||150 W||50 Hz – 23 kHz||91 dB (in-room)||8 ohms|
Setup and Listening
I primarily used this system to watch movies in a “proper” home theater setting. Lights out, volume up, optimal seating, focused on the screen.
Setup consisted of placing the speakers, running Audyssey and then tweaking the results with the MultEQ editor app. There were no surprises to report in the results, the speaker system and AVR proved to be a good match.
The end result, in that room, exceeded my expectations. The KLH system produced clean, dynamic sound that teased lots of detail out of movie soundtracks. I found I could crank the volume without taxing the AVR and achieve the sort of dynamic presentation associated with high-fidelity commercial cinemas.
Notably, dialog was crystal clear, regardless of the volume level. Even at night, with the system playing at a whisper, there was no struggle to hear voices. And when cranking the rig, speech was intelligible even during huge action scenes that have sounds flying all around the room while the floor shakes. Any concern the Story center can’t keep up with the mighty Kendall towers was alleviated by the real-world performance I experienced.
The only issue I can see anyone encountering with the Story center when used in a system such as this… is that the Kendall towers are considerably more sensitive and offer higher power handling. The specification mismatch is fine relative to the surrounds, which don’t have to work all that hard. But the center channel is tasked reproducing the most sound of any channel in a surround-sound system! By necessity, the center channel needs to be a robust speaker.
Despite my initial spec-based skepticism, the Story turned in a great performance. For one, it is a good match to the Broadway and Beacon surrounds, in terms of overall capability. Realistically, a system like this could use the more affordable Quincy towers and you would achieve roughly the same result when in 7.2.4 mode. However, the advantage of having the overachieving Kendalls is that you can use the same system to playback stereo music in 2.0 or 2.1 (or upmixed to surround sound) and do so at concert levels while enjoying clean and clear sound.
I watched many movies and gave many abbreviated demos with this system and was not able to find a weak spot in terms of performance. Even when pushing “reference” levels the speakers stayed crisp and detailed, with no sign of dynamic compression right up until the point where I risked clipping the AVR. These speakers have headroom when used with an AVR but with a premium AVR you can skip the external amps because they get plenty loud without strain.
One demo in particular, the opening to Mad Max: Fury Road, gave me goosebumps when I realized this system handled it with the finesse I expect from far pricier speaker systems that I’ve demoed at various shows. Every sound rendered with a sharp focus that let you “see” where it is in 3D space. And even when I unleashed the system’s full power, the KLH speaker system did not hesitate in the slightest.
To summarize, the system provided a holistic listening experience that puts you in a seamless bubble of 3D sound. And besides being great for movies, it provides a compelling audio experience for gaming. Now that there are titles available with Atmos sound and 4K HDR graphics, home theater gaming is no longer “overkill” it’s actually what you need to become fully immersed in a game. In this system, of you spin your character around, the whole soundfield will spin and maintain its holographic integrity. With this system it’s easy to hear subtle audio cues and to pinpoint what direction they come from.
The dual 12″ Windsor subs offered a nice “kick” and produced clean bass, but are not capable of infrasonic extension. This is not a huge surprise, 12″ ported subs in cabinets this size are typically not designed to play below 20 Hz. Interestingly, Audyssey XT32 measurements showed that the Kendall towers play deeper than the subs! Having said all that, post-EQ the Windsor subs played right down to 20 Hz (in-room) and offered plenty of output for my needs. But obviously there are subs out there that dig deeper and play louder (but cost more) and depending on YOUR needs you may want more than the Windsor 12 offers, or you may find it is spot-on given the balance of size and price and sound quality it offers.
In addition to watching games and movies in surround-sound, I’m a big fan of upmixing stereo recordings. With 7.2.4 channels, the “limited by your imagination” mixes found in electronic music are translated into fantastical soundscapes. Moreover, I found that if I sat precisely centered, as you should with a 2-channel rig, the 3D illusion was that much more profound.
The Dolby Surround upmixer is my favorite for music and I found it was able to leverage the 7.2.4 KLH system to replicate the feeling of being in a different, and/or larger space than my home theater room. Examples include a concert hall when listening to classical music, or a jazz club and the all the background noise and ambience of having a live audience so close to the stage. And with studio albums, sky’s the limit—sounds as vast as outer space itself manifested with ease as I absorbed albums by Sounds from the Ground, Boards of Canada, Bassnectar, The Orb, Love & Rockets, Deadmau5, Thievery Corporation, Sly & Robbie and other acts that make the regular rotation.
The one consistent thing about this system and music is that the speakers always disappear. They totally get out of the way becoming invisible as music flows out of them.
The appeal of this KLH speaker system is the all-around good value they offer. From aesthetics to performance, these speakers are a highly competitive offering that—to my ears anyhow—have the refinement audiophiles demand along with the dynamic presentation that home theater enthusiasts crave.
With this system, KLH is back in the game with products that command respect for offering great looks and performance for the dollar. Consequently, the entire 7.2.4 system gets a “Top Choice” designation for 2019.
The system I put together including these speakers exists no more. When I took it apart, it was to prepare for a move. My new apartment is in a high-rise and I do not have a dedicated home theater.
In the new space, I have replaced the Kendall towers with KLH Quincy towers ($499 each), which are also a 3-way design but have a single 6.5″ woofer, rather than two. The Quincy is actually the “Goldilocks” speaker in the lineup, it still offers great bass extension but the sensitivity is closer to that of the Story center (94 dB in room). If you are building a primarily surround-sound system and are adding subs, going with Quincy towers and putting the $300/pair you save somewhere else in the system is a reasonable approach.
The new living room-based system still offers high fidelity 3D immersive sound playback with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It still meets IMAX Enhanced recommendations. But there are other differences beside the towers: Instead of the two 12″ Windsor subs, I have a prototype of KLH’s next sub that… well, I can’t talk about it yet (but it’s my new favorite living room-friendly sub). So stay tuned for that review, coming soon.
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