KLH Model Nine loudspeaker Page 2
To date, nothing we had found seemed to suggest that this system was worth anywhere near the $1140 the manufacturer asks for it. We changed our mind, though, when we heard music through it. This was the first time, since we started dabbling in high fidelity in the early 1940s, that we have ever felt we were really listening through a loudspeaker instead of to it; the system has a degree of transparency and detail that we simply did not believe possible.
Our long exposure to the openness and lucidity of Janszen electrostatic tweeters had prepared us for the kind of upper-range transparency we heard from the KLH Nine, but to hear lower middles and deep bass reproduced with the same entirely effortless clarity was a hair-raising experience. No matter where we placed the speakers, we could not get boomy bass out of them. Bass transients, plucked basses, and the impact transients of tympani were solid and entirely free from hangover, and when organ pedals and bowed double-basses alternated, there was simply no question as to which we were hearing. We could, almost literally, "count the cycles" of a bowed double-bass.
Only on very rare occasions on some original, ungimmicked organ tapes, for instance did we notice. that some extremely deep notes were coming through less strongly than on some other systems we've heard (the Janszen Z-600, for instance), but the superior low-end detail of the KLH Nine made us more than happy to forego part of the energy from one or two musical notes on one recording out of every fifty or so.
In listening to the KLH Nine, we were more conscious than ever before of the gimmicking that goes on in most commercial recordings. The system's remarkable reproduction of depth perspective makes it clearly apparent which instruments were close-miked and which were coming through the general-pickup mikes, and when an accent mike was suddenly turned up, the over-accented instrument would protrude from the mass of sound like a luminous proboscis. On the other hand, inherently natural recordings came through with greater depth and naturalness than we had thought possible.
Careful placement ofthe KLH Nine has a great deal to do with its performance more so in fact than with most speakers, because its two-sided sound radiation makes it responsive to acoustical conditions behind it as well as in front of it. It is possible to introduce audible response colorations by locating the panels where reflections from walls behind them tend to augment or cancel certain midrange frequencies. A few degrees change of angle or a few inches change of distance with respect to the nearest wall will generally lick the problem.
When using the hardware supplied for fastening the panels together, the radiators are angled slightly outward. This directs the tweeter beams away from the listening area and, in some locations in some rooms, broadens the apparent stereo spread by bouncing the treble beams off the room walls. It does, however, also tend to reduce the system's upper-midrange radiation to a slight degree, for these frequencies, too, are somewhat directional and tend to follow the paths of the treble beams. The losses are slight, but the system is so close to being perfectly linear that they may be quite noticeable in some rooms. If a bit more "presence" is desired, place the panels in a straight line, edge to edge.
Incidentally, when the panels are used together, they should be arranged so that the tweeters are located at the outer edges of the paired panels, for maximum stereo spread. When the panels are used spread apart, tweeter location doesn't matter (although their direction still does).
Efficiency of the KLH' Nine is very low, in the vicinity of 1%, which puts it about on a par with the best of the acoustic-suspension systems. The manufacturer recommends a minimum of 30Wpc, and to this we add a caution about the kind of amplifier that should be used.
Like all good electrostatics, the KLH Nine does not need the hardness of a typical transistor amplifier to give it adequate crispness, and it reproduces every nuance of distortion fed to it. We know of only two manufacturers whose amplifiers and preamps fully meet the necessary standards: Dynaco and Marantz. There may be others, but we haven't found them yet. And if you're wondering about some of the new transistor units, find out what their measured IM distortion is below the 5W power level, If it rises to above 0.2% at any point below 5W with a 16 ohm load, forget it. If it doesn't exceed this limit, it may be suitable, but we couldn't guarantee it.
Finally, a word of caution. The crossover networks in these speakers can be damaged by attempting to drive them at high levels with continuous sinewave test tones. Response tests should be conducted at levels of 10W or less, and tones at this level should not be allowed to continue uninterrupted for longer than about a minute. If either panel suddenly starts making loud fluttering noises at low frequencies, the crossover network is being, or may already have been, damaged. The KLH Nine will safely handle the full output of a 70Wpc amplifier on music and natural sound material, and will produce full concert-hall volume, as heard from a row-H to row-M seat, with a dual 50-watter in a room of moderate size.
But be careful with continuous tones; much of the "horrible" sound people have reported from these speakers is due to a damaged crossover network. The power supplies and radiators, on the other hand, appear to be at least as rugged and dependable as conventional dynamic speakers. We have heard of, only one case of electrical breakdown, and that system had been used where it was repeatedly exposed to conditions similar to those in a steam bath.
This is the most nearly perfect loudspeaker we have ever heard, and we've heard every likely contender that's in commercial production. It does not favor some instruments over others, but seems to make everything sound almost perfectly natural.
It is not entirely without its own sonic character, though. Although there is nothing about its sound that we would describe as a coloration, it does tend to move things slightly back from the listener, "placing" them a bit farther behind the surface of the speaker than is the intent of the recording. The effect is much like that of moving back about ten rows in a concert hall, and since either spot can be a perfectly good seat from which to listen, it is fair to say that this characteristic of the Nine does not impair the realism of the sound.
This is not the kind of loudspeaker that everyone will like on first hearing. Its major points of superiority its transparency and detail are not readily appreciated until you've lived with them for a while, and it demands better associated equipment and more careful room placement than many users are willing to provide for it. Neither is it a very satisfactory wide-stereo reproducer in many listening rooms.
Because of its low efficiency and its tendency to move the sound slightly away from the listener, the KLH Nine is not recommended for the person who likes to re-create the extremely high level and intimacy of a very close-up seat in the concert hall, or who plans to be listening to it from a distance of 20' or more. But for the person with an average-to-large living room, whose preferred concert seat is between Row F and first balcony, the KLH Nine can come closer to re-creating the illusion of concert-hall realism than any other commercially available loudspeaker system, regardless of cost.