Klipsch The Nines integrated loudspeaker system Page 2

I decided to test the low-frequency performance of The Nines. It pleased and amused me to learn that John Atkinson uses a Taylor Swift tune, "All Too Well (Taylor's Version)," from her remade Red (24/96 FLAC, Big Machine Records/Qobuz), to test low bass. It's a good tune for that purpose, with a prominent bassline dropping an octave at 2:25, when she sings, "'Cause there we are again in the middle of the night." The Nines clearly reproduced the descending low-frequency energy, but pushing the SPLs pushed the fuzziness. These little boxes are great at reasonable volumes, but they simply can't move that much air.

The same was true with "Concrete Jungle," the first cut on the 50th-anniversary extended reissue of Bob Marley and the Wailers' Catch a Fire (24/96 FLAC, Universal Music Catalogue/Qobuz). It's reggae, so the bass is loud. Played at moderate levels, the bass sounded clean and went deep. Played loud, the bass grew some wool. Bass wasn't recorded as cleanly on the second track, "Slave Driver," so it went from somewhat fuzzy to quite fuzzy as I increased the volume. If you listen relatively loud and enjoy music with a heavy bottom, you will probably enjoy The Nines best with a subwoofer connected; Klipsch sells packages with The Nines and various matching subs.

On the plus side, the kickdrum beats were loud and proud no matter the listening volume. The Nines projected the beat well out into the room.

Next, I focused on the soundstage and transmission of low-level details at moderate listening levels. The Nines excelled at this. In the December 2023 Revinylization column, I reviewed three vinyl versions of Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins, one of my favorite jazz albums. On the second track, "Mood Indigo," I wanted to experience the effect of Hawkins stepping out of the right speaker when he begins his solo. With those same three LP versions of the album digitized 24/96 into my music library, I revisited "Mood Indigo" with The Nines. The differences among the three LPs were quite audible; I clearly preferred the original Impulse! LP.

I closed my eyes, forgot I was listening through little wooden boxes (and worked hard to ignore the vinyl ticks and clicks). Lo and behold, there he was in front of me, to my right, blowing that wonderful solo.

But can these speaker-gadgets rock? My acid test for speakers—for determining whether they have any hope of compatibility with my listening tastes—is the Rolling Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" from Sticky Fingers. The version I have preferred lately is on the Japanese SACD, which claims to be a "flat transfer" of the master tape. It preserves the dynamics I remember from the LP—nice, crisp drumbeats and distinct and varied guitars—as opposed to recent CD reissues, which are superloud with almost no dynamic range and so sound mushy. To my surprise, The Nines played the DSD file on my hard drive (ripped from the SACD by a friend who knows the "PlayStation method") through the Foobar2000 player with the DSD/SACD plug-in.

I sat back, cranked the volume—and wasn't disappointed. Keith Richards's guitar growled out of the right speaker, Mick Taylor's cleaner guitar glistened on the left. Charlie Watts's jazz-infused beat drove the bus. Bill Wyman's subtle, expert bass work was front and center, and the youthful Jagger Swagger was present and accounted for. This is no audiophile-quality test track, but a speaker too veiled or with too light a low end won't give no satisfaction. The Nines jumpin' jack flashed it. I know it's only rock'n'roll, but I like it!

Spinning shiny circles—and black ones
To check the TosLink input, I connected an Oppo DV-970HD DVD/CD/SACD player and spun a pair of shiny silver discs from a pair of box sets I produced and remastered: the complete Antal Doráti/Minneapolis Symphony on Mercury Living Presence, Mono era (31 CDs, Eloquence 484 4064) and Stereo era (30 CDs, Eloquence 484 4207, footnote 5). I dove into the music of Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967), one of Doráti's teachers and mentors.

Along with fellow Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, Kodály prowled the hinterlands of present-day Hungary and Romania collecting peasant songs, work songs, and other folk music. Sometimes they traveled with an Edison cylinder recorder; sometimes they transcribed the music as it flowed.

The final CD of the Doráti mono-era box—a "bonus disc"—was recorded not with the Minneapolis but with the Chicago Symphony. That orchestra had fired conductor Rafael Kubelik but owed Mercury Records more recordings, so Doráti was enlisted for sessions on January 8 and 9, 1954. Among the pieces laid to tape was Kodály's Peacock Variations, which is based on a Hungarian folk song he collected. The master tape was problematic, as the AC power in Orchestra Hall was not behaving consistently that day. On all earlier reissues after the original LP (footnote 6), there is audible wow, especially in the high strings and woodwinds. For the remaster, I used Jamie Howarth's miraculous Plangent Process, which straightened out the time-domain problems and brought the music forth undamaged. Aside from the hiss inherent to 1954 magnetic tape, and of course the monophonic perspective, the sound is lifelike, with full orchestral dynamics.

This music tested the ability of The Nines to project extremely quiet and extremely loud sounds into the room. The Nines managed it with moxie.

Next, I played Kodály's Háry János Suite from CD3 of the stereo-era box. To remaster this album, I used the CD tracks my mother (Wilma Cozart Fine) created in the 1990s. She got great playback of the 3-track tape from November 17, 1956, recorded in the cavernous Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis (footnote 7), and made a superb 3-2 mix. The Nines gamely wove the dense fabric of the orchestral score and especially shined during the final movement, "Entrance of the Emperor and His Court."

I switched to phono to test The Nines' phono preamp. My favorite Blue Note jazz record is Unity by Larry Young. There's a Kodály connection: Young's piano teacher in Newark, New Jersey, was a student of Kodály. The first cut on Unity is titled "Zoltan"; the opening horn flourish by Woody Shaw (trumpet) and Joe Henderson (tenor sax) quotes the Emperor's entrance from Háry János Suite.

Connecting a turntable ended up requiring a bit of a "rigamarole," as my father used to say. It's not ideal to place a turntable near a speaker—yet, turntables have short cables, for good reason: The signal level coming out of any cartridge, even a high-output moving magnet, is small; vibrations from a loudspeaker, especially at low frequencies, can cause feedback. Plus, cable capacitance increases with length and affects the sound. But what can you do when the phono preamp is located inside the speaker?

I saw little alternative. I set up a temporary stand made of two milk crates with a piece of thick plywood on top and moved my Technics SL-1200MK5 onto it. The cartridge was an Ortofon 2M Blue that once belonged to the late Art Dudley. I figured this is the right cartridge for this purpose because it's one a person new to vinyl and not (yet) obsessed might own. The 2M Blue's relatively high output gave the system its best shot at achieving decent output with low background noise.

I asked Klipsch's Spitznagle about having to place a turntable so close to a loudspeaker if one didn't want to use overlong signal and grounding wires. Turns out he anticipated the problem. "We inserted moderate subsonic filtering [via DSP] into the system when the phono input is used. Currently, this is a fixed filter," but it can be fine-tuned via a firmware update using the app. "We tried to strike a balance between the low-bass extension of the system and the potential for feedback from a turn- table." He's interested in a different kind of feedback, he added—user feedback—so that the engineers can tailor this DSP feature to best suit the widest range of turntable users.

Anyway, feedback wasn't a problem, and at any reasonable listening level, using a moderately high-output cartridge like the 2M Blue, I heard no audible hiss or hum. With the tonearm in its rest, I cranked The Nines to full volume. There was a bit of hiss and noise-hash, maybe Wi-Fi or cellphone RFI leaking into the signal wires, but it would not be audible under any listening conditions within what The Nines are capable of. At any listening volume I consider comfortable, including sitting close to the speakers, the noisefloor was near-silent. Impressive.

If you get serious about playing vinyl and invest in a top-notch cartridge, you'll want to use an external preamp placed close to the turntable, the turntable placed a good distance from the speakers, connected with longer RCA cables, then switch The Nines' input to line-level.

That said, the preamp is fine for casual listening, and it matched up well with the 2M Blue. One thing I like about this cartridge is its relaxed, forgiving character. It doesn't pull every last detail out of the groove, but it pulls out enough to enjoy the music, and it deemphasizes surface noise and groove whoosh and rumble.

The same is true of The Nines' phono preamp: It's easygoing. It's adequate and more for someone with a lower-cost, no-fuss turntable rig and a small collection of vinyl. On the Blue Note Classic Vinyl reissue of that Larry Young album (Blue Note/UMe 4579754, LP), remastered from the analog tapes by Kevin Gray, the music sounded as expected, though the deep bottom end was missing. There was enough bass to communicate the groups' intentions; the music didn't sound tinny or nasal, but Young's Hammond organ pedal work was less prominent than I'm accustomed to.

Next I spun something goofy-fun: Devo's new-old anthology, 50 Years of De-Evolution, 1973–2023 (2LP, Rhino R1 725327). These recordings, which actually span 1978–2010, were cut to lacquer by Joe Nino-Hernes at Sterling Sound Nashville, from digital masters. The Nines reproduced the peppy, beat-driven music with aplomb. "Jocko Homo," from 1978, sounded suitably lo-fi, and "Beautiful World" from 1981 sounded like it was recorded in a more luxe setting, as indeed it was: NYC's legendary Power Station.

Summing up
Klipsch's The Nines is a flexible, good-sounding speaker-gadget system priced to be accessible to a wide range of users. They make a great TV-sound system, with the built-in ability to stream music from a Bluetooth-connected phone-gadget or tablet. They can also be the heart of a high-quality first step into high fidelity, with connectivity for streaming, CDs, and vinyl, plus the television. As a small-room system, they will fill the space with music either by themselves or in conjunction with a subwoofer. (Klipsch makes several matching models.)

Remember your first hi-fi? I remember mine. The Nines excited me in a similar way, with peppy and fun sound—smaller in scale than I typically experience these days but hitting a lot of high marks: for clarity, detail, and impressive punch and drive. With their array of modern-world connection options, they could be a young person's self-contained gateway into audiophilia, and they make a fine small-room or second system for anyone. Bass-heads can spring for a matching subwoofer. The system is also somewhat portable—not in the sense that you'd haul it to the beach but in the sense that you could take it with you to a vacation home or an Airbnb.

I enjoyed my time with The Nines. I played them hard and had fun. They don't provide the nth degree of detail-revealing audiophile sound, but they grab enough of the music, and push it out in the room, to get the party started and keep it going all night.

Footnote 5: For more about the Mercury Living Presence series, see Robert Baird's "A Fine Art: The Mercury Living Presence Recordings." For more about the Doráti sets, see bit.ly/43ZVnuN and bit.ly/434Am0B. Also see the dCS documentary at dcsaudio.com/edit/watch-our-new-film-on-mercury-living-presence.

Footnote 6: The original recording used Fairchild Pic-Sync, a means to overcome powerline problems. The original LP was cut after a Pic-Sync resolver; subsequent reissues were not—hence the original LP only was relatively free of wow.

Footnote 7: Northrop has since been gut-renovated and made into a smaller performance space with better acoustics.

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mrounds's picture

You might want to invest in a recent, low-end TV for these kinds of tests. I have an ancient (but new enough to have Toslink and ATSC tuner) plasma (originally was smart but updates have remove the by-now-useless apps) and a recent cheap (not smart!) lcd panel, both accepting OTA via an attic antenna. OTA sound with both has a noticeable delay between in-set speakers and external audio, so it's one or the other unless you like subway-tunnel effects, and lipsync can be an issue.

Sources, though, matter as you found. OTA sound can be very good - try that if you're in a place where you can get it. Check rummage sales for ATSC converter boxes for your old Sony. Cable of any sort dramatically messes with audio as well as HD video. App (via Roku) sound is all over the map. PBS sounds great with Austin City Limits among many other things, but classical music is often massively and noticeably compressed (pumping and noise). Amazon sound quality generally sucks, as does (surprisingly, since it works OK from a computer) Youtube. Britbox is generally decent, within the limits of the type and age of the show. I don't do Netflix etc so no comment on them.

That said, powered speakers have always been intriguing to me. These look nice. Any experience with the smaller (more affordable?) models, that would make more sense with a subwoofer? And how serviceable are the parts? Can the plate amp be replaced if necessary?

MLP's picture

Most of us can't get antenna TV reception these days. Having experienced a bit of it here and there, I agree that there can be better picture and sound quality from an antenna vs a cable or streaming transmission. The lack of sound/picture sync is a plague of digital TV. It doesn't seem to ever go away. It must be a big deal to get that right from production through transmission and reception. Back In The Day, NTSC TV rarely had that problem. Fuzzy picture and all, it was better in some ways.