July 29, 2019
The battle for speaker supremacy never ends, so rejoice when a compelling new option comes along. KLH Kendall towers are overachievers that you will want to hear.
What makes a great tower speaker? If you are splurging on the furniture, you want tangible benefits in terms of performance, too. You want bass that digs deep, in a speaker that can handle a lot of power and efficiently turn it into sweet sound. But you also do want a speaker that looks good since they will be the focus of your living room or AV room. With that in mind, the new KLH Kendall tower speakers (
$1299/pair) from the reborn, iconic speaker brand KLH are indeed great.
First, a bit of history. KLH was founded in 1957 by three gentlemen who lent it initials: Henry Kloss, Malcolm S. Low, and Josef Anton Hofmann. The company enjoyed great success for decades and its Model Eight Radio is instantly recognizable. Now, the brand has been revived thanks to new ownership, David Kelley (who grew Klipsch into a global brand as its president) with a focus on high-performance speakers, subwoofers, headphones, and other audio-related goodies.
I first encountered Mr. Kelley at CEDIA 2018 in San Diego and was instantly impressed with the new KLH speaker lineup. Now, I have a 7.2.4 all-KLH system that’s in for review. However, in the process of setting up and measuring the Kendall towers that are a part of it, I could not help but be impressed by what they offer on their own as a stereo pair. Initially, the specs seemed optimistic—can you really get a solid, clean 25 Hz from speakers that retail for $650 each and have gone on sale for even less? Speakers that feature a 3-way design, premium materials like Kevlar woofers plus midrange, real wood veneer, and equipped with a crossover that smoothly blends the drivers? Is the Kendall truly a speaker that has all that going for it while delivering a punchy yet neutral presentation? Read on to find out…
Features and Specifications
This is a full-size, three-way tower speaker featuring an aluminum dome tweeter, a 5.25” woven Kevlar midrange and dual 6.5” Kevlar woofers. These drivers are housed in sturdy MDF cabinets that feature internal bracing and chambers.
One of the two KLH Kendall towers featured in this review.
The company lists frequency response as 25 Hz to 23 kHz +/-3 dB, with 250 watts power handling and 8 ohms impedance. KLH specifies sensitivity at 96 dB and the crossover points are 800 Hz and 2.5 kHz.
On the outside, black oak and American walnut real wood veneers offer looks to match the sound. KLH touts the use of oversize magnets and diecast aluminum driver baskets that contribute to the performance of the Kevlar drivers. You can bi-amplify these speakers using the dual 5-way binding posts. Dimensions are 40” x 7.75” x 14.75” (H x W x D) and each speaker weighs 50 pounds. The specs can be found here on the KLH Audio website.
Setup and Use
For two-channel listening, I used a Denon AVR-X8500H AV receiver in stereo mode, both with and without room correction. The speakers are in my home theater room, which measures 11’x18’x9’. Since they are also part of a home theater system, the speakers flank a projection screen.
Running Audyssey XT32 and examining the result in the Audyssey Editor app revealed speakers that already behave well in my room, only needing EQ to take room-related peaks and dips in the bass. Due to room gain, the Kendall towers produce more bass than I need and consequently the correction made by Audyssey were subtractive in nature (which is a good thing). The Schroeder frequency of my room is around 350 Hz (that’s the point underneath which room-related effects are dominant) and by setting the MultEQ Filter Frequency Range using the editor app, it’s possible to restrict the room correction processing to the range you choose. I found if I applied correction up to 350 Hz, the speakers sound properly balanced.
Technically, these speakers can handle more power than the Denon AVR has to offer (250 watts, versus the 150 watts output from the Denon) but I have a Crestron ProAmp 7X250 that output 250 watts per channel and was able to use that—with the Denon AVR acting as a pre/pro—to power the towers to their full potential. Which, I might add, is louder than I need speakers to play—headroom is great. But more importantly, the difference between the AVR in 2-channel mode and the dedicated amp was negligible, you get maybe a 1 or 2 dB more output before other factors come into play—like the excursion limits of the woofers. However, because these speakers are good at digging deep, if you use them without a sub then you may wish to amplify them to their full capability—especially if you don’t have a “monster” of an AVR like the X8500H.
There is no point in shutting off the surround speakers and listening to stereo unless the front left and right speakers are able to project a realistic soundstage. Fortunately, these KLH rank extremely high in terms of soundstage and imaging. All the necessary ingredients are there for high-end listening experience; sit in the classic “audiophile triangle” where you are centered between the two speakers and the pair completely disappears. Kendall towers can render sounds that have a tangible size and location within the stereo soundfield; with properly mixed live recordings it creates a very authentic illusion of a band on stage, and when vocals come into the mix, the singer (or rapper) sounds like they are right in front of you. Key points: Imaging extends beyond the speakers, and the soundstage has depth to it.
Playing uncompressed music streaming from Tidal, I spent numerous hours checking out many of my favorite tracks plus whole albums using the Kendall towers. Actually, many hours because these speakers really hit the sweet spot in terms of voicing when it comes to music. I have very little patience for systems that have inadequate bass performance, and I’m acutely aware of what I’m missing when it’s not there. Except with Kendall towers, that bass is not missing at all. More than once, I double-checked the AVR and subs to make sure what I was hearing was only coming from the Kendall towers. That includes tracks like “Disc Wars” from the Tron Legacy soundtrack, which will test any systems mettle with its goose bump inducing mix of the London Symphony and Daft Punk’s growling synthesizers—it’s genuinely rare for a speaker to handle this track with enough authority to convey the grandeur of the recording, but these KLH towers pull it off.
I’m a big fan of The Orb, a band that somehow manages to blend ambient, space rock, reggae dub and electronic dance music into a cohesive and distinct sound for three decades. The production is always impressive and one excellent example of what they do best is Metallic Spheres, which features David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd) on guitar. The first track “Metallic Side) is a solid 28-minute psychedelic excursion into super studio sound. There’s so much going on, if a speaker system can’t differentiate the layers you get mud. Not so here, these speakers deliver a huge sound from the mix and the kick drum kits resonate in the gut while making the room sound like a cavernous space—they free you from the bounds of the room you are in.
I listen to 1000 hours of rap and 1000 hours of dubstep for every hour of classical or jazz that I consume, but that does not mean I can’t appreciate a good live recording. Certainly, great speakers will never shy away from these challenging genres. For jazz, I turned to The Duke’s Big Four and its third track, “The Hawk Talks”. It’s an album that an audiophile friend I visited shows with turned me on to, and consequently I’ve heard it played on numerous cost-no-object systems. And guess what? Thanks to the tight, balanced sound of the Kendall towers and the clarity of the 3-way design, the quartet sounded present in my house with a punch to the drumming that has that “live” feel to it, and that “band on a stage” sound was present.
One of the most tracks I’ve heard at multiple cost-no-object system demos is John Rutter’s “Pie Jesu” performed by Turtle Creek Chorale and the Women’s Choir of Dallas. It’s got no dynamic compression and you have to turn the volume waaaay up to do it justice, and then the big organ hits and you better hope your system can handle it. Here, having some hardcore subs would help with reproducing the 16.35 Hz organ tone. But here’s the thing… even driven by an AVR, KLH Kendall speakers lent gravity to the organ in this recording, something that I’ve only heard a few speakers do without a sub lending a hand, and all those speakers cost more than these.
OK, so I played the token jazz and organ music, but the real fun is queuing up The Temple of I & I by Thievery Corporation, cranking the volume and soaking in the chill vibe. It’s beautiful for the synths just float, the bass throbs, the drums so tight and the mix sucks you in with its holographic clarity. I would not waste my time listening to this album is a system does not handle the bass right, like the Kendalls do. The throb is physical, tangible, and surprisingly precise in conveying textures. And with the strong reggae influence, you get plenty of sound panning and floating and synth pads that fade in and out. It’s a detailed sonic collage, track after track providing rewards for deep listening.
Rap is how I get my fill of well-recorded vocals; they are, after all, quite proud of their voices. The latest Logic album YSIV is an easy listen (for the genre) and the way it’s produced lets you appreciate how the Kendalls handle that seductive mix of bumping bass and vocal braggadocio that make rap what it is—fortunately Logic is a smart rapper and he stays far away from the misogyny that afflicts the work of some other artists in the genre. Anyhow, what’s key is whether it’s Logic, or the Wu-Tang Clan (guests in the track Wu-Tang Forever) the voices are spot-on clear, floating right in the center of the soundfield.
I’m always a sucker for some Bassnectar, the master of chill dubstep. The artists three “Reflective” releases (Part 1, 2 and 3) are full of glistening synth pad sounds, massive wobbles and pounding drums that proceed at a relaxed pace and go great with a beer or a vape. The mix, with the right speakers, will totally envelop you, and with these KLH towers you’d be forgiven for thinking you are listening to surround-sound, not a stereo pair. But most importantly, the towers will deliver the throb that makes dubstep as much a physical experience as it is aural. These speakers will play really, really, really loud, and not distort. This is where they pull ahead of other towers I’ve heard in this price range, when you crank the volume you get more intensity, more aural excitement. There’s no hint of fatigue, no dynamic compression, no detectable distortion. If you want to turn your home into a club, whether that’s a dance club or a jazz club, a pair of Kendall towers plus a powerful amp are the ticket.
OK… as far as this review goes, I’m gonna stop here. Why? Because I have much more KLH gear to cover, including the Stratton MH212 dual-opposed 12” subwoofer that’s probably the most potent bass-making device (relative to its size) that I have encountered. And then there’s the company’s affordable high-performance Windsor 12” ported sub (I have two, for the full 7.2.4 experience) that will be part of the whole system review. Which is to say, this is just the beginning of KLH coverage.
The new KLH represents a rebirth of an iconic audio brand, no question. The quality of the company’s Kendall towers comes as a surprise, even taking into account the large number of legitimately great speakers I hear each and every year. This is a new high bar for 3-way towers in this price range, no question.
The true value of the Kendall towers rests in the fact you can buy a pair, plus an AVR that offers room correction, and you’ll easily hear a level of audio fidelity that’s elusive at considerably higher price points. Why? Because these are easy-to-drive 8-ohm speakers that play deep, loud, and yet do not skimp on the finesse. They form a rock-solid foundation for any system, whether it’s for music or for AV.
The bass extension of these towers is uncommon even at higher price points and has a quality to it that I would normally associate with premium subwoofers. It just goes to show that a speaker does not have to possess some esoteric new design, weigh 500 pounds and be made of solid aluminum in order to kick ass. The KLH Kendalls is a well-executed 3-way tower and an express pass to attainable high-performance sound. This speaker is a no-brainer Top Choice for 2019.