November 14, 2022
KLH Model Five is a 2499 USD Per Pair / 1249 USD Each Hifi Stereo Speaker setup with huge 10-Inch Bass Drivers, 3-Way Design, and superb 3/4″ MDF enclosure. They will be compared with other speakers I reviewed, including NHT C3 Bookshelf HIFI Speakers (1250 USD), Buchardt S400 (1800 USD), Aurender S5W (3000 USD). They will also be paired with a multitude of driving amplifiers, including Cyrus One Cast (2000 USD), SMSL AO200 (280 USD), Burson Funk (550 USD).
KLH is an American company currently based in Noblesville, Indiana. They were founded in 1957 as KLH Research And Development Corporation in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the KLH anime comes from the founders of the company, Henry Kloss, Malcolm S. Low, and Josef Anton Hofmann. In those golden years, they managed to sell over 30.000 speakers, and had over 500 employees, having designed some of the best known speakers of the rock’n’roll era. Skipping forward, in January 2017, Kelley Global Brands bought the company, and it was renamed KLH Audio, nowadays being part of the VOXX group, and working hard to make high-end speakers, with a touch of the magic they had back in the day. KLH is super well supported and has superb customer communication, being one of the few companies I can really recommend and commend based on the customer support alone. They have a rather small selection of products, but all of those have been optimized, and it is always better to make a few things really well than to be scattered and not manage your products well. While I’m far too young to tell the story from a firsthand perspective, I know KLH were quite popular back in the day as even in Romania I saw some of their products in hands of diehard audiophiles who enjoy vintage speakers. The Model Five we’re reviewing today is actually based on the best selling Model Five first introduced in 1968, and uses an updated version of the acoustic suspension design that dominated the loudspeaker market at the time. KLH also offers the longest warranty I’ve seen on a product, having a 10-years of warranty policy for the Model Five.
It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with KLH Audio, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. I’d like to thank KLH Audio for providing the sample for this review. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it. The purpose of this review is to help those interested in KLH Model Five HIFI Stereo Speakers find their next music companion.
If you’ve never seen a bookshelf / floorstanding speaker hybrid, it is time you do, with Model Five being the perfect example of what a crossover should look like. It has been proven by the car industry that crossovers are a popular thing, in the speaker industry, they offer the best of both worlds, the convenience of a bookshelf speaker, and the authority of a floorstanding speaker. In fact, I owned a few floorstanding speakers to date, and most of them have been rather inconvenient to use, having had extreme weight, and a performance that wasn’t that much better than my bookshelf speakers, like NHT C3 or Buchardt S400, so KLH Model Five really attracted my attention for the super nice design and for having such large woofer drivers.
If you aren’t well acquainted with the speaker market, it has its own stories, and KLH model five is built based on one of the most popular technologies out there, namely the acoustic suspension design. The custom stands made for the allow Model to sit on a slightly angled position, so that they bring the music to your ears, as long as you stay in a equilateral triangle relative to them, but with a huge 140 degrees of lateral dispersion, you won’t have to worry too much about the placement. In fact, this is one of the best parts about KLH Model 5, I have them sitting around my desk, and they create a perfect sound for my ears, despite the fact that I often don’t even sit between them.
Since they are not ported, you don’t need to worry too much about how much space is behind Model 5, and they can sit only a few centimeters away from the wall and sound perfect, while with most other speakers you need a good 20-30 cm of distance between the wall and the speaker for the best sonic results. KLH has cabinets made of 3/4 reinforced MDF, and they are using an Iconic Mid-Century styling, with an acoustic balance control that you can turn between brighter, neutral and darker tuning. I have it at the darkest level, as my room is rather large, and the speakers are not placed in the middle of the room anyways. You can select one of the three grille accessories for Model 5, and my pair came with the Old World Linen Grille, which I didn’t enjoy that much, so I’ve been using them with no grille. I also suspect that the sound is slightly better with no grille placed on them, but that’s a subjective thing and no one ever proven that the grille affects the sonic performance in a significant way.
Model five has a Non-Resonant, Die-Cast Aluminum Midrange and Woofer Frame, and they have a Die-Cast Aluminum Tweeter faceplate. The crossover is made of thirteen components and they use high-quality iron-core inductors and Mylar capacitors, all of the construction being so trusty that KLH offers 10 years of warranty for the Model Five Speakers. There are two colors available, Mahogany, and Walnut, with the version I have being the Mahogany, as it came with the original cloth grille.
If you’re looking for the technical specification, they have a response from 42 Hz to 20.000 Hz, with a + – 3dB of promised linearity, and a low frequency extension down to 32 Hz, at a -10db level. The In-Room sensitivity is 90.5dB at a 2.83V at a distance of 1 meter, and they have a power handling of 200 Watts, or 800 Watts Peak. They also have a recommended amplification of 20 Watts and up to 200 Watts. The Maximum SPL in a room is 112.3dB, and the impedance is 6 OHMs, which can prove problematic for some entry-level amplifiers. The crossover frequency goes for a 2nd order electro acoustic crossover, as it has the medium frequency crossover point at 380 Hz, and the high frequency crossover at 2850Hz. The tweeter is a 1″ Aluminum Dome with Soft rubber Suspension Driver, the Mid frequency driver is a 4″ Pulp-Paper Cne with Reverse Roll rubber Suspension Driver, and the Low Frequency Driver is a 10″ Pulp-Paper Cone with Reverse Roll Rubber Suspension driver, with a Flat-Wire Voice coil. The inputs are Five-Way Gold Plated Binding posts, only available for normal wiring, no biwiring. The weight of the speaker is 23.6 kilograms, with the stand base, and 20.0kh without the included riser base.
KLH Audio recommends having at least 30 cm between the speakers and the back wall, and at least 30 cm between the speakers and the closest lateral wall for the best performance. You’re also supposed to sit about 2-3 meters away from them, with about 2 meters of space between the speakers for optimal performance. I feared that the performance would be quite poor for me, but they work super well for my room, which is not acoustically treated, they are not placed optimally and I’m also using a subwoofer that isn’t designed to be used with them, the Adam Audio T10S. I find it convenient that you can use the KLH Model five very optimally for their design, and they’ll still sound great, work well and not have any issues.
For a speaker with moving parts, burn-in will be essential, but I want to note that as KLH describes on their website, the sound right out of the box is super good, and they instantly sound much better than both my Adam Audio T7V speakers, NHT C3, and Buchardt S400. They basically outdo everything I have around the house, even Aurender S5W, which was one of my favorite speakers for the midrange and the sweet treble they have. I have allowed KLH Model five for almost a month of intermittent usage for burn-in, also used them with a multitude of speaker amplifiers, and used them in a multitude of positions to get the best idea of how they sound. The full list of amplifiers used to drive them include Cyrus One Cast, SMSL AO200, Burson Funk, Soundavo NSA-250, and Arylic A50. While all of them could drive KLH Model 5, I liked the sound best when they’ve been driven by either Burson Funk or Cyrus One cast, as both offer outstanding dynamics and control, plus a deep and full bass.
The default signature of KLH Model five is really transparent, clean and clear. They have outstanding precision, clarity and resolution, the kind that makes you go wow the first second you hear them. I’m used to speakers sounding really bad with little burn-in, but Model Five has been an instant favorite from the first second I pressed play, and it keeps improving every day. I’d go with the theory that if you don’t like a speaker with zero burn-in, or with minimal burn-in, like 10-20 hours of music that’s been played through them, you’re not likely to want that speaker after more burn-in either. But back to Model Five, I’m not only into the superb clarity, but also the precision they have, the speed of sound is fast, they can keep up beautifully with rock, metal, grindcore, technical EDM, and basically anything you feed them. My room has zero acoustic treatment, so you should have a much better experience than me, even with minimal room treatment. The reason I don’t have room treatment is the awful Romanian housing market.
When you take a close look at the low end, or the bass, Model Five is a really fast, clean and punchy sounding speaker. They have a fast decay, which gives all music a feeling of precision, clarity and speed. They are never boomy, and even when tuned to the bass setting, or the darkest setting they can go, they are still fairly neutral in tuning, with a natural ratio of bass to midrange to treble. The main way I’d use them is with an external subwoofer, if you wanted a fuller and deeper bass. They can reach as low as about 45Hz or even 40 Hz, but the bass starts rolling off lower and you’ll need a dedicated sub if you want a beefier low end. I’m currently using Adam Audio T10S, and it has a much slower bass speed, which is easily audible, and while it works for me because it gives the Model five a fuller sound with better impact, it is also not ideal because you hear the discrepancy between the super speedy and clean bass of Model Five and the much slower and fuller bass of Adam T10S. The transition between the bass to the mid bass and the lower treble is clean, there’s no boominess or artifact, and the sound keeps a very coherent presentation, even at the crossover points.
The midrange of Model Five is where I had the biggest surprise, and they can easily compete in resolution, detail and clarity with the best monitors you may find selling for five times more than they are. The overall tonality is natural-neutral, with the sound of Model Five having a specific sweetness and silky midrange texture, but also outstanding precision and clarity. If you’re placed in the ideal equilateral triangle between the speakers as per KLH’s instructions, the soundstage has a similar width and depth, presenting instruments perfectly holographic, and the song playing around the listener freely. Female voices are magical, with a sweet and fluid presentation, while male voices are presented forward, mature and natural in tonality / texture. In fact, KLH Model Five is the first speaker I’ve heard that can actually render textures properly, and besides my Boss Kata MK2, nothing stereo / hifi can’t really play the guitar textures properly. Pianos in particular are sweet and pleasing to the ear played through Model Five, and they seem to position instruments so well that they’re also my main gaming speakers. If you ever played shooters or even Diablo II, you know how important it is to have the sound be perfectly placed around you to get a good idea of where items / enemies / events happen. Another part of Model Five that surprised me greatly is the instrument separation, they are able to play multiple layers of guitars like those found in Wintersun songs perfectly. The midrange peaks around 1-2kHz, having a slightly forward voicing for both male and female voices.
The treble of KLH Model five is an animal that needs to be tamed if you don’t like linearity, and they are a pair of natural-natural speakers, so they naturally have a perfectly extended treble, which goes infinitely, as high as 20kHz. In fact, the tweeter of Model Five is extremely precise and offers them an airy, bright and clean treble. If this all makes you fear they might be harsh, don’t worry, there’s zero sibilance or harshness in the sound of Model five, but they are quite revealing and open sounding, so you’ll need to worry if the mix / recording was actually poorly recorded. With great transparency comes great knowledge, so with Model Five music that was better recorded and which is more recent sounds much better than old and poor recordings, at least they really don’t euphemize recordings that are harsh and sibilant, like most Slayer and Iron Maiden songs, but they play well with Metallica, Infant Annihilator, Queen Kona, Dethklok. This being said, if you go for something chill and lean, Model Five makes you feel like you’re right there when the song was originally played, such is the transparency they have.
The final part but probably the most important aspect of their sound is the dynamic range and overall ability to display dynamics. This is where most headphones and IEMs fail, and where entry-level speakers fail too. I try to steer away from causing too much controversy when talking about dynamics, because I review a lot of portables, which have some limitations on the dynamics. For example, until iBasso DX320, most other players sounded really good, but DX320 has an outstanding dynamic range, and the same thing happens with KLH Model Five, they are super dynamic and punchy, and you never feel like they are limited in any way. Even with extremely compressed music, like most modern metal, you don’t hear the dynamics as compressed and don’t hear compression artifacts, and Model Five does an outstanding job at playing those perfectly. The disadvantage is that when you have a strong dynamic, if you watch movies with a high dynamic range, especially horror movies, or play music with huge dynamic range, like classical, you likely will increase the volume a lot, and when a loud moment comes up, it will be really loud. All in all, playing music through Model Five is a really transparent experience, and they sound punchy, surprising and dynamic. Playing a live concert makes you feel there, and despite the company being quite reserved about the technical data of Model 5, those speakers can pump extremely loud volumes with zero distortion, so you don’t have to worry, you can throw a party that will rock your entire house every now and then.
KLH Model Five 3-Way Acoustic Suspension Speakers vs NHT C3 Bookshelf Speakers (2499 USD vs 1250 USD) – We now have the first comparison, and one of the hardest to make, because I really love C3 and when I first installed Model Five, I was literally blown away by the quality difference, although was really surprised to notice that the main signature is really similar. They differ very little in overall signature, both are really natural, clean and well balanced, while Model Five goes to be much deeper, wider, and more resolute. The ratio in pricing is exactly 1/2 so I’d expect Model Five to be quite a bit better, but the improvement in low end reach, overall room filling factor, and background resolution / instrument separation / detail is surprising every time I power them side by side. If you’re looking for a pair of natural sounding, clean and quick speakers with outstanding control and clarity, both are excellent, but Model Five is pretty much a fully upgraded variant of C3, in every possible way. They are exactly what you’d need to go from great to outstanding in your experience.
KLH Model Five 3-Way Acoustic Suspension Speakers vs Buchardt S400 (2499 USD vs 1800 USD) – Buchard S400 is a bookshelf speaker, while Model five is a strong crossover, too large to be a bookshelf, but still too small to be a full floorstanding speaker. At least after you add the supports for them, they will feel and sound like a pair of floorstanding speakers. Proceeding to the sound, Model five sounds more open, brighter, and have a better instrument placement and soundstage, better clarity, and are generally considerably more detailed than S400. This being said, S400 can be fuller in sound, thicker and darker, warmer and are tuned to have a stronger bottom end, even though the low end reach is better on Model 5. It is a strange situation, Model five is much better technically, so I would recommend it 100% of the time, but if you’re looking for a dark and lush sounding stereo setup, S400 will be much darker, thicker and have a much smoother and even rolled off treble, fatigue-free for those who fear treble. Even with the tuning set to bass, Model Five stays more neutral and reference in sound than s400 is at default. Buchardt S400 has a much slower decay for the bass, which creates the feeling the whole sound is slower, and more relaxed, while the bass of Model Five hits harder and extends better. One thing you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t know what you were looking for, Model Five has better micro details, and the background instrument information is revealed much better than with S400, which has a more forward presentation of the lead instruments and voices, and pulls the background information even more in the background. Model Five resembles monitors and high-end speakers with high resolution better, while s400 resembles a simple yet lush / warm sounding setup, especially vinyl based setups better.
KLH Model Five 3-Way Acoustic Suspension Speakers vs Aurender S5W (2499 USD vs 3000 USD) – You know there’s more cost to running model five than S5W, but if we focus on the sound alone, S5W can never reach low frequencies as well as Model Five, and it actually fails quite terrible at providing the bass, reaching as low as about 80hz at best. Model Five, on the other hand, can easily touch down 40Hz, and they sound like a pair of full sized speakers, covering almost everything our human ears can hear. The overall resolution and detail is actually better on Model Five, which would be the main reason I’d recommend them above S5W, as S5W has been my reference for clarity and precision so far. With Model 5, the amplifier will play a big role in the final sound, as they’re usually more dynamic, more punchy and more holographic than S5W, but S5W has a sweeter treble, and a brighter tonality. You can pair Model Five with an AMP from Roksan for a similar effect, and the fact that the drivers are capable of producing better resolution and clarity makes Model Five a top choice every time I set up my speakers and go for a listen.
KLH Model Five 3-Way Acoustic Suspension Speakers + Cyrus One Cast (1249 USD + 2000 USD) – If you want a simple solution that has everything embedded, One Cast is the perfect DAC / AMP / Streamer to go. I used this one alone, although you can use an external DAC for it, which will come in handy, since the DAC inside is the only thing that could pull it back from being the number one most recommended integrated speaker amp in its own price range. One Cast gives Model Five what I consider the reference sound, at least for today’s review, and pushes Model Five to have better resolution, better detail, clarity and overall control than anything I played in my room so far. It gives them sharp transients, but good musicality, a superb impact, and outstanding resolution, plus a full and controlled bass, and a sparkly, airy treble that’s never harsh or fatiguing. It is, in a few words, the perfect pairing.
KLH Model Five 3-Way Acoustic Suspension Speakers + SMSL AO200 (1249 USD + 280 USD) – For this pairing I’ve relied on SMSL DO200 MKII as the main DAC, as it is the one that matches AO200 in shape and design. The overall sound is quite mid centric, sweet and has lower impact and punchiness than using most sources to drive model five. It is possible that AO200 struggles a bit with Model Five, but the overall signature is similar with other speakers too, AO200 has this mid centric sound with a forward midrange, a narrower soundstage, but with more focus on the musicality and fluidity of sound. I love the pairing for Jazz and room music in general, but would try the other amps if your main music listening revolves around rock, metal and more energetic / upbeat music.
KLH Model Five 3-Way Acoustic Suspension Speakers + Burson Funk (1249 USD + 550 USD) – Although it is really minimalistic, Burson Funk packs a punch and is actually able to drive KLH Model Five pretty well. The only downside is that you’ll need a matching DAC for this setup, and given the resolution and clarity of Model Five, I’ve been using SMSL DO200 MKII, and HIFIMAN EF400. Both have been doing a great job with KLH Model Five and Burson Funk, and the overall sound can generally be described as detailed, clean, crisp and punchy. Burson Funk has an excellent backbone for Model Five, giving them a full and lush bass, and allowing them to reach the lowest frequencies they can, plus it keeps a strong treble, and a wide soundstage with outstanding precision.
Value and Conclusion
While you could say that Model Five is a loudspeaker slightly more expensive than the majority of what I already reviewed on Audiophile-Heaven, at least as far as passive speakers go, it is undeniably one of the best price / performance and value speakers you can grab. In fact, when you count in the fact that they come with 10 years of warranty, and that you’re not likely to upgrade them unless you’re ready to spend 5-10 times the money you paid for Model Five, your best shot at a well priced audio nirvana is to get Model Five, a matching AMP and be done for the day, or rather for the next 10 years.
Before the end of today’s review, you can probably notice that I’ve been using the KLH Model Five Speakers for a long while now, as they’ve been present in the backgrounds of many of my youtube videos, so I have to award to them a place in Audiophile-Heaven’s Hall Of Fame. Not only are they outstanding in price / performance ratio, but they look outstanding, come with their own stands, have super nice looking grilles and the sound is just sublime.
At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a pair of large bookshelf, or floor standing speakers, with a sweet, delicious sound, wide soundstage, excellent detailing and instrument separation, and which can easily be driven from an amplifier less than a quarter of their price, all whilst sounding excellent, I fully recommend KLH Model Five Acoustic Suspension speakers, the model that makes my day, every day.
If you’re in the UK, you can grab one from www.amazon.co.uk here: https://amzn.to/3WeZD62
And if you’re from Europe, you can grab one from www.amazon.de here: https://amzn.to/3SR3ZNQ