Klipsch HD Theater 500 Speaker System
Blow Your Little Horn
There are stories we tell over and over again because they never lose their power to teach us something. For example, the story of “The Three Little Pigs” and the big bad wolf teaches us not to risk our survival on houses made of straw or sticks. If more people had taken this story to heart and made the right decisions on housing, the subprime mortgage debacle never would have happened.
There are also stories that never lose their power to entertain—like the rogue cop who’s loaded with action-man virtues and at odds with his superiors but eventually nails the bad guy. No matter how many movies you’ve seen with variations of this scenario, there’s always room for one more.
The loudspeaker company founded by Paul W. Klipsch in 1946 has its own story to tell: the story of the Klipschorn. While Klipsch didn’t invent horn-loaded speakers, he did come up with a way to build horns into speakers that were small enough for homes and made room walls an extension of the low-frequency horn. This story is doubly powerful because it teaches us how to build our systems on a firm foundation, thwarting the big bad wolf of undesirable room interaction—and because it’s a perpetually cool marketing message that gets people’s attention.
By the time Paul Klipsch died in 2002, at the age of 98, he had lived to see high-frequency variants of his creation built into compact satellite/subwoofer sets. The Klipsch HD Theater 500 system is yet another iteration of his powerful and enduring vision.
Meet the MicroTractrix
There are three HD Theater packages. The product under review here is the middle member of the family (which reminds me of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” but never mind). Needless to say, the MicroTractrix horn is the most prominent design feature of all three packages. For a detailed description of the horn shape’s mathematical nature, look up the word tractrix on Wikipedia or in a textbook. The tweeter recess is not a separate piece. It’s molded right into the glossy black plastic baffle, which gives its curve an elegant gleam. Among the benefits of horned speakers are increased efficiency and a reduction in room interaction. The main drawback is cupped-hands coloration (think of the sound of a voice through a megaphone as an extreme example of this phenomenon). However, after more than 60 years of practice, Klipsch has learned to minimize it to the point where it’s not an issue for most listeners.
The line includes the HD Theater 1000 ($1,000), HD Theater 500 ($600, reviewed here), and HD Theater 300 ($400). All of them share a 0.75-inch aluminum-dome tweeter and 2.5-inch woofer. The HD Theater 1000’s woofers are fiber composite, while the woofers in the other two packages are injection-molded graphite (IMG). Subwoofer driver sizes are 10, 8, and 6.5 inches, respectively. Center speakers have dual woofers in the top two packages, with a single woofer in the bottom one.
The HD Theater 500 satellite is small enough to fit into any small to midsized room. With the grille on, it practically disappears into the room, especially if the room is dark—although it’s certainly pretty with its grille off. It’s 6 inches tall, with a plastic enclosure that curves around the sides and back. All five speakers are two-way designs. The center comes with an extra woofer and a cradle base that allows for a 45-degree vertical angle adjustment. On the back of each speaker is a 0.25-20 threaded insert that mates with a variety of wall-mount kits compatible with that standard size.
Speaker terminals are spring-loaded wire clips that operate with a tab. They accept pin connectors or wire tips, bare or soldered. They work adequately, but I’d prefer to see five-way binding posts in a product of this caliber. Wire clips are low-end parts, the kind of thing you’d see on a bargain-basement HTIB. Their presence here reduced the system’s Build Quality rating.
The Sub 8 has a bottom-mounted 8-inch driver with a large 3-inch port in the back. Rounded edges at the sides prevent the black matte vinyl enclosure from looking too box-like. A pair of RCA-type inputs is the only connectivity option, and most people will probably just connect a line-level cable to one of them.
Associated gear for this review included a Rotel RSX-1065 A/V receiver, Pioneer BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player, Integra DPS-10.5 universal player, Rega Planar 25 turntable, Shure V97xE cartridge, and NAD PP-1 phono preamp. Because of the small size of the woofers, I set the satellite/subwoofer crossover to 120 hertz.
Not Bright, Always Tight
It’s impossible to look at a spec sheet and predict how a product will sound. Even past experience with the manufacturer’s previous product lines is not necessarily a guide. When I saw a 0.75-inch aluminum tweeter recessed into a horn, I expected a bright, tight, and intense sound. What I got was intense some of the time, tight all the time, and not overly bright. Voicing was on the mellow side, but the overall effect was far from wishy-washy.
For instance, in Righteous Kill, an urban drama about troubled cops navigating a violent world, an elevated train rushes briefly across the surround channels of the DVD’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Fiercely focused by the MicroTractrix, it erupted from the speakers like a rifle shot, making me twitch. And I live in a city full of trains, including elevated ones. The distressed-leather voices of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino often emerged in perfectly focused center-channel mono, slightly detached from the soundfield. I’m not suggesting that the speakers or soundtrack were deficient. They just interacted in specific and occasionally striking ways that kept me alert.