Test Report: Klipsch HD Theater 600 5.1 Speaker System Page 2

Performance

On initial hearing, the Klipsch system posted up a big, broad stereo image, with surprisingly accurate tonal balance and an impressive sense of heft. Straight-ahead pop like the Shins’ “Girl Sailor,” from Wincing the Night Away, sounded full and punchy, with solid bass that retained audible hollow-body color (woodier than the Fender Precision bass so ubiquitous on most amplified music) and a smooth, easy-to-listen-to top end. James Mercer’s voice sounded just a little more adenoidal than usual: I detected a hint of a cupped and slightly veiled mid-range. But I hasten to add that without direct A/Bs, or decades invested in comparative listening, you’d be unlikely to note either one on your steno pad.

More microscopic listening led me to a couple of issues. The HD Theater 600 is a slightly dark-sounding system: High-treble material is relaxed and a touch recessed. This can be a welcome relief with a lot of high-energy pop, especially where large quantities of distorted guitar sounds build up. But more delicate recordings may pay a price: “Walking My Baby Back Home,” from James Taylor’s Hourglass, features a chorus with (presumably) James whistling the tune over acoustic guitars and a subtle shimmer played, softly but audibly, on the ride cymbal. Heard via the HD Theater 600 system, the cymbal part was all but lost, along with some of the swinging ease it contributes to Taylor’s “solo.” Aiming the left/right satellites very carefully to the listening spot, both vertically and horizontally, helped appreciably — treble dispersion is tightly controlled by Klipsch’s 90-degree “Tractrix” horn. You may also want to remove the speaker grilles: I did my listening with the grilles on, and our extended measurements found that they reduce treble response by 1.5 to 2.5 dB below 10 kHz, and by as much as –6.3 dB at higher frequencies.

At the other end, however, things were unexpectedly easy to balance. The tiny Klipsches did indeed make a respectable blend with their companion sub, with my preamp’s crossover set to 120 Hz, when balanced up to a very circumspect level. Klipsch’s largely graphical, single-sheet manual suggests 150 Hz, but I found this setting too high. It induced too much and too noticeable lowmidrange from the subwoofer: My compromise traded a slight loss in lower-male-vocal fullness and tenor-instrument warmth for relatively “quicker” bass and a reduced 80-Hz thud.

Thus, as I’ve found with countless other small-satellite systems, ultimate subwoofer level is critical. Set it too high, and woofer thump overwhelms the musical balance and bleed-through of the lowermids betrays woofer position; set it too low, and male vocals and middle-range instruments lose body and deeper bass information recedes. Happily, in the Klipsch system’s case, this balance was readily achieved and remained relatively stable over a range of listening material. Often with small sub/sat systems, I find myself goosing woofer level for movies to get some “big-theater” impact, only to roll it back on music to tame the boom. In this case, my empirically derived optimal setting proved reasonably satisfying in both modes.

A hyperactive soundtrack like that on the Blu-ray Disc of The Amazing Spider-Man proved the little Klipsches to be ingratiatingly able. There was enough spatial bloom to involve me in the action, and just enough bottom-end grunt to suggest a real cinematic experience.

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