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Equipment Review No. 2  MAY 2001
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Klipsch Promedia 2.1 Powered Speaker System
 
SRP $179 set
Klipsch
8900 Keystone Crossing, Suite 1220
Indianapolis, Indiana 46240
1-800-KLIPSCH www.klipsch.com
 
Description: 3 -piece powered speaker system. Satellites contain 3/4" dome tweeter (mated to horn) and 3" mid-bass driver. The subwoofer is a ported design with a 6 1/2 " bass driver. 32Hz is rated lower frequency limit and maximum acoustic output is rated at 106 dB. Amplifier headroom is rated at 2x35 W for satellites and 130 W for the subwoofer. The right speaker includes a stereo mini plug input for an auxiliary source and a stereo mini plug output for headphones. The auxiliary input mixes the signal with the normal input source. THX certified. One-year parts and labor warranty.
 

Equipment: PC with an old ESS Audiodrive soundcard (#1); PC equipped with a Soundblaster Live! MP3 soundcard (#2)

Setup: In both system #1 and #2 I positioned the satellite speakers on my desk about 3 inches to the left and the right sides of my 17" monitor. The satellites are shielded but there is a warning in the manual to keep the subwoofer at least 10" away from the monitor to avoid interference. I started with the subwoofer centered between the satellites on the floor with its cabinet approximately 4" away from the front wall underneath my desk. The right speaker connects to the subwoofer with a DIN plug and a stereo mini-plug runs to whatever source device you wish to connect-the cables are both about 7' long. Unfortunately the mini-plug is hard-wired to the satellite speaker, so you will need a female adaptor to help connect to a male mini to RCA cable that are readily available at your local Radio Shack. A 6' cable from male to male is available for about $8 (Part # 42-2483). Then you will need a coupler (Part # 274-1555) that connects to the cable on the speaker. Mono mini-plug cables attached to 10' long runs of 20-gauge cable are run from each satellite to the subwoofer and connected to spring loaded connectors. Setup took a few minutes at most.

Optional speaker stands or wall mount brackets are available from the Klipsch website or possibly directly from the dealer. Level controls are located on the front of the right satellite. Unlike some other systems, the subwoofer level does not have to be adjusted while on hands and knees, the control is easily turned up or down at will!

 

Listening (PC #1): I started my listening in system #1 with some wav (uncompressed, unreduced) files stored on the computer's hard disk. These were taken directly from CD's and stored on the computer. WinAmp 2.73 (www.winamp.com) was the media player used to play back the files. I started listening to a few songs and it seemed the balance was slightly to the left, in other words, center images weren't directly in the center.

I began serious listening with the Backstreet Boys Larger Than Life. By adjusting the level on the computer to the center position I was able to get much more volume than I'd ever want while sitting at the computer. It was easy to turn the system up to uncomfortable levels. I barely had to turn up the subwoofer and it was happily thumping away. The subwoofer control is a more gradual adjustment than the main volume. Since the ear is less sensitive to the bass in general I found myself adjusting the subwoofer level higher when the main volume was set lower. There was a persistent hiss in the background (which I also made a note of to check with the other system), and highs were somewhat scratchy. The midrange was ok, but multiple voices were harder to discern than typical speakers. I didn't like having the subwoofer control towards the left of the speaker, because being right handed that is the first control I normally reach for to adjust level. I often found myself grabbing the wrong control. Immediate impressions of this system are that it is ideal for "cranking!"

Next I began listening to Sugar Ray Every Morning. Bass was impressive right from the start of the track. I decided that I needed to lower the level on the computer so I had more adjustability on the front of the Klipsch system. With less sensitive sources this may be less of a concern, but with the computer it was just too sensitive. This adjustment improved the sound immediately, and made raising and lowering the volume on the satellite much nicer. I still had a background hiss and bass was a bit lumpy. At moderate levels there was no noticeable hiss, but as soon as I turned it up I had hiss. Some of this was definitely due to the soundcard because when I checked the "mute" box some of the hiss disappeared. I couldn't turn up the subwoofer too high otherwise it would vibrate the computer and other things on the desk, but not because it couldn't handle it. Mid-song I moved the speakers farther apart and back. I was only about 2' away from them initially. This put them back about 3' from my head and the soundstage was noticeably bigger with the speakers apart (as you'd expect). Voices remained centered, and everything else was as before.

I selected John Lee Hooker's Annie Mae, and was surprised at how enjoyable the sound was. The hiss was still a problem, but piano, voice, and guitar were all excellent. Bass was a little loose and undefined, but not bad. I decided to move the subwoofer a little farther away from the wall and play this cut again. I left the woofer approximately 1' away from the wall and the bass level was adjusted to compensate. In this position, it seemed far better integrated with the satellites and the sound was more uniform from top to bottom. This was the best sound yet.

I switched to MP3's and listened to Godley and Crème's Cry. The hiss was intolerable at this point because everything else was sounding so good. Voice was a little hollow, but pace, tonal balance, bass, and overall sound was good. I wished that I could just get rid of the hiss and I knew I could get a far better sound. I was convinced that if I played with the volume on the computer and the Klipsch a little more I could do better. With a higher setting on the computer and a lower setting on the Promedia system I was able to get higher output level with less hiss, but that meant I went back to having a bit of difficulty changing the volume ever so slightly on the front of the satellite speaker. But this was the compromise I had to make to get better sound.

While I was still on system #1 I played a little Age Of Empires II to see how the system did with video games. The sound in this game is more sedate than an action game but I heard things more clearly than with the old speakers I was using (a cheaper set of Altec Lansings).

 

Listening (PC #2): On system #2, Windows Media Player 7.0 (www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/en/download/default.asp) was used to play back audio CD's. I started with a test disc to listen to the capabilities of the subwoofer. However, with the volume on this computer set to midway the hiss was even worse than the first system. Even with the hiss the fidelity now was far better. And this time with the volume on the computer turned completely up the hiss was basically gone. I had to contain myself to prevent me from running into the other room to grab more CD's. The subwoofer puts out sound well upwards of 120Hz so placement may be critical if you don't want to locate it by sound. So far I've been using the woofer dead center between the two satellites so it hasn't been an issue. The area of maximum output appears to be centered at 80Hz, which is consistent with my listening. Although Klipsch rates the system's usable range down to 32 Hz I'd say that the woofer has very little output below 50 Hz. This might be improved by placement closer to the wall, but for me the sound became muddied in that location.

The bias to the left was even more noticeable on system #2. Perhaps it was because the fidelity was improved and now I could actually hear instruments occupy their own acoustic space. At this point I went right to Hi-Fi News & Record Review's Test Disc II and listened to the channel identification (Track 1). This track has a man's voice at fully left, half left, center, and half right, and fully right positions. Half right sound seemed to come from the center, and only with fully right was the sound coming exclusively from the right. This problem may be due to my sample, but it should be investigated before purchase if there is no balance adjustment on the source AND proper balance is necessary at the listening position-for background listening or in a non-symmetrical listening situation I don't believe it will be noticeable.

I listened to Sergei Edelmann Plays Chopin and everything sounded very good. Piano was lively, hiss was not a problem, and tonal balance was very acceptable. There is not very much bass in this recording and I couldn't detect the subwoofer (which is good!). For tiny speakers in this price range (and other things considered) I'd have to say that their performance is quite good. Another thing I should mention is that the speakers come with rubber feet which help to de-couple them from the surface on which they reside, and the stands help to angle the speakers up to ear level so the sound is more accurate and the soundstage depth is somewhat improved.

I dug up my aging copy of Mannheim Steamroller's Fresh Aire and listened to a few cuts from the beginning on. I ended up moving the speakers another foot back, because I was starting to feel overwhelmed with the sound so close up. With games and other multimedia this may be a good thing. Horns were vibrant. The speakers tend to provide a more up front presentation in general which I believe is similar to other Klipsch speakers. On track 2 the sound of rain was not completely believable as with other (more expensive) speakers, but overall midrange and highs were good. On track 3, which is a bit on the quiet side, I had to turn up the speakers a tad to get the level that I'd like, which unfortunately added some more hiss to the mix.

I put on the soundtrack to Grease and listened to half the record. Wow! This system will really play loud! No problems with hiss and I felt like getting up and dancing around. Well, anyway my head was doing some serious bopping and I was snapping my fingers. The sound is a little unrefined, so you don't want to play it too loud, but I found myself listening much louder than I should have. The last thing I wanted to do was to move the subwoofer to another location to determine how placement critical it is. I put it off to the side of the desk and it seemed very easy to locate the bass sound. For critical listening and best performance I would recommend center placement, and it made an excellent footstool underneath the desk!

Whenever I disconnected the power from the system and then powered the system back up there was a loud thump/ pop. This happened regardless which system was in use or whether the Promedia 2.1's were even connected to a source. No damage was ever done nor was malfunction evident by this turn-on noise, but my recommendation would be to always leave the system on.

Conclusion: I never got around to hooking up the speakers directly to a CD player because I didn't have the necessary cables. My guess is that it would have performed as well if not better than with the speakers hooked up directly to a computer. This also applies towards using the Promedia 2.1 system with a portable, and it should work very well due to its high input sensitivity. I requested a second sample to investigate the problem with balance and slight trouble with hiss, but I never heard back nor received another sample, so I wasn't able to check a second system. For most it will be a non-issue, and it was easily corrected with an adjustment to the balance and output level on my computer system. Like any good speaker system, the better the equipment connected to them, the better the sound. The Klipsch powered speakers were no exception. The difference between system #1 and #2 were so dramatic that the first chance I get I will be replacing the ESS soundcard. Klipsch is gearing this product to the personal audio / mp3/ computer community, but even from a more critical review standpoint this product is very impressive. Personally, I have not heard a powered speaker system sound this good at anywhere near this price. An amazing deal! Highly recommended.

- Brian Bloom      bigbrianb@usa.net

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