05 April, 2015

Overview: Klipsch Classics, Part III - The Best La Scala System I have ever heard

Top pic taken from the sunken Living Room. Bottom pic taken from elevated Dining Room. Click to enlarge.
Overview: Klipsch Classics, Part III - The Best La Scala System I have ever heard
Yumcha Diaries: April 4, 2015
Talk-Horns: Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution, Part III

Note: Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution Part I treats La Scala in depth; Part II is an Overview of the series; Part IV is on the later Quartet/Forte.

No, it may be the best system of any sort I have heard (whlee thinks so and I tend to agree).

Image result for stokowski rhapsodiesAfter yumcha on Saturday, whlee, trazom, captain, jules, oozz (Edwin) and I went to Bernard's spacious home in Clearwater Bay. Regrettably, ama333 did not join us. It turned out to be one of the happiest days in my HiFi life!

It is very rare in HK to encounter a split-level living-dining room. Here, the dining room is elevated. The total area must be close to 1000", and ceiling of the living room is at least 15' tall. Equipment:

CDP: Naim CD5XS; Ekco EV55DP
Turntable: Clearaudio Concept MC
SUT: Audio-Technica AT-1000T
Preamp: Marantz 7 (re-issue); also (April Music) Eximus DP-1
Amps: Marantz 9 (re-issue)
Loudspeakers: Klipsch La Scala (alnico; 16 ohm); also JBL 4343

Dvorák & Walton Cello Concertos
How Two Cousins came into our HiFi Lives Let me take a detour first and introduce you to the brothers. About a year ago, Alfred, aka ama333, joined the discussion thread entitled JC's Letterbox on review33.com. He finally came to our yumcha and now is a regular. Alfred uses the Klipsch Belle you have heard about previously, as well as the JBL 4344. He then brought his cousin Bernard to yumcha too. Alfred wanted to hear my La Scala, so one day the two cousins came by my old house and I once again connected my alnico La Scala after many year's neglect. I was a little surprised that from the word go the La Scala gave all music all the flesh and blood they needed. As they say, the rest is history.

Bernard immediately took a liking to the big bold sound of the La Scala. He also liked the vinyl playback so much that soon after he bought his vinyl system (the SUT actually belonged to his cousin). And some time later, my La Scala pair became his!

Previous visit to Bernard Before the La Scala took over, it was the JBL 4343, placed not in the positions you see now in the pics, but along the long wall, flanking the equipment rack and the AV speakers on stands (facing the beige sofa). Sound was excellent, with the vinyl outstripping the digital by a substantial margin. In turn this impressed our friend trazom so much that he took up vinyl again (see here) and now is happily cleaning and spinning his very good collection of pop LPs!

Initial Sonic Impressions
  • Initially the La Scala's were placed along the long wall, facing the beige sofa. When we arrived, Bernard was using the Ekco CDP's analogue out into the Eximus DP-1 (used as preamp). Sound was a bit pale, treble a touch hot and the whole thing just did not have the juice the La Scala is famous for. In fact, I thought his previous setup of JBL 4343 was better.
  • Eximus DP1 WE suspected some of the flat and white quality to the Eximus DP1's preamp section. Our suspicions were confirmed when the Marantz 7 was swapped in; immediately, the sound gained much flesh and tactility. Eximus has been well reviewed by the audio press (see official website) but this its performance here has been disappointing. We happened to have the Sokolov Salzburg Recital CD and LP around. The LP fared better but the CD still should convey more of the fanciful and mercurial character of the master pianist's playing.
    Image result for mingus ah
  • Ekco CDP Ekco used to be a radio and television manufacturer. The official website gives a detailed history of the company up to the 60's but did not go further and did not mention that it is now part of the Chinese IAG group. In fact, to my eyes their products look like Chinese products in new skin; this is certainly true of the round window displaying the tube in the EV55DP. We did not like its somewhat sluggish leading edge. Changing to the Naim CD5XS brought much improved articulation, rhythm and pace. Sokolov became a more subtle pianist but still not quite what we know he should sound like on this popular album.
  • After all that work, sound was much better. I forgot but trazom reminded that we had made the same, exact changes to the system last time to improve the JBL's performance. Still, sound was not quite what I know can be obtained. On the Mingus Ah Um re-issue LP, while the sound was decent and full of details, the brass should sound more throaty. Bass was somewhat woolly and truncated and sound did not fully open up and project like a good horn should. The La Scala's sounded more "confined" compared to when they were in my house - something is waiting to be let out here.
  • I did not expect Bernard to say "yes" when I suggested that he should try the La Scala's placed along the short "wall" (the windows). Well, we men of action just jumped up and did it. Easily firmly gripped, La Scala must be the easiest loudspeaker to move around. well, we just plonked them down and did not fine-tune. Again, the rest is history!
PATRICIA_BARBER_-_COMPANION_(180G_33RPM_AND_45RPM_Vinyl_2LP)"Sonic Impressions (after Re-Placement)
  • From the first note, the La Scala I knew came back; everything bloomed and birds sang! Everybody had a big smile and the party began! The sound was just so much BIGGER!
  • With pop and jazz, the sound was truly live, and difficult to fault. The percussion and bass attacks of the Let It Rain on Patricia barber's Companion re-issue LP were perfectly rendered, fast in transient response, colorful in timber, an assault on the senses. Most importantly, they sounded like real people right there in the living room.
  • With chamber music, as in jazz, the muscians were palpably present in the living room. We played a mono Casals/Horzowski CD (oop; Philips) and Casals was with us, his inimitable tone enchanting.
  • To us concert lovers, the sound of the dining room was even better, and exactly conveyed the sound of the concert hall balcony. With the two Living Stereo re-issue LPs, Stokowski Rhapsodies and Piatigorsky Dvorak Cello Concerto, the full orchestra were laid out below us. The solo passages and horn tutti were absolutely faithful facsimiles of the concert experience from above. whlee was absolutely delighted, and I haven't seen him like this in years!
    Image result for 王菲 天空
  • For a final cut, we played 王菲 “天空”. This cut usually sounds rather white and monotonous in the majority of setups, but here it is fully fleshed out and atmospheric. What a fitting end to the day,  “天空” is "The Sky" in Chinese, and the La Scala serves as a window to it!
  • Lest you think I have lost my faculties for judgement, I am obliged to point out the imperfections in the system, especially when it comes to classical orchestral music replay: The mass violins need an expansion in scale and nuance; the bass, while good, needs to reach a little lower; and just a little more ease at climaxes would not be amiss. But I think these can be easily achieved with further tuning.
  • There is no question that speaker choice and placement are the most important factors in one's system.
  • Placement The most valuable given asset is a good room, and Bernard is more fortunate than most of us. Yet, the previous incarnations before re-placement serve as reminders that our habits (or constraining factors, such as WAF) are often (understandably) at odds with the needs of the system. In a way, we are our worst enemies. Do not fight or neglect the room!
  • Speaker Choice Once again, the experience shows that horns are irreplaceable, and this was exactly what oozz and I talked about on our long way home. There is no better conveyance of the live music quality than horns (oozz's own German Physiks is a variation on the horn). This setup is not expensive, yet it gives more of the illusion of the live event than systems we have heard that cost millions of dollars. Also, the simplicity of the system should give tweakers much thought! So many people spend megabucks on power treatment, cables and tweaks etc; yet all they get are frustrations. Attend to the basics!
  • Bigger rooms breathe better There is no getting around it. The bigger the room, the better the sound, provided  the equipment is up to it (no better choice than horns). We have heard good efforts on Maggies and planars, but they are completely dwarfed by this setup. I agree with whlee that this is overall the best system we have heard.
  • It is really gratifying to hear a system truly transformed. People claim all sorts of improvements, but epiphanies do not come so often without drastic measures, usually not voodoo but attention to basics.
  • What I would do In this system, were it so fortunately mine, within aesthetically acceptable limits (and WAF) I'd fine-tune the placement. I'd also try to drive it with less power (SET or, as whlee thinks, low-powered PP amps). I think even better sound can be easily achieved without much cost.
  • The Klipsch Lesson Once again, the experience confirmed one of my convictions, detailed in previous articles. Well executed, a Klipsch system outperforms most ad-hog conglomerates of arguably superior components. The coherence is compelling.
  • Is this the best system I have heard? Not in all parameters, but in terms of the live experience, it is (surpassing my own efforts)!
What A Happy Day!


  1. ‎I had a pair of LaScala loudspeakers a few years ago.
    Your words brought sweet memories to me, as what they do right few other speakers manage to do.‎
    Ultimately I returned them to their owner (long term loan) as I wasn't particularly addicted to music as usual. I quicly got distracted, I didn't feel the urge to dance, and the hair in the back of my neck didn't  rise to the music.‎

    I still remember fondly about the scale of the music: very lifelike.
    I used to have a takamine acoustic guitar. Playing a simple "G" chord would fill a large listening room with sound. It's not about the volume, it's about the scale of the sound. This is a difficult term for the average audiophile that spends more on cables than concert tickets or cds. This is something the La Scalas did fantastically well at home.‎

    To be fair, the room I used them in was probably quite small for them, so you are maybe right in how you describe your personal story with them (selling them to later on find them great in a larger living room).

    Maybe I should think of giving them a second try.... ?

    More music! ‎

  2. I'd like your thoughts on Cerwin Vega XLS 215 speakers.Thank you.

  3. hi Doc, La Scala had been an old dream i neve thought i would embrace, then i took the vintage Tannoy. Quad ESL57 and Altec 19 ways with much pleasure before returning to much more simple equipment. and now the opportunity of an early 90's pair of La Scala finally occured. the music sounds so simple and natural, it's quite amazing to rediscover my fave jazz records this way. right now i'm using FDA amps with great results but will of course bring back the small EL84 tubes.i won't bother you with too many questions but whats your take on feet/stands? they came equipped with spikes that were pretty inconvenient to position the speakers so i got rid of them. now they simply stand on the tiles floor and sound great. would they profit from decoupling with wood blocks, teflon, etc? thanks for your input

  4. Good riddance of the spikes! In general, they rarely improve the overall sound, and with large speakers like Klipsch and Tannoy, actually they inhibit the sound.

    Small wood chips at the front corners (not rear corners) may work too (decoupling the bass frame).

  5. hi doc and merry - late - Xmas to you and audio followers
    it's been 3 weeks now with the La Scala, 2 without spikes ;-) and my ears begin to be totally re-formatted from previous equipment. these speakers are very special, so natural and obvious in their presentation of music that it's like a new experience but without mercy with bad records.
    except for some EL84 - which can be a little noisy for their 104dB,i've been mostly listening the La Scala with an FDA amplifier, namely the all-in one marantz mcr-610 - that definitely replaced many fancy pieces of gear and cables at home. but of course i'm curious of a SET experience. what would you advise me on a limited/affordable budget? i've heard good feedback on Decware Zen triode (but still with a small hum) in the $1K ballpark, Elekit seems to have your favors - but is it totally silent?
    it came as a surprise, but i kinda favored a mogami3194 over Belden "shindo speaker cables, even with EL84s. wish you all the best for the holidays

    1. How delightful and Season's Greetings!

      This is a tough question on noise. I am relatively tolerant of noise and you are right some of these SET amps still have a little noise, but not necessarily hum. Do check equipment upstream and different grounding may have different results. I am in NYC right now and I can tell you the Elekit 300B is a little noisy too. Not sure what to recommend.

      A wild card: Get a Lepai 2020A+ Class T amp (named after thevery famous, but now discontinued, Tripath 2020 chip) for around $28 to see if you like this kind of sound. Despite its ridiculous price and somewhat flimsy nature, this is one FAMOUS little amp and you can search my Blog for my impressions. There are also tons of info on the net and quite a few users have used it to great satisfaction with Klispchorn, which is not so different from La Scala. If you like it, you can research further into Class T and related Class D amps. Topping is another better built and still cheap (around $100). Since Tripath has discontinued the 2020, now there are more amps with the 2024 (a little less powerful But I'd guess still great.

      My friend in HK prefers Class D amps with his La Scala. He uses the upscale Nuforce/Nuprime, which s still within your budget, but I think just try a flimsy Lepai. My experience has always astonished me.

      Mogami 3194, that's something I have never heard of. can you provide me with a few links? Thx.

      Let's keep communicating. It is fun. Perhaps you can send me an email on how I can contact you. I am in the US now and we can talk on the phone. Only for kindred spirits! :-)

  6. Hi John and thanks for your T amp or class D suggestions. Lepai sounds interesting, Trends audio, too.
    i'm currently playing a LM3886 chip amp made by Graham Ingle. it's the same amp used by Peter Reinder from Lenco Heaven/PTP fame - on his own DIY La Scala,
    please check his beautiful work on them


    the graham chip amp is a quite magical gizmo that handled ESL57 effortlessly, LS35a, altec 19 or vintage Tannoys - and now LaScala.
    i guess it can be considered as a kind of swiss army knife-like amp.
    the mogami 3194 is a coaxial OFC speaker cable i used to have around for years. there's nothing fancy about it and not much to check online for but it has a better bass presentation than the Belden - that i usually like.
    but maybe it would be different with tubes ;-)
    to you and all blog followers:
    all the best for late 2016 and early 2K17

    1. Very interesting link about the La Scala. Indeed I'd incorporate it in my La Scala Overview. Thanks again.