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).
After 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
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.
- 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!
- 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!
- 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)!