Consumer Electronics & Appliance News, Reviews & Information.

May 12

The Pros and Cons of Big Speakers

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I bought these speakers so long ago the promo photo is in B & W!

I’m a big speaker guy. After much searching, I bought a pair of Klipsch Chorus IIs, and they are easily 4′ tall, and probably 18″ square. They are big, really big, and they sound great. And when I say great, I mean better than amazing. One of my proudest speaker moments: I rattled a pan off its wall storage in my house in New Hampshire (Five Long Years, from David Bowie‘s Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars for those who need the sonic details). Countless are the times I have sat in front of the speakers and let the sound wash over, sometimes revelling in the imaging and the details, and sometimes just getting my ears pinned back by Roy Buchanan or Led Zep. (Like you need a link to Led Zepellin!)

This is just the "C's"! Image by epiclectic used under Creative Commons

But after I got these speakers, I began to notice there were some downsides as well, other than dented pans. And the first, not surprisingly, is that the speakers are big. I’ve never had them in a room where they wouldn’t be the dominant feature. I used to compensate for the size of the speakers by creating a wall of CD’s on top of 12 crates of albums, so people didn’t immediately notice the speakers. I’ve sold the albums, but the concept still works out. There’s still no getting around the Chorus II’s size.

And heavy. The magnets that push the 15″ driver (no need for a sub-woofer) are heavy, and the 3/4″ solid wood cabinets just add more weight. It’s a two-man job to move those speakers any distance. Those solid wood cabinets are important, because they provide the foundation for the thunder, and skinny walls don’t get it done. But those wooden cabinets, in many ways, define life with your speakers.

Everything matches. Image by FactoryHardwood used under Creative Commons

The cabinets are finished in clear oak, which is an important detail. When your speakers are big, they are part of the furniture. So for the last 17 years, all my furniture has had to match the clear oak finish of my speakers. And because your speakers are furniture, they have to be properly cared for– oiled, polished and not banged into or dinged in any way. And so I kept the boxes, with all the packaging, for over 15 years, so I had double the space taken up by my speakers, all to be sure that when I moved them, they would be be protected. Storing big boxes to protect your daily furniture: what a pain.

Presence objectified. Image by badgreeb RECORDS used under Creative Commons

So why do I put up with all this annoyance? My wife, who has been a symphony violinist, asked early in our relationship if the speakers could be replaced, as they were just too big. So I unhooked the Klipsch Chorus IIs, and set up the smaller Definitives instead. And Jane said I could go and find a replacement for the Chorus IIs, as long as they were smaller. Price was no object. And I did locate another pair of speakers, the Klipsch RF-7 (now the RF-7 II), that met my sound requirements. And they were narrower (not shorter, just narrower), so they were, technically, smaller, at least in volume. But before I could tell Jane about my great find, and pull the trigger, she came to me and said, put the old speakers back, the little ones just don’t have the presence. It’s all in the sound, and the Klipsch Chorus IIs still dominate our living room to this day.

My new goal

That was 7 years ago. And I am always on the lookout for a small speaker system that will replicate what the Big Dogs bring.  And every year, the sound gets a little closer to what I’m looking for. I was very impressed by the Cambridge Audio Minx S325 speaker system, though I’m still getting used to the idea of listening to stereo sources in surround sound. Surround removes a lot of the stereo imaging that I so love, but the mid ranges from these smaller systems fatten up every year, and get a little more tempting. I could get the Klipsch RB81 II bookshelf speakers, because they sound great, and match them with a good sub-woofer, like the SW310. But it’s a big bookshelf that holds those speakers, so it removes me from my fantasy of big sound from tiny sources. Because if I can’t go tiny, I’ve already got big.

This is what happens when Johnny Winter turns the treble up! Image by bob_sanderson, used under Creative Commons

And why my fascination with Klipsch? Because I’m a guitar guy. I want the sting that the Klipsch speakers bring. In all my listening, I’ve decided that I like a brighter sound for listening to rock and blues. Now I’m not Johnny Winter (who turns the treble all the way up and the bass all the way down on his guitars), but I definitely need the highs to be high, and the angularity to be acute. No car audio for me- all bass no tune- just like Jim, I need the scream… of the butterfly.


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