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Backstage: Klipsch, the iPod, and ProMedia Ultra 2.0

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Monday, November 22, 2004
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picThough the reasons won’t initially be apparent, 58-year old speaker house Klipsch is about to stage two product releases worthy of a sigh of relief for iPod fans. This is being covered on Backstage because the first product isn’t iPod-matching – unless you’re thinking of the U2 iPod, that is – but come January and February, Klipsch will be remedying that.

We’ve been playing with a set of the company’s ProMedia Ultra 2.0 speakers, the lowest-priced ($99.99) system in Klipsch’s well-received family of ProMedia products. The 2.0 designation denotes that they consist of two freestanding speakers and no subwoofer, which distinguishes them from Klipsch’s subwoofer-laden ProMedia 2.1 ($149.99) and ProMedia GMX A-2.1 ($149.99), as well as the five satellite and subwoofer ProMedia Ultra 5.1 ($349.99) and ProMedia GMX D-5.1 ($299.99) systems. For more on the PMU 2.0 system, and the future of Klipsch and the iPod, click on Read More.

High-Concept, Low Price

With so many higher-end options available from Klipsch (say nothing of its competitors), here’s why the ProMedia Ultra 2.0 is important: at the same time as competitors have raised the price bar for dedicated iPod speaker accessories without commensurately improving their performance, Klipsch is dropping its anchor (for now, at least) at the lower end of the market. Respected for its accurate and impressive full-sized speaker systems, the company is marketing the 2.0 as a stylish, accurate and low-priced alternative to Altec, Bose, and JBL offerings for the iPod, emphasizing that they provide comparable or greater accuracy and lower-distortion sound than these significantly more expensive competitors. And though the 2.0 system was unquestionably designed as general multimedia speakers, linked mostly with the iPod by marketing, Klipsch has hinted that the low-cost, high-performance philosophy will carry over into very near-term dedicated iPod products, as well.

The first ProMedia Ultra 2.0 speakers are jet black in color, though Klipsch is planning a silver set for release in February, and suggesting that silver will be a better color match going forward for iPod-compatible accessories than white plastic. Each plastic speaker stands nearly 10.5? tall, a bit over 3? in width and 6?-7? in depth, depending on how you’re measuring their sloping designs, with two roughly 2.25? drivers and one 1? tweeter (coupled with a small Klipsch Horn) in each speaker’s case. Attractive but removable black fabric grille guards cover the silver drivers, which actually look better when exposed, and a set of controls sits on the bottom front face of the right speaker.

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Klipsch’s controls are pretty simple: a volume knob and a bass knob, on either side of an auxiliary input port and a headphone output port. Unlike JBL’s inclusion of the feature in its Creature II system, Klipsch omits a treble knob because of its tendency to distort the original sound intended by musicians – we continue to prefer its optional presence, regardless. Finally, the rear of the right speaker includes a line input port, a cabled output port tied to the left speaker, and a wall power connector. Audio sources and power are distributed through the right speaker to the left through that single cable. A line audio cable and speaker-to-speaker cable are included in each box, along with a simple manual.

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We liked the look and price point of the PMU 2.0 system, particularly when the grilles were removed. They already match the look of the U2 iPod (but no others), and we’re anxious to see what Klipsch does with the silver version in February. Notably, however, while they’re more easily carried than JBL’s Creature II system (iLounge rating: A), they’re not as small and lightweight as the Elecom ASP-700i speakers (iLounge rating: B+) we recently reviewed. You could probably carry them in some briefcases, assuming not much else was inside, but like the Creatures, you’re probably not going to move them around a lot when you get them. They include a fairly large dedicated power cube and can’t run off a battery – unless it’s a car battery, as Klipsch jokingly noted.

Performance

We tested the PMU 2.0 system with both the black U2 iPod and an Apple PowerBook G4, comparing its performance to our reference set of subwoofer-laden JBL Creature 2.1 speakers (MSRP $99, available for as low as $62), Elecom’s ASP-700is ($109.99), and Bose’s SoundDock (iLounge rating: B+, $299, tested only with the iPod). For reference, the Creatures and SoundDock sound almost identical to one another save for the Creatures’ fantastic user-adjustable treble and bass knobs, which permit far greater customization of sound than Bose to meet any particular person’s needs, and a hint of extra clarity in the Creatures. This was a significant finding because of the tremendous price disparity between the products, offset only by the fact that while neither system is portable in most senses of the word, the Creatures are a three-piece system with a large dedicated subwoofer and the SoundDock is an oversized all-in-one unit.

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The PMU 2.0 system is almost identical to the SoundDock on total system performance, which is to say only a small step behind the Creatures, and a step above the Elecoms. Out of the box, the PMU’s six total drivers produce sound that’s slightly lighter on bass than the SoundDock or the default-setting Creatures, but like the Creatures, Klipsch’s system includes a bass adjustment knob that quickly brings its sound up (and even slightly beyond) the unadjustable richness of Bose’s system. While the PMU 2.0’s maximum bass setting is all but indistinguishable from the SoundDock’s only setting under normal conditions, it doesn’t produce a thump as impressive as the Creatures’ subwoofer. But this is a minor concern; only serious bassheads would ask for a more pounding low-end response, as both Klipsch’s and Bose’s systems deliver a more than adequate dose of bass for typical listeners.

Treble and midrange are a bit trickier. While Klipsch’s lowest bass setting shows that the PMU 2.0s are able to produce slightly crisper and more treble-heavy sound than the SoundDock, it’s hard to add additional bass and create the exact same nice balance as defaults in Bose’s system. The PMU 2.0 system comes very close – and most people won’t care at all about the difference, especially for the lower price, but serious listeners might. We felt that JBL’s Creature system was more adjustable to produce not only the same Bose-style sound, but actually an even better balance more suited to our ears (and customizable to the preferences of other listeners, too).

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Distortion/clarity of the audio is comparable between the SoundDock and PMU 2.0 system; neither are professional grade systems, but both are better than the Elecoms, and we’d give the SoundDock a slight edge, only a hint under the Creatures. Again, most listeners won’t discern a significant difference between the Sounddock, PMU 2.0s, and Creatures, but the step up in clarify between these options and the Elecoms and Altec-Lansing speakers is noticeable.

The Future

Details are scant at the moment, but it’s clear that Klipsch is developing not only a silver version of the ProMedia Ultra 2.0 system to more closely match iPod hardware, but also a separate dedicated system that will more directly compete with the SoundDock, JBL On Stage, and other Dockable iPod speaker solutions. The company plans an official announcement for January. If we had to guess where Klipsch was going, we’d assume that the price, styling and performance will all jump past the $99.99 PMU 2.0. Unlike JBL – which released its value-laden $99 Creatures years in advance of On Stage only to later try and sell something less impressive (but smaller) for $199 – Klipsch knows just where products fit in its pricing matrix, and will deliver a cleaner, more accurate iPod solution with cool additional features (perhaps a remote?) for the dollar.

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To get a sense of what the company can do for an additional $50 over the PMU 2.0’s price, take a look at the GMX A-2.1 system ($149.99), which features not only a highly attractive set of satellite speakers, but also much stronger bass and somewhat cleaner sound thanks to a large amplified subwoofer. While oversized by iPod standards (and bigger than the Creature II system), the GMX A-2.1 shows that Klipsch knows how to ramp up its design and quality for certain price points. We’re really looking forward to seeing what it will do given that its likely competitors aren’t lacking in style.

Conclusions

If we were awarding a grade for the PMU 2.0 system in Backstage, we’d give it an A-, but the official rating will have to wait until the iPod-matching version debuts next year. Especially by comparison with a number of overpriced dedicated iPod speaker systems, Klipsch has a winner in the ProMedia Ultra 2.0 system – it delivers comparable quality, utility, and (limited) portability to a $299 system from Bose, but at one-third the price. And it does well against at least Elecom’s iPod-matching system for roughly the same price, and only a bit behind the marginally less portable JBL Creatures we continue to love.

The entrance of Klipsch into the iPod market can only be a good thing for iPod customers, as the company’s attention to accurate and low distortion sound for the dollar will spark some much-needed iPod speaker competition on both quality and price. Affordable, enjoyable to listen to, and attractive, Klipsch’s ProMedia Ultra 2.0 speakers are a welcome sign of things to come in the iPod market.

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Comments

1

Sounds like a great alternative to the overpriced SoundDock. You should review this on the main site—there have been plenty of reviews of things like headphones that aren’t directly marketed as iPod accessories. In fact, more powered speaker reviews in general!

Posted by mattwardfh in Texas on November 22, 2004 at 2:59 PM (PDT)

2

The review will eventually go up on the main site. Maybe we’ll put it up as provisional until the silver ones show up.

We’ve used the recent iPod-matching headphone reviews (Etymotic/Sony) to explain that our older reviews of non-matching hardware were largely done in the absence of dedicated iPod alternatives. It is sort of hard to draw the line between what belongs in the official iPod reviews section, but we’re working on it.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 22, 2004 at 3:08 PM (PDT)

3

too bad its only 30watts, it would be great if it could pump out something more powerful that could make it more competitive with a small stereo system. After all these days you dont really need a cdplayer, amp, radio, etc. with iTunes, an iPod, and internet radio you can replace the annoying and costly stereo systems

Posted by organicaudio in Toronto, Canada on November 22, 2004 at 10:27 PM (PDT)

4

I find it amusing that those of us willing to spend $250 - $500 on a wonderful toy like the iPod think that the SoundDock is overpriced.

We are all in the market of luxury goods, much of which sells not on strict price point but less tangible elements of style and function.

Having spent $300 for my iPod, $150 on cases and accessories (so far) and untold thousands on my music collection, I would hardly feel justified quibbling over a lousy $200 difference in speakers - money that can be made in a few hours. In this end of the market, we buy for quality and aesthetics - and I don’t want anything that even vaguely resembles PC speakers in my living room!

Me? At home I plug my iPod into any one of the 3 stereos via a regular 1/8 inch jack. I am not about to give up access to my radio, LPs and CDs, not yet.

Posted by BradPDX in Portland, OR USA on November 23, 2004 at 9:23 AM (PDT)

5

If the SoundDock’s style and functionality were worth the $200 premium over the Creatures, I could almost agree.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 23, 2004 at 10:31 AM (PDT)

6

In regards to the “only 30 watts” comment. As a Klipsch owner, I advise you not to worry about that. Every Klipsh speaker I have heard can blast out sound with very little power. You can expect them to fill a room with ease.

As former bose owner (waveradio + lifestyle 5.1) I can say that all my Klipsch products absolutely destroy anything bose has ever made, and they do it for less money. I will be utterly astonished if these PMU 2.0’s don’t sound multitudes better/louder/clearer/crisper than an overpriced bose waveradio –one of which met its fate with my trash compactor.

I would highly suggest you stay away from bose-anything. The sound they make for the price they sell it at is laughable.  I’m guessing (strongly) that this klipsch PMU 2.0 will best the SoundDock all day long. Of course I cant really say that until I hear the two side by side, but I’m will to bet that if the 2.0’s were white , then the author of this article would have said they sounded better. – sorry, but Jeremy focused on the color, rather than the sound, a little too much.  Other than that, I truly appreciate the review, especially because it’s the first for this product anywhere, and it had some great pictures. Thank you Jeremy.

And in response to BradPDX’s reply, I could not agree more about quality speakers. My reference speakers surly dominate any PC system. But there are PC speakers today that will impress almost anyone. Most notably are the Klipsch Ultra 5.1’s and CreativeLabs Gigaworks, which will best almost any home theater in a box including any bose 5/6.1 system. (Yes, I have done the tests myself in this case)

And in all fairness, the Klipsch 2.0 Ultra’s were not designed for the ipod. They were created to meat market needs at the 100 dollar price point in multimedia speakers. Klipsch has never sold a pair of speakers for this cheap before. If you really want better sound, Klipsch as well as many other companies, offer 150, 200, or 300 dollar solutions. Granted they may not be portable, but lets be real here, if portability was your priority, would own a pair of quality ear buds or headphones. 

Posted by Fa04u12 on November 28, 2004 at 11:11 PM (PDT)

7

i’ve actually had nothing but great experiences with Bose products, experiencing my friends various stereo systems.  They are just able to create sounds more clearer than other companies.  I once listened to a trance cd i admitidly got off the net (to see if i could somehow stand the thumping of trance).  And on my sound system that was ultimately my problem it gave me a bloody headache to listen to the entire trance cd.  But when i shoved it into my friend’s iMac and pumped it thru his amp and Bose speakers it was like it was a totally different cd.  In fact i ended up buying the cd for him for xmas cuz it was a great way to show off his speakers

Posted by organicaudio in Toronto, Canada on November 28, 2004 at 11:28 PM (PDT)

8

I don’t want ruin this thread, so i will just post this, rather then explain.

http://www.intellexual.net/bose.html

Posted by Fa04u12 on November 29, 2004 at 2:15 PM (PDT)

9

Back on topic:

Jeremy, can you compare the new klipsch 1” multimedia tweeters to the older 0.75” multimedia tweeters found on the ultra 5.1 or gmx line?

Posted by Fa04u12 on November 29, 2004 at 2:40 PM (PDT)

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