Klipsch’s little secret that could.
Thought i’d let you in on a little secret… a pretty small one for its size, but big in so many other ways. Read on. Ive been asked many times as to whats the best buy in small form factor self powered speakers. My only qualifications stems from the fact that while i do have an ear for audio, i also have along the way, in the pursuit to answering this question which i myself have asked, somehow have either owned or auditioned the handful of candidates out there. There are very many mind you.. but the forest seems to be overgrown with weeds obscuring the majestic oaks and teak.
Well, this actually goes back someway. Not that long ago, there actually werent any. In the late 80’s or the early nineties, bookshelves were it, and small they werent. By the mid to late nineties, the need grew, and out of the need a few answered the call for something small that also didnt sound like an AM pocket radio. I had my first encounter with the first semblence of anything decent in the form of a Labtec LCS-2414.
At a time when large volume manufacturers of pc multimedia speakers were making up designs that sounded relatively atrocious, came this little gem. Sometimes someone somewhere gets it somewhat right,and this is a perfect example. Its by no means that good.. but its also not bad. Its very humbly spec’d, a 10 watt ported MDF subwoofer and 15 watts feeds the left and right satellites. And within reasonable volumes and where in the the frequency range it mattered most, it sounded pretty darned good. The sub was competant for what it was worth, down low and crossed over nicely to the satellites which had a decidedly rolled off top end.. at least they werent fatiguing. Mine are almost 12 years old now, and they still function. Mind you, this was still early days.. it was either this or full blown bookshelves. Creative made some brave attempts, and so did Logitech but truth be said it took a proper audio company to produce one of the legends of pc audio. Klipsch is a well know name in upper end audio circles, noted for their horn loaded designs and signature bright brash sound. Fortunately for pc users, they graced onto the pc world the Promedia 2.1 multimedia speaker system.
It was a hallelujah moment! There was nothing like it till then.. it was a behemoth of a thing that shook walls and jarred teeth. Not just did it power your mp3 driven block party down the street, it brought new dimensions to pc gaming. Now, when you took two to the chest, you felt it. The promedias design was far from accurate, but what it was, was immense fun and brought a silly little school boy grin to your face. The sub would push down to a gut rumbling 30Hz, port noise and all…. that aside, its still a honest to goodness 30Hz!! Its beefy amp, while modestly rated had the muscle to push the watts around without much distortion and at a max of 106 decibels at full volume is astoundingly loud!! The eagle had quite simply landed…… bringing the walls down with it.
The legendary promedia 2.1 was followed by several other variants, all roughly built around the same principle. The GMX-A 2.1, GMX-D 5.1 and Promedia 5.1 all made names for themselves in their own right, often crushing all in one home theater boxes from some of the more well know Korean and Japanese brands.
Ive been so impressed with their efforts that i personally own a Promedia 2.1, the GMX-A 2.1, The PM20, Promedia 2.0 and the monstrous IFI. They’re all bars off the same tune.. not one that you’d forget easily either. Klipsch got their engineering formula right,… and so did a few others. Creative Labs somehow always fell short and Logitech always seemed less than musical. Harman Kardon made several decent ones that deserve mention, the soundsticks for one. Altec Lansing too joined the fray but could never quite rival what Klipsch had to offer. There are others, specialist manufacturers but far from the commercial types one would find at Best Buy.. eg, Dynaudio makes a very nice pair, but in a completely different price range.
But, i think ive digressed.. i did say i had a little secret after all. As remarkable and competant these speakers were, the one thing they weren’t were small. There in lies the problem. Small and good in the context of this post is usually mutually exclusive. The sub + satellite concept adresses the problem to an extent, and while still smaller than dedicated bookshelf monitors, they still arent by any means small. Thats where the klipsch Promedia 2.0 was to find its niche.. a competent small form factor 2 channel speaker system that still sounded good.
You wouldnt think it could be possible…, i was floored when i heard these puppies sing. For a hundred bucks, here was something relatively small, didnt take up much deskspace and sang its heart out. The bottem end rolled off at 50 Hz, but man, it made itself felt. With no sub as an anchor around its neck.. pun wholly intended, they were simple to setup and to move around. And when you think you’d have seen it all, Klipsch did it again with the release of the PM20 which improved over the Promedia 2.0s! Smaller, punchier and while not as loud, just as engaging as its bigger sibling.
Back to the original question.. which one takes the crown as the best small form factor pc/multimedia speaker? Why, The audioengine A2 of course!! Well, thats true, but it also costs much more.. no, now seriously.. between the promedia 2.0 and the pm20 it would seem plainly obvious that the promedia 2.0 would walk away with the honors.. but you would be wrong. Ive compared the two side by side and the PM20 is simply the better of the two. Its got more bass, its punchier, and simply more musical.. Yes, for their size, they both concede true low end but make up for it with a midbass boost that gives it the magical appearance of a much larger speaker. The PM20 driver is so well matched to the cabinet design, and the port tuned just right that you would be looking under the desk for a sub.. that you’re not going to find.
Note as to just how not large these speakers are.. but their diminutive size belies their output. Set them up right and they sound decidedly good for something this compact. The PM20’s bass is palpable and addictively toe tapping. Didnt matter how i set these up, the PM20 invariably came ahead.
The Pm20 delivers cleaner lower bass than the Promedia 2.0, albeit at not such high volumes. The PM20’s volume is more than adequate for near field listening.. and will get uncomfortably loud at full tilt. Frequency response is tuned to what it can handle best. Vocals are strong and played back with presence. The top end pf the PM20 is slightly rolled off giving it a slightly warm character. The Promedia 2.0 though can get a little tizzy at the top.
The PM20 sports a wave guide while the larger Promedia 2.0 is features a horn loaded tweeter. As impressive as it looks compared to the smaller PM20, for near filed listening at nominal volumes, the PM20 is better. The PM20 seems to have a bass contoured volume control similar to Boston Acoustics BassTrac and Bose’s secret sauce. It also has an adjustable bass level to compensate for placement or bass heavy tracks.
The power brick is quite literally a brick and rather hefty, that in my book puts these units out of contention for portable use. But as far as compact small form factor speakers go that dont break the bank, the PM20 is a winner. Here comes the caveat… Klipsch no longer makes them. The only place you can find the PM20 is on the auction block at Ebay. They usually fall below the radar.. not commanding much attention and dont sell for much used. What you have here then, is a bargain. If you had $200 to spare, the Audioengine A2’s are a darling new. Otherwise, these will fit the bill and will not disappoint. Ive had these in near constant use now for several years and for the price point, what these are capable of for their size.. they cant be beat unless going up significantly. Now, why a discontinued set of speakers that can only be found on ebay… well there hasnt been anybody to step up to fill the void at the $100 mark new, that does what the PM20 does so well. At least i haven’t heard one yet. Creatives Gigaworks comes in a close second, but i personally prefer the sound of the PM20. Klipsch, with the PM20 set the benchmark as to just how capable small and budget friendly could sound,… and it still does.
Smalls not ideal, but if i had to do small, the PM20 would still be it.
Cats out of the bag. Its a secret… Shhhh.. dont tell anyone.