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🌵 Sessions: Klipsch R-51M Bookshelf Speakers

April 10, 2022
Sold in pairs ($250)
1″ Aluminum LTS tweeters
90° x 90° Square Tractrix Horns
5.25″ Spun-Copper IMG Woofers
Bass-Reflex via Rear-Firing Port
Strong, Flexible Removable Magnetic Grille
Dimensions: 13.3″ x 7″ x 8.5″

My wife and I recently purchased a second home in Phoenix and have been wintering here since January. I had an extra Croft Acoustics amp that I brought down as the foundation for Catchgroove South (AKA: The Desert 🌵 Sessions) stereo. For the first few months I have used headphones, but it was time to get some passive speakers. My fantasy speakers would be something from the Klipsch Heritage collection, but they are way out of my price range, so I decided to go the budget route (under $300). My listening space is about a 13’ x 13’ carpeted room and I listen at a low to moderate volume – a bookshelf speaker seemed like a good way to go. There are a lot of great inexpensive choices in bookshelf speakers. I picked the Klipsch R-51M because they got solid reviews, I trust the Klipsch name (I have had a pair of KG2s since the mid 80s) and they were under budget at $250.

I had a scare the first night I set them up. I placed them on the folding table that serves as my temporary stereo rack (see below) and they sounded atrocious – like the pocket transistor radios of my youth – tinny. I was disappointed and prepared to return them.

First attempt

But then I made a modification and set them up on “speaker stands” (padded folding chairs) and they were a whole different speaker – the sound totally opened up and a created a wonderful stereo soundstage – wow!

Second attempt

I have been listening to them for about a week now and have about ten hours on them. I have been predominantly been listening to a new album, the Red Hot Chili Peppers Unlimited Love. Not a great idea – you should audition a new speaker with an album you are intimately familiar with. But I am so in love with the new Chili Pepper’s album and it sounds so good on the new speakers I can’t stop myself.

The R-51Ms have a clean sound, a strong stereo soundstage and just enough bass. I listen at moderate to low volume and there is plenty of character at my desired volume. I am using them purely for music. The Chili Pepper album actually is a pretty good test as it has mellow and rocking songs. It has a a simple non-gimmick mix: Most songs are just drums, bass, electric guitar and vocals with plenty of separation.

As for my set up I am using a bespoke British hybrid amp: Croft Acoustics Phono Integrated. The primary input is Bluesound Node (3rd generation) streamer using Tidal MQA recordings (I don’t have much vinyl here in Phoenix). Here is a review of my 2nd generation Node 2i in Minneapolis (the new Node is very similar). I am using simple 16 gauge speaker wire (Rocketfish). I am borrowing my daughter’s Music Hall mmf-2.2 le modified with a ceramic platter. The Croft has an excellent tube based phono preamp. My listening position is direct center about 10 feet out from the speakers (which are about 8 feet a part and slightly toed in). My ears are on level with the tweeters.

I moved on to a more appropriate reference recording: Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life (streamed). This is an album I have listening to for 40+ years. It sounds great on the R-51Ms. Jaco Pastorius’ bass it is appropriately bold – not distorted and plenty of punch. No complaints. The Chili Peppers were not misrepresenting the R-51Ms.

Then I moved on to vinyl, a mono reissue of Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue. This is in my top 10 recordings, both for the quality of the music and the production. This LP really shows off the speakers: great soundstage, the horns sound fantastic and the rhythm section sounds sublime. Perfect record to make these sound like $1000 speakers.

The speakers have a nice retro appearance. Up close the simulated wood is a bit cheesy, but they look fine from a distance. They really look cool with grills removed. Overall nice build quality.

Finally, some conventional rock ‘n roll: Keith Richards’ Main Offender (2022 vinyl reissue). Another one of my all time favorites for both the music and the sound. Steve Jordon’s drums a punchy and Keith and Waddy’s guitar have gorgeous separation. This is a nuanced recording and the R-51Ms reveal, but don’t distort – perfection!

I am curious what they would sound like on proper stands – specifically without the chair backs obstructing the bass rear ports.

Bass-Reflex via Rear-Firing Port

It is hard for me to imagine how these speakers are designed, built and marketed at 250 bucks – they must sell a shit ton of them. An amazing mass market product. I am fully satisfied with the R-51M given their price point. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them for a similar application as mine. Plan to invest in some speaker stands too.

For those of you who would prefer a powered version (for use without an amp), there is powered version (R-51PM) for about $100 more.

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