Klipsch press packets assert that the firm’s speakers always aim to convey “Power, Detail, and Emotion,” and the Synergy F-1 Home Theater system represents an attempt to deliver those virtues in a full-scale surround rig that sells for just $1360. By “full-scale” I mean that there is nothing compact or “downsized” about the F-1 system; unlike many competing systems which feature smallish standmount satellite speakers, the F-1 is based on a pair of two-way, fullrange Synergy F-1 floorstanding main speakers with horn-loaded tweeters (a signature feature of nearly all Klipsch designs). Complementing the F-1 are a pair of two-way/three-driver Synergy S-1 surrounds speakers, a two-way/three driver Synergy C-1 center channel, and a 420 watt Sub-10 powered subwoofer.
At first glance the Synergy models seem visually similar to Klipsch’s Reference-series speakers (see my review of the Reference RF-52 system from The Perfect Vision issue 75), but they achieve significant cost reductions by using somewhat less sophisticated drive units, substituting aluminum tweeters for the Reference titanium units, and injection molded graphite mid-bass drivers in place of the more costly Reference “cerametallic” drivers. Synergy systems also tend to feature speakers whose cabinets are more lightly built than their Reference counterparts, and subwoofer designs that are simpler and offer a bit less control flexibility. But as a result of these cost-trimming measures, Synergy systems are priced considerably lower than equivalent Reference packages, and are therefore affordable enough to be sold in certain big box retail chains.
The defining characteristic of the Synergy F-1 Home Theater system is a big, bold, highly dynamic sound that does not back down either from cinematic or musical challenges. When the going gets rough, the F-1 system simply clears its throat and fills the room (even quite large rooms, such as our Audio Lab) with sound, taking even demanding action film soundtracks in stride. The speakers are also, as advertised, reasonably well-detailed, with tonal balance that—absent room/speaker EQ correction—shades slightly to the warmer, mellower side of neutral (not a bad thing, given that inexpensive A/V receivers tend, as a rule, to sound overly bright).
Upper midrange and treble response, though quite good for this price point, fall short of the exemplary performance of Klipsch’s Reference models, exhibit traces of textural coarseness and edginess at times. Like the Reference models, the Synergy speakers have a pure, open-voiced quality when reproducing solo instruments (trumpets or saxophones, for example), but unlike the References, the Synergy speakers can begin to sound a little congested or “confused” on more complicated material (for example, multi-layered movie soundtracks or densely orchestrated musical passages). Finally, the Synergy system’s bass is powerful and ample, though perhaps too loosely damped, so that—on some passages— the low end takes on a subtly exaggerated, overblown quality.
The Synergy system is at its best on passages that require dynamic swagger and a certain exuberant, sonic joie de vivre. A classic example would be the opening racetrack sequence from Cars [Disney, Blu-ray], which depends upon a convincing rendition of powerful stock car racing noises, as well as punchy reproduction of the upbeat rock’n’roll soundtrack. The F-1 Home Theater system belts this one out of the ballpark with dynamic muscle few other sub-$1500 systems can match, making the visceral roar of Lightning McQueen’s V-8 engine sound appropriately throaty, powerful, and oh-so-right.
On material that demands absolute clarity and finesse the F-1 system also fares well, though with a few rough edges that I noted. On the stunningly recorded track “Kicho” from Blue Chamber Quartet’s First Impressions [Stockfisch, SACD] there comes a passage where acoustic bass, piano, vibraphone and harp all intersect, and at that moment the F-1 system tends to let the voices of the instruments blur and merge, rather than remaining distinct as they should. Similarly, on drummer Bobby Paris’s sure, propulsive ride cymbal pulse heard at the beginning of Long John Hunter’s “Let’s Set the Time” [Untapped Blues Festival 2004 Live, Bluestopia], the F-1 system got the overall cymbal sound right, or nearly so, but added a subtle (and uncharacteristic) touch of treble coarseness that should not have been there. Finally, on powerful yet complex bass passages, such as Victor Wooten’s electric bass solos on “Song for My Father” [Palmystery, Heads Up], the F-1’s bass was appropriately potent and weighty, but just a little too loose to capture the finer nuance’s of Wooten’s performance.
Despite occasional sonic shortcomings, however, the F-1 system’s generally pleasing tonal balance, overall clarity, and dynamic oomph make it a very expressive speaker system—especially when price is taken into consideration.