The Model 88 Table Radio By Henry Kloss
By Dick Olsher
Why a table radio, you ask? Well, if you like to listen to music while in the kitchen, bedroom, or office, a table radio is sufficiently compact and affordable to fit the bill. My interest in this product stems form the fact that I presently spend more time per day in the office with a table radio than I do at home with my kilobuck high-end system.
If you don't know who Audio Hall of Fame's Henry Kloss is, you simply haven't been around audio long enough. No, he isn't 88 years old yet, but he's clearly one of the grand daddies of audio and video innovation in the US with a remarkable career than spans many decades. Kloss has had the good fortune of being positioned at the center of several seminal audio companies. Let me refresh your memory by rolling the calendar back to 1952. Together with Edgar Villchur at Acoustic Research Kloss designed the first acoustic suspension loudspeaker. The AR-1, a compact bookshelf design with excellent bass response, virtually redefined the loudspeaker genre. His associations with KLH and Advent were also memorable, including the small and large Advent loudspeakers and the first consumer cassette deck with Dolby B noise reduction. His love of the radio led him to introduce the KLH model Eight mono FM radio in 1963. It represented the first high-end table radio and for its day carried a hefty price tag of around $160.
The Model 88 was designed a couple of years ago for Cambridge SoundWorks as a statement product. The name was chosen in honor of the original Model Eight and apparently because 88 represents the number of keys on a piano as well as the first number on the FM dial. And to my amazement, I discovered that when its current retail price ($149.99) is divided by the golden ratio, one almost obtains the number 88. OK, enough fun with numbers. What is really important is the rationale for this table radio. According to Kloss, it had to be better than anything else in the marketplace. And he is quite proud of his latest offspring. In fact, he considers it to be a serious music system that deserves better than sitting next to a bed. That's why you won't find the ubiquitous digital clock on the 88's front panel. However, an accessory dual-alarm clock is available ($49.95). This clock uses an infrared signal, just like that used by the 88's remote control, to control the radio's basic functions. Unlike conventional "clock radios," this arrangement allows the radio to be located for the best possible sound and stereo separation - across the room from the bed - while keeping the alarm clock next to you.
The Model 88's driver complement includes two full-range 2.5-inch speakers and a 4-inch, separately powered, woofer which occupies about two thirds of the unit's volume and handles the frequency range below 200 Hz. The discrete AM/FM tuner is quite remarkable at this price point, and compares favorably with that in receivers costing many hundreds of dollars. In addition to the selectable Mono and Stereo FM modes, a "Wide" mode is also provided that allocates out-of-phase information to opposite channels. With the right program material, the effect is to broaden the perceived soundstage.
Even with the stock wire antenna, the FM tuner's sensitivity is quite decent. However, for best indoor reception I recommend the Magnum Dynalab Silver Ribbon SR-100 indoor antenna ($30). I have lived with the Model 88 for about a year now in an office environment that is some 60 miles as the crow flies from my favorite classical station transmitter, KHFM in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The addition of the Silver Ribbon several months ago dramatically improved FM reception. Installation is a no brainer: it simply connects to the 75-ohm coaxial cable input on the back of the Model 88. There are two reasons for the Silver Ribbon's performance. First, the antenna is continuously tunable across the FM dial via adjustment of a slide knob. Second, the unit is easily rotated to optimize signal pickup for a particular station. These two features allow the end user to work around multipath problems by focusing the antenna on either the main signal or on a strong reflection.
What I typically despise about modern clock radios is their tinny sound; a tonal balance so fatally flawed that even a short exposure is sufficient to overload my nervous system. If you've experienced even one clock radio in your life, you know what I mean: sound quality only a mouse could enjoy. Therefore, what I noticed instantly about the Model 88 was its surprisingly natural tonal balance. At low volume levels, there's a strong impression of listening to live music from a distance. The power range of an orchestra is given full weight with believable mid and upper bass richness. And most surprising of all is the punch and tightness of bass lines. Providing that the volume level isn't cranked too high, the midrange retains sufficient clarity and headroom even on large-scale orchestral music. The treble range maintains a natural character, without the brightness and harmonic irritation endemic to this product genre. Most importantly, soprano voice retains sufficient purity and expressive nuance to please even hard-core audiophiles.
When it comes to personal FM radio listening enjoyment, I don't know of a more musically effective combination than the Model 88 table radio with the Silver Ribbon antenna. Add a CD player through the rear RCA jacks, and you have the makings of a competent personal music system. Considering the performance and price of the Model 88, Henry Kloss' latest ode to the table radio clearly qualifies as a major miracle.