Publisher Profile

Salk Sound SS9.5 speaker Review

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Salk Sound SS9.5 in Fireburst finish.

Just over seven years ago I reviewed the Salk Sound Soundscape Speakers for Dagogo. I recall that they were built with what were generally considered to be some of the most accurate drivers available, chiefly the RAAL ribbon tweeter and Accuton ceramic midrange. A couple of months ago I sold the Vapor Audio Joule White speakers that I owned following review in 2016. These were of a similar ilk, with larger RAAL ribbons and Accuton ceramic midrange drivers. Owning those speakers, I was certainly on a quest for resolution!

Now, however, things are changing, perhaps as a function of age, or getting tired of extreme resolution in speakers that have been tuned by the manufacturer to travel the laser thin line between the sense of hearing everything and being able to relax while hearing it. I had reservations about switching to the Joule White after my love affair with the Vapor Nimbus White. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t made the change, and at one point I looked into reacquiring the Nimbus. There was an even more prodigious version of the Nimbus that I discussed with Ed Rosenquist, the cabinet maker for the earlier Vapor Speakers. I consider the Nimbus’s cabinet to be one of the masterpieces of dynamic loudspeaker cabinet design. I never should have let that speaker go.

Part of the appeal of the Nimbus was the enormous 15” woofer, which matched beautifully with the twin Accuton midrange drivers. Over time, I came to accept the woofer of the Joule White, since it technically could do 20Hz +/-3dB, but it never sounded relaxed, as did the woofer in Nimbus. I recall all this as I look back at the Soundscape 10 with its pair of 12” passive radiators. At the time I recall describing the experience of using them as being in the tradition of classic big American speakers: bold and powerful.

It was at AXPONA 2019—back when we were still attending in person—that I heard and arranged with Jim Salk the review of the SS 9.5. I was not content to work with the stock model, but requested internal wiring and caps upgrades. Jim complied, and this build is a bit more special than average. I was also arranging several speakers to incorporate the Iconoclast by Belden wiring that was also upcoming on review. One of the goals I have over time is to work with manufacturers to open their eyes to the benefits of upgraded internal wiring in their speakers. I have a solid enough reputation now in the industry that manufacturers do not dismiss the thought, but usually participate. That is a bonus for the buyer, so it should be noted that Salk Sound is a willing participant in the design of speakers with elevated internals.


Pragmatic speaker building

The pair of SS 9.5 under review were made with a custom veneer of Monkeypod with Dark Walnut dye and “burst” edges, which means complementary opaque paint applied to the speaker’s edges. The result is glamorous! Kudos to the Salk Sound team doing the finishing work. When I was perusing the extensive list of wood veneers and dyes on the website, it was tough to make a selection, as there are so many striking builds shown. It seems the speaker industry is expanding what is called an exotic veneer due to environmental concerns making supplies of traditionally exotic veneers harder to source. The wide variety of veneers and colors is in itself a strong reason to consider a Salk Sound speaker, as nearly any aesthetic desire can be accommodated. I do not recall any HiFi speaker manufacturer with more options for finishes on its company website.

The fit and finish on these Salk Sound speakers is first rate, with no blemishes of any sort seen. The thick black base plate and massive spikes fit the grandeur of the speaker without looking cartoonish. Salk is masterful at matching the veneer of the front baffles, and I know of very few other speaker companies as skilled in holistic speaker assembly and finishing. If concern about aesthetics weighs heavily on the choice of speaker, Salk Audio can make a dream combination of veneers and colors; see the company’s site for an extensive display of its artwork.

Salk Sound is a collaboration between Jim, Dennis Murphy, who designs the crossovers, and Jeff Bagby, who works on the passive radiator element. It shows, as the design is so well put together that it begs the question of whether one person could achieve such a result. The thoroughness with which every aspect has been carried out speaks to the team approach used by Salk. The push for perfection is evident, and the final product’s fit and finish does not take a back seat to more advertised companies, such as Focal – JM Lab, Magico, Sonus Faber, etc.

Speaking of the crossovers, I thought it would be great to have Salk build a premium model of the SS 9.5, with upgraded internals. Knowing that Salk speakers are of such high value to performance, I thought it might benefit the company to offer a premium version upon request. I suggested, and Salk followed through with, upgraded capacitors and internal wiring. Jim shared with me the particulars: “The crossovers in this build feature copper foil inductors rather than our normal air coil inductors. They also employ upgraded Mundorf caps in strategic places in the crossovers. We also used 10-gauge wire internally rather than 12-gauge (at your request).”

I have found both upgraded caps and internal wiring efficacious, and some of the definitive comparisons verifying it were with the PureAudioProject Trio15 Horn1 Speaker, with which I have used three sets of capacitors on the crossover and upgraded “internal” wiring. I am just starting on a review of the big brother PAP Quintet15 Horn1, and the replacement of the standard Mundorf caps for the Mundorf Evo oil-filled ones that I had purchased myself for the Trio15 was striking, as if an Elegance Switch featuring fullness and added bass presence had been flipped. The replacement of these parts in the PAP speakers is fall-over easy, as it is an open baffle design with screw down terminals on the crossover board. While such connections are not optimized, it is advantageous to the audiophile who wishes to tweak the innards, but unlike the SS 9.5, it is a challenging speaker aesthetically to incorporate into most domestic environments.

The Legacy Audio Whisper DSW Clarity Edition also has 10 AWG Clarity Cable, and my experience over time has been that I have found no drawback to going with heftier gauge inside speakers. I suspect Jim felt it was overkill, an unnecessary step above the 12 gauge. Perhaps, but it seems Jim can accommodate the 10 AWG on this build well enough at the customer’s request. At the time of the review, I was also working on a mind-bending cable review of the top line Iconoclast by Belden and BAV (Belden Audio/Video) Cables (see review), and suggested that these might be used inside the SS 9.5. Jim felt the price point of the cables could not be supported for an internal build. I can understand that, because Salk Sound speakers are built to be such a good value for the customer that more extravagant internal wiring is off limits. If I recall correctly, a more standard, perhaps pro-oriented, wiring was used in this build. This is not to be taken as a slight against Iconoclast, as I have found those wires to be second to none.

Jim has to be a pragmatist businessman and speaker maker. He has earned his heralded reputation by turning out great numbers of sonically and aesthetically pleasing speakers. Jim is not getting rich doing this. Prior to the Covid-19 resurgence in HiFi buying by the public, Jim told me his account of how thin the margins are for Salk. It was disheartening to hear of a company making such a desirable product working its rear ends off to make headway. The plethora of garbage products with vinyl siding and poor drivers deserve no harbor in an audiophile’s system when there is a dedicated team of craftsmen at work at Salk. I hope that this year has been wonderful for small speaker makers such as Salk Sound.

Salk will not place ads in the magazines touting world-class manufacturing machinery, or try to impress with tolerances suitable for the space industry, but neither will they charge you an arm and a leg for a pair of speakers. Jim shows careful measurements of his speakers on the website, and the measurements for SS 9.5 in its operating range show one of the flattest speaker responses I have seen in a mid-size floorstander — from 25Hz to 40KHz. The website discusses this as “ruler flat” measured response, and the graph supports it.

4 Responses to Salk Sound SS9.5 speaker Review

  1. Calvin Curry says:

    Please review the Songtower 2, BMR Monitors. Some of the Song 3 Series, etc. It is a shame that many people are not aware of Salk Speakers. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Salk and his precious wife, when I was visiting my daughter at law school in Lansing. He gave me a tour and explained the different aspects of Salk’s way of building speakers. We listened to a set of speakers. Had a wonderful day there. They are special people.

  2. Calvin,
    God’s Joy to you,
    Thank you for the reply! I would encourage a colleague to review a smaller model of Salk Sound speaker. While I am still capable of muscling them about, I prefer to focus on tower speakers simply for the grandness of them. The day will come, but hopefully not for a while yet, when I will have to opt for monitors. But, you are right, more exposure would be a good thing.

    I also very much like the Exotica 3, and think that would make for a great review, perhaps by a colleague.

    Douglas Schroeder

  3. Richard says:

    Your comments force me to experiment with the solid back and additional stuffing for the mid-range chamber, which I’ll do this week. Thank you for that suggestion and the excellent review!

  4. Richard,
    God’s Joy,

    Thank you for your kind words!

    I hope you have a lot of fun and perhaps even get a tuning you really like! You an have more than one performance setting, if you wish.

    Douglas Schroeder

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