Starke Sound IC-H3 Halo Elite Loudspeaker

Elite, Indeed

Equipment report
Starke Sound IC-H3 Halo Elite
Starke Sound IC-H3 Halo Elite Loudspeaker

I first encountered Starke Sound loudspeakers at T.H.E. Show Newport a couple of years ago. As I elbowed my way into Starke’s crowded demo room, I was impressed by the buzz of excitement from the mostly younger attendees—good news as I’m always on the lookout for indicators of the high end’s future. Starke’s lineup of loudspeakers not only sounded promising; they also seemed reasonably priced, and teased the eye with splashy candy-color and metallic finishes, sparkling thick aluminum baffles, and copper accents. I thought to myself that this was a team trying to shake things up.

I learned that Starke Sound is a Southern California-based company founded in 2009 by a group of designers and engineers—all of them audio enthusiasts. Their goal was to create a speaker company whose products spanned the home cinema, multichannel, and audiophile markets, and embodied top-notch technology and contemporary design. Today, Starke Sound assembles its subsystems and products in Europe, North America, and Asia. The company is vertically integrated, building its own drivers (including beryllium transducers), cabinets, and crossovers, producing its own paints, and doing its own assembly. Its current product catalog boasts roughly sixteen models—left/right, center, and surround speakers, in-walls, and a subwoofer. Starke even offers amplification. Its lineup includes the “standard” Brio series, the Halo series, and the Elite and Signature series that include bespoke wiring and, in some instances, beryllium drivers.

There are two stand-mount three-ways in Starke Sound’s Halo series. The IC-H3 Elite reviewed here is the larger of two, and it sure does know how to make an entrance. Its unique look disrupts the stand-mount-speaker social order with glossy full-color finishes set off against gently raked, brushed-aluminum front baffles that extend beyond the edges of the enclosures. These and other details lend the IC-H3 a hip look, ideal for contemporary open spaces. At nearly 26" tall, the IC-H3 is not truly a compact; it’s too big to be placed on a bookshelf and too short to rest on the floor without stands. Because of the fifteen-inch depth of the speaker, the platform it sits on needs to be able to support its 64-pound weight. To this end, Starke markets a dedicated stand—the handsome all-aluminum Stand3.

The driver complement includes a 1" soft-dome tweeter, a 4" carbon-fiber cone midrange, and twin 6.5" composite-paper woofers. The IC-H3 employs a fourth-order crossover with 300Hz and 2.9kHz hinge points. For the mid and bass drivers Starke employs its own dual-gap Linear Magnetic Field (LMF) technology—a long-coil/short-gap design where the voice coil travels through multiple gaps. The voice coil is underhung with regards to the entire magnetic structure, but overhung with regards to each individual magnetic gap. Starke says that with LMF there’s no reduction in magnetic flux density in the gap. Translation: less distortion.

The sealed (acoustic-suspension) enclosure uses constrained-layer construction comprising laminated HDF and MDF boards of varying thicknesses. These are then shaped via a CNC machine and finished with an epoxy coat to create a seamless surface for the application of piano-gloss paint. The sides, top, and rear are braced with a matrix of 25mm-thick MDF. The tweeter is housed in its own machined-aluminum chamber. Starke Sound’s midrange drivers are also isolated inside a 25mm-thick HDF enclosure. The rest of the internal volume is reserved for the woofers.

Starke uses the term “hybrid” to express the multi-dimensional mission of its speakers. The word suggests a loudspeaker that can easily span the cinemaphile/audiophile divide. Dan Wiggins (Chief Technical Officer of Starke) told me that “there are different expectations [from cinema and audiophile speakers], but both must do the same thing. A cinematic speaker is often sought out because of its dynamics. Audio typically requires exacting frequency response, a very smooth and linear off-axis response (for imaging), and low distortion (to avoid sonic coloration). As cinema and audio benefit from each other’s strengths (high dynamic range never hurts in an audio situation), we set out to make a speaker that can do both.” I think the high end has always considered wide dynamics critical to the listening experience, but I grant the notion that the HT “explosion” in the 90s brought the issue into even greater prominence.

Sonically, the IC-H3 Elite was a boisterous floorstander thinly disguised as a stand-mounted compact. From the initial percussion bursts of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, the gusto and linearity of its dual-woofered low end quickly upended any thoughts that the Starke was going to be a paper tiger. During this showpiece the sound was explosive, with considerable grip on the bass drum/timpani concussions, and clean, natural decays that didn’t smudge the adjoining fiery brass and winds sections. The IC-H3 gamely handled the full weight of this piece, taking the measure of each rippling harmonic with tunefulness and control. Such bass precision is one of the key virtues of sealed-box loudspeakers, with bottom octaves devoid of overhang or port effects. In this instance, the Starke found a happy medium, neither truncating the note nor (as is the case with some bass-reflex designs) letting it overstay its welcome. Additionally, in the macro-dynamic sense, there was no mistaking that I was in the presence of a three-way. The typical two-way would have been inviting a hernia if it attempted to summon the low-frequency dynamic energy and sheer SPLs that the Starke effortlessly displayed.