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Starke Sound IC-H1 Elite Listening Tests & Conclusion

By Brian Kahn

I used the IC-H1s in two systems in two separate rooms, with most of my critical listening in a room that measures approximately 12 feet wide by 17 feet deep. The front of the speakers were about two feet from the front wall of the room and they were toed in slightly to a point where they were aimed a spot about three feet behind my head. Having the speakers close to the front wall improves bass performance and the toe-in improves imaging. That said, experiment with positioning and toe-in to see what works best for you. I used a Margules Arch integrated amplifier for most of my listening, but at the end also tried my Krell FBI to make sure what I describe below was coming from the speakers and not the electronics.

Music Listening

starke 5“Muddy Waters” by LP from the album Lost on You features a female vocalist with a haunting chorus in the background. Laura Pergolizzi’s vocals were reproduced with great clarity, positioning her and the tambourine in the center of and just behind the IC-H1’s. The backing vocals were distinctly positioned several feet behind. The soundstage was solid and continuous, the width of the speakers and slightly beyond their outer edges, while the lead vocals and each instrument were distinctly positioned. The background vocals were wider and farther behind, with less precision in left/right position. The vocals in this track are the star. Pergolizzi’s performance is filled with raw emotion, which was readily discernible when listening through the Starke speakers. The drums were reproduced with more weight than I expected from a speaker this size.

I continued to peruse Tidal for a female vocalist whose voice I was more familiar with and found “Ballad Of The Runaway Horse” from Rob Wasserman’s Duets with Jennifer Warnes on vocals. I have listened to this track many times on several systems I know well. As with the prior track, the imaging was well formed at or slightly beyond the plane of the speakers with the speakers themselves disappearing. Jennifer Warnes’ voice was very natural and detailed, creating a great sense of realism. The micro dynamics and clean leading edges reproduced details in Warnes’ voice and breathing, which bolstered the illusion. This clarity also benefitted the reproduction of Wasserman’s bass playing. Wasserman is a master on the bass, with the ability to blend speedy, agile plucks and more powerful bass notes which the Starke’s could reproduce both with seeming ease and with substantial weight. It was only at the lowest end of the IC-H1’s range, perhaps about 50 Hz that there was a slightly audible thickening of the bass.

The drums were reproduced with more weight than I expected from a speaker this size.

Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” from the Brothers in Arms album has one of my favorite openings of any rock song. The first minute of this track was reproduced through the IC-H1s with a solid wall of sound. The kick drums were clean and taut and positioned well behind the speakers. The electric guitars were dynamic, clean and had some bite to them. The Starke’s remained composed and maintained their dynamics throughout the opening crescendo. I knew the speakers did a good job with female vocals and was pleased to hear Sting and Mark Knopfler’s vocals also being accurately portrayed.

I switched to Qobuz for this last track “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Greig and performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This is a much larger and more complicated soundstage than the tracks above and the Starke’s scaled up the presentation to provide an image that expanded beyond the outer edges of the speakers and back slightly beyond the front wall of the room. The positioning of the low brass and strings sounded right, but on a slightly smaller scale than when I listen to this piece on my Revel F328Bes or RBH Sound SVTRs. The IC-H1 reproduced the instruments with sufficient detail to make out individual instruments with the strings being rendered clearly. The speakers remained composed when the pace picked up at the end, but there was slight compression when I turned up the volume.

Last, I played some more current club type music with including and found that the IC-H1’s needed a subwoofer to play this music at anything other than background levels and lets face it, if you're listening to club music, it’s probably on the louder side. As expected, the IC-H1s speed did a great job with cleanly reproducing the synthesized mids and highs as well as with the vocals. The synthesized bass line in Cardi B.’s “I Like It” was weak without a subwoofer but would probably be enough to get you in trouble in most apartments or condominiums.


The Starke IC-H1s are excellent compact stand mounted speakers. Listening to them with my eyes closed, the speakers disappeared, leaving a wide and detailed soundstage giving the impression of mid mezzanine seats. The overall sound profile was detailed throughout the midrange and treble but slightly polite. Now I know what Starke meant when they said ‘sleek midrange’, it’s there without any extra bloat are warmth with all the details laid bare. The bass was weightier than you would expect from a small speaker with small drivers, but this intentional choice of voicing to provide the weight at the low end means slightly diminished detail. I think it was the correct choice. The bass rolls off pretty fast below 50 Hz, so if your musical tastes include a lot of dance music or pipe organs, you will want to get one of Starke’s larger speakers or add a subwoofer. I did not have any of the Starke subwoofers on hand, but tried a SVS 3000 Micro with excellent results.

The Starke IC-H1s have a lot going for them beyond their industrial design. They provide detailed and natural sound. The treble is on the slightly rolled off side of neutral, but if you prefer something a little more forward, the Beryllium tweeter option is about one dB hotter on the top end. The voicing that Starke utilizes for the IC-H1s walks the line of the providing illuminating detail into your music but without bringing out the harshness that plagues so many recordings from the 1980s. Despite the unusual crossover design, the IC-H1’s do an excellent job with smooth transition at both the 300 Hz and 2,900 Hz crossover points.

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If you're considering speakers in this price range and format, the Starke Sound IC-H1s should be on your audition list. They maintain the strengths of the small, stand mounted speaker format by disappearing and imaging well. The Starke’s add in a larger than expected soundstage that maintains well-formed and positioned images within and has more weight in the bass region, at least until the low 50 Hz range, making it easier to integrate with a subwoofer if you so desire. Music lovers are fortunate today to have so many small, stand mounted speaker options to choose from. Many of them in this price range are pretty good such as the Polk L200s and Arendal Sound 1961 Monitors. Starke Sound’s IC-H1 is an excellent option in that range, providing excellent sound when it is on and still looking sharp when off and doing all of this at a competitive price.

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor

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