This Starke Sound Halo Elite speaker system is, physically, the largest and most capable surround sound speaker system that I have had in my home up to this point.

Starke Sound Halo Elite 5.1 Home Theater Speaker System

And while the old adage “there is no replacement for displacement” certainly applies in this case, each of the speakers in Starke’s Halo line incorporates several intelligent design and engineering features to augment and focus the raw potential that their sheer size entails. Starke also sent along one of their massive A7 Mark II multichannel power amplifiers to make sure I got to properly experience the full measure of what this system was capable of. Frankly, it was excessive and utter madness of the most enjoyable kind.

Starke Halo Elite HT Test Speakers and A7 Mk II amp
Starke Halo Elite HT Test Speakers and A7 Mk II amp.

Highlights

Starke Sound Halo Elite 5.1 Home Theater Speaker System

  • Incredibly detailed and immersive audio experience with movies and music.
  • All speakers come with treble adjustment and boundary compensation switches.
  • Construction quality and finish are first rate. Colors are bold.
  • The system is essentially 5 full range speakers.
  • The A7 Mark II amplifier is monstrously big and powerful.
  • The very red subwoofer is small but keeps up with the rest of the system handily.
Introduction

I first encountered Starke Sound when I attended one of my first CES shows a few years back and then again at CEDIA a couple of years later. In both cases, the surround sound systems that they had assembled were based on their Halo series of loudspeakers which were demonstrated with impressive results at both shows. The speakers and amplifiers that the company manufactures are big, bold and seemingly quite capable. The styling and automotive paint finishes on the Halo speakers certainly call attention to themselves, such that I would not classify these speakers as components for the more introverted audiophile. As a company, Starke Sound was founded in 2009 in Southern California by a small group of audio enthusiasts who had day jobs as designers and engineers. The company currently has a large presence in Asia and Europe with more than a hundred dealers. They have begun developing a network of integrator/dealers in North America over the past two years and own manufacturing facilities in both China and Germany along with here in the US. The company states that they strive to produce all of their products in one or a combination of these facilities including the manufacturing of their own speaker drivers.

One could be excused for thinking that a company as young as Starke couldn’t really be anything more than just an interesting local exercise of some committed audio enthusiasts. In reality, after seeing and hearing their products in person, it is quite clear that the folks at Starke are very serious and very committed about the quality and engineering of their gear and of the satisfaction that it can bring. This isn’t flash-in-the-pan stuff and I was anxious to get a system in my home to try out. Thankfully, Starke was more than happy to accommodate me. They sent along a full 5.1 system comprised of their Halo Elite floor standing, center and on-wall speakers, all in a stunning blue finish called “Sapphire Blue”. Starke also sent along a comparatively diminutive subwoofer called the SUB35 finished in a screaming candy-apple-red color. And to round out the experience, or “gild the lily” as it were, Starke Sound included the imposing A7 Mark II multichannel power amplifier, just to assure every transducer was properly fed.

STARKE SOUND HALO ELITE 5.1 HOME THEATER SPEAKER SYSTEM SPECIFICATIONS

Halo IC-H5 Elite Loudspeakers

Design:

3-way Floor-standing Loudspeaker with Passive Radiator

Low-Frequency Transducers:

Three 8” Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic Woofers, Single 12” Carbon Fiber Passive Radiator

Mid-Frequency Transducers:

Two 4” Carbon Fiber Drivers with Phase Plugs

High-Frequency Transducer:

Single 1” Beryllium Dome Tweeter

Recommended Amplifier Power:

60 – 500 Watts

Frequency Response (Manufacturer):

28 Hz – 40 kHz

Sensitivity:

92dB (2.83V @ 1M)

Nominal Impedance:

4 Ohm

Crossover Frequency:

290 Hz and 3 kHz

External Controls:

3-Pole Tweeter Adjustment Switch (+2 dB, 0 dB, -2 dB), Boundary Compensation Switch

Inputs:

Four Multi-Way Binding Posts with Jumpers

Dimensions:

48.0” H x 9.9” W x 15.7” D

Weight:

154 lbs. each

Finish:

Piano Black or Sapphire Blue. Custom Colors Available Upon Request

Warranty:

10 Years

MSRP:

$13,920.00 (pair)

Halo IC-H5C Elite Center Channel Loudspeaker

Design:

3-way Sealed Center Channel Loudspeaker

Low-Frequency Transducers:

Two 8” Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic Woofers, Single 12” Carbon Fiber Passive Radiator

Mid-Frequency Transducers:

Two 4” Carbon Fiber Drivers with Phase Plugs

High-Frequency Transducer:

Single 1” Beryllium Dome Tweeter

Recommended Amplifier Power:

60 – 500 Watts

Frequency Response (Manufacturer):

32 Hz – 40 kHz

Sensitivity:

92dB (2.83V @ 1M)

Nominal Impedance:

4 Ohm

Crossover Frequency:

290 Hz and 3 kHz

External Controls:

3-Pole Tweeter Adjustment Switch (+2 dB, 0 dB, -2 dB), Boundary Compensation Switch

Inputs:

Four Multi-Way Binding Posts with Jumpers

Dimensions:

10.9” H x 33.5” W x 12.5” D

Weight:

93 lbs. each

Finish:

Piano Black or Sapphire Blue. Custom Colors Available Upon Request

Warranty:

10 Years

MSRP:

$6,480.00 (each)

Halo IW-H5 Elite On-Wall Loudspeakers

Design:

3-way Sealed On-Wall Loudspeaker

Low-Frequency Transducers:

Two 8” Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic Woofers, Single 12” Carbon Fiber Passive Radiator

Mid-Frequency Transducers:

Two 4” Carbon Fiber Drivers with Phase Plugs

High-Frequency Transducer:

Single 1” Beryllium Dome Tweeter

Recommended Amplifier Power:

60 – 500 Watts

Frequency Response (Manufacturer):

32 Hz – 40 kHz

Sensitivity:

92dB (2.83V @ 1M)

Nominal Impedance:

4 Ohm

Crossover Frequency:

290 Hz and 3 kHz

External Controls:

3-Pole Tweeter Adjustment Switch (+2 dB, 0 dB, -2 dB), Boundary Compensation Switch

Inputs:

Four Multi-Way Binding Posts with Jumpers

Dimensions:

43.5” H x 14.6” W x 5.9” D

Weight:

95 lbs. each

Finish:

Piano Black or Sapphire Blue. Custom Colors Available Upon Request

Warranty:

10 Years

MSRP:

$6,240.00 (each)

SUB35 Subwoofer

Design:

Powered Subwoofer with Dual Passive Radiators

Drivers:

Single 12” Active Driver with Carbon Fiber Sandwich Cone, Dual 12” Passive Radiators with Flat Carbon Fiber Sandwich Cone

Amplifier Type:

Class-H

Maximum Rated Amplifier Power:

1000 Watts RMS / 3200 Watts Peak

Frequency Response (Manufacturer):

20 Hz – 200 Hz +/-3 dB

Crossover Frequency:

Continuously Variable (25 Hz – 120 Hz)

Inputs:

L/R RCA, XLR LFE

Outputs:

XLR LFE

Weight:

56.2 lbs.

Dimensions:

15.1” H x 14.1” W x 14.1” D

Finish:

Piano Lacquer Black, White or Red

Warranty:

3 Years

MSRP:

$1880.00 (each)

Starke A7 Mark II Multichannel Power Amplifier

Design:

7-channel, Class AB

Power Output (per channel):

240 watts @ 8 Ohms
480 watts @ 4 Ohms

Frequency Response (Manufacturer):

5 Hz to 50 kHz +/-0.1 dB

THD:

<0.045% at 1 kHz, at 480 W, 4 Ω / <0.15% at 20 kHz, at 480 W, 4 Ω

SNR:

>115 dB, “A” weighted

Input Impedance:

105kΩ (RCA), 210kΩ (XLR)

Input Sensitivity:

2.4 Vrms

Inputs:

7 RCA, 7 XLR

Outputs:

7 pairs Multi-Way Binding Posts

Dimensions:

11” H x 17.2” W x 17.9” D

Weight:

140 lbs.

Finish:

Black

Warranty:

3 Years

MSRP:

$7900.00

Company:

Starke Sound

SECRETS Tags:

Starke, Beryllium, Halo, Elite, Home Theater, Home Theater Review 2019

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Design

Starke Halo Elite System in crates
Starke Halo Elite System in crates

The Halo Elite 5.1 speaker system that was provided to me by the manufacturer consists of a pair of IC-H5 Elite tower speakers for the front left and right channels, an IC-H5C Elite center channel speaker, a pair of IW-H5 Elite on-wall speakers for the surrounds, and a SUB35 subwoofer for low-frequency duty. The shipment arrived impressively well packaged on a pallet. Each speaker had its own custom wooden crate with metal edging on the exterior and foam insulation within.

Panoramic view of my home theater room
Panoramic view of my home theater room

Milled aluminum on-wall speaker mounts.
Milled aluminum on-wall speaker mounts.

Getting the Starke Halo Elite system properly configured in my theater room was most certainly a two-person job as my older son and I spent the better part of an afternoon heaving and mounting these monsters into position. It became quickly apparent that beyond the sheer weight of each one of these speakers, the overall build quality and finish of the entire line was outstanding. Every enclosure felt solid, inert and practically bulletproof.

The Sapphire Blue paint finish of the main speakers along with the flaming red finish of the (almost comically small by comparison) subwoofer was immaculate. The Halo Elite center channel speaker just barely fit in the available space under my Plasma TV. It is by far the largest center speaker I have ever used. The on-wall surround speakers are huge monoliths and yet are admirably shallow for speakers of such size. That sort of physical surface area combined with the substantial driver compliment and the natural wall reinforcement should allow for full range performance from the surround channels. Even the mounting hardware looked like it was a step above in terms of quality. A pair of sizable milled aluminum clasp mounts kept these massive units secured to the walls via heavy duty screws and wall anchors. Make sure you attach at least part of the wall hanger to a stud!

Starke Halo IC-H5C Elite center channel speaker.
Starke Halo IC-H5C Elite center channel speaker.

Starke Halo IC-H5 Elite tower speaker.
Starke Halo IC-H5 Elite tower speaker.

Close up of midrange and tweeter drivers.
Close up of midrange and tweeter drivers.

Close up of tower speaker passive radiator.
Close up of tower speaker passive radiator.

All the Starke Halo Elite speakers use the same drivers throughout just arranged differently depending on the application. Each speaker features a 1” Beryllium dome tweeter and two 4” carbon fiber midrange drivers to cover the midrange and treble frequencies. Both the towers and the surrounds have these three drivers in an MTM configuration while the center speaker has them laid out in a pyramid with the tweeter above the other two drivers. To handle the bass frequencies, the Halo Elite towers employ three 8” drivers working in conjunction with a single, side-firing, 12” passive radiator while the surrounds and center use two of the same bass drivers in sealed enclosures. Note that all the speakers have the tweeter and midrange sections internally sealed off from the rest of their cabinets and extensive bracing is used throughout.

Starke Halo IW-H5 Elite on-wall speaker.
Starke Halo IW-H5 Elite on-wall speaker.

Close up of binding posts and switches.
Close up of binding posts and switches.

Each of the Halo Elite speakers has provision for bi-amping or bi-wiring via two pairs of 5-way binding posts. Each speaker also has two toggle switches on the back by the binding posts. One can boost or cut the treble response by 2 dB while the other is a Boundary Compensation switch that can tame the bass response should any of the speakers exhibit bloated bass due to placement.

Starke SUB35 subwoofer.
Starke SUB35 subwoofer.

Starke SUB35 subwoofer, ¾ View.
Starke SUB35 subwoofer, ¾ View.

Starke SUB35 subwoofer, Control panel.
Starke SUB35 subwoofer, Control panel.

The Starke SUB35 Subwoofer is a roughly 14” cube, most of whose surfaces are taken up by driver area and amplifier. The sub uses a single beefy 12” bass driver coupled to a pair of horizontally opposed passive radiators. Each of the drive elements make extensive use of carbon fiber in their cones and all have substantial rolled rubber surrounds. If the screaming red paint job didn’t tip you off already, this little guy looks like he means business! The internal amplifier is a Class H design and rated at 1000 watts RMS. The amplifier sports all the expected controls and inputs found on most active subwoofers these days, including a balanced XLR input and output. The SUB35 does have one dial however that I have not seen on most other subwoofers. It isn’t called anything in particular; it’s simply labeled “Flat” at the beginning of its travel and “Punch” at its maximum level. A quick email to Starke HQ elicited the following response from Starke’s Chief Technical Officer Dan Wiggins: “Punch is a mid-bass EQ, that pumps up the octave centered around 60 Hz – basically the “punch” range of frequencies. It’s kind of like a user-defined “loudness” value to increase the sense of impact from the subwoofer.” If you were at any point involved in DIY subwoofer building, the name Dan Wiggins should be familiar to you as the original founder of Adire Audio. As a company, Adire garnered much respect for their subwoofer driver designs and technical innovations, much of which Dan was responsible for.

Starke A7 Mk II Power amp, ¾ View.
Starke A7 Mk II Power amp, ¾ View.

Starke A7 Mk II Power amp, Rear panel.
Starke A7 Mk II Power amp, Rear panel.

Starke A7 Mk II Power amp, interior.
Starke A7 Mk II Power amp, interior.

Next, we come to the Starke A7 Mark II multichannel amplifier. A physically heavy and intimidating piece of equipment, it looks for all the world like it could power the electrical needs of a small city block let alone seven channels in my home theater. It’s a Class H design which claims to produce 240 watts, for each of its seven channels, into an eight-ohm load and double that power into four ohms. Looking at the internal pictures, each channel appears to be independent and fully balanced with its own transformer, rectifiers and capacitor banks. And Starke says they can sell it configured with either 2,3,4,5 or 6 channels depending on your needs. In case you are wondering what a Class H amplifier is? It is essentially a Class A/B amplifier that can dynamically (and instantaneously) switch between a low voltage rail to a high voltage rail, as needed, to meet power demands of the incoming signal. So, most of the time when the power demand is low, the amplifier uses the low voltage rail (ideally one that is lower than on a standard Class A/B amp of the same power). Then, when the program material calls for a big jump in power, the amp immediately switches (usually via high-current MOSFETs) to the higher voltage rail to meet the demand. The overall idea is to provide larger amounts of available power with improved efficiency than what would otherwise be possible with a regular Class A/B amplifier. Starke also claims that the A7 Mark II is biased in such a way that it will remain in Class A mode up to 60% of it’s rated power before switching to Class B operation. This helps account for the size and the need for an active internal cooling fan. The fan was audible from the listening seats in my home theater when the room was quiet, but I couldn’t notice it when listening to music or movies at standard volume. As a general note, the build quality and attention to detail on the amplifier seemed commensurate with the speakers it was driving, which is to say outstanding.

It appears that the Halo Elite speakers and A7 Mark II power amplifier go a long way to satisfy the senses in terms of quality and craftsmanship. Let’s see how they fare in the sound department.

Setup

Starke Halo Elite system, in the theater.
Starke Halo Elite system, in the theater.

When the entire system first arrived, I set up the Halo Elite tower speakers in my studio listening area for some initial 2-channel enjoyment. I had the towers positioned about 9-feet apart and toed-in at about a 10-degree angle, as this is how I customarily start off. My seating position was also just over 9-feet away from either speaker. An OPPO BDP-105D Universal Player served as the main source while the Anthem STR preamp and STR power amplifier completed the audio chain. For a vinyl source, I used my Technics SL1200 Mk 6 modified by KAB Electroacoustic, along with an Audio Technica OC9ML/II Moving Coil cartridge.

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For surround listening, the Starke Halo Elite tower speakers, center channel, on-walls, and subwoofer were set up in my basement home theater space in my typical 5.1 surround layout. The speakers, despite their massive size and heft, presented no unusual installation or placement challenges. Again, setting up a system like this is not a one-person job, so plan accordingly. The imposing A7 450 Mk II power amplifier took up residence on top of one of my usual subwoofers which were off but repurposed as an amp stand in this case. In my standard HT setup, I also have four GoldenEar SuperSat 3 speakers mounted high (where the wall meets the ceiling) and aimed at the listening area for use as Dolby ATMOS height speakers. The speakers were all controlled and powered by an Anthem MRX 1120 HT receiver with an OPPO BDP-103 Universal Player and Microsoft Xbox One as the main sources. I used the pre-out jacks from the receiver to feed all the main channel signals to the Starke power amp. All the speakers were acoustically dialed in using Anthem’s ARC room correction system and were crossed over to the sub at 80 Hz with the height channels crossed at 160 Hz.

I also had the Marantz AV8805 preamp/processor in the house for a limited time for some bench testing so you may see that unit hooked up in some of my photos as well.

ARC EQ Results Left and Right.
ARC EQ Results Left and Right.

ARC EQ Results Center and Sub.
ARC EQ Results Center and Sub.

ARC EQ Results Left and Right Surrounds.
ARC EQ Results Left and Right Surrounds.

I found that Anthem ARC’s default upper EQ limit of 5 kHz worked well with all the Starke speakers in correcting the most egregious room anomalies that I had. When I was playing around with the Marantz AV8805 and using the Audyssey Curve editor app, which allowed individual EQ limit targets per speaker, I found that limiting the EQ to 2 kHz for the front left and right channels had no deleterious effect on their sound. My general philosophy on room EQ is to try to avoid a full 20 Hz – 20 kHz correction if possible. If a processor will allow me to set limits, then I like to try and target everything below 5 kHz at the most (in a multi-channel scenario) as that is where the biggest room issues tend to be. This approach also allows the processor to apply its finite resources more efficiently with usually better results.

In Use

In these days of style-over-substance products and marketing, you could be forgiven for wondering if these Starke Halo Elite speakers are all about the flash. Truth be told they really don’t look like much else out there and their bold color choices do catch the eyeballs just a tad. I am however happy to report that there is much more to them than what’s just on the surface. Much of the positive impressions that I remembered with these Starke speakers from hearing them at CES and CEDIA carried over into my home review. The speakers, as a whole, have a very lifelike and alive quality to their sound. Not completely neutral but yet not overly colored either. As an ensemble, they were great fun to listen to and enjoy with both movies and music. At first, I was concerned that the large tweeter and smaller midrange drivers would create a more treble-biased result in my room but that turned out to be an unwarranted concern. While all the speakers had switches used to tweak the treble response and boundary compensation if circumstances warranted, I didn’t feel the need to use any of them.

When used as a stereo pair, the Starke Halo Elite towers make an impressive case for themselves. They do an excellent job extracting the littlest details from a recording and they imaged instruments and vocals with great precision. In fact, the Starke tower’s overall sound quality bears a good deal of similarity to the Paradigm Persona 7F speakers that I had here a while back. Both speakers have an uncanny knack for wonderful lifelike imaging and detail with neither speaker sounding ruthless. The Starke towers are a little more restrained when it comes to the size of the soundstage and the perceived depth of the imaging when sitting in the sweet spot. The Paradigms had a slightly larger aural presence in that regard. In surprising contrast though, the Starke towers sounded outstanding when listed to off-axis with their tonality changing very little while I was just listening casually and doing other things in the room.

Bass response was linear and fairly extended with a little bit of upper bass warmth and prominence. It played quite well with most types of music that I pitched at the Starkes. Hard rock and jazz did particularly good with these speakers. Both electric and acoustic double-bass had excellent impact and pitch definition. Kick drums felt properly solid with the triple 8” bass drivers and 12” passive radiator per speaker.

Moving from stereo to surround sound, the Starke Halo Elite home theater system provided a most visceral listening experience. Having timbrally matched and essentially full range speakers all around makes for a capable and exciting scenario. I now have an inkling of what Secrets reviewer Todd Cooperrider must experience when he listens to his home theater using full range GoldenEar Triton towers all around. The sheer dynamic capacity of these speakers combined with exceptionally clean sounding reproduction really helped transform my theater into what seemed like a concert venue. The sense of scale to whatever it was that I was watching or listening to was just bigger, cleaner and more powerful than whatever I’ve had in my home theater up until now. Having Starke’s Beryllium tweeters all around made for especially airy and sweet-sounding highs without anything getting abrasive. Just the right amount of sizzle and shimmer for cymbals and strings when listening to surround music.

The Halo Elite Center Channel speaker is, by far, the largest and most capable center speaker that I have ever had here, and its abilities did not disappoint. Vocals were incredibly clean sounding and always imaged precisely whether clearly fixed in the center or panning in and out of the front channels. I also noticed that deep resonant vocals, like those of old blues singers, really shone on this speaker, its dynamic and bass capability adding additional solidity and richness to their rendering. Instruments also sounded at the right size relative to the other speakers in the system. A smaller center speaker could not have kept up in the same way. All the Starke speakers here are sealed designs (or sealed with passive radiators on the towers and sub). The center speaker could be the only one that might benefit from front porting in order to lower the tuning point (for a full range speaker) but that would come at the expense of making a big speaker even bigger. In the center application though, the blending with the subwoofer is so good that it’s largely irrelevant anyhow. It is plenty big and powerful enough as is!

The flaming red SUB35 subwoofer is definitely an overachiever and is reminiscent of popular DIY subwoofer designs of the past featuring a small footprint with long-throw drivers and passive radiators. Although this sub is done with a level of finish, capability and uses custom drivers that no DIY exercise could match. Compared to the rest of the Halo Elite speakers, the SUB35 seems absurdly small, but it more than kept up and held its own when called upon. I’ve heard a few larger sealed and ported subs that, while able to match the SUB35 in impact, don’t have the same level of articulation and tightness to their sound. The PUNCH dial turned out to be a handy little adjustment. It allowed me to tune in the suitable level of impact that I was listening for during system set up. I settled on a spot just past halfway through the dial’s travel. After system calibration with Anthem’s ARC, the impact level of the sub did not get flattened out, thankfully.

While I did try running the entire system off the Anthem MRX 1120 receiver, just to see if it was possible (it was) it would not be my recommended course of action with these speakers. I was therefore glad that Starke saw fit to send along the A7 Mk II power amplifier to mate to my Anthem and power these speakers to their full potential. I don’t claim to be an expert in amplifier design, nor do I have the ability to measure rated amplifier output to see if this behemoth is true to its specs. What I do have is my ears and eyes and the memories of some poor-sounding amplifiers that I have heard in the past. My eyes (and by extension my fingers) tell me that the A7 Mk II is put together with quality parts, solid construction and great attention to detail. The amp should be provided adequate ventilation for the onboard fan as the top does get rather warm to the touch. My ears tell me that the sound quality was top notch and indistinguishable from when I had the towers alone in my studio hooked up to the Anthem STR power amplifier. Just times that by seven. And my lower back tells me that this Starke amplifier weighs a literal ton and should not be moved around single-handedly by a foolish reviewer whose body is older than his mind!

The following are a few notable music and movie selections that I felt showed off the Starke ensemble well during my review:

The Secret of Kells

The Secret of Kells, Flatiron Film Company, 2009, Blu-Ray.
Academy Award-nominated in 2010 for Best Animated Picture, The Secret of Kells is a beautifully animated and graphically stunning piece of visual work. “Kells,” tells the story of Brendan, an idealistic young boy who lives in an Abbey under the care of his stern uncle, the Abbot. We follow Brendan’s life and how, through his adventures and friendships, he becomes the keeper of the Book of Kells, a collection of beautiful Celtic illuminated manuscripts that bring hope and joy to all who view them.

This movie shows off the best of what traditional 2D animation can do in the hands of skilled artists with a simple but engaging story, rich imagery, and a lush Celtic visual styling. But beyond being a visual feast for the eyes, The Secret of Kells has a deeply atmospheric and immersive soundtrack replete with Celtic drums, flutes, harps, etc. The Starke Halo Elite system succeeded in rendering the entire soundtrack with incredible dynamism and impact. I felt completely immersed during Aiden’s adventures in the forest where he meets the wolf pack and befriends the forest faerie, Aisling. Discreet sounds were convincingly panned all around me with even the slightest leaf rustle being clearly delineated. The sweet-sounding Celtic flutes sounded absolutely marvelous as they moved from speaker to speaker as they swirled around in the mix. The SUB35 subwoofer got a thorough workout during the Viking attack sequences and during the scene where Aiden battles the demon, Crom Cruach. There is a powerful and abundant use of Celtic drums during these moments and I could feel them hit in the pit of my stomach as they rumbled through the room with each impact. The drums were also so well recorded that I could make out the details of the drum skins with the SUB35. Very, very impressive stuff.

The House with a Clock in its Walls

The House with a Clock in its Walls, Universal Pictures, 2018, Blu-Ray. Speaking of immersive sound, this fun but slightly derivative movie of a boy named Louis who discovers that his uncle is a Warlock has one of the better Dolby ATMOS soundtracks that I have come across in quite some time. Right from the opening sequence, where you hear the ticking of multiple clocks moving all around you, the Starke Sound Halo Elite speakers kept these various timepiece sounds distinct, clear and convincingly tracking in space.

In fact, there are several moments like this throughout the film where we are experiencing magic spells, living furniture, various creaks and bangs, flying books and all other manner of effects within the uncle’s old Victorian house where the sense of immersion is uncannily good thanks to these speakers. I truly felt like I was in the midst of an active and cohesive bubble of sound through much of the film. Bass is prodigious and impactful through a number of action set pieces and the movie’s climax. That whole “sense of scale” thing that I mentioned earlier in the review regarding what the Starke Halo Elite speakers bring to the table, was put to a good example here.

Concord Jazz Super Audio CD Sampler

Various Artists “Concord Jazz Super Audio CD Sampler”

Concord Jazz Super Audio CD Sampler, Various Artists, Concord Jazz, 2001 Multi-channel SACD. An excellent sounding and diverse selection of Jazz material from Concord remixed in surround sound. Starting with the track “Straighten Up and Fly Right” sung by Rosemary Clooney, it begins with a snippet from a 1945 audition tape of the Clooney Sisters singing the same song coming solely from the center channel.

After the first chorus, the song immediately transitions to the modern take, filling out all the channels in stark (get it?) contrast. The Halo Elite Center Channel does great work with Rosemary Clooney’s voice, rendering it with full body and plenty of detail. As the song gets going, the surrounds fill with a big, lush horn arrangement that wraps around the sides and back. The Starke surrounds keep the horns sounding smooth and lively but never getting overly bright. The overall sense of envelopment on this track is particularly good with lots of clean musical details to augment the sound field. Another great sounding surround mix was “Watermelon Man” by Poncho Sanchez and Mongo Santamaria. Again, the Halo Elite surrounds were doing a smooth sounding job with the horn section through the sides and rear while not overpowering the percussion details coming out of the same channels. The front towers took on the main saxophone solo and rendered it and all its musical energy effortlessly. It sounded incredibly “there”. The accompanying congas were interpreted with a ton of weight and impact thanks to the SUB35. “Blood Count” by the Stan Getz Quartet slows things down a fair bit but sounds no less impressive through the Starke system. Getz’s tenor sax was tightly anchored in the center channel and sounded outstanding, lush and full, with lots of definition and detail. Bass had incredible weight and depth to it and the accompanying piano that filled the surrounds had a rich sounding decay to its notes.

The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking

Roger Waters “The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking”

The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, Roger Waters, Columbia Records, 1984, CD. For a slightly different tack, I wanted to see how the Starke system handled a stereo recording up-mixed to surround sound. Besides this album being my favorite Roger Waters solo recording, it screams to receive the same sort of discrete surround remix that the dour and sullen sounding “Amused to Death” got recently.

I was curious to see how passible the up-mixing results would be. The whole album is recorded with loads of artificial ambiance effects based on a binaural recording scheme called Holophonics from Zuccarelli Labs. So, I elected to use my Anthem receiver’s Dolby Surround up-mixing function to blow 2 channels out to 5.1.4. The results were, in a word, impressive! Definitely not as effective as a purposely made new mix but much better than what one might expect. The Starke speakers created a noticeably wide and encompassing soundscape right from the opening song, “4:30AM-Apparently They Were Travelling Abroad”. Various effects like thunderclaps, clocks, drills and background character voices floated in space around me rather convincingly. “4:41AM-Sexual Revolution” features some great guitar work from Eric Clapton that was anchored by the center channel. The Starkes got the distinctive compressed ring of Clapton’s Stratocaster guitar sounding just right. The surround speakers effectively wrapped the background singer’s vocals around the back of me along with reverb from the organ creating an eerie sense of depth. Drums hit especially hard and deep during this track, thank you SUB35 for getting the “feels” right. The highlight song for me on the album though is the title track “5:01AM-The Pros and Cons of Hitch-Hiking Part 10”. It’s got everything: a thick beefy electric bass line, the disembodied voice of Jack Palance as a Hells Angel floating in front of me, a speeding car that convincingly pans from left to right through the room and lyrical references to what a crummy singer Yoko Ono is. But the piece de resistance is that this song features one of the most vicious and feral guitar solos that Eric Clapton has committed to record since his days with Cream and Derek and the Dominos. Fixed squarely in the center channel, the Stark Halo center made Clapton sound so incredibly alive and good I had to replay it over and over again at increasingly louder volumes. It didn’t cry uncle in the slightest. No compression, not a hint of distortion just pure clean music. If I had the disposable cash on hand, I would buy this center channel on the performance of this track alone, it sounded so good!

Roxy

Roxy – The Movie, Frank Zappa and The Mothers, Universal Music/Eagle Vision/Zappa Family Trust, 2015, Blu-Ray. I got hooked on Frank Zappa’s music by a good friend in college (thank you Mr. White!) and it opened my eyes and ears up to a direction of rock music that was so individualistic and yet so different from other forms of progressive music.

Zappa, throughout his career, successfully blended Rock, Jazz, Blues, Funk, Classical, R&B, Doo-wop, satire, and performance art, all the while conducting with the precision and authority of a chain-smoking Zubin Mehta in disco shoes! Roxy & Elsewhere has always been one of my favorite Zappa albums culled from a series of live performances (with overdubs) at the Roxy in Hollywood in 1973, with probably his most famous band lineup. This Blu-Ray is the long talked about and troubled film that was shot over the course of those shows. Troubled because there were issues with the recorded audio during the sessions that did not allow it to be accurately synced to the film, post process, with the technology of the day. But now, at long last, we have the concert with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround soundtrack. While the audio is from 1973, the surround mix does wonders putting me right in the middle of this madness and the Starke Halo Elite speakers make the scale of the presentation quite tangible.

There are a lot of moving parts to The Mothers ensemble and Halo Elites keep everything nicely delineated. Starting with “Cosmik Debris”, the dual drum kits are nicely spaced in each of the front two channels clearly showing drummers Ralph Humphrey and Chester Thompson’s individual work. The SUB35 is helping the kick drum come through with decent weight and tightness, but it’s 1973 audio so it can’t perform miracles. George Duke’s sublime and funky keyboard work has plenty of dimension from the front right and right-side channels. Zappa’s funky, blues-tinged guitar solo was nicely rendered in the center channel while Ruth Underwood’s percussion work is well detailed and spread across the left side and back with audience and room ambiance wrapping around the rear. A great surround demo of the fine-tuned skill of this ensemble are the tracks “T’Mershi Duween” and “Dog/Meat”. Both are extended instrumentals where each player, including Zappa, gets a turn at percussion along with their standard instrument. The Starke speakers really do an excellent job of wrapping this whole performance around you while their inherent dynamics just make you feel like you are there. I loved hearing the little percussive nuances and details popping up around me from the xylophone, vibes, and shakers.

The SUB35 did nice work here with Tom Fowler’s electric bass lines making them clear and easy to follow. The dual drum kit work on these tracks is just fantastic and the Starke towers and SUB35 worked seamlessly together to help me hear and feel all the complex work going on. Bruce Fowler’s Trombone work also stood out in the left channel sounding smooth and flowing while Napoleon Murphy Brock’s flute and sax work sounded clean and clear in the center channel. All this awesomeness continues through the rest of the show but the tracks “Cheepnis” and “Be-Bop Tango of the Old Jazzmen’s Church” add performance art and audience participation into the mix. Also, not to be missed are the four extra tracks in the Bonus section of this disc, in particular, the encore performance of “Dickey’s Such an Asshole” is absurdly outstanding. Napoleon Murphy Brock’s vocals and Zappa’s guitar work here are just off-the-hook. If you ever wanted to experience what real musical talent, originality and just plain outrageous fun looked like in the 1970s, check out this concert. After so many years of just hearing this show in stereo from a CD, it was a whole other world to see the actual filmed footage and hear it in surround sound through the Starke Halo Elite speakers. Magnificent!

On The Bench

Benchmark audio tests of the Starke Halo Elite speakers were conducted using a calibrated Umik-1 USB microphone used in conjunction with Room EQ Wizard software. Speaker on and off-axis measurements were conducted in-room with the microphone placed at a 1-meter distance. Subwoofer measurements were done with the microphone placed at 1-foot away from each respective driver.

Starke Halo IC-H5 Elite Tower On and Off-Axis Frequency Response 20 Hz-20 kHz
Starke Halo IC-H5 Elite Tower On and Off-Axis Frequency Response 20 Hz-20 kHz

Starke Halo IC-H5 Elite Tower On and Off-Axis Frequency Response 300 Hz-20 kHz
Starke Halo IC-H5 Elite Tower On and Off-Axis Frequency Response 300 Hz-20 kHz

These two charts show the horizontal on-axis frequency response of the Starke Halo IC-H5 Elite speakers directly compared to its 15, 30 and 45-degree off-axis measurements. The first chart shows the measurements plotted across the entire audible band while the second is limited to everything above 300 Hz for detail. All the traces track commendably close to each other until 3.5 kHz where they begin to show the expected amount of decline.

Starke Halo IC-H5 Elite Tower Averaged In-Room Response
Starke Halo IC-H5 Elite Tower Averaged In-Room Response

This graph shows an averaged in-room response of the Starke Halo IC-H5 Elite speakers that was culled from 10 measurements taken at various points around the main listening area. Unlike the on-axis measurement, this tries to give a better indication of what the speaker’s legitimate response is in-room. The entire plot looks to be fairly uniform but with a major boost centered at 90 Hz. I believe this to be a behavior of the speaker’s design. I noted a similar boost in the tower’s response when I measured them in my studio space, a room over twice the size of my home theater. That hump notwithstanding, the bass response begins to roll off at about 28 Hz which is to spec. Interestingly, this measurement bears a close resemblance to what ARC measured in its EQ results earlier in the review.

Starke Halo IC-H5C Elite Center Channel On and Off-Axis Frequency Response 20 Hz-20 kHz
Starke Halo IC-H5C Elite Center Channel On and Off-Axis Frequency Response 20 Hz-20 kHz

Starke Halo IC-H5C Elite Center Channel On and Off-Axis Frequency Response 300 Hz-20 kHz
Starke Halo IC-H5C Elite Center Channel On and Off-Axis Frequency Response 300 Hz-20 kHz

These two charts show the horizontal on-axis frequency response of the Starke Halo IC-H5C Elite center channel speaker directly compared to its 15, 30 and 45-degree off-axis measurements. As before, the first chart shows the measurements plotted across the entire audible band while the second is limited to everything above 300 Hz for detail. The 0 and 10-degree plots track each other well throughout the range with a bit of separation between 2 kHz – 7 kHz. The 30 and 45-degree plots track the others well to 1 kHz where they begin to deviate significantly until 6 kHz after which all the plots show their expected rate of decline.

Starke SUB35 Close-Mic Nearfield Response
Starke SUB35 Close-Mic Nearfield Response

This graph shows the close-mic’d frequency response of both the subwoofer driver and the passive radiators summed together without any equalization applied. The response looks commendably solid without any unexpected dips or peaks. The -3 dB point looks to be at 20 Hz which is to spec.

Conclusions

Starke Sound Halo Elite 5.1 Home Theater Speaker System

The Starke Halo Elite Home Theater system makes an impressive statement, both visually and sonically.

Likes
  • Dynamics, scale, and clarity of sound were outstanding.
  • Build quality and finish of every component was above par.
  • A truly full range surround system that was totally enveloping.
  • SUB35 subwoofer was comparably tiny but potent. Multiples would be devastating.
  • A7 Mk II amplifier had oodles of power no matter how high the volume.
Would Like To See
  • Maybe a ported version of the center channel for specific installations.
  • Some wood veneer finish options for speakers. I liked the automotive paint finish, but my wife and kids thought it a little too bold looking.

The Starke Halo Elite 5.1 Speaker system has provided the most palpable and exciting home theater experience that I have had to date in my home. They make a bold statement both visually and sonically and they delivered the goods (and then some) with any material that I threw at them. They are not an inexpensive proposition to be sure, but the sonic performance, build quality and attention to detail that they provide a prospective owner is commensurate with their price tag IMHO. That and Starke, as a company, seems to show a certain level of flexibility for custom details and installation which an owner may find valuable. I came away impressed with every component of this outrageously powerful system. The build quality and finish of the speaker cabinets is first rate. The quality of the bespoke drivers is very much the same along with the performance of that monstrous A7 Mk II multi-channel amplifier. This is a dynamically devastating top-shelf combo of gear, and if you have the means to afford these particular Starke offerings, I would recommend that you give them serious consideration. As I, unfortunately, do not, I will keep my time with the Starke Halo Elite system fresh in my memory to use as a benchmark for any similar systems that may pass my way. Highly recommended.