Klipsch Heritage speakers seem to be all the rage at the moment. I’m seeing the Klipschorn, La Scala, Cornwalls, Forte, and Heresy speaker models being snapped up rapidly on the used markets, and Klipsch has just announced a 15% price increase on all Heritage speaker models, no doubt to cash in on the high demand. I’m not really one to jump on the latest trend, I still wear flared jeans and drive a Dodge station wagon, so much for fashion. But I’m almost embarrassed to say that as someone who’s been around this hobby for over 40 years, and who runs a (modest) reviewing website, I didn’t get to hear my first set of Klipsch speakers until around 3 months ago when I stumbled upon a nice pair of Heresy I at a used record store in VA. I snagged the Heresy for a fair price and again, to my embarrassment, it took me over a month to get around to hooking them up. Driving the Heresy with my trusted Thor Audio TPA-60 monoblocks I was pleasantly surprised at what I heard coming through them. They sounded big, and dynamic, had plenty of soundstage depth and width, had a nice tonality, and mostly got out of the way of the music. They did sound a tad harsh on complex music, perhaps a little ‘nasally’, but for $300 it was hard to find serious fault.
The Heresy came and went, but enough about them pleased me so I set about finding a more modern pair of Klipsch Heritage series, looking around for a deal on a Forte or perhaps even the Cornwall. To accelerate the process I placed a local Craigslist ad, and after a few weeks, up popped a chap just 30 minutes from my home with a set of mint 1992 Klipschorns.
Wrestling these buggers out of his second-floor music room was no easy task, but thankfully they do allow for easy separation of top and bottom sections, making moving them a 4-step process instead of 2, but ultimately more manageable.
Klipschorn (K-Horn or Khorn) Specs
- AK-3 Crossover
- DIMENSIONS: 52″ (132.1cm) x 31.25″ (79.4cm) x 28.5″ (72.4cm)
- WEIGHT: 167 lbs each. (75.8kg)
- A 3-way system consisting of a one-inch compression tweeter horn, two-inch compression midrange horn, and a fifteen-inch folded bass horn.
- Tweeter Range 6kHz to 17.5kHz
- Midrange Horn 400Hz to 6kHz
- Folded bass horn 400Hz to 35Hz.
- Nominal Impedance 8 Ohm
- Output Level (SPL) 121 dB
- Sensitivity 105 dB
- Crossover Frequency 4500Hz, 450Hz
The K-horns are designed to fit tightly into the corners of the long wall, where the adjoining sidewalls become an extension of the bass horn itself. Thus placed in the corners of a 17′ wall, the speakers cross at a point around 4 feet in front of the listening position, which is 17′ from the front wall behind the speakers. Moving the seat forward so that the cross point becomes closer changes the sound quite significantly. I preferred to sit at the 16′ mark as this provided a more accurate tonal balance, albeit with a little less bass solidity.
When placing the speakers into corners it’s important to have them tight against the wall and to have several feet of clear wall space between each speaker. If you have a baseboard or other impediment to flush-fitting tight against the wall, then there will be some detriment to bass performance. In such cases, the manufacturer has provided blueprints for a ‘false corner’ panel, which can be constructed and placed between the walls and the speaker, essentially becoming bass ‘wings’ or an extended bass baffle. Other people have simply enclosed the back and sides of their K-Horns, supposedly to good effect.
In my room, the setup options were all less than ideal. I do have wainscoting panels preventing a snug fit of the speakers in the corners and I also have my equipment rack set in between the Khorns. I can’t say how much the sound was degraded by these compromises but I suspect it wasn’t by much.
How do the Klipschorns sound?
I have the Khorns set up in a room that is probably a little too small for them. The room is roughly 17′ x 18′ x 9.5′ and the speakers are in the corners of the short wall. Regardless of this room constraint, the Klipschorns can sound quite spectacular but are very source material dependent. Adjectives that come to mind include dynamic, effortless, and powerful. They throw a fairly accurate soundstage with an excellent sense of scale and a good sense of image placement. They do not throw laser-focused images in the way that a small monitor speaker does, but the images they do present are more believable, more life-like, and more accurate than those portrayed via a smaller dynamic speaker. Soundstage depth may well be a function of room geometry and associated equipment, wrt the Klipschorns. They have less front-to-back stage depth than some of the more conventional dynamic speakers I’ve used, hence there isn’t the same degree of soundstage layering. This may be a function of the room geometry or a design constraint of this specific speaker, I don’t have the experience with Klipschorns to say one way or another.
The Klipschorns possess fine timbral properties, they remind me in some strange way of a more fleshed-out Quad ESL57, whose tone and timbre are legendary. But they do not have the transparency of a Quad, that see-through quality is not present to the same extent.
Their main strength comes from an unrivaled dynamic realism that persists even at higher SPLs where other speakers I’ve owned will drive the room into an audible frenzy. However, the K-Horn’s composure at concert volume levels is somewhat dependent on the type of music you play through them. I spent many hours in one particular listening session bouncing around my 6TB music collection on my SonicTransporter i5, UltraRendu, Denafrips Gaia, and Denafrips Terminator front-end. Later I switched to vinyl and played through some old favorites from Pink Floyd, Genesis, and Queen. Here’s what struck me – playing Seconds Out on vinyl, the Genesis live recording from the 70s, featuring Collins/Bruford on drums and percussion, the sound was the very best I’ve heard from any home-based music system. The scale and sense of dynamic realism were staggering! (OK, I’d had a couple of G&Ts at this point). Where I’d come to think that the Klispchorns lacked depth and the ability to layer images front-to-back, the stage seemed to explode open in all directions and appeared to lack nothing. As damn near perfect as I’ve heard. Spinning Dragon Attack from Queen’s ‘The Game’ album on vinyl, the same thing. Crank the volume to concert level and the sound was unbelievable for a 3-way speaker system in a small room. No harshness, no compression, just scale, dynamics, and a true-to-life presentation as good as I’ve heard. Yet on other types of music, often more complex music, where the mix demanded that the instrumentation and vocalists be given more space in all 3 dimensions, the illusion was somewhat diminished.
These speakers can sound hard and bright on some music. It isn’t always down to recording quality, it’s a little more random and arbitrary than that. We all have our reference quality recordings that we bring out whenever some new gear arrives, well…..those recordings are not a guarantee of good sound on the Khorns, they may well be eclipsed by recordings you have of lesser quality.
Shortly after getting the Klipschorns, I was foolish enough to make a post on an ‘Audiophile’ group hosted by Facebook. I don’t know what possessed me to do this, I should’ve known better. There were many negative comments thrown at me relating to various unknown peoples’ experiences with the K-Horns, and several related to the quality of the bass, where people considered it to be poor. I should remind myself that these ‘trolls’ have probably never heard a K-Horn, and are just spouting whatever comes into their minds for effect. I actually consider the bass to be very natural and really very good, both in terms of tonality and timbre. My room really doesn’t do bass, not without a significant leg-up. For that, I use a distributed bass array comprising four strategically placed subwoofers and a miniDSP 2×4 HD. With the K-Horns, I was able to turn down the subwoofer bass such that the input from the subs was barely discernible. In larger rooms, K-Horn users will surely reap the full benefit of the large folded horn design. In my humble opinion, the Khorn’s bass is one of the best I’ve heard from any speaker, not so much in quantity, but in quality.
In a nutshell, the Klipschorns are one of the most impressive speaker systems I’ve heard, albeit with some flaws that might prove deal-breakers depending largely on your preferred musical tastes and genres. All of the above is written using a variety of tube amps where the Khorns performed well and consistently. They did not like cooler sounding solid state or Class-D amps. The tube amps I used included an Aric Audio ‘Special KT88/120 SE amplifier, switching between Triode and Ultralinear modes, and using EL34 output tubes, and a pair of superb Allnic Audio A6000 300b tube monoblocks. I’ll experiment more with tube selections in the coming days and weeks and I’ll also throw in the Art Audio Carissa Signature amp that I have arriving later this week. So consider this a fluid review which I’ll update as more information becomes available.
[Comparison of the: Altec Lansing VOTT A7 vs Klipschorn vs Altec Lansing Valencia 846b]
Review Date: August 30 2021
Used Price Range Over Last 12 months From Review Date: $3000 – $7500 for late ’80s through 1990s models.
Availability / Scarcity: Good availability – 10+ Units available continuously
Overall Performance In a Vintage System: 9/10
Overall Performance In a Modern System: 7/10
Buying Notes: These are found in a wide range of manufacturing dates, price ranges and condition. Do your homework. There are those who would claim that pre ’80s units are better than those from the 90s – 2000s. Biggest consideration is your room.
UPDATE – SEPT 2021
The Art Audio Carissa arrived this week and it’s a spectacular companion for the Khorns. There’s something magical about the 845 tubes with these speakers. They imbue a sense of added realism through the midrange frequencies and remove a little of the glassiness and shimmer that I heard on the top end with the EL34 based amp.
Unfortunately, the amp stopped working after a few short hours and had to go back to its owner. I was so impressed with the sound quality of the Khorn/Carissa combo that I put together a short review of the Art Audio Carissa even though it only spent a few hours in the rig. Next up will be a pair of Allnic Audio A-6000 monoblocks. Watch this space.