Background: I don’t claim to be an expert in vintage horn speakers, so take the following with that in mind and for what it’s worth. This article documents my path from owning my first pair of horn speakers, a stacked Oris 150 system, through finding a pair of vintage Klipsch Heresy speakers in a local record store, to owning a pair of Klipsch Klipschorn (Khorn) speakers, which led to owning a pair of Altec Lansing Valencia 846b and later a pair of Altec Lansing A7.

Now at the end of this little detour through horn-land, I thought it would be a good idea to briefly catalog my experiences with each, make some loose comparisons on how each sounded in my room and with my various setups, but most importantly to cover the issue of how easy (or difficult) these speakers are to live with as daily drivers and how easy (or difficult) they are to integrate into one’s listening space.

Since it has been a few months since the last of the trio occupied space in my music room (the A7), I’m working largely from memory here, and from some rough notes that were never formally published, along with the actual written reviews of each speaker that I published here at the time of owning them.

Let’s start with links to the published reviews, so if you need to hop around you can. These links will open up a new browser tab:

  1. Klipsch Klipschorn review
  2. Altec Lansing Valencia 846b review (multipart)
  3. Altec Lansing A7 review

Preamble:

It’s been well over a decade since I bought my first pair of horn speakers – a pair of quite large stacked Oris 150 horn towers with bass cabinets. I actually built a custom music room around the Oris system, in the basement of the old Green Lake State Bank (In Green Lake, Wisconsin). It was quite a project and involved the help of a number of audiophile friends (advisors) and the consumption of a lot of alcohol (payment for advice tended).

A picture paints a thousand words so here we go:

 

The room in the above photos served me well for a number of years but when I moved my home and business to a different part of the state the speakers had to go.

Klipsch Heresy I.

Over 10 years would pass between my time with the Oris 150 stacked horn system and my next horn speaker purchase. I hadn’t really thought too much about getting back into horns, I was rolling through a raft of different conventional box speakers looking for a ‘keeper’ when I stumbled on a pair of little Klipsch Heresy in a record store in Charlottesville, VA.

The Heresy brought back some memories from my time with the Oris system. Sure, these little boxes delivered nothing like the sheer scale of the old Oris 150 rig, but they were punchy and dynamic and fun to play around with. While not a speaker I could take too seriously, they were great fun in a second system and could bang out some classic rock tunes with the best of ’em. So much fun in fact that I thought “What the heck”, and after much research on the forums placed a wanted ad on my local Craigslist for a pair of Klipsch La Scalas or Klipschorns.

Here’s a very quick rundown of each speaker before I get to the actual comparisons:

Klipsch Klipschorns (Khorns).

First up was the venerable corner horns from Klipsch. A local gentleman responded to my wanted ad and a few days later the Klipsch were firmly planted in the corners of my listening room. I had a fairly competent system at that time and was able to power the Khorns with a variety of amps to get a flavor of their sound and what worked best. [The full review of the Klipschorn is here]

I ran the Khorns with my trusted and much loved Thor Audio TPA 60, an EL 34-based monoblock design, Aric Audio ‘Special KT88/120 SE amplifier, switching between Triode and Ultralinear modes, and using EL34 output tubes, and briefly an Art Audio Carissa Signature amp, with 845 tubes. I had technical problems with the Art Audio Carissa and it was promptly returned to sender, but in the short time I had it here it sounded fantastic with the Klipschorns and was by far the best amp I tried with these speakers.

[Equipment shown below includes Dr. Feickert Woodpecker / Kuzma Stogi 12 VTA / Benz LPS, Manley Steelhead Phono, Denafrips Terminator DAC / GAIA DDC, SMG i5 / Sonore UltraRendu, Emotive Audio Epifania Preamp, Thor Audio TPA 60, Aric Audio ‘Special KT88/120 SE, Art Audio Carissa Signature, PS Audio P10 regenerator]

Klipschorns reviews

Altec Lansing Valencia 846b

Not long after parting company with the Khorns I felt that my horn itch hadn’t been properly scratched so after a long drive up to the DC area I picked up a pretty nice pair of Altec Lansing Valencia 846b.

The Valencias came equipped with Great Plains Audio Model 19 crossovers and I also experimented by running them fully active using a Lyngdorf TDAi 2170 amp with Room Perfect room correction. The full review is in 4 parts:

I spent more time with the Valencias than I did with either the Klipschorns or the A7s. They were less imposing in the room than either of the other two and I felt that they had the most potential to stick around in the long term. So I put a lot of time and energy into trying to address their sonic weaknesses, as described at length in the articles linked above.

 

[Equipment used with Altec Lansing Valencia 846b includes Basis Audio Debut Standard w/vacuum platter, Graham 2.2, Audioquest 7000, Manley Steelhead Phono, Denafrips Terminator DAC / GAIA DDC, SMG i5 / Sonore UltraRendu, Veloce Audio LS-1 Preamp, Allnic Audio A6000 300b monoblocks, Dennis Had Firebottle KT88, H20 Signature amp, Lyngdorf Audio TDAi 2140, PS Audio P10 regenerator]

Altec Lansing A7

After the Valencias came and went I spotted a pair of Altec VOTT A7 within driving distance. By this time I was pretty much worn out from hauling big/heavy speakers around two states and was pretty much desperate to make these stick. The Khorns and Valencias were each fairly well-researched and a lot of time was spent working with each to try and get them to sound their best. But I put a lot more time and thought into the research stage with the VOTT A7 and was fully expecting them to spend at least a few years in the main listening room. [Here’s the review of the Altec Lansing VOTT A7 for those curious enough]

There’s also a rather cruddy video of these things here, which focuses more on music by Jethro Tull, my border collie Max, and on Mrs. Resurgence’s feet:

[Equipment used with Altec Lansing VOTT A7 includes Basis Audio Debut Standard w/vacuum platter, Graham Phantom B44 Audioquest 7000/Soundsmith Zephyr, Manley Steelhead Phono, Denafrips Terminator DAC / GAIA DDC, SMG i5 / Sonore UltraRendu, Veloce Audio LS-1 Preamp, Veloce Audio Saetta hybrid monoblocks, Dennis Had Firebottle KT88, H20 S250 Signature amp, Lyngdorf Audio TDAi 2140, PS Audio P10 regenerator]

Klipschorns vs Altec Lansing Valencia vs Altec Lansing VOTT A7

Okay, some ground rules.

ONE:

This wasn’t a ‘shootout’ performed under strictly controlled listening conditions it was anything but. These comparisons are random, general, vague, and sourced from the memory of a senile old man with a propensity for the imbibition of liberal quantities of Wild Turkey 101. Quote me and mock me for my comments if you will but I’ll always play the Wild Turkey habit as my ‘get out of jail free’ card.

TWO:

A quick note about the listening room. My main space is 18’x17’x9.5′. There is an adjacent room measuring around 14’x16’x9.5′. The adjacent room connects to the main room via an opening 6′ wide. When I ran the Klipschorns I only ever had them in the corners on the 17′ wall, and the opening into the adjacent room was off to the left side of the room. With the A7 and Valencia, I only ever had them on the 18′ wall, shooting directly toward the opening into the adjacent room, which is slightly off-center! (an old 1910 farmhouse).

THREE:

Of the three speakers, only the Klipschorn and VOTT A7 were stock. The Altec Valencia was used with an upgraded Great Plains Audio Model 19 crossover, changing the manufacturer-designed crossover point and offering slightly improved component quality over the originals. I also ran the Valencia actively, using the digital crossover function in a Lyngdorf TDAi 2170, the Lyngdorf’s own internal amp to power the woofers, and a Dennis Had Firebottle KT88 on the horns. While the active configuration improved performance in certain aspects, all of my comments and comparisons in this review relate to using the Valencias with the GPA Model 19 crossover, unless expressly noted.

FOUR:

It would have been ideal to have a consistent system in place for each of these speaker tests but that wasn’t the case. You can see the main equipment used if you scroll up the page to where I’ve shown photos of the speakers.

 

I’ll try to break this down more logically next, but let’s start out with a rambling overview:

The Altec Lansing Valencia 846b turned out to be the most rounded, the most balanced performer of the 3 speakers. The Klipschorns delivered the most in terms of their ability to suspend disbelief – on some types of music they were by far the best performer, yet on other music, the worst, so the most sonically inconsistent of the three.

The Altec A7 walked a fine line between being what some might term a ‘garage’ speaker and one that delivered adequately on the audiophile spectrum. I found in comparison to both the Klipschorn and Valencia that the bass and midbass were lacking in clarity and definition, giving the sound something of a veiled and wooly presentation. The highs are rolled off in comparison to the Khorns but a little less so when compared to the Valencia, which isn’t too surprising given the horn and compression driver similarities with both Altecs.

The A7s do throw a fairly wide soundstage that extends a little beyond the confines of the box, and it is adequately deep and layered, but imaging is a little vague and detail is obfuscated in comparison with the Khorns, for example. But bass output and quality from the A7 is poor compared to both the Khorns and the Valencias. I couldn’t really get passed that.

Using some audiophile parameters and vernacular, let me unpack the above with more detail:

HIGH FREQUENCIES

Of the three the Klipschorn sounded more extended and with that came more detail and more capacity to unravel complex layered music and deliver instruments and performers with sufficient air and space. The downside of their more airy and extended high frequency was a propensity for becoming overly forward and ‘shouty’. This shouty-ness was a function of the HF Tractrix horn itself and its propensity for offloading sound with a slight “cupped-hands” effect, some ringing from the Tractrix horn body, and the 20 khz or so extension of the HF compression driver. When this shouty-ness kicked in it was literally game over for some listening sessions. Brass instruments on some recordings would reach out with one hand clamping your throat and another hand grasping your sphincter. Ouch.

The VOTT A7 and Valencia both had a similar high-frequency presentation, again, unsurprising given that they shared similar components. Both allowed some adjustment of the balance between the horn and woofer via a potentiometer, and I found both to operate best generally with the high-frequency throttle running wide open (there were some exceptions to this).

I found the VOTT A7 and the Valencia to be just OK in the way they retrieved detail and the way in which they presented the air and sparkle around instruments and voices – cymbals, and bells, for example, would be present in the mix but without that last nth of resolution, shimmer, and space. The Khorns excelled in this regard but couldn’t help themselves in crossing over the line into brightness and hardness, as already alluded to above.

MIDRANGE

I felt the midrange quality of the A7 and Valencia to be quite similar – both presented a warm midrange and tonal balance giving most music, particularly vocals, a silky smooth sound that was quite appealing. The Valencia managed to retain some semblance of transparency lower down the midrange whereas the A7 started to sound overly colored and wooly as it approached the lower mids and upper bass, worsening in this regard the lower it went. (I certainly considered the possibility that the speakers were not performing optimally and as intended, but made no real effort to investigate this beyond the removal and inspection of all drivers, which were in fine condition. The next step would have been to replace aging crossover components but I did not traverse this path as they seemed to be performing fine other than the veiled bass.)

The Klipschorns on the other hand were leaner and more transparent through the mids and needed an amp with a little more tube lushness than was preferred by either Valencia or VOTT A7. This slightly leaner presentation gave a closer connection with subtle detail and nuance in the mix and manifested as more transparent and revealing, versus the Altec pair’s colored and warmer presentation. The Art Audio Carissa 845 tube amp performed best on the Klipschorns and they didn’t pair particularly well with the Class-D amp I had on hand, whereas the Altec pair worked very happily with both Class-D and low powered tubes.

LOW FREQUENCY

In terms of extension, none of these three speakers go particularly low. While I do have some in-room measurements from REW software/UMIK-1, they pertain to a variety of speaker positions and support equipment and are not really useful for this comparison. I gauged bass extension by ear using familiar recordings such as Holy Cole’s track ‘Jersey Girl’ from the Temptation album and also using a test CD with bass tracks and an iPhone SPL app. The Valencias played lowest, down into the mid 30s, followed by the Khorns, with output dropping quickly in the low 40s, then the A7, which was somewhere close to the Khorns but perhaps rolling off a little steeper around the mid 40 hz mark.

In terms of bass quality, there was simply no comparison. The Khorns produce some of the most accurate and enticing bass I’ve heard from any speaker system. I would describe it as tonally pure and true to the instrument but also seamless and superbly well integrated into the whole. And although it isn’t as extended as the Valencia, it’s just far more musically enjoyable, until of course, you come to hit the system with techno or other types of synth music with a strong low bass. If that’s your thing then you’ll want to try to integrate a subwoofer or two into the system to pick up around 45/50 hz or so. I was able to blend a pair of Aerial Acoustic SW-12 subs quite successfully with all three speakers, using the miniDSP 2x4HD / UMIK-1 / REW software for control only over the low frequencies.

That said, one of the most memorable and impressive albums I played (over and over) through the Khorns was Genesis’ – ‘Seconds Out’, and I preferred the sound without the subs engaged. I’ve never heard a more realistic presentation of the track ‘Robbery, Assault, and Battery’ in terms of sheer dynamics and scale. You won’t appreciate this live recording unless your speakers have sufficient bass output to underpin the music with a solid bass foundation, and even with their relative lack of low extension, the Khorns sounded fantastic with this track (and others from the same album).

 

SOUNDSTAGE

Describing the soundstage of these three speakers and making comparisons becomes very subjective due to the different ways in which they’re designed to operate within the room.

One could argue that the VOTT A7 isn’t designed to operate within the room at all, but rather it belongs in a much larger auditorium-sized “hall”,  where it could strut its stuff without concerns relating to room boundaries and such. One could also argue that the Khorns, with their tight corner placement requirements, actually become the room, locking themselves acoustically to the room walls and using them as an essential component of the speaker’s design. Thus the Valencia, with its more conventional box size/shape/design perhaps ought to be the standout from the three speakers when it comes to presenting a large and believable soundscape in the room. Again, the Khorns stepped forward with their capacity to create the largest, most compelling, and most believable soundstage, but again, only on certain tracks – and I mean tracks, not genres. This Jekyll and Hyde presentation wasn’t locked to any particular musical genre it literally came and went on a track-by-track basis, where on some tracks, the soundstage would literally burst into the room from the front wall and present a massive wall of sound with impressive depth, width, and layering, whereas other tracks would present sounding flat and two-dimensional.

By comparison, the A7 soundstage was less impressive, yet more than adequate, and far more consistent and repeatable. I was able to experiment with toe-in and to a lesser extent distance from the front wall, and the A7 responded quite well to these small positional changes, eventually delivering a nice wide soundstage with adequate depth and height. It never scaled the heights of the Khorns nor did it ever plumb the depths of the Khorns in terms of a poor soundstage performance.

The Valencia offered far more in terms of placement and thus could be ‘tuned’ to deliver well in the soundstage department. It didn’t appear to have the same width of soundstage as the A7 or the Khorns, but that could be largely down to position in the room and proximity to the boundaries.

IMAGING

There’s no doubt that imaging is a nice illusion that helps with one’s ability to suspend disbelief. Whether or not the fact that it’s mostly an artifact embedded by the mixing engineer bothers you or not, isn’t really for discussion here. What should be mentioned though is that in most cases, horn speakers do not present the sound with the same type of image specificity as say a good mini-monitor speaker might. That said, given attention to careful placement of the speaker in the room, a good coupling or decoupling strategy from the floor, good cabling, amplification, and support equipment; some horn speakers can image very well.

The winner here was the Altec Lansing Valencia, but only with the active crossover arrangement. The Great Plains Audio Model 19 XO was OK with the Valencia, but the speaker improved considerably when driven actively, particularly in the areas of transparency, detail, and imaging. With the passive crossover in circuit, I would rank the Valencia as on par with the A7 and a little behind the Klipsch.

None of the three speakers delivered a high level of image specificity, so if that’s your thing then generally speaking I wouldn’t be looking for horns if I were you. If you’ve heard people say that horns image great, then try to remember that it’s all relative. Each of these speakers presented a tangible image presence but not to the same level as say the Piega C40, the Dunlavy SC-III, or the Merlin VSM.

My sense was that overall the Khorns had the capacity to deliver the most lifelike image presentation. As I’ve stated already, the Khorns would often fall apart on some recordings, losing their stage depth and dimensionality and imaging would also suffer as a consequence.

When reviewing, I frequently pull the album ‘Friday Night In San Francisco’ featuring the legendary John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, and Al Di Meola. This particular recording is the 180g vinyl pressing from Impex Records, meticulously mastered by Bernie Grundman and Bob Donnelly using the original analog master tapes.

When I play this recording on my main system, featuring the Piega C40 speakers, it truly comes to life. The recording exhibits a wonderful sense of spaciousness, effortlessly capturing the ambient cues from the original venue, effectively transporting the listener into that room. The virtuoso performances by these artists burst forth from the mix with remarkable dynamic realism, providing an expressive and impactful experience. Performer placement in the soundstage is very precise via the Piegas, you don’t just hear their guitars, you literally ‘sense’ and feel the placement of the musicians on the stage around you with their presence chiseled meticulously from the ambient soundscape.

However, when I listened to this recording on the Valencias, the Khorns, or the A7s, it offered a different perspective and a different overall experience. It feels spacious and remarkably true to life but now the performers are in the room behind the speakers and there’s a slight opaqueness that separates you from them.

 

MICRO AND MACRO DYNAMICS, AND SCALE.

So now we’re getting down to what a good horn speaker is all about.

Microdynamics: Each of the trio performs quite differently on microdynamics. Given that microdynamics in musical playback might be described as the subtle variations in volume and intensity that occur within the music at a very fine and detailed level, it stands to reason that the speaker with the best high-frequency performance would excel in the area of microdynamics – and that’s certainly the case here, with the Klipschorns sounding more detailed, more vivid, providing more air, more attack to notes and more sustain and decay. The smallest musical nuances, such as the gentle changes in a singer’s voice, the delicate plucking of a guitar string, the nuanced bowing of a violin, or the soft keystrokes on a piano, are far more clear and pronounced via the Klipsch than either of the two speakers from Altec Lansing.

Macrodynamics: Unlike microdynamics, which focus on subtle variations, macrodynamics involve the significant shifts in loudness, intensity, and energy that occur during a musical performance. My vote here again goes to the Klipschorns.

I doubt there are few speakers on the planet in this price range that can produce dramatic crescendos, powerful climaxes, sudden drops in volume, and other noticeable shifts in intensity, with the same degree of competence as the Klipschorns. While no slouch, the 2-way VOTT A7 can’t quite compete with the 3-way Klipsch speakers when it comes to portraying the dynamic wallop of a well-recorded drum and percussion kit. The Valencia is a close third in this category, respectable, and beyond most conventional box speakers, but not quite in the same league as the other two.

Scale: All three speakers performed well in creating the scale of a performance but the Klipschorns ran head and shoulders above the other two. In my opinion, a realistic sense of scale, coupled with the ability to resolve macro changes in intensity levels, will give you more sense of being there, and more ability to suspend disbelief, than any other sound reproduction attribute. And boy (or girl), how the Klipschorns excel in this area.

ABSORBING THE SPEAKER INTO YOUR LISTENING ENVIRONMENT

Yeah, good luck with that!

Seriously, unless you have a dedicated music room, or you’re a devout bachelor, I doubt you’d want to look at any of these three speakers if you value your marital status. Were I not fortunate enough to have a dedicated room for music, and I wanted to risk life and limb and sneak one of these speaker systems into a shared family space, then perhaps oddly enough it would be the Klipschorns, assuming I’d two flat corners in which to place them. Tucked away in the room corners they actually manage to avoid attention pretty well, much more so than any larger speaker that needs to be pulled away from the front wall to operate properly.

After the Khorns would come the Valencias. While the cabinets are quite large and not particularly attractive, you can use them fairly close to the front wall without losing too much sonically. You can even push them into the corners if you wish, but not as snuggly as the Khorns.

Which leaves the Altec Lansing VOTT a7. Unless you have a particularly large room, I can’t imagine these looking acceptable in any conventional domestic living space. They’re just too big and ugly and really do stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. And of course, they do sound best with some distance between you and the speaker (they also look better with some distance between you and the speaker, about 100′ would work well), so even with front wall or corner placement, you really need a room with at least 18-20′ length for these to fire down, preferably more.

 

CONCLUSION

So which is it, which one of the speakers would I choose to live with?

If you’ve read this article and haven’t just skipped ahead to the conclusion, you may think the obvious choice is the Klipschorn.

But it isn’t.

It’s the Altec Lansing Valencia.

The Klipschorns are just too sonically inconsistent. While their high points are so much higher than either of the other two, so too are their low points so much lower, and I just can’t handle that level of inconsistency. I understand fully that with a highly resolving system, well-recorded music is going to sound wonderful but there’s some stuff that isn’t going to sound good at all. But the Khorns pay little credence to whether or not your choice of music is well recorded. Their biases are more arbitrary, more inconsistent, and more unpredictable. The music I listen to is all over the map, so it isn’t like I’m a classic rock fan and nothing else gets a look-in. I listen to jazz – big band, Basie, Ella, etc, and more contemporary stuff from the likes of Manu Katche, Medeski, Martin, and Wood etc.

I listen to some classical, though less and less these days.

I listen to metal, rock, classic rock, blues, folk, etc. Almost anything but rap and hip-hop.

My estimation is that perhaps 25-30% of the music I listen to is difficult to enjoy on the Klipschorns.

The Altec Valencias however are more of an all-rounder and more sonically consistent. Sure, the crossovers benefit from a step up the food chain but the GPA Model 19 XOs are very affordable at under $500 for the pair.

So that’s where my vote goes. And at around $2500 for a decent pair, they’re something of a bargain too.

CAH August 2023