I mentioned in my Granite Audio interconnect review that I would be posting a review of my Klipschorn speakers, which I put aside because of commitments. Recently, a reader reignited the flame by inquiring into the status of that review. Thank you, reader.
Some of you may have contemplated adding horns to your systems. While there are magazines trumpeting the unique experiences of horn proponents, some high-end establishments remain resistant. One dealer demonstrated his idea of a horn’s sound by cupping his mouth with both hands. As advancements have been realized in almost all aspects of modern playback systems, horn speakers are often seen as a throwback. However, in spite of the horn’s century-old operating principle, it continues to offer advantages: the simplicity of its technology and an efficiency that permits the use of low-power amplifiers.
When Stereophile held its High end Show in San Francisco, I returned to two horn exhibitors’ rooms three days in a row: Kochel and Tannoy. Kochel was a new Korean company making multi-driver horn systems, utilizing the classic diaphragm-plus-throat approach, while Tannoy sported their prestigious dual-concentric technology in the Churchill enclosure, the core technology having been patented before World War II. The East and the West met at a junction in the form of the horn. Both exhibitors drove their speakers with low-output, single-ended triode amplifiers. Since I couldn’t afford either speaker, I kept coming back with CDs in order to etch in my mind the two systems’ incomparable sonic attributes. While different sounding, their two crowning attributes were dynamic realism and harmonic coherency.
In the spring of 1999, when a pair of used 1993 Klipschorn became available, I seized upon the moment and bought them. According to Klipsch, the 1989 and 2001 differ only in an updated crossover, which, so far as I can determine, produces no variance in sound. Like the Kochel and the Tannoy systems, the Klipschorns, powered by remarkably few watts, can transport you to the realm of sonic realism. The Klipschorn exhibits an intensity of dynamic transients via tube or solid-state amplification. In fact, I’d been driving my Klipschorns with one Monarchy Audio SM-70 with extraordinary results until January 2001, when I bought a second SM-70 for monoblock operation.
The K-horn is a three-way system consisting of a one-inch compression tweeter horn, two-inch compression midrange horn and a fifteen-inch folded bass horn.
The tweeter’s horn sits on top of the midrange horn and covers the range from 6kHz to 17.5kHz. Centrally situated above the bulk of the cabinet and below the tweeter’s horn, the midrange’s horn runs only about half of the width of the cabinet and is the main driver of the system with a specified frequency range of 400Hz to 6kHz. The main cabinet houses the rear-firing, 15-inch driver’s folded bass horn, which covers the range from 400Hz to its specified limit of 35Hz.
Most speakers sacrifice soundstaging definition when placed wide apart. The K-horns are designed for large rooms and will generally function satisfactorily in opposite-corner placement. In a medium-sized room like mine, I had to make a few minor adjustments to optimize performance.
Specifically, the K-horns are designed to fit into the corners of the long wall, using the adjoining sidewalls as an extension of the bass horn. This unusual placement actually creates the Klipschorn’s life-size soundstage. Although the dimensions of my listening room, at 12’ × 17’ × 8’ (W × L × H), can accommodate the recommended long-wall placement, it is an open-ended rectangle with only one short wall. Since this asymmetry precludes the recommended placement, I had to use the short walls’ corners. At their initial setup, the K-horns inevitably became overly “toed-in,” both channels converging into a sweet spot five feet in front of my listening position, making the soundstage unfocused and remote-sounding. I toed them out until each K-horn’s midrange was firing at the listening position. Then I tilted the speakers slightly downward to have the midrange fire straight at me. Thus set up, with my listening position approximately three meters away, the K-horns throw a precise center stage with excellent overall soundstage delineation.
The height of the midrange and tweeter horns further reinforce the life-size soundstage. For our readers in San Francisco, it resembles the Premier Orchestra first floor seating at the San Francisco Symphony’s Davis Hall.
And yet, with their impressive soundstage depth, horns are less than peerless in soundstage crystallization. For readers who are adamant about supreme image depth, quite a few planar and cone speakers will do a better job, e.g., my Apogee Duetta Signatures. Furthermore, the K-horns’ midrange and tweeter horns are so highly directional that my ASC acoustic treatments are largely unnecessary. The Klipschorns sound their best when pointing directly at you.
The K-horns do not possess the timbral finesse of the Audio Note AN-E/D speakers I recently reviewed, but I do not hear this shortcoming as a serious liability. Many describe the horn system’s sound as artificial, congested, flat and unmusical. In my listening room, the K-horns produce the opposite effect, and their unrivaled dynamic realism remains evident and clean even at high volume levels.
The K-horn’s bass achieves its maximum with modest amplifier power. The Audio Review website contains comments from K-horn users, mostly describing the bass as natural. Although the low end can be thunderous, it maintains the music’s critical overtones,a capability that relates to the naturalness many K-horn users proclaim. However, larger rooms are a prerequisite for optimum bass. Therefore, if good bass is at the top of your sonic priorities, the K-horn may not be for you if your room dimensions do not
allow for corner placement.
Regarding the Klipschorn’s 17.5kHz roll-off, although I’ve never seen such limited top- end specifications from any speaker, I have always been happy with the K-horns’ highs. Other speakers in the same room do not provide more perceptible top-end information. In addition, the 3dB roll-off slope may be slow enough to allow for higher-frequency information at high listening volumes. Furthermore, with CD’s20kHz upper limit, the differences may be too subtle to be appreciable.
Some studies show that our brains can process ultra-high frequencies although our auditory senses cannot seeming hear beyond 20kHz, even in our youth, when our hearing is at its best. Certain theories further claim that our well being depends on this ultra-high-frequency information, in that it stimulates the secretion of a relaxation-inducing chemical. This may be significant when playing SACD’s or LPs. Perhaps some day Klipsch will better address this design aspect.
Although the Klipschorn’s high sensitivity invites the use of low-power, single-ended triode amplifiers, care must be taken in choosing a quiet preamp and a power amp with low idling noise. The Wadia 27’s versatile, user-adjustable output level and digital volume control are supremely quiet, making it an ideal candidate in driving most tube amplifiers. The Audio Note Western Electric 300B Quest monoblocks (review in progress), as driven directly by the Wadia 27 Decoding Computer, produced a minute level of on-intrusive idling hiss. The Decware SE84C (review in progress) also mated well with the Wadia.
The 125-wpc, EL-34-based Music Reference RM9 II was inappropriate, in that it must be set to the highest feedback/lowest output position in conjunction with the Wadia to keep the idling noise down. At this setting, the RM9 II lost its transparency.
Solid-state amplifiers are quiet during idling. Both my relatively high-powered Aragon 2004 and Monarchy Audio SM70 produced very satisfying results. The 2004 rendered a less energetic presentation, with a softer top end, smoother midrange and thicker bass, versus the SM70’s crystalline top end, detailed yet slightly forward midrange, and dynamic lower midrange and bass.
The Decware SE84C, AN Quest and MR RM9 II amplifiers exhibited increased idling noise when a Krell KRC-2 preamp replaced the Wadia 27. Therefore, the otherwise excellent Krell, with its high output capabilities, is inappropriate for driving the Klipschorn with some tube amps.
Coexistence with Significant Others
My wife welcomed the Klipschorns positioned in their corners. She deplores the imposing presence of all other speakers, complaining regularly about my room-dividing Apogees and Genesis, and even the mini-monitor Celestion SL700s, as they must all be positioned well into the listening room.
The Klipschorns will coexist with your other speaker system in other ways. You can position new speakers in front of them with no negative consequences. For example, to minimize early reflections from the rear wall and the sidewalls, I usually place other speaker systems about one-third into the room. The rear radiation of other speakers will engage the front of the Klipschorn. Since each Klipschorn is now angled at 30 to 45 degrees from the long walls, corner standing waves are mostly diffused, with the remaining reflections from the front of the K-horns returning to the rear of the freestanding speakers. Therefore, you need only treat the sidewalls. I have obtained excellent results using other speaker systems in the presence of the Klipschorns. As I never felt the need to move the Klipschorns while using other speakers, you should beware that the K-horns’ majestic yet unobtrusive presence may grow on you.
The Klipschorns tower over my other speakers in their dynamic realism and sheer listenability. CDs played through them possess lifelike, compression-free qualities. Furthermore, the horn midrange and tweeter are impressively devoid of chaos in the midst of instrumental outbursts. Although Klipschorn possesses impressive detailing, realism and musicality, perfection doesn’t exist in any loudspeaker system. While its extreme sensitivity permits the use of low-power purist amplifiers, mating it to a suitable amp is crucial.
Even after careful consideration, it may require a leap of faith to acquire a horn system, since to do so may alienate you from orthodox audiophiles. To return to the High End Show I mention above, I was able to loiter for long periods of time in the Kochel and Tannoy sound rooms because neither room ever got crowded. The true believers stayed away. Even stepping in for a peek would mean excommunication. That was about three years ago. With recent rave reviews for the European Avante Garde horn systems, a heightened awareness of a well-designed horn’s strengths may have changed High-end sentiments.
When driven by my 25-wpc, solid-state single-ended class A Monarchy Audio SM-70, the K-horns delivered full-blown dynamics and convincing dimensionality. Tube amplifiers, like the Audio Note Quest monoblocks (see my recent review) and the Decware SE84C (review in progress), provide a mellower, more musical sonic signature without dynamic sacrifice. The technically capable purist can replace the original crossover with an external three-way unit, the doing of which might elevate timbre accuracy and dimensionality, among other performance aspects.
My sincerest thanks go to Trey Cannon of Klipsch for his responsive replies to my many background inquiries.
Digital Front End
CEC TL1 CD transport
Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player
Wadia 27 Decoding Computer
Audio Note M3
Audio Note Conquest Silver Signature monoblocks
Audio Note Quest 300B monoblocks
GW Labs 270 tube amplifier
GW Labs Cyclop Integrated Amplifier
Monarchy Audio SM70 monoblocks
Audio Note AN-E/D
Genesis Technologies VI
Audio Note AN-La (8 feet, bi-wired)
Audio Note AN-V interconnect (RCA, 2m)
Cardas 5c (8 feet)
Granite Audio #470 silver cables (RCA, 1m, 2 pairs)
Kimber Kable AGDL digital cable (0.5m)
TMC balanced XLR (1m)
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