Let me start by saying, GREAT POST! This one will be sure to open up a can of worms worth reading. In my own humble opinion, I would state that there are really no modern designs. Just better applications (in some cases) of what's been out there for years. Klipsch is America's oldest speaker manufacturer, and it is rich in it's supporters and detractors. It is also rich in it's history.
When I first got into this hobby, I was most impressed when a much older brother in-law/ audio enthusiast was able to run his in-laws (My Family) out of the room with a HeathKit 10 watt per channel amplifier and AR's first turntable (What, no anti-skating?), and the HORNS! I was the only one who stayed, and it was love at first site! You can't imagine being 10 years old in 1974, and hearing "Highway Star" that loudly! For God's sake, I was listening to the Beach Boys on a Sanyo all-in-one job with the old 8 track tape player at the time, so I'm sure anyone who reads this post and is somewhat familiar with rock and roll can understand my epiphany. A stereo could do that? Quickly, I became familiar with the Who, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix et al.
So I have romantic memories of these speakers, as I'm sure you have gathered. They are greatly responsible for me being the incurable audio nut I am today. Still, in all honesty and frankness, I feel that when properly set up, these speakers image quite well, offer better dynamics than most and are built to last. Low frequencies are robust, and hard to control! Set up, like any speaker is job #1. My Bro in Law still plays his regularly, and he bought them a year before I had heard them, so you do the math. They are rugged and good looking in a manly way. You will never hear a woman say, "I love what these speakers do for this room". Unless of course she is blind and likes the sound of horns.
Transparency? That's a subjective term, and should be used with skeptisism, but these horns are revealing of their upwind electronics. Be assured, tubes are the cure for what ails them. And vinyl sounds better than CD. Sure, the dynamics are astounding with digital, but with the efficiency of these speakers, you easily have baby bears porridge with vinyl.
However,I must also tell you that I use high powered solid state class A amps feeding a pair of Talon Peregrines. My tastes have changed, and the K-Horns are no longer my first choice, but I have a great deal of respect for horn technology and the way other manufacturers have implemented it. The Tannoy Churchill's and the Avant Garde line to name but two.
I own a '70s pair of Mac ML2s modified with tweeter towers containing 16 tweeters in each. They sound awesome! I also have Sonus Faber Grand Pianos, which sound beautiful as well. These cabinets are powered and run by a complete McIntosh system. Well, my freind has a pair of Klipschorns powered by a Mac 150wpc amp, running through an old Mac C26 pre-amp. They sound AWESOMELY BEAUTIFUL. He's had them for about 30 years and I've heard them for many of those years.It's just unbelievable how they stand up to todays speakers.Listening to equipment the way I have for the last 5 years or so, I hear things in components that I didn't before,and I'm blown away by the performance of the Klipshorns.
For dynamic music that uses a lot of percussion, they are very hard to beat, even in stock form. On vocal work, especially female, they do not hold up that well. Mind you, there is a LOT of room for improvement in this very easy to work on design, so keep that in mind. Like anything else, these were built and designed when "parts is parts" and all the parts were about as good as you could get. That was AGES ago... Sean
I have had Dynaco 25's, AR 9's, Mission, Morel, JBL Horns, Altec A-7's, Maggies and so many others. That said, Please don't take away my Klipschhorn's driven by my sweet tubes.
They are like the Grand Canyon, beyond description. Words fail me.
Opinions are like ...... everybody has one. BUT some opinions may carry more weight than others. Mine is based on 35 yrs as an audiophile and 30 yrs experience in retail, wholesale, design and manufacturing of speaker systems. I have been familiar with the Klipschorns since 1968 when I
sold them at The Hi Fi House in SoCal.
They were and still are very impressive when certain aspects of their performance are considered. The ability to play loud and clean with very little power input goes without saying. I still remember literally becoming nauseas
due to the incredible amount of bass power in the room when demoing them at about 110 db. Macro-dynamics are outstanding-the jump factor is high. The horns have a presence and liveness that appeal to many.
Having said the above, I must now state that in many important ways the Klipschorns do not compare well with good designs of then and especially now. First we must address the fact that horns have an intrinsic coloration
which imprints itself on all music. It effects some things more negatively than others but it is always there.It simply lends an unnatural cast to the reproduction of music.
Then there is the natural aggressiveness of the horns in this design. They can and do cause listener fatigue. More rapidly for some than others. Also, in spite of their clarity and dynamics they gloss over most of the inner detail, the micro-dynamics that give that bloom and glow, the inner beauty of real music.
The Khorns are capable of moving lots of air at the bottom but do not have a lot of output below 30hz. If memory serves me the woofer is crossed to the mid at around 200hz which means that all that crucial lower midrange has to travel those many feet through the folded horn before it gets into the room. This is audible as a slightly hollow or
echoey sound in this area.
If you have ever seen a frequency response graph of the Khorns you will have noticed its resemblance to a picture of the rocky mountains. About + or - 10db. One of the most important aspects of speaker designs that sound musical is a uniform in room rsponse curve, in the + or - 3db or better range.
As to the questions of imaging and transparancy, when set up properly they can give a semblance of an image but nothing much compared to the best in class. They don't pinpoint all that well and don't give cushions of air or soundstage volume of air very well. Many people mistake the presence and clarity of the Khorns for transparency but the fact is they are really not transparent at all.
Well there is plenty more but this is turning into a trestise. So, in my not at all humble opinion, the khorns do some things very well indeed but in most ways simply don't compare with more modern and much more musically refined designs. In fact, I will go so far as to say that virtually any current well engineered speaker is a more musically accurate, if perhaps less visceral, reproducer of sound.
In a very large room, with of course a good front end, and Cornwall center channel, there are very few loudspeakers that can deliver music with the visceral(aren't we gettin high fallutin?)impact that this set up can. In other words, damn inpressive, especially on big bodied classical or big band music. It is just incredible, but I think you have to be 20 feet away from the system at the least. Klipsch did not design these for the poor among us with measly 16 by 24 listening areas. Normal rooms, I have a few problems, most are mentioned above, but in a small room the speaker can't do what it was designed to do, but it wasn't designed for a small room, so "hey" that works for me.
I too am a horn fan & love my vintage 1978 Klipsch's despite the drawbacks (horn coloration - true - but they're real picky about signal quality being fed into them). Transparency isn't the greatest but is still pretty decent, although they are *very* revealing of micro-details & will absolutely show you every little change that you make in your rig. Regarding dynamics they really shine here - rivals that of live performances. If you like to tweak there are numerous things that can be done to enhance these magnificent beasts (yes they are large & heavy). You can even use them without room corners if you fabricate some "artificial corner" panels such as Paul K. himself does. Or get the Belles, which look somewhat better than the K-horns, or the budget model LaScala is another alternative.
Wonderful and insightful responses from all. Thank you for your great analyses.
Jm I realized that I neglected to answer your stage & image question. Results in that regard are mixed & somewhat confuse me. Depending upon the source equipment & even moreso the associated cabling, I've sometimes had poor staging & at other times it has been unbelievably huge, like I moved the speakers right out of the house & into the front yard or somesuch.
However I do not have the corner horns, but the Belles (which use the same crossover & drivers & even a folded horn bass cabinet) but are made to work without the corner. So of course mine are not positioned at the room corners, they're practically nearfield at about 7' distance from the listening position & dividing the long wall into thirds. This works out well for me because our living room arrangement doesn't allow for speakers being pulled well out into the room. Spacing from the backwall is at an angle & only about a foot or so away, not a good situation but I can get away with it because the Klipsch are designed to work close to backwalls. I realize that this layout hurts staging but it can still work very well with proper setup.
Most of the "horn colouration" that you folks hear is due to the horn body itself "ringing". Believe me, they ring like MAD. If you completely damp the throat of the horn ( the ENTIRE "body" or "casting"), the sound will DRASTICALLY change. Minimize the diffraction taking place at the mouth of the horn by chamfering the cabinet to an equal flare ratio or flush mount the horns and the imaging and soundstage will also improve quite noticeably.
As to the bass horn itself, stiffen the cabinet with small internal braces ( large diameter dowel rods unevenly spaced ) and "round" the internal corners. Just like a mid or tweeter horn body, the bass horn should have smooth flares with a gradual radiused flare for best results. Squared corners produce "flat spots" in air turbulence and create internal nodes within the horn that do not help us at all. This mimizes the "boxy" or "hollow" characteristics in vocals that you hear. Most of this is due to the drastic reduction of the box "talking" and the reduction of standing waves and reflections WITHIN the horn body itself.
If you REALLY want to get serious, play with the size of the opening that the woofer feeds into. It is MUCH smaller than the driver itself, creating what is known as a "compression" effect. While this does increase the velocity of sound waves and play with SPL levels generated, it too can contribute to the "boxy" vocal effect. I don't recommend this for the mass majority of "diy'ers" or "tweakers" though.
Improving the wiring in ALL Klipsch speakers can make a HUGE difference in sound quality. My experience is that solid wire works best here, but everyone has their preferences.
As i mentioned in another thread recently, check the polarity of the drivers. Some earlier Klipsch designs fed the "squawker" ( mid horn ) out of phase when compared to the polarity of the woofer and tweeter. Try it both ways and see what sounds best to you. I and several others have always preferred the "in phase" approach as it sounds much more natural. Sean
This thread really has helped me with my longstanding love-hate relationship with horns. Many of the phenomena I've noted over the years have been discussed, reassuring me that it ain't just my aging ears.
I don't think I've ever heard a set of horns, from Khorns to Avantgardes that really satisfied me with the female (and often with the male voice), even when everything else seemed nicely reproduced. Have others had the same experience? Why would that be?
Most horn based systems, even those with direct radiating woofers, tend to suffer from the following problems:
1) The frequency chosen to cross between the woofer and mid is in a very critical area. This creates un-natural peaks, dips and overlap between the drivers.
2) The woofers are typically too large to do upper bass and lower mids real well, so the sound comes across as slower than if a smaller, faster driver were covering the same signal.
3) The designer counts on the involvement of the horn throat to lower the "effective operating range" of the mid driver, in effect using it below the point that it would perform optimally. As such, they need to realize that there is a BIG difference between "usable output" and "high quality output".
4) The crossover point further confounds the issue by playing games with the harmonic structure of the human voice. Since the signal is divided between the two drivers ( woofers and mids ) with different transfer characteristics, you experience two different levels of speed, dispersion and placement within the soundstage.
Are you following along here ??? I think that you get the idea. It is not the horns that screw things up, it is the overall design and how it is implimented : ) Sean
the k-horns are probably the finest speakers ever built,modern or otherwise. If you dont like the way they sound,look at the associated upstream components as they are revealing to mis-matches in electronics. Conventional drivers and cabinets can never even come close to doing what a good horn setup can do.Sure,there are some great designs out there[Frieds and Bozaks come to mind]but they are all just pretentious posers compared to horns.
If anyone really doesn't like their k-horns,please ship them to my house pronto and I promise I will use them every day!
The Heritage line of Klipsch speakers, I have had Khorns for 37 years, have a classic big sound with very little amp requirements. I have run them off the output of a iphone headphone jack and sound quite good. Try that with a pair of BW 800 series. Just having this discussion with a bud who has a $30,000 BW system three subs, DB1’s and 800 D3, Bryston power. He sounds better than my Khorns and I have with a $1,000 integrated amp. Do the cost analysis. I still sound live, his sounds like a really great stereo!!! I paid $2,100 for my Khorns 1981. Upgraded power many times since then. Soundstage, and imaging are very room and placement dependent. Larger the room the better. The sweet spot is small but worthy.
Got a pair of Heresy IIIs a little over a year ago and I can say with certainty they display none of the characteristics mentioned by sean...luckily! Whew...
In University, U of T, I spent a lot of time a Bay/Bloor Radio. A good Hi End Audiophile store. They had a large bias against Klipsch, Altec, JBL, They would say Junky But Loud. I had a Cheap Trills Concert Pass and saw all of the big Acts of the 70's and early 80's. When you go to a live concert what are you listening to? A large PA system. You want to produce a live like sound at home, bingo, Klipshorns and all the horns sound great, live, dynamic. If you like Jazz? a Horn sounds like a horn coming out of the horn. What is the human voice, a small Horn. People who are posting negative comments, want to listen to a Stereo sound, Khorns sound very live. The imaging is great, but the sweet spot for optimal listeningn is small. When I give a demo, I give people my media chair that I have dialed in. My present set up is the smallest room they have ever been in, and I am always anxious to get to my sweet spot. I installed a second Horn Tweeter to my Sweet spot, from both cabinets. Do your homework, go listen to systems. If you want one of the best live music experiences give the khorns a earful.
I love Klipschorns and have owned them twice. They sound different than more modern speakers, being more dynamic and IMHO from the midbass up they are quite transparent, below that less so, but not to a disqualifying degree.
Cant comment on the soundstage thing as I find it to be a trick and something I do not hear in the concert hall. So I don’t listen for it. But, since Khorns must be used in the corners of the room, in certain setups there can be a hole in the middle effect. In recognition of this Klipsch suggested a single Cornwall to go in the center, on the wall between the Khorns. Of course this necessitates having a third amp channel with variable gain to match the less efficient Cornie to the Khorns.
Seems like a lot of work but I loved this setup. Corners with less distance between them obviate the need for the center channel however.