I’ve always loved the look and sound of the older Klipsch speakers, but I didn’t have enough space for the big ones like LaScala or Cornwall.
The company has gone from the original unique high-end audio product market to a more home theater-oriented market, and its traditional sound fits well for home theater use.
I did the due diligence of exploring many brands and types of speaker systems long and hard prior to making my decision, and the Klipsch speakers stood out repeatedly.
I compared them to JBL, Martin Logan, Bose, Focal, Pioneer, and B&W, just to name a few, and I need to say that they are all very good choices. However, for me, it is Klipsch all the way.
But at the end of the day, it’s all subjective, isn’t it? Everybody hears differently and has different likes and dislikes. Some people can’t stand any Klipsch speaker but will swear by lots of JBLs. They will give you reason after reason why, including measurements.
In this article I’ll list the best vintage Klipsch speakers and explain why I choose exactly these.
I own a pair of 1976 Klipschorns with updated volti audio crossovers. These 30+-year-old speakers have no right to do what they do. I would place them against modern speakers several times what I spent.
Klipschhorn is huge, almost 130 cm in height and 80 cm in width. But what really sets it apart from others is its corner design.
It has an incredible sensitivity of as much as 105 dB with a single watt of amp power, thanks to the additional sensitivity you get by setting the midrange and treble in each acoustic horn.
With this speaker, you get a full 115 dB with 10 watts, while the speaker can endure agonizing sound pressures up to 121 dB with just 40 watts.
The idea was that Klipschorn should play effortlessly and “live” as possible, no matter the sound level.
There is no doubt that the sharp Klipschorn drags the maximum out of the small amplifier. If you own a low-power amplifier and want to fill the room with the largest possible sound image, then Klipschorn is the way to go.
It brings to mind low-power but incredibly well-sounding single-ended tube amps such as the Muzishare X7 KT88 (Amazon link).
The dynamics that can be reached with very low-powered tube amps are just the icing on the cake.
Also read: 5 Best Vintage JBL Speakers (All Are Tested)
2. Klipsch La Scala
I had a chance to try a pair of 1982 La Scalas that my friend’s been living with and enjoying tremendously for nearly 15 years, and he has no intention of “upgrading” to anything less. For him, they are the endgame.
Read the Klipsch forums, and you will discover that they are universally respected and adored. I’m not up on all the specifications of the current production models, but the originals have the identical mid-horn, tweeters, and networks as the Cornwall and Klipschorns.
They have a 15″ woofer enhanced by the horn-bin cabinet and go down to 42hz (measured).
They are ultra high in sensitivity. Very few horn-loaded speakers top them in the sensitivity department.
Small set amplifiers can drive them to loud, room-filling volumes, but as with most legacy speaker constructions, be they Altec or Klipsch, they require some rather extensive modifications to make them perfect for home audio use.
Also, the clarity of La Scala’s is astonishing. They, along with Klipschorns, are some of the clearest sounding speakers I have ever listened to.
I used the SVS SB-3000 sub to take it down below 20hz, where you mostly feel it rather than hear it (by the way, here’s my double review of subwoofers SVS SB-3000 and SVS SB-4000 if you want to learn more).
I have ALK Type A crossovers in mine. This myth about them being devoid of bass is just that. And it’s good, tight bass too. But measurements aside, they have such wonderful character (I’ll spare you the long list of adjectives).
As the La Scala cabinets are shorter in volume than the large bass cabinets of the Klipschorns, they are limited in a base down to about 60-Hz.
The experience exceeds specs or descriptions. Personally, I might settle for Cornwalls if I had to, but I definitely would not prefer them over Lascalas.
3. Klipsch Forte
Since 1985, Klipsch Forte speakers have been a gourmet treat for HiFi fans. After all, they stand for perfection down to the last detail. Thanks to their vintage look, they also provide a cozy ambiance.
Each speaker system seems to ‘color’ the sound in its’ own way, and some sets ‘color’ a specific type of music dramatically. Both for good and bad.
Of all the speakers I own, own, or tried, the Klipsch Forte is the finest example of all-around music reproduction I have ever heard, with the least amount of full range ‘coloring.’
These speakers will faithfully play anything from Vivaldi to Pink Floyd. One set of Fortes that I heard will go down to 26hz. The other pair only makes it down to 28hz (whine).
The Fortes are just awesome with solid-state quality amps, but their forte (no pun intended) is to be operated with a full tube or hybrid amps/preamps.
Due to their efficiency, they can be used with amplifiers as low as 50 or 60 watts.
I have heard Fortes sound awful in only one situation. The name of the game is placement.
It is essential to have the speakers from 7″ to 13″ from the wall at the rear. The wall must be ‘live’ (no curtain or drape hanging between the speaker and wall).
These speakers are not quite easy gear to drive. Depending on the frequency and power level, I have noticed the load range from 2 ohms to over 30 ohms. Some amplifiers just don’t do well under those circumstances.
My review only applies to the earliest Forte. Not the Forte II (2).
Boy, I’m glad wives (generally) don’t enjoy big speakers! That is why these are readily obtainable on the used market. Nobody sells them because they actually WANT to.
>> Check them out on eBay if available <<
2021 Forte IV
Klipsch is not resting on existing laurels but has improved the multiple award-winning speakers in the 4th generation under the name Klipsch Forte IV again.
The developers make no compromises with new drivers, crossovers, internal wiring based on Klipschorn technology, and the premium Heritage Design.
The Klipsch Forte IV (Amazon link) retro loudspeaker is available from April 2021 in the Klipsch store on Amazon.
There’s only distressed oak design to choose from, but three more case designs are available: American Walnut, Natural Cherry, and Satin Black Ash.
4. Klipsch Cornwall II
With Cornwall II, I felt like the leading edge of the bass was pretty soft but defined. I moved them around the space to try distinct setups for bass and soundstage.
People speak about dynamics from the Cornwalls, and I believe a lot of the dynamics in music come from the bass, which these missed. I don’t feel like they need subwoofers.
The highs were pretty good. I have heard much more refined than other Klipsch (the La Scala, Forte II, and Klipschhorns).
The highs were my favorite aspect of the speaker. Clean and clear. Not the HiFi air type of sound, though.
The mids were okay. No major problems stood out.
They are also extremely flexible with placement. The only thing that could improve my setup is a larger room to use them in.
I have them in corners against the short wall, about 12 feet apart, my listening chair about the same distance from them, maybe a bit further.
Cornwalls sound good/excellent with anything, in my experience. My current rotation of amps with them includes tube amps ranging from 14 to 50 watts and vintage solid-state receivers that run between 25-60 watts.
5. Klipsch Heresy II
First presented in 1957, the Heresy, a three-way design, started as a compact center channel speaker to chaperone the Klipschorn in three-speaker Stereo collections.
In 1985, Klipsch made some modifications and revisions to this model and re-released it as the Heresy II. Today, Klipsch has provided the Heresy III with a bi-wire network, titanium diaphragm Tweeter, and a bigger magnet assembly.
The midrange went from a phenolic to a titanium diaphragm. All of these modifications result in enhanced tonal balance and boosted output.
In fact, the Heresy III is 2 dB louder (96 to 98dB), improving on its already high sensitivity.
I realized the Heresy II to be a better-balanced speaker (frequency response) than the other Klipsch models I’ve owned.
No Heresy goes very deep in the bass. The Heresy 1 products were good down to around 50 Hz, the Heresy II to around 60, and the fresh Heresy III is supposed to be okay only to 70 Hz.
Of course, the Heresy’s (newer models, particularly) are intended to be used with a subwoofer.
I’ve connected my Heresies to a VERY good-sounding Yamaha RX-VA6 receiver (Amazon link) and an SVS SB-4000 subwoofer to add the missing bass. With this combination, I get subsonic whenever they’re desired.
Fortunately, my Yamaha RX-VA6 has a “low impedance” switch on the back, allowing the circuitry to get the best out of the 4-ohm speakers.
Despite the smoother frequency response, the Heresy II still has the “live” dynamics for which Klipsches are revered.
The amplifiers do not need much power with the Heresy II’s high sensitivity. This appears to improve the sound even more. Even in movie sounds, there is no distortion. The pure sound almost begs to be turned up even more.
Heresy II speakers are perfect for most setups. They have a much smaller footprint than the other Klipsch heritage models because they can perform with just about ANY audio-video receiver and work extremely well with a solid sub.
The Heresy + sub setup also works its charm for listening to music. Just don’t go too hefty on the subwoofer levels!
6. Klipsch Chorus
I never owned Chorus, but my cousin Mike did, so I asked him to write a few words on it for my readers. This is what he wrote:
Chorus was my first 3-way Klipsch speaker. I’ve been listening to the very pleasing Klipsch CF-2s before.
The golden midrange is stunning. Much misinformation has been said regarding the “bright, overbearing” mids of these horn speakers. I’m afraid I have to disagree.
The horn design holds the lowest distortion of all. When you provide them with a high-quality signal via tube preamps and tube amplifiers, these speakers will yield a wonderful 3-D midrange that I have not heard better.
Near holographic when I paired them to my Ampapa A1 Vacuum preamp (Amazon link) and modded Yaqin KT88 amp.
One thing that has shown me the greatness of these speakers is that over time, as I upgraded from Sansui receivers to the CJ gear of the 90s, the Klipsches were competent to provide the improvement.
I have yet to put a higher type of gear upstream that the Klipsches could not show the improvement.
They are definitely not the weak link in the chain, and the chain keeps improving.
The only thing I may do to them is rebuilding the crossovers, and I hear that some admirable film caps yield even more improvement. I will keep these great speakers as long as possible.
Is Klipsch High End?
Many high-end speakers use a “ribbon” tweeter created from a thin film of mylar, aluminum, Kapton, or another material. Coincidently, Klipsch also used those materials in its products.
The Wikipedia definition says that high-end audio is a type of consumer home audio equipment sold to audiophiles because of its high cost or quality and obscure or novel sound reproduction technologies.
That is why Klipsch is generally considered high-end. It fits the definition, at least for some models.
You could listen to some Klipschorns, La Scala, Cornwalls, or Heresies running with clean amplifiers. You will then know for sure that Klipsch is actually high-end.
Klipsch is one of the iconic speaker manufacturers, with founder Paul Klipsch, the recipient of many awards and HoF memberships in honor of his products.
The Klipschorn has been in continuous production for over 60 years, with a few improvements as technology advances. Klipsch’s other folded horn models, the LaScala and Belle Klipsch have been around almost as long.
In the meantime, the company has moved into multimedia speakers (including the first THX-certified computer speakers) and film sound and concert audio as well.
I can say that, after decades around Klipsch speakers, I haven’t heard one that didn’t reflect well on Paul’s intents. Yes, they’re very good.
That said, they’re high-end enough that there have been counterfeit models from time to time that has not lived up to their heritage. It says something when you’re worth copying, even if poorly.
Finally, the Klipsch speakers are made to LAST. The speakers will last a lifetime if you don’t abuse them (blow diaphragms with extreme distortion, etc.). I intend to leave mine to my son.
My pop has owned K-horns for over 15 years, and even though they don’t fit in his current living space (condo for the next three years), he refuses to give them up and keep them in storage.
Their heritage line is unmatched for quality/bang for the buck. I know I’m partial because I own them, but I believe their heritage line can’t be beaten for the money.
The finish is incredible, something that will last a lifetime and has a timeless look. But that’s what you have to want.
Their heritage line fits the bill for those who want something timeless and classic. Sound-wise, they’re excellent if you love the “live” sound they produce.
They also hold their value very well. And they’re wife friendly, as the heritage line looks like a furniture piece. They have me as a customer for life.
How and Where to Get Vintage Klipsch?
Unless money is of no concern to you, the way to shop for speakers is to decide what you can afford.
Set a price in your mind, then look at speakers in that price range. Ideally, you want to hear them before buying.
But, when you buy from a dealer, you generally get a chance to audition them at home for a couple of weeks. Find out what your local HiFi dealers’ return policies are.
I would start on eBay, looking at what’s out there in your price range. If you’re looking at Klipsch, you have a lot of options.
Determine which ones are likely to fit in your space, probably your living room, and which can fill that room with sound.
Read up on them, and try and get an idea of what you might like. Then find the nearest dealer and see them in person.
A good dealer can help you pick the right speaker, too. Measure your listening room so they know how much space you need to fill with sound.
Bigger rooms can need bigger, louder speakers to accomplish this. Also, keep in mind that some speakers require a particular placement.
La Scalas, for instance, need to go to a corner. The dealer, by the way, might also be able to deliver your speakers!
Call the manufacturer if there’s no dealer in your area for the speakers you’re interested in (a not unlikely situation).
They’ll be able to help you decide whether their speakers can work for your space, and with your equipment. Ask what their return policy is, bearing in mind that you might be dealing with 200 lb. cabinets in some cases and with complicated packaging requirements.
What is Klipsch Heritage Series?
To be marked a Klipsch Heritage Series speaker indicates the company’s founder, Paul W. Klipsch, played a pivotal role in the original product’s design, development, and engineering.
Each speaker is manufactured in small production runs, utilizing furniture-grade wood veneers and the firm’s own horn-loaded technologies to produce an unsurpassed acoustic experience.
These speakers are legitimate heirloom items you will want to pass on to future generations.
All Heritage Speakers are at the total zenith of Klipsch’s four guiding principles:
- High Efficiency / Low Distortion, resulting in more audible, purer audio;
- Controlled Directivity, using horns to make a more lifelike soundstage without wasting acoustic energy where sound is not needed or wanted;
- Wide Dynamic Range, so the most delicate sounds are reproduced with amazing clarity, and the loudest sounds are produced without harshness or distortion – with the most lavish possible range between the softest and loudest sounds;
- Flat Frequency Response,no unnatural highs, mids, or lows – bearing recorded sound as precisely as possible without colorization.