The legendary Paul Klipsch was one of the pioneers of Horn loudspeakers. His original Klipschorn dates back to the 1940s, and (with updates) remains in production to the present day. Any speaker still being made after more than half a century has to have something going for it.
The Heresy model dates from 1957, and was originally built as a centre speaker for stereo users of the Klipschorn. These require corner placement, which led to the enclosures being too far apart in some rooms. The Heresy was intended to cure the weak centre image ‘hole in the middle’ effect.
A compact three-way floorstanding design some 54cm (21ins) tall and 34cm (13.25ins) deep, and offering high sensitivity of around 99dB for 1W, the Heresy III was brought up to date for the company’s 60th anniversary in 2006. Updates include bi-wiring, a titanium dome horn-loaded midrange, and compression-driver tweeter. The bass unit – a healthy 300mm in diameter with 100mm voice coil – is not horn-loaded, however. So low frequency output is somewhat limited. Unfortunately, horn loading, high efficiency, and deep bass are not compatible with small size.
Mindful of their restricted bass output, I fancied partnering the Heresy IIIs with a Klipsch active subwoofer. I got the speakers and expected the sub to follow a week or so later. It didn’t, but this was a good thing. It forced me to listen to the Heresy IIIs solo for an extended period – longer than I probably would have done had the sub been around. First impressions were very positive – I liked the Heresy III’s presence and detail very much. They sounded crisp, immediate, and engaging – lively and energetic.
On the debit side, I noted an absence of tonal richness and weight. The sound lacked the sort of warmth and fullness I take for granted from the H1s. At least that’s how it struck me at first. But, curiously, the more I listened, the less this seemed to matter. After a couple of weeks, the lack of bass/tonal warmth hardly registered…
Actually, there’s nothing massively wrong with the quality of the Heresy III’s bass – it’s more a question of quantity. The speaker offers well-behaved low frequency performance, and sounds clean. It’s just that the bottom end is a bit meagre when contrasted with the sparkling energy and presence of the mid range and top.
The Heresy III produces a forward immediate sort of sound; crisp, sharp, and very tactile – it doesn’t hold back. I found this took a little getting used to. Driven by my regular Musical Fidelity kW750 ‘muscle amp’, the sound initially seemed almost a bit too sharp and up-front – albeit quite exciting.
Switching over to a Shanling MC-30 resulted in a smoother more relaxed sound. Being a transformer-coupled tube amp, the Shanling sounded less ‘in your face’. Its’ inherent refined sweetness reigned things back a bit, making the Heresy III’s ‘brightness’ and lack of tonal richness less of an issue.
The Heresy III is excellent on most types of music, but it’s particularly adept at reproducing instruments with fast transients – percussion for example. It creates a remarkably ‘big’ sound for what is a relatively small enclosure, producing room filling presence and dynamics without needing to be played loud.I found it especially good on classical vocal music – whether a solo singer, operatic, or massed chorus. It proved able to delineate each vocal strand in a (say) a Monteverdi Madrigal, while allowing separate voices to sing out with great individuality and presence. You could hear every word; every breath; every tonal nuance. Although the Heresy III has a somewhat forward tonal balance, it sounded surprisingly natural on voice. Choral music exhibited the sort of power and presence you hear live – the sound confidently projects out into the room and comes over to greet you, rather than seeming to stay ‘behind’ the speakers.
At the same time, voices sounded free of obvious coloration. There is perhaps a slight emphasis in the presence region (3-5k), but spend time with the speakers and this is hardly noticeable. Indeed, once you get used to Heresy IIIs, conventional speakers sound ‘wrong’ – small and recessed, with voices and instruments too far away.
The Heresy III achieves its ‘presence’ by virtue of horn-loaded mid and top drivers. In particular, the mid-range horn has an extended throat some 10ins or more deep, with a mouth measuring 9×3ins. The tweeter mouth is 4×2ins. This improves coupling to the air, creating the detail, attack, and efficiency horns are renowned for.
Eventually, a Klipsch RW-10d sub arrived. This is a medium/small sized active unit offering bass down to about 24Hz (-3dB point is 28Hz). It’s easy to install and offers adjustable volume level, frequency turnover, and phase to help you get the sub perfectly integrated with your main speakers.
The Heresy III’s lack of deep bass is actually an advantage when partnered with a sub. It means the sub can handle the low frequencies without too much overlap between it and the main loudspeakers. Adding the RW-10d sub took the Heresy III to a new level – it transformed the sound, as I hoped it would.
I immediately noticed increased richness and weight. There was greater warmth that enhanced tonal colour and bloom. At the same time, the high frequencies seemed more spacious and airy, while the soundstage had greater depth and a more holographic dimensionality. Heavy bass drum thwacks now had an impressive weight and power that hadn’t been there before. You heard a delicious subterranean ‘woompf’ that came and went, without adversely influencing the overall clarity of the sound. The air seemed to move with effortless ease, without affecting the midrange and top.
Adding the sub definitely improved the bass/treble balance. The trouble with a speaker like the Heresy III is its mid and top are so tactile and immediate, it needs similar qualities lower down to achieve equilibrium. I’m not saying Heresy IIIs can’t be used on their own – they can. But adding a sub helps equalise things.
Another major benefit of the Heresy III is the way its high efficiency makes amplifier power a non-issue; it pretty much tears up the rule book as to what you can and can’t use. The Shanling MC-30 being the perfect partner in crime here.
But with sensitivity close to 100dB, this option becomes distinctly viable – output power is no longer a deciding issue – though amplifier quality needs to be high. In this context, the sound of the MC-30 – smooth relaxed and refined – suits the crisp immediate tonal balance of the Heresy III perfectly. It’s a symbiotic match.
But I also used the Heresy III (with a high powered solid-state Bryston pre/power amp, and my own tube/transistor hybrid Musical Fidelity amps. If you prefer an even more immediate ultra-tactile sort of sound, big solid-state amps (like these) perform well. And the Heresy offers outstanding power handling.
Because of its high sensitivity, the Heresy III does not place excessive demands on the driving abilities of amplifiers that partner it. At the same time, its’ sharp focus and crisp detailed sound make it a very revealing transducer. It’s a contradictory mix – in some ways easy-going, in other respects very revealing.
It’s the same with recordings. Heresy IIIs are highly revealing of tiny details that other speakers mask, yet (paradoxically) it isn’t a pernickety speaker that exaggerates or emphasises flaws. For the most part, it plays to the strengths of each recording – it is revealing of faults but doesn’t make matters worse by emasculating the sound.
Recordings that seem cramped or muddy on ordinary loudspeakers, sound clear and full-bodied on Heresy IIIs. For all their brightness and immediacy, Heresy IIIs rarely sound coarse or grainy. Being horns, the midband is solid and firm, minimising the limitations of recordings with poor frequency range and limited dynamics.
As a result, they’re very good with old recordings. Perhaps surprisingly, they don’t emphasise things like tape hiss. You might expect a bright/forward speaker like the Heresy III to highlight background noise, but instead the music seems to be projected over any noise that might be present, making it subjectively less apparent.
The Heresy III is great on natural simply-miked recordings that aim to capture the music without exaggeration. With conventional loudspeakers, such recordings can sound a bit plain and underwhelming. But Heresy IIIs reveal lots of detail, and the speaker’s sheer presence ensures the sound is not emasculated.
They’re perhaps not so good on heavily compressed rock/pop, where the already ‘loud’ nature of the recording is made to seem even louder by the forwardness and presence of the speakers. The Heresy IIIs inherent forcefulness is not perhaps ideal for such material – though you could, of course, argue it enhances the impact!
Heresy IIIs are actually neat floorstanders, intended to sit on small plinth-like risers that tilt the front of the speaker back slightly. It would also be possible to use the speakers on small stands that lift them clear of the floor – or even wall shelves. This being the case, they might appeal to those listening in small rooms.
But while these speakers should perform well in a limited space, I fear their exceptional immediacy may prove a bit over-powering if heard too close-up. Like most horns, the Heresy III benefits from a degree of distance between loudspeaker and listener. So, try not to sit too close – give the speakers space to breathe. I sat about 3.6-4.5m back – sufficient distance to give the sound a chance to blend and integrate better. Horns tend to be at their best in medium/large rooms, and the Heresy III is no exception. You get a more holographic ‘out of the box’ kind of 3D soundstage as you move further back.
Of course, everything depends on the sort of sound you like. With Heresy IIIs, you’re effectively sat closer to the musicians. The H1 is akin to moving back 10 or 15 rows. Both speakers sounded very convincing, albeit different. The Klipsch is exceptionally involving – very good at recreating the excitement and drama of a live music event.
It has something of the electric immediacy you experience when you hear music played live. It really engages you – involves you in the action. It’s not, perhaps, a speaker for background listening, though the sound proved surprisingly easy to ‘talk over’, even when loud. It’s forceful and dynamic, but not brash or hectoring.
While I’m not quite ready to chop up my H1’s for firewood, the Heresy III definitely highlighted areas where my regular speakers could do better – showed me aspects of my own sound that might be improved. As a result, I made a few changes to my home system.
Even the fact that comparisons were invited is in itself remarkable. When you take the combined price of the speakers and sub, plus the fact that something like a Shanling MC-30 can be used, a pair of Klipsch Heresy IIIs (with or without the RW-10d sub) is a real high-end bargain.
Partner a pair of Heresy IIIs with an MC-30 and a Klipsch Sub, and you’ve an amazing system for just under £3k; a combination that punches well above its weight, if you like its basic sonic signature. It’s a system you might have to spend £6k (or more!) just to equal. So, definitely try to hear this combination before you spend £2k-3k on a set of speakers.
SPECS & PRICING
Klipsch Heresy III Loudspeakers
Frequency response: 58Hz-20kHz(+-)3dB
Power Handling: 100 w max continuous (400 w peak)
Sensitivity: 99dB @ 1watt/1meter
Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
Crossover Frequency: HF: 5000Hz LF: 850Hz
Maximum Acoustic Output: 116dB SPL
Tweeter: K-107-TI 1” (2.54cm) Titanium diaphragm compression driver
High Frequency Horn: Tractrix Horn
Midrange: K-53-TI 1.75” (4.45 cm) Titanium diaphragm compression driver
Mid Frequency Horn: Exponential Horn
Woofer: K-28-E 12” (30.48cm) Fiber-composite cone
Exposure Material: MDF
Exposure Type: Sealed
Dimensions (WxHxD): 23.81” (60.48 cm) x 15.5” (39.37 cm) x 13.25” (33.66 cm)
Weight: 44 lbs unboxed
Finishes: Walnut Lacquer, Cherry Lacquer, Black Lacquer
Klipsch and Shanling equipment supplied by Real Hi-Fi Company
Tel: 01257 473175