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REVIEW: Klipsch Cornwall Speakers

Model: Cornwall
Category: Speakers
Suggested Retail Price: $1800
Description: Three-way Speaker
Manufacturer URL: Klipsch

Review by Kristian on April 27, 2010 at 10:14:55
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for the Cornwall

This is an impression of Klipsch Cornwall IIIs.

I have played around with Hi-Fi for more than 30 years, and worked at a high-end dealer many years ago where we used to sell Klipsch. I've owned ribbon planars, dynamics of all types, and ATC actives, and heard many other things in between, so I have a keen sense of what's up and down.

I decided to hear these classic American speakers due to a stellar write-up/measurement test by an engineer nd at Stereoplay at the links below. Some of my favorite loudspeakers are/have been: Active ATCs, KEF Reference 105/3, Reference 2 and 3, Reference 3As of all sorts, Spendor SP1/2, SP100, Magnepan 20.1, Quad 2805, B&W 802D.

Cornwalls are an American audio icon. The originals were designed in 1959 and the latest version are easily comparable to the above speakers. They're 3-way, with horn loaded mid & tweeter and a direct radiating 15" driver. A big, old, out of style, anti-audiophile, but very fine loudspeaker. Luckily, a local dealer displays all Klipsch Heritage products. I listened to all of them last Saturday.

It's important to recall audiophiles' typically disdainful opinion of Klipsch Heritage speakers--something one would never be seen listening to, and particularly not own as that would impugn "audiophile" credibility. They obviously aren't any good as everyone knows without having heard them. I was in that camp, too. I'm not really an audiophile as I don't "believe" in pebbles, clocks, expensive cables, and other such stuff (been around too long).

The speakers were lined up in the delightful little mess of an audio store that is Simply Stereo of Hoffman Estates, Illinois. They are built beautifully, were set up suboptimally and run off fine electronics, Cambridge 840 Azur separates, through a couple of miles of regular wires, cheap patch cords, and an '80s speaker switcher.

The first notes from Monk's "Bemsha Swing" rang out, and the room filled with pin-sharp, fast, immediate, tonally natural, pure, slightly midrange oriented sound. You could *clearly* hear each of Monk's hits on the keys with impact, emphasizing that the piano is a persussive instrument. I was gobsmacked. For me, it was like a car enthusiast rediscovering the pleasures of pure, tactile driving when trying a 1973 Porsche 911 2.7RS after driving modern, hyper-fast and sticky sports cars that do everything perfectly. Sure, the old 911 won't stick as hard around corners; sure it's not as fast; no cupholders or airbags; sure it's not as economical; but it gives you a more tactile, seat-of-the-pants driving experience, with better smells, sound, feel, and fun than a modern 911, and you don't have to go nearly as fast to have maximal fun. Like Hi-Fi, modern cars are so focused on N-th degree performance that they often leave out the tactile experience of driving; modern Hi-Fi is so focused on the highest highs and lowest bass (where only about 20% of the music is) that whether the end result sounds like music is forgotten.

The bass was lightning fast, with smooth, extended but sweet highs, and the absence of any horn coloration or the slightest cupped sound. I did find that to exist in both the La Scala IIs and Klipschorns, the Cornwalls being smoother and better integrated, with none of the mid-bassy honk or time delay caused by horn-loaded bass/mid-bass. Remember, for those of you who consider this important, that Stereophile had La Scala IIs ranked in class A--and I'm quite sure Cornwall IIIs are better.

Playing Maria Callas on the Cornwalls gave me one of the most intense listening experiences I've *ever* had--Callas on *those* speakers on *that* day may be the most emotive sound I've *ever* heard. It was fantastic. She was present, projected into the room in 3D, a living, breathing Diva with her quirkily colored, gorgeous soprano. The Clash were there, a huge sound with massive punch and dynamics, every drum whack present, every touch of guitar strings laid bare, in the most natural, live-sounding manner.

Classical fared just as well, with Rubinstein playing Brahms on a concert grand in the room without truncating dynamics, and Yo-Yo Ma's cello sounding glorious on Bach's Cello Sonatas--you'd swear you could hear rosin coming off the bow. The same with Joshua Bell's violin on Voice of the Violin--if there's any hint of nasality or horn coloration, violin *will* bring it out. There was none.

The common denominator is the "live" quality of the sound which I haven't heard since I sold similar Klipsch speakers 20 years ago. There is a freedom from dynamic limitations, a feeling that the speakers are not limiting whatever dynamics are on the medium, something that is nearly always present on most speakers, planars in particular. It made me think that "audiophile" speaker design has forgotten a basic principle from the golden age of Hi-Fi, the importance of trying to capture the dynamics of live sound as best as possible with low distortion, in pursuing ever more top-end detail and stygian bass, which usually just causes problems in most rooms anyway.

There were modern "audiophile" Klipsch RF-83s right next to the Cornwalls, and they sounded sucked out in the midrange, lacking the presence, vividness, and live quality of the Cornwalls, but with objectively more extended highs and bass, making them sound artificial. That detail is an artifact of close-miked recording and audiophile's obsession with hearing everything breathed into the mike; that detail doesn't exist in the real world as it is quickly killed off by the surroundings and distance from the performers to the audience.

In the review below, note the amazingly low distortion and relatively flat in-room FR.

I am not alone in my sentiments. The German magazine Stereoplay ranked them "Absolute Spitzenklasse" (absolute top class)--as high as it gets, and ahead of many luminous modern speakers: http://www.stereoplay.de/Testbericht/Klipsch-Cornwall-III_1504981.html

For another review: http://sites.google.com/site/mitjaborko/audiopage3

So, if you can--give them a listen. They're stupendous.

Product Weakness: Big and boxy, they are old-school speakers slightly focused on the midrange, but only to the extent they sound natural in the sense of live in a concert hall; not the deepest bass.
Product Strengths: Live, impactful, fast, sweet sound--no harshness or expected horn colorations; smoother, more even response than La Scala IIs and Klipschorns. Super fast, tuneful bass.

Associated Equipment for this Review:

Amplifier: Cambridge 840XD
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Cambridge 840
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Cambridge 740
Speakers: -
Cables/Interconnects: -
Music Used (Genre/Selections): -
Room Comments/Treatments: shop room setup in room filled with other speakers, hardwired with basic wiring and speaker switcher
Time Period/Length of Audition: 3 hours
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): -
Type of Audition/Review: Dealer Demo

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Topic - REVIEW: Klipsch Cornwall Speakers - Kristian 10:14:54 04/27/10 (26)


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