Don't back down: Klipsch Heresy III speakers

Klipsch's original "compact" speaker gets the Audiophiliac's juices flowing.

Klipsch Heresy III Klipsch

At less than 24 inches tall, the Klipsch Heresy III is the shortest floor-standing speaker I've ever tested. Don't let its diminutive stature fool you. This speaker can outrun many a tower speaker -- and outlast them. In an age of disposable tech, any speaker that sticks around for five years or more is noteworthy, but Klipsch's Heresy has been in continuous production since 1957. And the Heresy III outshines most contemporary high-end speakers in a few key performance areas.

Dynamic impact and bass "slam," courtesy of the Heresy III's 12-inch woofer, are extraordinary. Vocals have more "body" and fullness than those from most large speakers. The Heresy III sounds like a blast from the past; it's the speaker equivalent of a 1960s muscle car -- like a Pontiac GTO or Dodge Charger. The Heresy III lacks finesse, but it's a lot of fun to listen to.

Speaking of power, the Heresy III doesn't need a lot of it to make a big sound; it's remarkably efficient, so it can play loud with as little as 10 watts, but it still handles up to 400 watts on "peaks." I used a 40-watt-per-channel NAD C 316BEE integrated amp ($380) for all of my listening tests. The Heresy III's 12-inch fiber-composite woofer is mounted in a sealed, non-ported cabinet. The ultrahigh efficiency of the design must be credited to the Heresy III's horn-loaded midrange and tweeter drivers -- more specifically, the 1-inch compression tweeter and 1.75-inch compression midrange driver. Horns are an essential part of the company's DNA, starting with its very first speaker, the Klipschorn, and that one debuted in 1946! Like the Heresy, Klipschorn has never gone out of production, and is still built in Klipsch's Arkansas factory.

The Heresy III measures 23.8x15.5x13.25 inches. My samples were beautifully finished in real cherry wood. Walnut and black finishes also are available.

The Heresy III, shown without grille. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Played at near-live concert volume, Wilco's "Kicking Television" CD knocked me over and straightened me right up. The sound in my listening room was closer to a live rock concert sound system than I've heard from a lot of much more expensive and bigger speakers. That's what the Heresy IIIs do so well, and once you experience that sort of sound at home, a set of Sonos wireless speakers won't cut it anymore.

Duke Ellington's "Jazz Party" LP sounded remarkably vivid over the Heresy IIIs; the energy of a big band isn't easy to reproduce. Most speakers clamp down on the horns' power and presence, miniaturizing their sound. Not this time -- turn up the volume, and you'll feel a large dose of Ellington's music coming through the Heresy IIIs.

Bass "kick" and definition are exceptional; you'll feel the bass. True, bass extension isn't subwoofer deep -- it reaches down to 50 hertz in my large room, and I would have expected more from a speaker with a 12-inch woofer. Still, acoustic and electric bass instruments are well-served by the Heresy IIIs. You'd have to spend a lot more on speakers to outdo the combination of low-down clarity and punch.

Play any well-recorded piece of music, turn up the volume, and you'll be treated to something rare, the full dynamic jolts that no small speaker can ever approach. Heck, a lot of big speakers can't reproduce the crack of a snare drum like the Heresy IIIs can. It's similar to what I get from Zu speakers , but the Heresy III's bass definition exceeds the Zu's. On the other hand, the Zu speakers sound clearer and more detailed overall. No speaker gets everything just right -- the Heresy IIIs come up short on resolution and detail. I sometimes wished for more clarity.

The Heresy III's strengths really came to the fore in my two-channel home theater. They reproduce movies' dynamics with ease, and dialogue was natural and highly articulate. I also found myself listening to a lot of vinyl over the Heresy IIIs, because these speakers emphasized all the things I like about the sound of records. I noticed it was impossible to read while playing LPs via the Heresy IIIs -- the sound was that good! I thoroughly enjoyed my time with these speakers.

The Heresy III is sold through Klipsch's brick-and-mortar and online dealers, and direct from Klipsch's Web site for $850 each.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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