Apart from a 2004 column in which I made cruel fun of the angriest (footnote 1) complaints I'd received to that pointan entertaining if lazy template I hope to re-use before longI've done little to acknowledge the mail I receive every week, most of it thoughtful and positive. I'm especially grateful for the nice letters I get every time I write about vintage audio, as I did in Stereophile's August issue ("Five vintage loudspeakers you should hear before you die"): The art of music is best served by an open-minded approach to playback gear, and I'm encouraged to think that some Stereophile readers actually understand that.
Of course, there remain a few readers at the other end of the spectrum: people who chafe at every challenge to their own and their gurus' well-worn opinions. In response to that August column, and excepting the readers who were merely frustrated that their own vintage-speaker choices didn't make the cut, the complaints amounted to little more than the usual wheeze about "distortion lovers" who refuse to wave the flag for stereo imaging effects and timbral "neutrality" (and never mind all those silly notes and beats).
Thankfully, and against the best efforts of at least two great men of the fourth estate, the freedom endures to choose whatever combination of performance characteristics one wishes. And for hobbyists who value imaging and neutrality above all else, vintage loudspeakers in particular really are a poor choice. But the hobbyist who would condemn his peers for choosing old gear over new would do well to remember: All perfectionist audio is vintage audio. In the greater context of Western consumerism, virtually no one buys separate amps and preamps. Virtually no one buys separate CD transports and digital/analog converters. And virtually no one thinks that the Bose Wave, itself considered a wild extravagance by most Americans, is anything less than the zenith of domestic playback quality. In 2012, any high-quality music system is an anachronism: For the owner of a three-box dCS digital front end to condescend to someone who owns and enjoys an old EMT turntable and a collection of pickup heads is the saddest example of hypocrisy, hubris, and sheer jackassedness I have yet to see from this hobbyand that's saying something.
Next year's orthodoxy
Before taking a second look at the Line Magnetic 755 I loudspeaker, with its old-style field-coil drivers and power supplies, let's turn our attention to another vintage-inspired loudspeaker, this one with a decidedly modern permanent magnet: "a machine that winds its own spring," to paraphrase the French physician Julien Offray de la Mettrie (17091751).
In this instance, the words "vintage-inspired" don't go far enough: The coelacanthic Klipsch Heresy III ($850 each: Klipsch's pricing conventions are decidedly mono-friendly) is among domestic audio's living fossils, the original Heresy having been introduced in 1957 as a "center-channel" speaker for use with stereo pairs of the original Klipschorn (introduced in 1946, also still in production). The name is said to have sprung from inventor Paul Klipsch's apparently healthy sense of irony: The Heresy was the first Klipsch loudspeaker to lack a horn-loaded bass drivera departure from Klipsch form that a friend and fellow audio enthusiast described as "heretical." The name gained traction in the early 1970s, when a Klipsch advertising campaign cited the use of Heresy speakers in the PA system of Holy Cross Episcopal Church, in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The Heresy III, which the manufacturer says is little changed from the original, is a three-way loudspeaker in a simple sealed enclosure. The MDF cabinet stands only 24" tallthe Heresy looks much bigger in photographsyet incorporates a removable frame-style base that tilts the baffle up toward the listening area. The Heresy III's tweeter is a 1" titanium-dome unit, fitted to a molded Tractrix horn with an integral waveguide; the mouth of the horn is approximately 4.5" wide. Midrange frequenciesfrom approximately 850Hz to 5kHz, according to Klipsch's specificationsare handled by a compression driver with a titanium diaphragm, loaded with a molded exponential horn. The latter extends a full 11" into the Heresy III's cabinet, and its mouth is approximately 9" wide.
The woofer is no less anachronistic: For frequencies below 850Hz, Klipsch selected a very-low-excursion driver with an 11" pulp cone, a generously sized dustcap made from an apparently different type of paper, and a stiff surround of impregnated fabric. Like the midrange and treble drivers, the woofer is fastened directly to the MDF baffle with wood screws. The Heresy III's internal crossover network is designed to allow biwiring; two pairs of binding posts are fitted to a recessed, molded fixture of the usual sort, and brass shorting links are supplied. The Heresy III is described as having an electrical sensitivity of 99dB/W/m and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms.
Could the $1700/pair Klipsch Heresy III be the cheapest route to the sort of touch and impact associated with vintage horn speakers. Based on their performance in my roomabout 2.5' from the front wall, 1.5' from the sidewalls, and slightly toed-in toward the listening areaone could be forgiven for thinking so. The drum intro to "Caravan," from the classic album Money Jungle, by Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach (LP, United Artists/Classic 15017), was a delight: as wonderfully tactile as I've ever heard it. The piano was a bit clangy at times but not horribly so, and the string bass had superb texture and color.
But the Heresy III was less than ideal for well-recorded classical music. The sense of touch that served the speaker so well with Roach's drumming simply wasn't enough to communicate all the force of Mahler's Symphony 2 with the Utah Symphony under Maurice Abravanel (LP, Vanguard/Classic VCS-10003). More to the point, the Klipsch's tweeter imparted a hint of stridency to the sounds of flutes and the upper harmonics of the strings.
Additional listening confirmed my mixed impressions. I loved the Heresy III's bass performance, and even though the speaker didn't go terribly deep (Klipsch says the Heresy III extends to 58Hz; corner placement helped it go a little deeper than that in my room), low-frequency notes were realistically taut and fast, with lots of substance and very good touch. In "Bitch," from the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers (LP, Rolling Stones COC 59100), the kick drum and electric bass had terrific body and momentum. I heard the same qualities in Paul Chambers's string bass in "Flamenco Sketches," from Miles Davis's Kind of Blue (LP, Columbia/Classic CS 8163). As I scribbled in my listening notes, "This is exactly how I think a string bass ought to sound." The Heresy III didn't allow the instrument its full weight, of course, but it had color and body, and it played the notes engagingly, in tune and in time.
But the trebles on the Stones LP, which are less than silky to begin with, sounded raspy and tiresome. On Kind of Blue, Miles's trumpet sounded slightly brittle at times (and Julian Adderley's alto sax was a little too spitty). And later that same evening, when I put on the Amadeus Quartet's great recording of Schubert's String Quartet 14 in d, D.810 ("Death and the Maiden") (LP, Deutsche Grammophon), the first word out of my mouth was, literally and reflexively, "Ouch."
The Klipsch Heresy III had a little more bass than the Line Magnetic 755 I. It was also more sensitive, and capable of sounding bigger when sited in the corner. I enjoyed those qualities thoroughly. But while its upper-frequency harshness wasn't severe, it was sufficiently audible in my room to be a deal breaker. At the end of the day, I found myself wondering if the Klipsches might be more suitable for larger rooms, where listeners and horns can maintain a more respectful distance from one another.
I sing the magnet electric
John Atkinson visited my home earlier this summer, as did Jonathan Halpern of Tone Imports (US distributor of Shindo, Auditorium 23, and Line Magnetic). Neither dropped by just to play around with the stereowe had some very important eating and drinking to do that daybut we nevertheless listened to a few records, including some of our favorite Ella Fitzgerald sides. After a while, JA said that the Line Magnetic 755 I loudspeaker's lack of bass extension detracted from his enjoyment of the music, and suggested swapping in another new speaker that had just arrived for review. Hot on the heels of that observation, JH mentioned that he had yet to try the very new 755 I in a variety of different rooms, so he couldn't swear that its floorstanding cabinet would place its single driver at precisely the correct height for every listener in every setting.
Footnote 1: A chronically angry audiophile, which most of us would charitably take to mean a chronically angry music lover, is the same as a chronically obese nutritionist: a failure.