Klipsch Palladium P-39F loudspeaker Page 2

Then there's that scrumptious cabinet. It has no parallel surfaces, and curves continuously from its tapered baffle to pointed rear spine. The cabinet—made of compressed laminated plywood, MDF, and particleboard—has an average thickness of 1", although the baffle is thicker and, where the woofers are mounted, is reinforced with steel. The cabinet's interior is extensively braced. Each speaker sits atop a high-mass machined metal baseplate tapped for spiked feet. Mounted low on one side of the P-39F are three flared port tubes—the look is old-school Pontiac. Access to the triwired speaker terminals is from under the baseplate, a discovery that elicited much swearing on the part of John Atkinson.

His tunes were frozen up in the horn
Other than the inconvenience of wiring the P-39Fs with audiophile-quality hawsers, setup was a snap. I could have used just about any amp in the house to drive the Palladiums' 95dB sensitivity, but the VTL MB-450 IIs were already on the amp stands. All I had to do was switch to the VTLs' triode mode—I sure didn't need all that pentode power.

I ended up placing the speakers 45" from the front wall and 32" from the sidewalls, toed in very slightly. Just an inch under 13' from my sweet spot, the P-39Fs "clicked" with my room as have very few loudspeakers, even far more expensive ones.

Sugar in the gourd and honey in the horn
Whatever it was I was expecting from a pair of horn speakers, what I got from the Palladium P-39Fs was sound that was balanced, relaxed, and assured. "Don't You Evah," from Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (CD, Merge MRG295), was rhythmically complex, with an incisive guitar solo. The music was lively, focused, and alive.

The uncharacteristically mellow moan of "Milano," from Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, and Victor Wooten's S.M.V. (CD, Dreyfus 369212), presented a huge soundstage and, in the B section of this ABA tune, dug deep, presenting all three bassists' thumb-popping prowess. The P-39F's specified response is 39Hz–24kHz, ±3dB, but it's only 10dB down at 28Hz—the way the Klipsches coupled to my room, that felt plenty deep.

With "Upstream," from k.d. lang's Watershed (CD, Nonesuch 406908), the P-39F presented the popping, bopping synth/bass underpinning to the song with a vivid, living presence. Lang's breathy vocals were slightly larger than life, but also remarkably seductive. In fact, the P-39F really shone with vocals—I couldn't get enough of Shelby Lynne's Just a Little Lovin' (CD, Lost Highway 9789), either.

For sheer goose bumps, however, very little can beat k.d. lang's version of "Hallelujah," on Watershed's bonus disc. Yes, it's probably time to call a moratorium on this Leonard Cohen chestnut, but talent will out—and lang's performance, recorded live, was a stunner through the P-39Fs. "Hallelujah" not only took my breath away, it reduced me to tears. Every. Damn. Time.

Nor do I mean that the Palladiums excelled at reproducing only female vocals. Playing Tom Russell's The Man from God Knows Where (CD, Hightone 8099), the way the Klipsches presented Russell's deep baritone was fairly magical—as was, for another example, Dave Van Ronk's hoarse, wheezy rant, "The Outcaste," also on this disc. (All Van Ronk fans owe it to themselves to hear not only this song, but also Russell's delightful salute to his old drinking buddy and mentor, "Van Ronk," from Veteran's Day: The Tom Russell Anthology.)

Then there was the 24-bit/88.2kHz master of Cantus's While You Are Alive (CD, Cantus CTS-1208), which I played back from a DVD-A John Atkinson had burned for me. Talk about goose-bump city—Eric Whitacre's Lux Arumque made my reaction to k.d. lang's "Hallelujah" seem mild. The P-39Fs glorified Cantus's extraordinary basses, and hung the tenors between the speakers in full-3D empalpification. Yes, feed the Klipsches a hi-rez signal and they'll definitely remind you of why you care about hi-fi. They take you there and get you closer.

Hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn
After I'd reviewed the YG Acoustics Anat Reference II Pro without directly comparing it with another $100,000/pair reference loudspeaker (Stereophile, March 2009), YG let me hang on to the Reference IIs with an ear toward making such a comparison in the near future. And as long as the YGs were still around, I reckoned I'd compare the Klipsch Palladium P-39Fs to the high-priced spread.

On several levels, such a comparison is unfair. Yes, the price difference of $80,000 is extreme, but also consider that the YG has an active woofer, so you'd expect it to go lower than the Klipsch—and it does. On the other hand, the YG is a pig to drive, and doesn't play well with tube amps—which means that the price of entry for the YGs is considerably higher than $100,000. The Klipsches are easy to drive, so more of your budget can go for the speakers themselves.

Spoon dug deeper and rocked harder through the YGs, but while the difference was audible, it wasn't overwhelming. Perhaps much of this was the result of how nicely the P-39Fs "fit" my room—or perhaps it was my awareness that the difference in price between the two loudspeakers would make an acceptable down payment on my brownstone.

With k.d. lang, Shelby Lynne, Tom Russell, and Cantus, I could hear more detail and ambience through the YGAs—though I don't think that translated into greater involvement with the music itself. More is better, of course, but there was something special about the way the P-39F handled the human voice that even a loudspeaker costing five times as much had a hard time trumping.

Everything else being equal, the Anat Reference II Pros unassailably performed better than the Klipsches in terms of frequency response, retrieval of detail, and holographic imaging. But everything else wasn't equal—the YGAs are all about extracting the last dollop of performance from an audio chain in which every component is operating a level of perfection. And while the Palladium P-39F, too, is extremely well engineered, it seems designed to function in the rather messier world that I live in—a world in which less-than-perfect rooms abound and where price matters. The fact that I felt an intense emotional connection to the music almost every time I played recordings through the Klipsches is no trivial detail.

Out of the mouth of Plenty's horn
Are there better loudspeakers for $20,000/pair than the Klipsch Palladium P-39F? Possibly—I haven't heard every one of them yet. (Give me time and I'll certainly try.) What I can tell you is that the P-39F surprised me with its balance, lively sound, and ungimmicky naturalness. It's well built and, I think, really good-looking. If, like me, you think you know what a horn speaker sounds like, the P-39F just might astound you. It certainly astounded me. It's what you learn after you know it all that really counts.

Klipsch Audio Technologies
3502 Woodview Trace, Suite 200
Indianapolis, IN 46268
(800) 544-1482