What Does "Horn-Loaded" Even Mean?

The GIGO Machine

Klipsch products are designed to be truth-tellers

Klipsch KHorn Speakers with Pathos Amp

Klipsch speakers are such good value that it's not top heavy to put $16,500 Klipsch Khorns on the end of a $50,000 amp, here the new Pathos Legacy.

"When the laws of physics change, we will adapt immediately."

That's what Paul W. Klipsch would say to people complaining that his company never changes its speaker design. Paul's designs, after all, are based on sound scientific principles that form the "four pillars" of Klipsch:

  • High efficiency, low distortion
  • Wide and flat frequency response
  • Wide dynamic range
  • Controlled coverage

"We're doing it backward," once said Mr. K, as he's known to his employees. He was referring to designs that horn-loaded the high and mid frequencies only. Mr. K realized that they should be horn-loading the low frequencies first because that's where the energy of instruments and voices are.

We gained this insight one recent afternoon at the main Upscale demo room, where Mike Dyer, Klipsch Heritage brand ambassador, and Roy Delgado, principal engineer at Klipsch, were conducting a training session.

What is Horn-Loading?

Essentially, horn-loading involves putting a carefully designed trumpet in front of a driver to have it play louder. Mike Dyer from Klipsch described it as an impedance-matching device. He asked us to imagine he was on the field in a large stadium and then turned and made a raspberry sound with his lips. 

"Thanks for that," said Roy, wiping his face. They have fun, the Klipsch guys.

No one would hear the sound made with just your mouth, said Mike. Now imagine putting a horn to your lips, a trumpet, trombone, or tuba. Make the sound with the same energy, and the entire stadium will hear it.

"I've just better coupled this diaphragm," said Mike, indicating his mouth, "to the sea of air that we listen to." Looked at another way, the trumpet has greatly raised the impedance of the atmosphere, allowing you to focus and direct your sound-making energy.

In a Klipsch speaker, the result is that you can have loud sound with very little driver movement, which means far less distortion and great dynamics. Mike described a test where a 38 Hz tone was played at 100 W RMS ("very, very loud"), and the maximum woofer travel on a horn-loaded Klipsch 15" woofer was just one-eighth of an inch.

Klipsch Horn Speakers

The Klipsch Jubilee is a fully horn-loaded two-way speaker. Hear what a 12" horn-loaded woofer can do!

What Is Special about Klipsch?

Those of you with regular cone speakers that you love might wonder what would make you jealous when you heard a Klipsch. It would most likely be the dynamics. A snare drum on horn-loaded speakers hits hard and sharp and sounds far more realistic than on a cone speaker, which sounds damped and smoothed.

Even with, say, a cello, there are high-frequency edges and bites that make you really sense the squeak of the bow on the string before the actual sound emanates. You have to agree with Mike when he says that no matter how amazing the monitor sound is in a studio, a Klipsch sounds like what's happening on the other side of the glass.

And because Klipsch speakers are designed to be truth-tellers, sometimes the truth can be harsh. "This is a GIGO machine," said Mike, pointing at the Khorns, referring to the old computing acronym, Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Mike is a second-generation double bass player and still clearly remembers his first encounter with Klipsch several decades ago.

Mike is a big fan of jazz bassist Ron Carter. "He was my Eric Clapton." He had seen Ron play and knew he had a couple of different basses, but when listening to his favorite tracks, Mike never knew which one Ron was playing. Then he got to listen to one of his favorite tracks on a pair of Klipsch Heresy, and "Ron hit the first note, and I knew what bass he was playing, I didn't even know how I knew."

Jubilee Celebrations

With the visit of the Klipsch team and a recent event for customers to meet Roy Delgado, it's been a real Klipsch deep dive for us the last couple of weeks. We currently have the biggest Klipsch, the Jubilee, set up in our demo room, powered by two PrimaLuna EVO 400 power amps (the Jubilees have an external active crossover). Our vice president, Craig Hoffman, heard them and said, "The Jubilee sound is slightly relaxed with heaps of body and presence. Even at lower volumes, I could feel the weight of the music."

Craig found that the Jubilee completely captivated him no matter what he played, from poorly recorded jazz and classic rock to modern high-resolution tracks. And though they're big speakers, Craig points out, "because these can be placed in the corners, they consume less floor space than most other speakers that sound best pulled out far from the back wall."

We will have the Jubilee set up for a while. Make an appointment and listen to some horns!

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We're Open on Saturdays

Upscale Audio Headphone Showroom

The Upscale Audio store at 2058 Wright Avenue in La Verne is open on Saturdays from 9 to 5. We will be running with a smaller crew, and there are a couple of important things to note:

1) As with all other days, you'll need to call ahead and set up an appointment for a specific demo. If you decide to drop by, you won't be turned away, but your auditions will be limited to our headphone station and—only if the rooms are free—whatever systems we already have set up.

2) The warehouse will be closed, so if you need to pick up something, please call ahead, and we'll ensure we bring it over by Friday. If you buy something while you're here, it might be cheaper to ship it! After all, shipping is free above $49, and you'll save a little on La Verne city tax. Unless you live in La Verne...

Please call 909.931.9686 to make a demo appointment.

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