The Truth About Klipsch Heresy Speakers: A Review

Let’s have a little talk about Klipsch Heresy speakers, those little wooden floorstanders that rise only to the knee. They are cool looking, but are they worth owning?

The Heresy is the smallest (and cheapest) member of the Klipsch Heritage family, a line of midcentury Klipsch speakers that the company never stopped making. Even today, Klipsch will sell you a high-end old speaker, with “vintage” sound, brand new from the factory.  The Heritage line has been tweaked over the years, but nothing significant enough to justify replacing an old one with a newer one. Heritage speakers, including the Heresy, are essentially the same speakers available in the 1950s.

Heritage speakers have developed a cult following. The faithful insist that music never sounds as lifelike as it does through a horn-driven Klipsch, at least not for the price, or even double. The speakers are fabled for their dynamics and life-sized sound, and they accomplish all this with an old “vintage” sound. Paul W. Klipsch, the late company founder, is so highly thought of that some regard his designs as the pinnacle of speaker technology. The speakers aren’t cheap: Klipsch wants $1,000 USD per Heresy speaker. As an avid music listener and audiophile, I had to buy a pair of these and hear them for myself.

I found a pair Heresy speakers in the local classifieds for $400. They were in good shape, but they were older Heresys from the 1980s, so I took to refurbishing them. I put in new crossovers from Crites Speakers, which I am told brought the speakers up to date. The tweeters were blown (I’m not sure if I blasted them or if they came that way) so I installed a shiny new pair of tweeters too, also from Crites. The speakers didn’t have the wooden bases that tilt the speakers backward, so I found a pair of those and installed them too. All in all, I’m into the speakers over $800 so I won’t ever sell them. They’re mine now.

How do the Heresys sound? Well, vintage. Perhaps a better term is old. They’re unrefined and they lack the clarity and control of modern speakers. Complex pieces of music with lots of parts confuse the hell out of them and things are muddled. That’s bad. But remove the complexity and they can shine. In music with emphasis on one voice or one instrument, like bebop and cool jazz or Bach’s St. Matthew Passion they really can sing. In cases where straight-up clarity isn’t as important, the Heresys can even be breathtaking. A soprano can sound alive. A saxophone or trumpet sounds there. It’s haunting.

But only every once in a while. Most of the time I hear only the lack of clarity and the hollow sound. Pop sounds terrible, especially tracks with dynamic compression, and rock is messy until a guitar solo shows up. Bass response is bad, too. The Heresys can reach 50Hz, but it sounds more like 100Hz or even higher. Bass does not exist with the Heresys. Poof, gone. They require a subwoofer, and not just for hip-hop or electronic music. They need a subwoofer for everything, always.

I found the horn-loaded tweeters piercing. They don’t exactly sound shouty, as some suggest, but they are shrill. I tamed this problem by using toilet paper – seriously. One piece of bathroom tissue greatly calmed down the midrange drivers, and the tweeters got two pieces overlaid. I taped the tissue to the backside of the grilles; the white paper is visible underneath the grille, but only barely. It’s a workable solution, albeit an annoying one.

Klipsch owners are quick to suggest modifications to improve sound. The toilet paper fix was one such suggestion. Others change out the drivers, modify the crossovers, and even replace the enclosure. The thing is, after a few modifications you no longer have a Klipsch. You instead have a Ship of Theseus. It begs the question, if Klipsch Heresy speakers greatly benefit from modification, or even replacement, are they worthy of praise in the first place?

I find the Heresys frustrating because they have such huge strengths yet such glaring shortcomings. Music often sounds like it’s coming from down a hallway and around a corner, and just as quickly it can grab my attention as something amazing comes through. They’re dynamic as advertised, that much is true, and they can run on very low power, if you care (I don’t). Sure, they can go loud, but that's hardly unusual. The Heresys' big selling point is style, and they are so cool. Retro-chic is in, and if you want a midcentury speaker that looks (and sounds) the part, look no further than the Klipsch Heresy. I’m keeping mine because they're cool and because I can’t sell them for what I paid. Right now, they’re disconnected and serving as stands for a pair of modern bookshelf speakers – an apt allegory, I think.

Let the flaming begin.

The Klipsch Heresy is priced at $2,000/pair, but better speakers are available for less. I suggest Bowers and Wilkins CM5 or KEF LS50 instead.