Contributor: Michele Surdi

Spoiler stand-down. No scoops here. In fact, the most perfunctory of web searches will tell you that along with the BBC LS3/5a, the Klipsch Heresy is one the most hackneyed subjects in hifi history. Any number of reviews, from authoritative evaluations—my favorite is Dick Olsher’s in The Abso!ute Sound of December 2010—to current and cursory blurbs, specialized multilingual fora, endless tweaking schemes and YouTube videos testify to both speakers’ continuing popularity; and to Klipsch’s marketing persistence in the last six decades or so. So why yet another tyre-kicking foray? It started out this way. Bearing in mind that I am a sucker both for vintage products and high-sensitivity speakers, a summer discount for a pair of Heresy IIIs proved irresistible particularly since I bought them at the € equivalent of their Amazon $ sticker, i.e. at more or less half of our importer’s inflated Italian street price. Also, I have recently repossessed my beloved Harbeth P3ESR which now have passed the definitive keeper test, from brain-dead trade out to tearful remorse to guilt-stricken buyback. This and the fact that I run a number of amps which have been reviewed here made me think about putting on a show, namely a considered shootout between the third iteration of the Colonel’s honkytonk girls and Alan Shaw’s blue-blooded British ladies. These last, which for my twice shelled-out money considerably improve upon their aforementioned BBC forebears, have been called polite in certain juvenile reviewing circles. Once deemed laudatory, this adjective is now apparently a cuss word. But what can you really expect these days?

Before getting into technicalities, let’s run by the test rigs. Chip and sand amps were the enduring Trends TA10.2P SE; and Nelson Pass’ authentic Firstwatt F5. Glass amps were Tektron’s TK 6EM7S-I Reference micro amp (more on this later); and Nagra’s one-percenter 300p. Ancillaries were both basic (Audioquest’s latest version Dragonfly connected to an Airbook running Audirvana-free on Lion and to an Audioquest Evergreen cable) and higher end (Nagra’s CDC CDP/pre backed by the firstborn PLP preamp and Van den Hul First Ultimate and Integration wires), with my Tannoy Canterbury speakers staying on the sidelines. Since the available combinations would glaze over even the most committed audiophile's eye, I opted for some context-oriented simplifications. First, the shootout would involve separate basic and high-end combinations, to wit Audirvana and Dragonfly on Trends and Tektron, with Nagra sources on 300p and F5 and no deliberate cross evaluation. Second, speaker cable would be Van den Hul’s overachieving entry-level Skyline Hybrid throughout. Third, musical offerings would be downsized to two inveterate chestnuts to save time and give readers a well-known musical touchstone.

As to specifics, the origins of the two speakers are as apart as can be, third-channel reinforcement for monster cornerhorns on one hand, nearfield broadcast monitoring on the other. The Heresy is a freak, a bona fide acoustic suspension 12-inch paper woofer with a throwback pleated cloth surround anchoring midrange and tweeter horns. Acoustic suspension is necessarily insensitive, horns are notoriously susceptible so this scheme is bound to involve some radical crossover fixes. The most ordinary P3s are sealed acoustic boxes too, albeit of the infinite baffle persuasion, with the usual Bextrene-derived 5-inch quacker and a metal dome tweeter. On paper, this is a very unexciting solution but solid engineering and painstaking voicing have turned the midget monkey coffins into an acknowledged icon (check out John Atkinson in Stereophile of August 2010). The downside is an overbuilt crossover network and a correspondingly stunted sensitivity. The Heresy, itself hardly a slouch in the chimp crate department, comes in at a stated 99B but, as per Dick Olsher’s informed comment, this is a very debatable figure. Still, we can safely assume that at 95dB+, even flea-on-flea amps may apply. The Harbeth on the contrary clocks out at a numbing 84dB. This apparently puts them squarely in the ampere vampire camp. Apparently, because these figures are misleading. Remember that sealed 12 incher? Getting it to keep up with two overreacting horns mandates wall-of-death phase angles. Those make the Heresy a considerably less docile load than its volcanic sensitivity would suggest. The frigid Harbeth’s tranquil impedance plots on the contrary are a textbook example of an amp-friendly speaker.