It's hard to imagine an audio world without the name “Klipsch” in the vocabulary. By all accounts, Klipsch founder Paul Klipsch was a one-off – a man with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and discovery that resulted in speaker concepts and designs that still exist decades after inking the first blueprints. In high-end audio, few things last long enough to become buzzwords or achieve classic status. Audiophiles often speak in hushed tones of reverence for Marantz's 10B tuner, Dynaco's ST-70 amplifier and Acoustic Research's AR turntables. That list must certainly include the Klipschorn – Paul Klipsch's venerable loudspeaker design still capturing the imagination and ears of audio enthusiasts as we approach the year 2010.
It's a remarkable accomplishment that spits in the face of such technological “upgrades” as Windows 7 and other patches to fix what was never whole to begin with. The Klipschorn has been in production for 60 years and, I hope, for decades to come. I concede the Klipschorns take up significant chunks of space and wattage that restrain them primarily to the audiophile world -you can't stick such a beautiful beast into a wall (why would you?) or out of sight. But don't give up on horns quite yet – even as I was ready to. If your listening room or budget is less grand, let me introduce the Klipsch WF-34s. These floorstanding loudspeakers failed to impress me initially, but like some of my dearest friends revealed their true value over time.
The WF-34s are one of five offerings in Klipsch's Icon W speaker lineup and carry an MSRP of $1,199 per pair. They stand 34 inches tall, and in that respect look like traditional floor-standing speakers, but they are less than 7 inches wide and only 9.5 inches deep, lacking the bulk of many other floor-standers. If you have limited space and want a floor-standing speaker for either 2-channel audio or as part of a surround sound system but have limited space, the WF-34s will fit where other floor-standers won't.
Klipsch speakers have long been associated with horns, and the WF-34s carry forward that tradition with the new XT Tractrix Horn. The Tractrix is a four-and-a-half inch horn that projects an 80-degree by 80-degree sound image, giving music more dimensionality and wider soundstage. Klipsch asserts the horns also more forgiving of a room's acoustics and overall placement. A 1-inch titanium diaphragm compression driver is partnered with the horn for optimum high frequency response and performance. The WF-34s feature three 4 & 1/2-inch triple-woven fiberglass cone woofers and a pair of rear-firing ports on the back.
The WF-34s are also extremely sensitive, rated at 95.5 dB at 8 Ohms, so you can drive the speakers at very low volumes, even with low-wattage amps. If you live in an apartment, condominium or other dwelling where neighbors are nearby, you and they will both appreciate keeping the music to yourself.
The speakers look great, too, and come wrapped in a Berlinia veneer from West Africa that Klipsch says is a renewable resource. Two finish options are offered: Cabernet or a darker Espresso. Both feature a beautiful glossy finish, achieved after staining, by applying 10 coats of polyurethane, with each coat being sanded for uniform thickness. The WF-34s sport magnetic grills, making it easy to take the covers on and off without worrying about putting pegs back into holes or having them break off. The WF-34s sport two pairs of binding terminals for optional bi-wiring, and accept bare speaker wire, bananas and spade terminals.
Most speakers I receive for review come with a caveat of, “Please allow 'X' number of hours of break-in before critical listening.” The majority require less than the suggested time. When I spoke with Mark Casavant, Klipsch's Vice President of Product Development, he cautioned against forming any quick opinions about the WF-34s, noting that they needed a full period of break-in before ready. After letting the speakers break in for several days I started listening and wasn't impressed. The WF-34s sounded shrill and icy to me, with far too much emphasis on the high end. Perhaps I was biased?
I invited some music-loving friends over and we decided to open it up and see if the WF-34 could hold its own against other speakers in the review line. The consensus favored every other speaker, regardless of price or design. That included the Davone RITHMs (MSRP $,5,595) all the way down to Athena's two-way AS-B1 bookshelf speakers, an over-achieving tandem no longer manufactured but that came to me for $150. Conversations with others in the audio industry outside of Klipsch weren't encouraging, including one comment, “Yeah, Klipschs will tear your head off.” And that's just how I felt. I struggled to listen and decided that these speakers just weren't for me. I knew horns were fast, but speed can be tempered with mid- and low-range balance – something I wasn't hearing.