For some, audio is a passion. Sometimes that passion turns into a career and, if you are fortunate, that career becomes a legend. One such figure that fits that mold is the late Paul W. Klipsch, the founder of Klipsch Audio Technologies and the inventor of one of the most recognizable speaker designs in audio-the Klipschorn. His hard work and dedication to improving audio ranks him as one of the most preeminent scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs in his field; his name will not soon be forgotten.
His interest in audio started at an early age with radio, even before it became a huge public hit. This interest led him to study electrical engineering at New Mexico A&M (now the New Mexico State University). Later, he furthered his education with a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. Throughout his early career, he worked in many capacities, from radio at General Electric to locomotive maintenance to geophysical (oil) exploration-in the latter, he registered eight patents. Yet, all the while he worked in his spare time, developing speaker designs. His goal was to create the sound of a live orchestra in a home environment.
But it wasn’t until after World War II, in which Klipsch served, that he resolved to focus his career on loudspeaker design. In 1946, the Klipsch Associates name was registered (he founded the company in 1941, though it was only made up of himself). He began to receive approval on several patent submissions and, by 1948, was able to start hiring actual employees.
In his day, the technology behind home audio presented the listener with several different problems. Stereos suffered from very low amplification and the speaker designs were inefficient for reproducing good sound. The result was low volume, high distortion, tonal imbalance and an uncontrolled spread of sound. It would take inspiration from musical instruments to find an answer to the problem.
Klipsch began experimenting with horns and discovered that by using a horn in the speaker design he could achieve four key benefits: higher efficiency with low distortion, accurate dynamic range, controlled directivity and flat frequency response. It also led him to develop what he called Klipsch’s Law-that distortion is inversely proportional to efficiency.
He used the horn design in the first speakers made available to the public, and it quickly earned him a respected reputation, not only for novel innovation, but a pretty good sounding speaker, too. His first designs required the listener to place the speaker, which was quite large by today’s standards, in a corner. It wasn’t until 1957, with the introduction of the Klipsch Heresy speaker, that a new design allowed for more free placement around the room (it was called the Heresy because it went against the acoustic principles of his first speakers. Ironically, according to his biography, the Heresy speakers became a bestseller in the church sound reinforcement market). In his tenure as the owner of Klipsch, other designs in the Heritage speaker for which he became know included the Klipschorn, LaScala, Belle and Cornwall.