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October / November 2009
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Klipsch Palladium P-39F Speaker
New Klipsch flagship puts horns on top.
Review By A. Colin Flood

Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

Klipsch Palladium P-39F Speaker  Before Sony Walkmans, CD players, chip amplifiers, Woodstock and iPods, Klipsch built loudspeakers. They began in the U.S. in 1946. Today, big ole Klipsch horns are still renowned for their large, fully horn-loaded designs providing ultra-high sensitivity and extremely low distortion. Their Klipschorns are the only loudspeakers to be in continuous production for over six decades.  Klipsch now has several loudspeaker brands. They also own Mirage, Energy and Jamo speakers. The Palladiums are their top of the line models.

At first glance, the P-39Fs are not gorgeously impressive loudspeakers. Finished in Zebrawood veneer with a Merlot stain, they are narrow and tall columns, only foot wide and almost five feet tall. There isn't much surface area to grab your eyes. Plastic squares on top form a gray face. Two horns form an eye and a mouth. The squares make the P-39Fs look like products off a Best Buy shelf. Yet they clearly mark the P-39Fs not only as Klipsch products, but also as something different in loudspeaker design. Wave-guides, looking like fat phase plugs, stare out of the mid and high end horns.

After closer inspection though, the Klipsch P-39F sculpture grows on you. Like the latest S class models of Mercedes Benz, the smooth curves of the P-39F belie their stiff construction, hefty weight and majestic performance. There is not one, not two, but three, smooth faced, silver 9-inch cones staring back at you. The wood stripes of the P-39Fs curve away like the boat tail on a classic Chris Craft. The stern, where you anchor the P-39Fs to the amplifiers, sports three fist-size woofer ports. As with any exquisite beauty, the P-39Fs look good from any angle. Yes, they are the best-looking Klipsch loudspeaker.

The Klipsch P-39F bass response is not surprisingly deep for such big beauties. It is a modest 39 Hz, a point easily accomplished by other full size, audiophile speakers, including many that don't cost $20,000 per pair. (See Nel's Salk Song Towers or the Newtronics Skates.) In fact, the P-39F frequency response and sensitivity is quite similar to the $1000 RF-82 loudspeakers that Klipsch describes as the "wheelhouse" of their line: the point at which the best value for the money revolves. The P-39F response however is an important +/-3 dB. None of these specs matter of course, if the loudspeaker doesn't sound like the real thing. Power handling is a huge 1600 watts peak and sensitivity is a very high 99dB/W/m. This means the P-39Fs don't need, but they can handle, a lot of power.

Their nominal impedance however, is a challenging 4 Ohm, meaning that the amplifier, small as it can be, had better be a capable of pushing the woofers around. Thankfully, the P-39Fs can be tri-wired or even tri-amplified, but to bi-amp them, you need to bridge two of the three connections on the back. I would love to hear them with a tube amplifier on the mid and high end. Maximum output of two P-39Fs in a room is rated at 126 dB; loud enough to reproduce the peaks of any musical instrument.

I heard the Palladium system in a home theater room at A Sound Decision. This is a full-service, high-end audio-visual store on the ocean side of Tampa Bay . Owners Terry and Natalie Moore have been in business eight years, but Terry has been in audio/video for 25 years. The Moores recently finished three HT rooms. Their main room seats 13 in comfy Bell'O theater chairs on staggered steps. The room has a 156-inch Stewart CineCurve screen and a JVC RS20 projector with Panamorph Anamorphic Lens to enhance the picture quality on the large screen. Custom Matinee Acoustics panels on the ceiling and walls cancel room reflections. There is no equalization in the audio chain. Theirs is one of only two Palladium HT displays in south Florida .

No speakers appear in the second room. Furnished as a dining room, surprisingly good sound comes from Stealth speakers hidden flush, and painted over, in the wall. Moore has a separate wire closet; a room with racks of A/V equipment and a 13-TB movie server. A Sound Decision is a test site for beta versions of new Sunfire and Élan Home Systems components. A Sunfire Theater Grand 7401 amplifier and processor supplied power for the Palladium room. The flagship of the Sunfire line puts out 400-watts into seven channels with less than 0.5% THD ! Like the very best solid-state amplifiers, wattage doubles into 4 Ohm loads. The amplifier has a "Vacuum Tube Emulation (Current Source)" mode, but I say, "ain't no such thing" as a solid-state amplifier that sounds quite like tubes. The Blu-ray player was a Yamaha BD-S2900BL.

The basic Palladium HT system includes a massive P-312W sub. The sub is shaped like a truncated pyramid, weighs 95 pounds with three more of those silver woofer cones. The P-312W includes its own 2,500-watt amplifier and is capable of 18 Hz depth and 123 dB output. Moore 's set-up includes two of these chunky babies! Both of them are positioned along the front wall. One, he said was set for deep bass, the other for mid-bass. The Palladium system offers two bi-polar side channel speakers. Moore added two more of those also. He used custom cabling with a Monster power conditioner.

Complete with everything, Moore puts the value of the room at cool $180,000. Several thousand more reviews and I should be there! Hope Klipsch is around another six decades when I complete the task.

 

Music & Movies
The audition began with my beloved Stepping Out by Diana Krall. But "Jimmie" had too much tape hiss, making the CD sound sad and old. Yet the cello was among the best I ever have heard. Bass was plenty deep enough. The strong notes excited the room. Even with such simple music, powerful amplifiers are required. Headroom, my notes say, is crucial to allowing each instrument the freedom it needs to express itself. The Sunfire amplifier certainly provided that. Like the mighty Pass X250, nothing was too difficult for it. The Blu-ray disc of Chris Botti in Boston [Sony, B001R60 ESE] in stereo mode was next. The first impression was immediately favorable. This disc is nothing short of remarkable. It is smooth jazz trumpeter Chris Botti performing at the Boston Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops orchestra. Then wide-mouth rocker Steven Tyler suddenly appears, his trademark microphone stand draped with scarves.

"I was cryin' when I met you," he sings, surprising the audience with a powerfully smooth rendition of the Aerosmith classic "Crying. "Now I'm tryin' to forget you." When Tyler croons Nat King Cole's classic "Smile," my impression of the rocker changed. "Smile though your heart is aching," Tyler croons to his father in the audience, "smile even though its breaking." A friend whispered, "I would never go out if I had this at home." Indeed the overall sound was liquid. My notes say, "like cruising in a Mercedes."

Horns being horns, Botti's horn on P-39Fs sounds like…well, a horn. It has blat. It has blare. What else did you expect from big ole horns? Then Sting appears to sing and play several of his songs. Together, the guest appearances transform Botti's disc into a stunning recording of a spectacular night. Overall impression is that this is an excellent system, well balanced, with no obvious weaknesses. Combined with the 13 foot wide screen, the Palladium HT system seems to do everything right, if not a little bright. The P-39F speakers are easily in the same league as the very best dream systems I have heard, including those costing several times more. See Deprecating The Gifts Of The G-ds and Uptown Horns.

Like all horns, the P-39F soundstage is wide and deep, presenting an image much larger than their mere footprint. Properly pointed, the 3D sonic imaging of big ole horns can be spectacular, without the honkiness of which detractors so often complain. With oodles of power backing them up, vocals sounded effortless and very natural. With Sunfire power, the Palladiums have all the detail and resolution anybody would want, without the hard metallic edginess of some horns. They also have the energy and range to capture the full essence of dynamic instruments, such as drums and piano. The quick dynamics of big ole horns communicates the emotion of the notes. They get the real meaning of music. Palladiums have this ability too. They capture this quality without dampening the vibrancy and life out of the crucial mid-range.

Harshness on the recordings however, including Krall's Stepping Out, is readily apparent. Flaws have no place to hide on this ruthlessly revealing system. They are not irritating, but you will hear them.

Next, we watched the Blu-ray of my all time favorite movies, Master & Commander, with Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany. I love this 2003 movie because it is a sailing adventure, with a great actor, wonderful dialogue and plot twists. Set in 1805, Master has incredible hand-to-hand, canon-to-canon battle scenes. Yet the raw violence is juxtaposition with Crowe maneuvering like a chess piece to outfox his rarely seen opponent, while he and a friend spend their evenings playing the violin and cello music of Mozart and J.S. Bach! Crowe did most of the violin playing on camera, but the cello playing is YoYo Ma's work. The music is available from Decca [ASIN: B0000DG07D].

Eight hundred watts into 4 Ohms makes any bass note as thunk like a sledgehammer. The Sunfire and dual sub combination certainly makes Stings' beguiling bass come alive. The bass is not only deep, but also tight; certainly tighter than my big ole horns. Yet when the first canon shot of Master fires out of a blue fog, the Palladium system puts you right there. Maybe my pants didn't flap as they did with the awesome Krell monster sub chest ($28K), but the smoothly deep and powerful bass response is all anybody would want for musical accuracy. In my limited experience, only the massive Martin Logan subwoofer stack was appreciably better (Deprecating The Gifts Of The G-ds).

The P-39Fs with dual P-312W subs is bass that smacks you in the face, warps walls, massages your scalp, shakes cobwebs off corners and frightens small creatures. This is volcanic tremor, tsunami wave bass. It is ominous, portending of imminent danger. It is live and tangible. When the canons blast, your first instinct is to turn and flee. Great stereo systems do just that. They go beyond the auditory to add tactile and emotional information to the enjoyment of music and movies. They stir our souls at the very depths of our fears; sounding alarms when doors creak, awakening dormant instincts when bad guys loom near and tightening our nerves as the climax approaches. Match every extra large TV screen with a sound system of this caliber. This is clearly a dream HT system in a top of the line installation. Moore said after one Blu-ray Botti demonstration, a woman stood up and cheered. I don't doubt it. My big ole square-riggers will have to do a lot of sly maneuvering to even come close to what Klipsch's sleek new flagship does so easily.

By adding a modern transmission line of three woofers, the Palladiums are rightful heirs to the Klipsch crown. They retain Klipsch's renown ultra high sensitivity and extra low distortion. The Palladiums eliminate the narrow dispersion that so often plagues big ole horns with a wide and square Tractrix eye and mouth. I am impressed with Klipsch, their P-39F and A Sound Decision. If you already have your sports car, if your new home has a room set aside for HT, if this is the league you shop in; seriously consider a Palladium system configuration like this one. It enjoys the music.

 

Specifications
Type: Fullrange floorstanding loudspeaker
Frequency Response: 39 Hz to 24 kHz (±3dB) 
Sensitivity: 99dB/W/m 
Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms (2.9 Ohms min) 
Power Handling: 400W continuous / 1600W peak 
Recommended Amplifier Power: 50-1000W 
High Frequency Driver: 0.75" (1.9cm) Titanium diaphragm
                       Compression driver mated to 90° x 60° Tractrix Horn 
HF Crossover Frequency: 3200Hz 
Mid-Frequency Drivers: 4.5-inch aluminum diaphragm
                      Compression driver mated to 90° x 60° Tractrix Horn 
MF Crossover Frequency: 500Hz
Woofers: Three 9-inch aluminum / Rohacell / Kevlar hybrid cone woofers 
Finishes: Zebrawood in Natural, Merlot or Espresso stain 
Enclosure: Bass-reflex via triple side-firing ports
                Cabinet made with constrained layer MDF (Medium-Density Fiberboard) 
Weight: 165 lbs. 
Height: 56 x 12 x 24.75 (HxWxD in inches)
Price: $20,000

 

Company Information
A Sound Decision
1810 South Pinellas Ave.
Suite K
Tarpon Springs, FL 34689

Voice: (727) 789-1121
Fax: (727) 942-7270 
Showroom by appointment only
E-mail: Info@asounddecision.com
Website: www.asounddecision.com

 

Klipsch Group, Inc.
3502 Woodview Trace
Indianapolis, IN 46268

Website: www.klipsch.com
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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