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Rock music casts shadow on designer's loudspeakers

By FINOS JOHNSON

HOPE, Ark. -- The designer of a top-selling industrial line of loudspeakers is saddened by their use.

Paul W. Klipsch abhors rock music. A pioneer in the loudspeaker field, Klipsch prefers Richard Wagner, the German composer, to Bruce Springsteen, the American rock star. And his speakers are the big-volume equipment often used at rock concerts.

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'Mainly those speakers are used to make huge amounts of sound,' Klipsch said in an interview. 'Whether it's good quality or not is not nearly as important as lots of it. Even if they are accurate reproducers... I don't like what they're reproducing. I don't like rock.'

For about seven years, Klipsch and Associates, has marketed the industrial line of loudspeakers, seriously entering the field in 1978. Industrial speakers are made for public buildings and facilities -- the large speakers found at auditoriums and arenas.

The industrial line is booming business for Klipsch. Sales in 1981 were up 37 percent over sales in 1980.

The industrial line represents Klipsch and Associates' adaptation to the audio market and adds another aspect to the company created by the inventor's first prototype of the Klipschorn in 1940.

Klipsch, 78, is a perfectionist who designed and markets the speaker systems that bear his name. He is president of his wholly-owned company.

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Hope, a town of about 10,000 people about 30 miles northeast of Texarkana in southwest Arkansas, is more famous for its world-class watermelons than its world-class speakers. Klipsch came to the Army munititions testing grounds in Hope as a 2nd lieutenant during World War II and adopted the community as his home.

He developed the prototype of his Klipschorn in 1940 and was granted a patent on the cornerhorn loudspeaker in 1943. The Klipschorn solved a problem that had been puzzling him -- how to accurately reproduce bass response without using a very large horn.

His answer, reflected in the Klipschorn, was to fold a bass horn into a trihedral corner which confined a long air path within a smaller structure. In 1946, Klipsch added a high-frequency horn and tweeter to his 'woofer' to create a Klipschorn almost identical to the one marketed today -- a loudspeaker that can reproduce a frequency range of from 35 to 1,700 hertz.

The business has expanded since the Klipschorn was invented. The company now markets a full line of loudspeakers, from the bookshelf-size Heresy to the latest entry, the MCM 1900 system -- the giant speakers used, for example, in rock concerts.

In a highly competitive audio field, Klipsch and Associates has held its share of the market despite a declining market because of the boom in the video industry, said Jerry Warner, vice president of finance for the company.

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Warner declined to cite the company's annual sales and said its net worth was 'in the low millions.' He did say the company's sales had almost tripled between 1974 and 1978 and had shown an increase of 5 to 6 percent annually since 1978.

Warner said sales in 1980 were 'essentially stagnant' but grew by about 7 percent in 1981.

'In general, the audio market is declining,' Warner said, attributing the decline to consumers spending their discretionary money on video items instead of for audio equipment.

But during the decline, Klipsch has increased its market share, doubling its share of dollars spent on loudspeakers between 1980 and 1981, Warner said.

Changes in marketing plans between the company and its dealers partially can be attributed to Klipsch maintaining its share of the loudspeaker market, Warner said. The company has introduced a plan allowing dealers to place smaller orders and still receive discounts and free shipping, he said.

Klipsch markets its loudspeakers through about 200 select dealers in most states, but Warner said the company's key domestic market is close to home in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma.

The company has poor name recognition in northeastern states, said Warner, a transplanted New Yorker, but sales are strong in the Denver, San Francisco and Chicago areas.

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Warner said that while disco music 'is pretty dead' in the United States, the dance music is catching on in Spain and Italy, and the foreign market has become a top sales area. Foreign sales accounted for 26 percent of all Klipsch sales in 1981, Warner said, up from about 20 percent in 1978.

Paul Klipsch said his success in the loudspeaker field has been coping with the distortion inherent in all speakers.

In 1978 Klipsch became the first American to receive the Audio Engineering Society's silver medal, an award designed in 1970 by the AES awards committee. He received the award for research in the measurement of distortion in loudspeakers.

'The whole business of designing a loudspeaker is not to eliminate the distortion -- that can't be done -- all we can do is minimize it,' Klipsch said, noting the Klipschorn design provides a speaker diaphram with a horn to 'work against' for more efficiency.

Klipsch said his Klipschorn speaker is about 10 percent efficient, while the typical diaphram radiator speaker is about 0.01 percent efficient.

An early developer of the three-way speaker system which combines three speakers for low, middle and high frequency response, Klipsch said the system is necessary to reproduce a full range of frequencies. He called his three-speaker configuration a 'woofer, squawker, tweeter' system.

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Noting American Telephone and Telegraph Co. in 1934 was granted a patent on a cornerhorn loudspeaker, Klipsch said his design of 1940 was three to 10 times smaller than the AT&T speaker.

'I didn't invent the cornerhorn loudspeaker,' Klipsch said. 'I think I can claim that my contribution was getting the maximum performance per cubic foot.'

Warner said the marketing of Klipsch products has not stressed the 'peculiar' designs but instead pushed the 'dynamic sound.'

The least expensive Klipsch speaker, an unfinished, birch cabinet Heresy, carries a suggested retail price of $336 each. The Klipschorn, also in unfinished birch, costs about $1,024 each. Those prices escalate if the buyer chooses a more expensive wood cabinet.

Despite the price, Warner said a recent market survey indicates, 'believe it or not,' that the average Klipsch customer is under 25 years old, earns less than $15,000 a year and listens to rock music.

'And Paul would have a coronary,' Warner said. 'He had to go to a Bruce Springsteen concert in Colorado with one of our dealers. It was on a total Klipsch system. He didn't like any part of it.'

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