Headphones for a 1000 bucks are not everyday. Even more special is that they come from a manufacturer that deletes are not known for headphones. For, although Klipsch has gradually gained some models on the conscience, there are speakers the arch-American manufacturer is known for. Specifically horn speakers.
The advantage of horn speakers is that they can play loud and physical, almost without drawing power from the amplifier at all. Best known is the somewhat legendary Heritage series, which includes classic, ancient speaker models – but which is still in production. The oldest, the giant Klipschorn, was first produced in 1946 (!), And now over 70 years later it is still made very close to the original construction.
Now Klipsch wants to knock the Heritage sound they are known for, right into our ear, with the HP-3 headphones. Just like with their speaker cabinets, the ear cups are made of solid wood. The genuine leather ear pads are thick and good, and two cable lengths with braided nylon stockings are included. The headphones both look and feel expensive, down to the smallest detail.
The HP-3 is a semi open construction, which means that it is built as a closed headphone, but where part of the back – corresponding to the size of the speaker element – is open. The idea is to get a more physical bass reproduction similar to the one you get with closed headphones, but then with ventilation that gives freer dynamics and an opener and cleaner treble reproduction, which you know from open headphones. In other words, an attempt to give us the best of both worlds.
The speaker elements in the HP-3 are large – as much as 52 millimeters – where many competitors offer 40 millimeters. The elements are not surrounded by any rubber ring, but are a so-called “free edge design”, attached directly to the frame. This should give clearer sound, with less coloring, and Klipsch claims a sound image on a par with its best speakers.
The impedance is only 25 ohms. Together with a generous sensitivity of 98 dB with a milliwatt amplifier power, this means that the headphones can play more than loud enough with a mobile phone. But, of course, if you pay 15,000 kroner for a pair of headphones, you want them to perform their best, and they do it together with a good amplifier. Klipsch then offers the Heritage Headphone Amplifier, which is yours for 7,000 kroner extra.
The HP-3 does not need a lot of power to play loud, yet they can withstand an insane 1.8 watts. Which should mean that they can thunder loose with a sound pressure up to 130 dB without breaking. Which in turn means that the hearing smokes long before the headphones!
Despite its weight of as much as 440 grams, the headphones sit comfortably on the head. I have been able to sit with them for hours on end. They are stuck but do not squeeze, and the fact that they are ventilated helps with air so you do not sweat in the ears.
The sound of Heritage
With so many American headphones, it’s tempting to start with real American music, specifically the alternative country band Wilco and the album Being There, which has recently been released in audiophile MQA edition. The song Monday swings it off properly, with tough winds in addition to guitars with a delicious, dirty country twist.
Played through the HP-3, it is a soundscape full of dynamism and life, the drums sit as if cast and Jeff Tweedy’s voice is conveyed with a twinkle and a spark. The headphones have a rosy warmth over them, just as the Klipsch speakers are known for. This brings out the pipe sound from the guitar amplifiers in an exemplary way. Some “warm” headphones sound trapped in the treble, but Klipsch has managed to balance it very well. On the contrary, it is an insane dynamic, which also propagates up to cymbals, an extremely flirty and raw snare drum and the tambourine that occasionally enters the vivid soundscape. For the record: the audio source is now my iPhone 6S Plus, completely without any kind of external amplifier or digital converter. You do not need anything more, because the headphones are so easy to operate that you can easily invest the 15,000 kroner without worrying about other equipment.
That is, until you have heard the HP-3 through a proper headphone amplifier. Because with Klipsch’s own Heritage headphone amplifier for 700, it opens up more at the top, the sound image becomes larger and more airy, more details emerge, as clear as effortless. And then the power, then.
With the very entertaining psytrance song She Zoremet by Infected Mushroom, it hits hard in the bass drum, while the voices massage the eardrums. The amplifier further emphasizes the warm Klipsch bass, and is a beautiful match. You do not get exactly the same richness of detail in the midrange and treble as with the Chord Hugo 2, or the headphone output on the Hegel Röst, but then the Klipsch amplifier is more powerful than the latter and significantly cheaper than the Chord. It has an x-factor that the Pioneer U-05 lacks, in that it brings something extra to the table other than just amplifying the audio signal. The Klipsch amplifier adds something of its own, but in just a small enough dose that it is perceived as something positive.
Classical music also sounds absolutely beautiful. Take only Beethoven’s 5th Symphony performed by the Vienna Philharmonic and conducted by Carlos Kleiber. Recently relaunched in MQA and available for streaming from Tidal’s Master Library. The bass instruments are large and heavy, the timpani sounds heavy and delicious, without being persistent. The brass instruments are not quite as aggressive and chasing as you get from more neutral headphones – like the Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro – but at the same time the sound is even more lively with Klipsch.
But if you want raw and unrestrained playing pleasure, with a blushing warmth that makes every piece of music massage your ear canals with rich bass and large, lush instruments, then you will not go wrong with the HP-3. And even if it has an audio signature, do not think that it does not bring out even the smallest details in the audio image. It does. What it does not do is deliver the sound completely ruthlessly neutral, like the Sennheiser HD 800 S and Audeze LCD-X.