The Klipsch Cornwall III Speaker Review 2018

by Steve Huff

It’s time again for another HiFi review 2018.

Here is my latest HiFi review. I do 2-3 per year, so not many. I only review items I love, adore and find to be amazing products for the playback of two channel audio.

Today I want to chat about the Klipsch Cornwall III Speaker which I have been listening to every day now for a couple of weeks in place of the Heresy III’s I own and that I have been jamming with for 10 months or so (and LOVE). Are they different? Yes indeed, and in a GOOD way as they deliver the lower octaves that the Hersey III just can not. While the Heresy III has plenty of bass for me in my room (and they sound super sweet) the Cornwalls will have a much larger sound, “larger than life” in fact.

It all started long ago…

As a teen I remember going to a local “Rent to Own” store to well, Rent to own a two channel stereo. Back in those days, (late 1980’s) these were usually pretty average systems by todays (higher end) standards (but better than todays expensive bluetooth speakers). I do remember that all were trying to impress with their wattage back in those days.  “100 WATTS PER CHANNEL” was all the rage back then, at least with my limited teenager budget. But I have always loved music, and loved quality two channel playback. As a teen I lived in my parents basement, and had the whole place to myself. It was a HUGE space, and I loved my records and CD’s as that was what we had in those days.

In fact, as a teenager I bought one record every week and added to my collection. It was a passion of mine, to sit down there and listen to music. I even had mood lighting, when I was 16-17. Ahhh, the good old days ; )

As time moved forward in life, and my HiFi, I drifted more and more to higher end speakers, amps, and even cables. In the late 90’s I built up an amazing system consisting of Sonus Faber Guarneri Homage speakers, Cary 805 Amps and SLP-98 Pre amp (bought from Upscale Audio). I was in love. Ever since then, and now nearly 20 years later, I have upgraded, swapped, tested and tried so many audio components it has made me realize what is good, what is hype and what is garbage. I do remember though, going back to my teen years that I always admired Klipsch Heresey and Cornwall speakers. I could not afford them way back then but always were fascinated by their sensitivity, dynamics and ability to play at concert level volumes without distortion.

When I got into truly high end audio I saw so many “audiophiles” trashing these Klipsch classics, you know, the usual Audiophile snobbery that says if it is not $30k, well, then it is no good. So I never thought they would be good enough for my now high expectations. (My loss). Many said they were bright, harsh, fatiguing and loud/shouty. If that was to be the case then these Klipsch speakers would not be for me. In fact, I love low volume listening late at night, so do not need loud. I prefer the warmer side of the sound spectrum over analytical and harsh, so hmmm. I never did jump in and buy any of the Klipsch heritage speakers even though I remembered them from my teen years and always admired their retro “style”, and I was ALWAYS curious. The Audiophile snobbery turned me off. 

That was a mistake.

Here I am, all of these years later and I FINALLY have been able to purchase TWO sets of these classic (but new current v III models) Klipsch speakers (and am seriously considering purchasing a pair of Lascala II due to my experience with these), and I love them dearly because they have shocked me beyond belief when compared to truly high end $20k plus speakers. I mean, I am in disbelief at the sound I get from these in my little listening room. I wasted so much money over the years. I could have just bough these 10 years ago, or the Forte III or the LasScala II and been done with it. Well, maybe that is a stretch but feel free to read on…

The 1st Klipsch Heritage Speaker I bought was the little Klipsch Heresy III. A speaker that gets mixed reviews, but IMO is very misunderstood. When driven right (TUBES or VERY GOOD CLASS A MY FRIENDS)! they can pump out some room filling sweet sounding live MAGIC, and yes, they have decent (but not deep or powerful) bass in a smaller room. I bought those Heresy III’s as my room is only 12X13, and lucky for me most smaller speakers sound magical in my room and these seemed to be just the right size. Not tiny, not huge. They give me a HUGE full neutral to warm sound that is never bright, harsh or thin. I thought they were HUGE sounding until I heard the Cornwall III.

I have had speakers in here that were priced at $24k (never again), and even $40k (never again). I have had $400 speakers and $1200 speakers, and I have heard most HiFi brands that exist as well. So I have extensive experience with audiophile products. Uber high end. I have been blessed to have had systems ranging from $800 to $50k over my lifetime. But the most fun I have had listening without question, hesitation or doubt, has been when I introduced these Klipsch Heritage speakers into the system, and guess what? They are the least expensive of any of my serious setups yet just as serious when it comes to sound! You may hear some say these are “FUN” to listen to (I just said it myself). Do not take that in any negative way at all. To me it is a plus.

I started with the Hersey III, and now with the CORNWALL III, which I will state now, is legendary for a reason. Forget anything you have heard from Audiophile snobs about these speakers (I used to be one). They either never heard them, or never heard them with the right gear feeding them (high quality tubes) or in the right room.

Today real two channel HiFi is a very limited niche, at least for those who go out and look at speakers in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars range. There are a small number of us who appreciate music reproduction with some magic, precise imaging, a huge soundstage and when you get the right system, the right room, the right setup and the right music then yes it can even bring a grown man to tears as it has for me many times.

But I am no fan of hyper detailed thin sounding speakers, and believe me when I say that many of these uber expensive speakers are just that. Who likes that and why?!?! Dry, thin, sharp, uber detail… I do not call that music, I call it “Detail Obsession”. I prefer a nice big wide huge warmish (though not too warm) soundstage. Things the Heritage series delivers on.

There is a certain magic and calm when you listen to a wonderful 2 channel music system with the lights low. A nice rich, huge, fat sound with details, imaging and most of all EMOTION. Where you FEEL the music, it touches you, it moves you.

Sadly, much of the younger generation today only know bluetooth speakers, low quality MP3 and music streaming from their phone.

Hell, I understand that as prices for some of this HiFi is RIDICULOUS. I used to be a fan of Sonus Faber but their prices have just been getting INSANE, and to be honest, it has turned me off of the brand.

Remember…Expensive is not always better. Believe it, it is true. These will not look as gorgeous as Sonus Faber speakers but sound wise? Well, these are “different” and produce sound in a way that no standard speaker can. Dynamic yet understated. Full yet never bloated. Clear yet not etched or clinical. A big midrange, never recessed. NOT perfect, but that is the beauty. 

I now have insane crazy respect for the Klipsch heritage line of speakers. They are wonderful, and bring out that teenager in me from back in the 80’s, they bring the passion back for me when listening just as it was in my teen years sitting in my basement with my soft lights glowing. These speakers may be ugly to some as they do look RETRO and straight from the 70’s. They still have the same design as they did in the old days, so they look vintage even when bought new. But me, I love that about these speakers. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I just wish I knew how good these were 10 years ago. I would have saved so so so much money or at least KNEW the facts about them. Are these audiophile speakers? Nope, but that is what makes them so cool and for the money, I don’t know how you can beat them.

Hand made in the good old USA in Hope Arkansas. 

The Cornwall III replaces the Hersey III. 

I have been happy with and living with the Heresy III for a while and have never been wanting for more of anything, well,  maybe the deepest of bass or chest slam when it was needed but other than that these little Hersey III’s are sweet sounding full speakers, again, when driven with a good high quality TUBE amp, and I prefer SET amps. Amps do make a huge difference, anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves. I have tested these with 4 integrated amps and all sounded MUCH different. What has run them to pure magical status is the Line Magnetic 219ia with upgraded tubes. Nothing else came close, not even an $8k solid state integrated I tested with the Heresy III’s (which had them sounding a little flat actually).

(Coming soon, a test with a $9000 Class A Luxman 590 AXII which offers a different experience with the Cornwalls. Will it beat the 219ia?) 

Most Solid State will have these sound crisp, very loud, and with slam. Some solid state will have them sound harsh. With my Line Magnetic 219ia the CIII is organic, has air, a wide soundstage and actually VERY GOOD imaging and you can FEEL the bass yet it NEVER EVER sounds loose or flabby. Yes, my Corns sound 3D in my room, and they image very well without a hint, not even a hint of sharpness, brightness or fatigue. In fact if I could point out a negative that sometimes bothers me with them is that on some tracks they can be a tad too warm, as if the tweeter is a little too recessed for the bass performance. I’m just being picky here, as they sound glorious.

First tip on these speakers. If you buy ANY Klipsch heritage speaker DO NOT buy a cheap receiver to power them. No cheap receiver from Best Buy or Amazon will do these speakers justice. You will just be dissapointed. Also, no HT receivers will drive these to how they can truly sound. Trust me on this. TRUST ME! I have been there and done that. It’s a sickness I have. To find the perfect solution for my room and tastes. I try A LOT of gear. ; ) I only write about the things I truly love and would buy for myself. 

A cheap receiver may make them sound tinny, harsh and flat. YOU WILL BE MISSING OUT.  A good low powered flea watt SET tube amp will make them sound huge, lush, rich, slightly warm, and fill you room with live sound. LIVE as in, the band is in that room with you and the dynamics are reproduced better than 90% of speakers made today, and without a hint of harshness. I could listen to these with my 219ia Tube Amp for 12 hours a day and never have fatigue. 845 tubes have a way with vocals and even slam when needed. It’s the best of 300B and EL34 and KT120 wrapped into one tube.

The reason these sound so live and realistic? THE HORNS. These have horn driven mids and highs and these are not the horns of yesterday (the 60s and 70s). No more hollow sound, no more sounding like a megaphone. Nope, todays horn speakers from Klipsch, at least the heritage line, sound like butter. Smooth, rich, huge and filled with presence. You can hear the breath, the cracks in the voice. Again, these speakers are NEVER fatiguing or at all bright even when driven to concert level. Not with my SET (Single Ended Triode) tube amp ; )  They excel with the human voice. They excel with Jazz, rock and anything you throw at it. No matter what or who I have played through them, they are beautiful. I will say that the soundstage is a tad recessed through. Some speakers put the voice IN the room with you, these pull it back some.

But I am getting ahead of myself… let me back up a bit…

I knew these suckers were huge, but when hey landed in my room I was shocked at just how large they are. As I sat there and stared at them out of their boxes I was afraid they would overpower my room with bass and just be muffled as other larger speakers in my room did this. In fact many forums have people saying just that. They warn of these in a small room, and many say the bass would just be too crazy. Well, this is crazy far from the truth as the Bass is NEVER EVER overpowering. Not even close in my 12X13 room.

Instead, these were like my little heresy III’s but sounded maybe 5X bigger, wider, richer, and filled every inch of this room with magical, fluid, organic and never ever harsh, never bright and never bloated sound. Balance was perfect and the bass was there when called upon, and only when called upon. NOT bloated or artificial at all. Imaging? THESE IMAGE VERY WELL after 3 days of working on placement in my room, and these are not to be placed where normal speakers are placed in this room so it took me a while to dial them in. My usual 2-3 feet out into the room was not cutting it. When I pushed them about 3″ from the wall, and side walls, BAM! Soundstage widened, bass was smooth as silk, and imaging improved dramatically. The name says it all (Corn(er), and Wall).

Soundstage is nice and wide and deep towards the front. NO BASS boom at all unless I go really high on the volume and play a song with loads of bass in it.

Listen after listen I could not believe how they sounded. So rich, so big, so magical ; ) MY ONLY GRIPE is that I wish they had more high end extension. The tweeter is nice and lets say “mellow”. So not the biggest “air” though there is some there. What is here is the feeling of a live performance more so than any speaker I have owned. Think BIG, think LIVE, think HUGE, think AWESOME and think EMOTIONAL and yes, FUN. Instead of critiquing my speakers as I usually do when listening I forgot about that and was amazed at the reproduction of the music which had me enjoying the MUSIC! THAT TOLD ME INSTANTLY that THESE ARE WINNERS. They make me listen to and enjoy the music instead of worrying about the speakers and what they are doing or not doing.

The sound came out about 1-2 feet in front of the speakers and while they did not image as well as my old Sonus Fabers, they imaged nicely with voices dead center and instruments placed within a nice stage. A very rich, slightly warm sound that had the dynamics of a live performance. In comparison to the $24k Fabers, these sound flatter, not as rich of a midrange, and a less bassy signature. Are the $24k Guarneris better? Yes, indeed. Are they $20k better? No, not even close.

Sensitivity of the Cornwall is insane so dynamics are amazing, and my 24 WPC Line Magnetic 219ia uses about 1/4 – 3/4 of a watt to run these to a nice volume for daytime listening. If I want to crank and shake the walls with clean sound, it uses about 2 watts. ; )

My friend came over and he has heard ALL of my systems. He is not an audiophile but appreciates good sound. He said “I challenge any so called audiophile to come sit here and say there is even one thing wrong with these. These are the best you have ever owned, period.” He then listened for an hour and said it was a life changing experience. Yes, they are that good with the right amp and source and cables. When he heard my Hersey  III’s a while back, at night, in a dimly lit room he had tears flowing down his cheek (true story). He liked these even better. He never had that reaction to any other system or speaker I have owned. I will say that he is not an audiophile nor super picky so take that for what it is.

My Gear

I run these with the Line Magnetic 219ia (see review here) along with a DirectStream JR Dac (AMAZING DAC) where I stream Tidal HiFi and Spotify Premium to. I also use Nordost cables, mid range. Not cheap, not crazy. I also use Audioquest power cables and my tubes have been upgraded in my amp. ALL makes a difference (wether you want to believe it or not). YES cables do make a difference.

All I can say is that I know have full range sound, from top to bottom in speakers that sound live, and provide the magic I have come to expect in my stereo system.

Run these with the right gear and you will be gaining from ear to ear. You have detail without being etched and harsh, you have a gorgeous full (though I wish it was a bit larger sounding in the mids) magical midrange where this speaker excels the most and you have bass that is unreal, and is used when called upon. Never boomy but BIG and you can feel it at times. Even when using 1 watt. Low volume listening is the best I have heard, with 2nd best being the Heresy III.

No hiss at idle from my listening spot and other than the damage done in shipping (mine arrived damaged in the corners but then I was able to get a HUGE discount which made them a steal of the century), they are gorgeous with a walnut veneer, my fave finish from Klipsch. BTW, yes you can get these used all the way to V1 and VII. If you go that route they will sound different. Less refined. They may need work as well. I heard a pair of V1’s and they had a slight metallic sound. They were still lovely but I preferred the III’s. The III’s also now come standard with risers to lift them to ear level. Anyway, these things can rock you like a hurricane or whisp you away with gentle sounds of smooth jazz. Vocals will be with you in the room, big and rich sound. Electronic music sounds great but could use more treble energy. Rock and Roll is simply awesome. My KISS vinyl collection never sounded better, especially ALIVE II. All around these are the best speakers I have had here (for the money they cost me). Amazing. These are like the little Heresy III on steroids as they do share the same tweeter and mid range horn. The cornwall is MUCH larger and has a 15″ woofer to bring forth the bass performance that was lacking in the Heresy III. But they seem to “breath” music.

I highly recommend buying these from Upscale Audio. See their site here. 

But give them a call if you order them. You can also buy them at Amazon. 

The reason these will be staying with me long term is due to the performance vs price. Nothing I have found beats them at this price. Above this price? Sure, but for what I paid for these nothing on earth can get close, and I have tried recently only to be disappointed. I like trying different speakers, amps, etc.  I have been doing that and just recently installed a Luxman 590 AXII in place of the 219ia. Class A all the way, 30 WPC. I will have a review soon of this piece and keep in mind the 219ia retails for $7500 and the Luxman $8995. Both crazy expensive amps for these speakers but both make them sing sweet music.