25 February, 2016

Klipsch La Scala Mods, ALK, B&K, Crites

pic shows my hero PWK with the Klipschorn. Note the Brook Amplifier (from itishifi).

Enhancement or Denigration? On Klipsch (La Scala) Crossover Mods, ALK, B & K Sound (Crites)
Talk Horns - Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution, Part V

Note: Previous articles in Talk Horns - Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV) treat mostly what is now called the Heritage Series; Part I is dedicated to La Scala. All the models I covered there have after-market mods available, which is why I feel I HAVE to write this article. Keep in mind I have only heard those for La Scala and Belle, as described below.

Refuting "Science"? This is a difficult article for me to write. I know simple electrical principles, and can build kits and DIY simple things, but I am not at all technically inclined. I like to read about the technical side of hifi (which is one reason why I like Stereophile more than TAS), but ultimately I use my ears to determine what is good and bad, and I trust mine. In my audio life, I have come across a huge number of audio products by DIYer's (everything from amps to speakers), also far too many after-market mods and "upgrades" - most simply sound AWFUL. This is yet another vast topic that will be treated in a subsequent HiFi Basics article. The people who are behind these mods and upgrades have better technical knowledge than I, but they make me wonder what they are hearing most of the time. Mind you, it is my firm belief that audio is not even close to an exact science, though these people would have you believe so (and them). Suffice to say, I have a huge distrust of DIY mods, especially those with extravagant claims. 

Issue Can or Should you modify the designs of the great Paul Klipsch, one of the giants of audio? My take is, NO, liter for liter (or cubic ft for cubic ft) Paul Klipsch made the best. If they don't sound good for you, look carefully at your own approach rather than modify masterpieces. Do you think all these mod people are better engineers or have more horn experiences than PWK? I bet not.

What's "Wrong" with La Scala? (Much of the following applies also to other Klipsch Heritage Series models.) For me, nothing much - it is a masterpiece, in continuous production for decades. Criticisms stem from various factors, which I shall delineate. First Time Horn Users Some people come from other non-horn designs (say electrostatic or panels) and had difficulty in comprehending, not to mention appreciating, horn virtues, instead focusing on what they perceive as shortcomings. Poor Associated Equipment If you have poor equipment, horns are the first to tell you that! Don't blame the horns! Treble and Midrange Units Some of the after-market people offer tweeters and midrange units. My experience tells me otherwise (see below). Here though, I'd have to say I think the alnico units are more refined (see Talk Horns - Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution Part I). In fact, their refinement surprised my Western Electric friend, who compared them to the WE755 (here). Bass/Room Many users voice dissatisfaction with La Scala's bass performance. I briefly covered this topic in my Talk Horns - Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution Part I. In most instances, equipment and room factors are responsible. Yes, they don't go much below 40 Hz, but if you do not hear 40 Hz, there is something wrong with your setup (or your hearing). If your room is too small, or cannot accommodate optimal placement, please do not blame the La Scala. If you peruse Part I cited above, you will notice my friends and I have all obtained clean and highly satisfying bass from the La Scala, though I'd add here that all our rooms are about 250-300 sq ft. And if you read Part III, you will know La Scala's might in a really good space. Cabinet This is another issue. Some claim the cabinets are colored, that there are resonances, etc. But, as I reported in the links above, given enough room to breathe, that is NOT the case! Impedance Some believe in solid state damping, citing impedance irregularities, but my experience tells me with certain speakers, the more your care about damping factor, the less bass you get (not just Klipsch, also ATC, for which more later in another HiFi Basics Article). Tube vs Solid State I can sympathize with those who don't want to fuss and use a simple setup of solid state amp, but not at all with those who think they need solid state to "tame" the Klipsch. For me, with big horns, not to use tubes borders on the absurd. But there are too many people who have misconceptions of tube gears, or simply have never used superior tube equipment (indeed there are a lot of poor tube gears out there). Barking Up the Wrong Tree In fact, many of the people who complain about the La Scala etc are just barking up the wrong tree. They should instead use the Quartet/Forte (see Talk Horns - Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution, Part IV), which in a smaller/suboptimal space are easier to deal with, and more tolerant of room irregularities. In fact, there are many Klipsch users who regard these as better than the Heritage Series models. To each his own.

After-Market Mods There are many out there. Crossover Mods are the most common, followed by after-market drivers and horn throats. Among these are: expensive Volti Audio, which used to do La Scala upgrades and La Scala restorations, but since they began producing their own speakers, these have been relegated to the back pages; somewhat cheaper ALK Engineering; and even cheaper B & K Enterprises (Bob Crites). It is important to mention here that all these mod people, each claiming scientific proficiency, often do NOT agree with each other. Think, why? Because there is NO exact science, claims to the contrary.

Somewhat different animals are various replica's of Type A/AA crossovers (original designs by Klipsch, though these replicas use whatever is available, from NOS caps to modern caps and of course inductors). Many claim these to work well, but people like ALK desists (of course).

My Encounters

  • First Experience at Opera Audio, Causeway Bay My first experience with a Crossover Mod was almost 20 years ago at the late Stanley Chu's shop. He had a pair of La Scala. I remember the after-market crossover was expensive (at least several hundred USD then) and huge, stuffed with new parts. If I have not remembered incorrectly, it was ALK (if I am wrong, I'd welcome correction). That La Scala never sounded right to me, not nearly as lively as my stock pair, and seemingly not nearly as efficient. BTW, every huge crossover, with huge capacitors and inductors, that I have come across (and there have been many, especially for the DIY "TAD" people) sounded inefficient to me, science notwithstanding.
  • B & K (Bob Crites) Recently, at my friend ama333's place we heard several Crites mods for the Belle Klipsch (non-alnico). ama333's Belle sounded perfectly fine to me; I am actually not sure why he wanted to play with the Crites stuff. We (I am not alone) heard both the Crites Crossover (I think basic version) and new tweeter units. In all instances, we unanimously preferred the stock units. At least the Crites were lively enough, but they were simply too shrill.
  • Type A I also heard this with ama333's Belle's. Smoother than the Crites but still lacking to me.
  • ALK ama333 also bought the ALK (I think a basic model), which he never used and passed on to his cousin Bernard. The same Bernard that I sold my alnico La Scala to, and whose huge living room (pic below) showcased La Scala in all its glory (Talk Horns - Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution, Part III). Well, recently we (me, whlee, captain, Hoi, Tony88, and several others) re-visited Bernard after yumcha, and was surprised to find the sound lifeless. We asked him what he did to it, and the answer was the crossover was changed to ALK. It was a hassle changing back, but bingo, the great sound came back with the stock crossovers! We had a professional violinist among us, and he much preferred the stock units.
My Thoughts
  • My several encounters have completely turned me off these after-market mods.
  • Most damaging of all, they often suck the life out of the Klipsch's.
  • I'd rather trust PWK than anyone else. PERIOD.

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