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The Art & Science of Audio & Video

Paul W. Klipsch

Courtesy of: Klipsch Audio Technologies

Paul W. Klipsch (PWK) is one of America’s most celebrated audio pioneers because he revolutionized the way the world listens to recorded music. Unsatisfied with the sound quality of phonographs and early speaker systems, Mr. Klipsch used scientific principles to develop a corner horn speaker that sounded more lifelike than its predecessors.

The Klipschorn®, which today is still manufactured and sold worldwide, proved that it was possible to reproduce the sound of a live orchestra inside a home. The resulting acoustics career of Mr. Klipsch spanned from 1946, when he founded one of the first U.S. loudspeaker companies, to 2000 when the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society published one of his papers. He died on May 5, 2002 at the age of 98.

Fred Klipsch, a cousin to PWK and current Klipsch owner and chairman, said, “Paul was a verifiable genius who could have chosen any number of vocations, but the world sounds a lot better because he chose audio. He was a great man who always tried to do the right thing in the right way.”

In 1978, Paul W. Klipsch was awarded the Audio Engineering Society’s highest honor, the prestigious Silver Medal, for his contributions to speaker design and distortion measurement. Mr. Klipsch was inducted into the Audio Hall of Fame in 1984. In 1997, he was inducted into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame, an honor shared by Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver and the Wright brothers. The Engineering and Science Hall of Fame recognizes those who have improved the quality of the human condition through an individual contribution using engineering and scientific principles. Then at the 2004 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), he was inducted into the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) established this Hall of Fame in 2000 to honor the leaders whose creativity, persistence and determination helped shape the consumer electronics industry into what it is today.

Mr. Klipsch received a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from New Mexico State University in 1926, a Masters of Science in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1934, and a Doctor of Laws from New Mexico State University (NMSU) in 1981. The NSMU engineering department was renamed the Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 1995, in honor of Paul W. Klipsch.

Mr. Klipsch’s interest in engineering was influenced by his father, an instructor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind. Although he was only 12 when his father passed on, Mr. Klipsch’s interest in science and engineering endured. He built his first speaker using a mailing tube and a pair of earphones at the age of 15, which was a year before the first public radio broadcast.

After graduating from El Paso High School, he enrolled at NMSU where he played cornet in the university band and was an award-winning member of the school rifle team. He credits his four years as a member of the Aggie Band for developing his love and knowledge of music and musical instruments.

Following graduation from NMSU, Mr. Klipsch went to work for General Electric designing radios that were then sold to RCA. In 1928, he responded to a notice on the GE bulletin board. This resulted in a new job maintaining electric locomotives in Chile for three years before entering graduate school at Stanford. After receiving his Masters Degree, Mr. Klipsch worked as a geophysicist for a Texas oil company. He later served in the U.S. Army during World War II, earning the rank of Lt. Colonel.

It was during his service at the Southwest Proving Grounds located in Hope, Ark. that Mr. Klipsch refined his corner horn speaker design. Visitors to his officer’s quarters were amazed by the lifelike reproduction and encouraged Mr. Klipsch to start his own manufacturing business. He received a patent on his loudspeaker design in 1945, registered the name Klipsch & Associates in 1946, and began making each loudspeaker with his own two hands until he hired his first employee in 1948.

During a 1999-videotaped interview, Mr. Klipsch claimed that he did not, in fact, name the Klipschorn himself. He said that he made a sales call to a man in New York City during the first years of operating Klipsch & Associates and, surprisingly, the business prospect already knew about the revolutionary new loudspeaker. “We’ve heard all about your corner horn,” the man said. “We call it the Klipschorn.”

The eccentric touch and no-compromise spirit of Paul W. Klipsch has indeed become part of the consumer electronics industry, the practice of engineering, and acoustic research itself. For example, Mr. Klipsch related that when he was developing a smaller speaker for use between two Klipschhorns, an acquaintance declared that he couldn’t possibly introduce it to the public because it was in direct violation of Mr. Klipsch’s own corner horn principles, and amounted to acoustic heresy. “The hell I can’t,” Mr. Klipsch said. “And that’s exactly what I’m going to call it!” A year later the Klipsch Heresy loudspeaker was introduced and, ironically, it became a bestseller in the church sound reinforcement market.

In addition to the Klipschorn and Heresy, the Klipsch Rebel, Shorthorn, Cornwall, La Scala, and Belle Klipsch are among the most well known loudspeakers developed by Paul W. Klipsch. Many of these models, which are regarded as some of the world’s finest, are still manufactured and sold around the world today.

The Klipschorn is the only speaker in the world that has been in continuous production, relatively unchanged, for over 60 years.

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March 5, 2008 - Posted by | Pioneers in Audio | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

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