Klipsch Forte III speakers are masters of reality


The Klipsch Forte III speakers once again prove size really does matter: big speakers sound better.

It’s next to impossible to sit still when listening to Klipsch Forte III speakers. For me that doesn’t happen with most speakers, but this big Klipsch does a better job bringing recorded music back to life. I’m bouncing around to Sonic Youth, Bob Marley, Miles Davis, or any music with a groove. The urge is so strong that even when I try to resist I can’t sit still. It’s that good.

Priced at $1,999 each in the US (per pair price in the UK is £3,990 and AU$9,490 in Australia) the Forte III is expensive, though by high-end standards they’re an absolute steal. The speaker features a 1-inch (25mm) titanium compression horn tweeter, 1.75-inch (44mm) compression horn midrange, and for soul stirring low bass there’s a 12-inch (305mm) fiber composite woofer augmented with a rear-baffle-mounted 15-inch (380mm) passive radiator! Impedance is rated at 8 ohms, and the rear panel hosts metal bi-wire connectors. The Forte III stands 36 inches tall, 16.5 inches wide, 13 inches deep (914 by 420 by 330mm), and it weighs 72 pounds (32.6 kg).

The original Klipsch Forte debuted way back in 1984, Forte II arrived in 1989, and the Forte III I’m reviewing here came out in 2017. Like those two the Forte III is made in the US. It’s available in Black Ash, American Walnut, Natural Cherry and Distressed Oak real wood finishes. The Cherry wood finish is my favorite.

In 2017 I reviewed the Forte III in the New York CNET listening room with a Rotel RA 1592 stereo integrated amp, and I found the Forte III’s treble a tad bright and not well suited to classical music. Still, I couldn’t shake it, I wanted to reconnect with the Forte III and wondered if a sweet sounding tube amplifier would be a better match with these speakers. So for this long-term listening test I listened to the Forte IIIs with a lot of amps, everything from a 5 watt per channel Almarro A205A tube amp to a 100 watt solid state Pass Labs XA100.5 at home, and the sound never disappointed.

Wall power

I also heard another pair of Forte IIIs at a friend’s apartment with a very high-end Japanese Shindo Haut Brion tube amp, and the sound was to die for. I heard similar treble sweetness with solid state amps such as the Schiit Aegir, First Watt J2 and F7, and a Pass Labs XA100.5 in my large listening room.

The Forte IIIs’ effortless sound with high volume listening was expected — lots of big speakers can do that — but the Forte III also excelled with late night quiet levels. Detail and dynamics were consistent, regardless of volume level. The Forte IIIs let you feel the music.

With good recordings I can hear each individual instrument in the mix with thrilling clarity. This “separation” sounds more like the way I hear live music, especially when it’s purely acoustic and not played over a concert hall sound system. Just instruments and singers au natural on stage in a small club or maybe a church. The Forte III relishes that sort of intimacy, and so do I.

Miles Davis’ trumpet sounds more like a real trumpet than it does over any other speaker I’ve had at home. The brassiness of the trumpet, the sharp transient sound of horns are more realistic over horn speakers.

With the Rolling Stones underrated Emotional Rescue LP, the band’s grooves were given their full due. Loud music over big horn speakers is a tough act to beat.

The Forte III sound is “information dense” — that’s what crossed my mind as I played jazz drummer Peter Erskine’s Old School CD at near realistically loud volume (over 100 decibels), and the music’s dynamics were exhilarating. The sound of this uncompressed recording of a drum kit was so far beyond what any bookshelf speaker at any price can replicate. That, and the way each of the other instruments stood out so clearly in the mix. Other speakers blur them, make them sound more homogeneous.

The Forte III’s bass is very clear and tight: There’s no flab or bloat down there, it’s not an overtly bassy speaker. Still, the 12-inch woofer and rear passive driver make themselves felt. Acoustic stand up basses sound big and boldly resonant, and these speakers have a real knack for getting the meaty texture of electric bass just right. There’s an effortless quality to the sound that you just never get with speakers with 6- or 8-inch woofers, even when they’re paired with subwoofers.

The Forte III is one of the most enjoyable speakers I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. It rocked with a vengeance, jazz rhythms lit up my room, and electronica pulsed with rare authority.

Many other fine speakers including the TAD ME-1 and Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 have served as long-term references at home. They were more transparent, and their imaging more sharply focused, but their sound was miniaturized relative to the Forte III. The 71-inch tall (1.8 meters) Magnepan 3.7 panel speakers produced closer-to-life size sound with exceedingly low distortion, but the 3.7s dynamics were restricted. No one speaker has yet to score a perfect 10 on every count; we still have to prioritize the sound we want from our speakers.

If you’ve only lived with bookshelf speakers, you’ll be in for a shock when you hear the Forte III in your living room. No small speaker, or even the best of them, can match the Forte III’s power delivery. They unleash music’s dynamics with ease, and I’m not just talking about the wham-bam, knock you back in your seat dynamics. No, the Forte III is also a more expressive speaker at late night listening levels. The music breathes, it flows, it moves.

If the Forte III is too big or beyond your budget, but I have whetted your appetite for big speaker sound — don’t despair, consider the Klipsch Heresy III speakers, that stand a mere 24 inches (610mm) tall and sell for $1,299 each in the US, and pair prices are £2,700 in the UK and AU$5,500 in Australia. And if those are still out of reach, consider my 2018 Speaker of the Year, the $550, £600, AU$1,499 per pair Klipsch RP 600M bookshelf speakers that conjure the essence of live music in a smaller package.

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