Klipsch Cornwall IV Floorstanding Loudspeaker Review
James Michael Hughes ends his thirty-year quest for a dream loudspeaker with this distinctive design…
AUD $14,000 RRP
Klipsch introduced the Cornwall as far back as 1959. It began life as a centre-speaker for use with the big corner-placed Klipschorns in stereo. Of course, it could also be used singly as a mono speaker on its own or as a pair in stereo. It remained in production for the next thirty years or so, albeit with changes and upgrades to drive units, crossover and cabinet. Discontinued in 1990, the speaker then returned to the Klipsch range in 2006 as the Cornwall III. The considerably revised Cornwall IV reviewed here was released in August 2019.
The name Cornwall derives from the speaker's suitability to be placed in a corner or against a wall, rather than being a tribute to a popular holiday destination in England. The MDF cabinet measures 38x25.3x15.5 inches (960x630x390mm) and weighs around 96lbs, or 43kg. One reason for its great weight is the driver complement. There are three: a massive 15 inch K-33 composite-cone woofer, a 1.75-inch K-702 midrange compression-driver with patented 'Mumps' technology Tractrix horn, and a one-inch K-107 titanium diaphragm tweeter with an all-new wide-dispersion phase plug.
As you'd expect, efficiency is extremely high at a claimed 102dB. This means you don't need a powerful amplifier to get loud, room-filling sound. Steep-slope crossover networks are now employed, plus Tractrix mouldings with inner flares for the bass reflex ports – something exclusive to the Cornwall IV. Also new is the 2-inch (5cm) matte black riser, script adorned grilles and rear-mounted bi-amp/bi-wire 4mm aluminium binding posts. Three finishes are available – Cherry, Walnut, and Black. The veneers are book-matched, so the two speakers look almost identical in terms of grain pattern.
Build quality and finish are excellent. Klipsch speakers are built to last and are superbly constructed. Styling is a matter of taste, but for me, the Heritage range combines classic looks that hark back to the golden age of hi-fi. They even smell good – a lovely rich 'woody' aroma fills the room!
Although large by domestic standards, the Cornwall IV is small as horn-loaded speakers go. Hence the bass enclosure is a port-reflex rather than a true folded horn. The La Scala is the company's smallest full-range horn and is double the size and weight of a Cornwall. Think of this as an especially user-friendly, domestic house-trained Klipsch, then.
The Cornwall IV needs around four hundred hours before it's fully run-in. It sounds crisp, bright and lively from new, but a bit fierce and almost too immediate. The sound grows increasingly open and refined as the speaker runs in, sounding forward but smooth and relaxed.
As I mostly listen to classical music, I require a speaker that delivers natural, uncoloured timbres on acoustic instruments and unamplified voices. So won't you get cuppy colourations and a degree of tonal hardness with a horn-loaded midrange and tweeter? Isn't that unavoidable? Nope. Such vices are absent with the Cornwall IV. It is true that some older Klipsch models sounded a bit boxy and coloured. Despite being lively with a commanding sense of presence, they were somewhat loud and unrefined, without much subtlety or finesse — not-so with the latest Klipsch designs.
Much of the Cornwall IV's refinement is due to the design of the midrange compression driver, with its 'Mumps' shaping of the Tractrix horn. This result is a solid, detailed sound that is open, natural and free from distortion and unwanted colouration. The improvement is palpable.
I have a reasonably large room with a high ten-foot ceiling, and my listening seat is over twice as far back from the speakers. I, therefore, require a loudspeaker that makes a big sound and projects out into the room. It's the polar opposite of near-field listening from maybe four or five feet away. I mention this because speakers like the Cornwall IV are quite assertive with horn-loaded mid and top drivers. They definitely sound more agreeable given a bit of distance. Sure, you can sit just a few feet away, but the results may be somewhat overwhelming if you play music loudly.
Even played loudly, however, the Cornwall IV still retains clarity and poise. This is down to several things – mostly horn-loading, but also the use of steep-slope crossovers. With shallow roll-offs, drive units overlap, resulting in a slight muddiness and lack of dynamic separation.
The Cornwall IV offers excellent bass performance – tight, surprisingly deep and boom-free. I've lived at my current abode for over forty years, and every speaker I've ever used has suffered from unwanted lift in the 100 to 150Hz region, leading to a slight boom. Not so this one. Indeed, my first reaction was to wonder where the bass was, as things seemed a wee bit bass-light. But when bass did come along, its weight, depth and power surprised me. It's good to about 35Hz, or thereabouts, and has a fast and light quality that does not smear the midrange.
I did try the Cornwall IVs with KEF's super little KC62 subwoofer, and the two work well together. You can adjust the KC62 so it comes in right under the Cornwalls, adding extra heft and depth without affecting speed or dynamics.
Speaking of which, the Cornwall IV is amazingly fast and expressive. It will surprise and delight you with vigorous, vibrant turns of musical phrase that other speakers smooth over. It sounds great on percussion, drums and piano, but goes beyond that. Listen, and you'll hear all kinds of dynamic inflections that make music more involving. I immediately noticed this while playing the recent Kirill Petrenko Mahler 7 – a sudden unexpected change of pace and dynamics at 1 minute 10 seconds into the second movement. Boom!
While we're on the subject, dig out a few recordings you've deemed uninteresting and disappointing – ones that sound a bit flat and dull, without much sparkle or life. The Cornwall IV can and will transform such recordings, making them sound fresh, interesting and enjoyable. At the same time, recordings that can sound brash and unpleasantly forward are reproduced in a surprisingly civilised, less congested, and better-separated manner. That's quite paradoxical. Given how crisp and detailed Cornwall IVs sound, you'd think the opposite would happen, but no…
Since the 1990s, many pop albums deliberately employ heavy compression to create a loud and forceful sound. (What's the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis is a good example. The Cornwall IV handles recordings like these amazingly well, without sounding congested or overloaded. Yet it's also really good on early rock like Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel or anything from Chuck Berry. These simple recordings often have a lot of hard/peaky mid-range energy and don't always reproduce cleanly or comfortably on modern low-efficiency speakers.
Although producing a crisp, forward immediate sort of balance, the Cornwall IV is also very good at suggesting space and depth. Ambience is well portrayed, and you get a real impression of the acoustic in which the recording was made. I found it almost impossible to catch this speaker out. I couldn't find any recordings or music types that it didn't reproduce well. It was as convincing on unaccompanied human voice as it was on heavy electronic music, jazz, rock, organ, piano or a full symphony orchestra.
My regular loudspeakers are Impulse H1s, that I partner with a pair of Klipsch Heresy IIIs to create a full-range horn. These Impulse/Klipsch hybrids sound good and can reproduce a wide range of music and recordings very well – or so I thought! But a pair of Cornwall IVs proved massively superior – noticeably more dynamic with greater separation while sounding significantly more open and detailed, faster and more exciting.
It wasn't just my finest recordings that sounded better. All those 'slightly disappointing' or 'not-quite-as-good-as-they-might've-been' recordings improved too – often to the point where I could no longer hear anything lacking. This is something I want a hi-fi system to give me – the ability to enjoy music without the sound getting in the way. The Cornwall IV kept surprising me. Everything I played sounded great – as good or better than I'd ever heard it sound before. If I played a new recording or a piece I didn't know, the Cornwall IV's clarity and detail made the music more accessible and easier to assimilate.
The way this Klipsch speaker conveys the emotion of someone playing or singing is really gripping and involving. There's such a live feel to the presentation, plus a hard-to-define 'rightness' too. Whatever I tried, the results always seemed correct and appropriate. Extremes of loud and soft, high and low, smooth or abrasive, don't seem to faze it. The speaker simply handles whatever you give it without getting into difficulty. This allows you to listen to the music and enjoy it without fretting about recording quality. It's good at low volumes too.
The sound is impressive on well-recorded modern material but is also kind to historical recordings. Hidden detail is revealed without failings being emphasised. This enables the Cornwall IV to be surprisingly informative yet forgiving of older, flawed recordings.
Here's an example. I acquired the famous nineteen fifties EMI Guido Cantelli Debussy recordings in the mid-nineties, reissued on Testament CD. Cantelli's approach to instrumental balance and phrasing was fanatical. He spent forty-five minutes rehearsing the first page of Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien – basically just brass/wind chords. Having read this, I expected to hear something revelatory. Alas, EMI's recessed 1954 mono sound seemed to convey little or no sense of the atmosphere, mood and detail Cantelli worked so hard to achieve. It was a big let-down for me, or so I felt. Some years later, results improved after I partnered the H1s with Heresy IIIs. But the Cornwall IV took things to a whole new level of expressive clarity without exposing the limitations of the antique recording. To me, that's what great hi-fi is all about.
However, I can't deny the Cornwall may become less forgiving if you sit very close up. I started with my review pair facing directly towards my listening seat, then – trying to soften that bright, frisky top-end – gradually toed them in until the speakers were directly facing each other. I even listened for a while, with them pointing back towards the rear wall. It was early days, and the speakers were still running in. After a week's use, the top end started to mellow. I repositioned the enclosures so they were facing forwards but toed in sharply by about 75 degrees. This seemed to work well, so that's how I've left them.
This speaker images quite well. Even sat twenty-five feet back, I hear clear separation effects. Sitting closer to the speakers, imaging grows stronger and more precise. Maybe it's still not a highly detailed pin-point stereo soundstage, but what I hear more or less equates to the stereo that I experience listening to classical music live in a concert hall – basically, that's good enough. Okay, the Cornwall IV isn't quite as airy and pin-point sharp as narrow speakers with smooth rounded edges and small tweeters in capsule-sized enclosures. I suspect its broad front baffle limits its imaging capabilities a bit, but this isn't a significant factor for me.
Indeed, imaging is largely a function of its dynamic capabilities rather than an accurate, carefully managed phase response. Instruments and voices project out from the enclosures with three-dimensional clarity. That's why you hear clear left/right separation when sitting well back. For me, this mirrors closely what one hears with live acoustic instruments in a room or hall. While I appreciate the importance of accurate phase for near-field listening, the whole premise has always seemed false to me – unrelated to how we actually hear live instruments and voices.
As the Cornwall IVs run in and the sound mellows further, reducing the amount of toeing-in should be possible so that the drivers point more directly towards my listening seat. We'll see. These things take time. I reckon my Heresy IIIs needed a year or more before they fully settled in!
My own Heresy III/Impulse H1 combination is arguably not too dissimilar to the Cornwall IV in terms of frequency range and dynamic capability – at least on paper. Just looking at things like the overall size and general specifications, you might conclude they'd be quite close overall. In reality, though, the difference is immense. Moreover, I don't believe the gap (chasm!) could have been bridged by using a better front end (vinyl or CD) or a superior amplifier. Regardless of cost or quality, no front end or amp could have persuaded/coerced my old speakers to do what the Cornwall IVs do.
Klipsch's Cornwall IV is a brilliant loudspeaker for the money. I have had my Impulse H1s for over three decades now, adding the Heresy IIIs to the mix about nine years ago. They've sounded pretty good, and I haven't really encountered anything I could accommodate that I liked better. Alas, a Rubicon has now been passed. Since I've had the Cornwall IV in my room, there is no way I'd ever want to go back. It's simply in a different class, significantly better in just about every aspect. For my music and my room, I think I have found my dream loudspeaker.
An avid audiophile for many decades, Jimmy has been writing about hi-fi since 1980 in a host of British magazines, from What Hi-Fi to Hi-Fi Choice. Based in London, England, he’s one of the UK’s most prolific record and CD collectors – no streaming service can yet match his amazing music collection!