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Paul W. Klipsch Story: A Life of a Genius and his Pursuit of Audio Perfection


You know that passion you can hear in a trumpeter’s brassy solo or the finale of an epic anthem played by a full symphony at the height of their talents?

Paul W. Klipsch heard it. He heard it clearly, and it kindled a passion of his own.

His drive to give these soul-stirring sounds the best presentation possible—better than anything yet available to listeners of his day—led him to develop new speaker technology that presented each key change, crescendo, chorus and choir with unparalleled clarity.

The result of his passion was game changing then, and it continues to set the bar for audio excellence now, even as music interests have changed with the times. Klipsch speakers consistently deliver what modern audiences are searching for without even realizing it, from the goose bump-raising high note of the national anthem before the big game to the rousing pre-final-battle speech delivered by the leader of a ragtag group of warriors fighting to defend Earth from invading alien forces.

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Inventor, Geophysicist, Pilot, Colonel

Paul W. Klipsch’s auditory marvel didn’t move straight from his mad-genius mind into listeners’ living rooms. He started in a rather unglamorous setting—a ramshackle tin shed—dripping sweat and drafting plans to translate his vision into physical, ear-dazzling reality. And dazzle he did.

But he didn’t stop there. Not only did Klipsch build a high-end audio speaker unlike anything the world had yet seen (or heard), he ensured these speakers would be built according to his exact standards. Since that beginning, his company has never waivered in its production of his speaker, as well as successive generations of models that include modern innovations, while retaining the soul of the Klipsch original.

Somewhere among all of that inventing and entrepreneurialism, he also found time to flex his geophysicist and pilot muscles, along with earning the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. You know, like you do.

The people who knew him best said even their exhaustive lists of his achievements don’t tell a sliver of his story. Longtime Klipsch engineer Gary Gillum said the founder had an uncanny ability to provide answers to any question with speed and authority—never needing to reference a book, chart or table. He was, in Gillum’s words, “a meticulous genius.”

Another long-time employee and friend jokingly speculated that Klipsch must have invented a time machine and is simply waiting for the future to catch up to the patent office so he can step out of the past and officially register it in the present. A time traveler? Well, he never proved that he wasn’t.

In the meantime, there are still dozens of patents in his name, ranging from loudspeakers to logarithmic converters and even firearms. Imagination, meet execution.

Despite Klipsch’s talent for turning mere ideas and flickers of thought into stuff you can actually hold, he is equally remembered for something impossible to touch—even as it touches the lives of so many people: his legacy. Every box that bears his name indicates that what’s inside carries his spark and spirit, as well as his uncompromising push to never settle for anything less than the best. He demanded quality of himself and the world around him for 98 long years. Where he didn’t find it, he cultivated it.

Jim Hunter understands the impact of the Klipsch legacy better than most people. He met the man in 1978 and then went to work for him. Hunter respected him and eventually named Mr. and Mrs. Klipsch godparents to his two children.

Hunter explained that the mix of humor, passion and “just general spark mixed with good-naturedness” that defined Klipsch is hard to boil down into a simple character description. However, if this Renaissance man’s career could be summed up in one sentiment, it would be that while nothing ages worse than technology, nothing is as ageless as technology well-executed.

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Klipschorn®

The pinnacle of this idea has to be the Klipschorn®, the only audio speaker that has been in continuous production for seven decades.

Still ahead of its time today, the Klipschorn® features expanding chambers ingeniously folded to allow your entire room to participate in creating a wall of sound. Audiophiles believe this method is the truest way to experience sound in its purest form—and nobody argues with audiophiles. You could try, but we wouldn’t recommend it.

Even people with less than a passing interest in the mechanics behind their speakers recognize the difference. The typical person’s response to their ears intimately meeting a Klipsch product, according to Hunter: “That sounds so clear.”

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Inducted into Engineering & Science Hall of Fame

As no surprise to anyone who knew him (or you, if you’ve made it this far in the bio), Klipsch was inducted into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame in 2004—an achievement that would likely be the most glittering jewel in anyone’s career crown. In fact, he and Thomas Edison are the only two people from the audio industry to be inducted into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame since 1946. In Paul’s case, it served as just one more milestone for the man who never stopped forging ahead. He had already written the rulebook of sound, then tore it to shreds, then wrote it again. Like modern musicians who destroy and rebuild what audiences expect to hear, Klipsch did the same with how they hear it.

When a colleague advised him not to release a more portable speaker because it would undermine his own Klipschorn®, basically committing heresy against Klipsch’s best-known and celebrated creation, he thumbed his nose at the world—including himself. His response: “The hell I can’t!” He dubbed his new speaker creation the Heresy.

A sense of humor, sometimes despite slim odds of success. A larger-than-life personality tempered by humility. Integrity shaping grand ideas. These are the character strengths that, coupled with a lifelong thirst for learning, gave Klipsch’s ideas staying power. Conversely, in regard to “ideas of dubious credibility”, he adopted an unofficial moto: “Bullshit”. He wore a yellow button with that single sentiment written on it, flashing it from behind his lapel at anyone he thought was trying a little too hard to impress him.

Klipsch embraced the ordinary to reveal the unexpected. He lived life as it came—never allowing it to carry him along, helpless in the current. In the times he didn’t know what was around the next bend, he sped forward, eager to see what was to come.

So pop in a movie, fire up a new single, or settle in to listen to a favorite album. Hear that? It’s more than just a smooth saxophone lick or a bone-shaking explosion. It’s the Klipsch legacy.

Categories: History

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