In the same way that hearing you well-heeled friends rattle off lightning-fast 0-60 times while driving their sports cars in the center lane is hardly relatable, most audiophiles aren’t very fun to talk to about actual music. As cultured connoisseurs of tube watts and lossless digital audio files, high-end buyers often use music as a means of gear-tasting, rather than to relish in imbibing the songs themselves. As such, it’s easy to see why many models on the $4000/pair speaker segment feel designed for folks who pour themselves small amounts of expensive scotch and spend hours discussing impedance on internet forums. That is what makes the Klipsch Forte III, a new US-made iteration of the company’s beloved Forte loudspeaker from 1985, so special to us: They’re meant for people who put music first.
The new Forte III is a set of vintage throwbacks for those of us who want to blast The Rolling Stones while shredding air guitar and spilling cheap beer all over ourselves. They offer the kind of thick sound that will bathe you in the warm throaty tones of Stevie Wonder while you sip your morning coffee, or pump AC/DC into your bloodstream while you do push-ups on the floor. Best of all, they won’t have you considering cable thickness or what amp you’re listening to them through, instead overpowering you with the sheer joy of the music itself. If these speakers were a car, they’d be one of those gold Corvettes the astronauts drove — and they’d be fresh off the assembly line.
Out of the Box
The first thing you’ll notice when you take delivery of the Forte III is that they pack some serious heft. You’ll need some help to move the cardboard box containing each 72-pound speaker near your listening area before removing various layers of protective coating, at which point you’ll catch your first glimpse of what will seem to be a very familiar sight for fans of vintage stereo speakers — especially those of us who have experienced the company’s previous Forte and Forte II models.
Features and Design
Fashioned as big wooden rectangles with off-white lambswool grill cloth, the new speakers look like they could have been sitting in your grandpa’s living room spinning Frank Sinatra records for decades. That’s not to say they aren’t stunning to behold; each set of Forte III speakers comes with cabinets that were hand-made in Hope, Arkansas, and the workmanship is immediately evident. In fact, each pair is grain matched so that they look nearly identical to one another when sitting side-by-side.
Our review set featured a gorgeous distressed oak veneer, but the Forte III can also be had in black ash, natural cherry, or American walnut finishes. A couple of special-edition colors are also available for a little more cash.
The speakers themselves are 36 inches tall, 16.5 inches wide and 13 inches deep, making them a formidable addition to any living room or listening space. They are also perfectly designed to place their tweeters at ear level for those relaxing on a couch or in an easy chair.
The back of the Forte III reveals two sets of binding posts for optional bi-amping or bi-wiring, as well as a glimpse of one of the key upgrades Klipsch made to its best-selling model from the mid-80s: A massive 15” passive woofer which replaces the smaller radiator found on the original model for punchier bass response. Under magnetically affixed grills you’ll find a black bafflie with three black drivers. A single 12-inch bass driver is positioned towards the base of the cabinet, with two titanium-diaphragm horn drivers above it — one updated 1.75-inch unit for midrange, and a one-inch driver for treble.
Those horn-loaded drivers are a key element of the classic Forte sound – and a hallmark of Klipsch speaker design, in general — and we welcome their return in this model. Though a somewhat polarizing technology in the audiophile universe, the “classic” Klipsch sound is often associated a zesty top end which avoids distortion, even at high volumes.
Our review team listened to the Forte III speakers over several months, playing virtually all formats and genres of music via Naim Uniti Atom, Yamaha R-N803, and Peachtree Nova 220SE amplifiers, and placing the speakers head-to-head against other high-end options like the Bowers and Wilkins 702 Series 2 and Paradigm Persona B.
To make a long story short: We’re in love.
It’s very difficult to describe the perfect blend of faithful reproduction and spirited coloration that manifests inside speakers this good, but we can say that the simultaneous warmth, depth, and intricacy with which these updated classics handle sound is nothing short of astonishing. It doesn’t matter what you are listening to or how you are listening to it, every song you put through these speakers becomes a deep, revel-inducing experience. The Forte III are earth-shatteringly good.
It’s not just that you can practically reach out and touch the upright bass when listening to Lou Reed’s Take A Walk On The Wild Side — most other speakers in this price range can do that — it’s how the speakers slightly warm everything in the soundstage, making each element of the sound buttery, but not overwhelming any one instrument with too much coloration.
It’s not just that you’ll sob as classic ballads like The Eagles’ Desperado come through like the band was playing it on a stage 20 feet in front of you, it’s that the speakers somehow make each note more vibrant and passionate than you’ve ever heard them before.
When compared to other expensive floorstanders like B&W’s 702 Series 2, the Fortes offer a similarly scintillating treble response, but their punchy low end easily bests the B&Ws, thanks to that 15-inch radiator on the rear and its 12-inch active bass driver. That said, these are not overtly bass-heavy speakers. They are punchy and exacting.
Every note, every phrase, every subtle mixing technique, it’s all there in front of you, yet where the B&Ws offer a crisp, HD-feeling image, the Fortes somehow blend in just the right amount of 72mm film grain.
Very few speakers feel as explicitly designed to purvey musical joy, and because of their nimble agility and warmth, the Forte III devour any genre with a smile. Feed them Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. and you’ll bathe in near-perfect bass response and clean hi-hats ticks between passionate vocal bouts. Feed them Ahmad Jamal’s classic jazz trio album Ahmad’s Blues, and you’ll bob along to every intricate brush stroke and piano tickle. Feed them Purple Rain and let Prince’s heart-wrenching vocals melt you into a multicolored puddle on the floor.
It’s tough to count the number of songs that I had never heard sound better on any other set of speakers. It’s embarrassing to admit, but over the several months we’ve had the review units sitting in the Digital Trends A/V room, I’ve wondered how soon we will have to send them back with the same heartache I once attached to summer camp girlfriends. There is not a single set of speakers I want to personally own more; On a sheer smiles-to-songs ratio, the Forte III rank somewhere up there with placing a bouncy castle in your listening room.
Klipsch offers a five-year limited warranty for defective materials and workmanship on all of its passive speakers.
The Klipsch Forte III offer a near-perfect blend of new-school finesse with old-school charm, easily ranking among the finest speakers that have ever graced our listening room.
Is there a better alternative?
While speakers like the Bowers and Wilkins 702 Series 2 compete in terms of price, Klipsch are the only major manufacturer we can think of that is offering reissued and tweaked versions faithful to its classic design aesthetic. If you’re looking for the same vintage audiophile sound, you may want to spring for a vintage set of Klipsch Forte or Forte II, Dynaco A-29, Acoustic Research AR3a, or Large Advent speakers to get what you’re after.
How long will it last?
Given Klipsch’s long history of manufacturing excellent-quality loudspeakers, as well as this particular product line’s longevity, we expect that the Forte III will last for generations if treated properly and maintained every decade or so.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The Klipsch Forte III are easily among the most fun-to-listen-to speakers we have ever tested, and they offer the kind of classic styling and tone that you can pass down for generations. You may pay a pretty penny up front, but the existential question lingers brightly with these speakers in particular: Can you really put a price on musical happiness?