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Klipsch Museum of Audio History: The sound of history being made

Klipsch Museum of Audio History: The sound of history being made

May 7th, 2017 by Aaron Brand in Features

Memorabilia recalling the life and work of Paul Klipsch, the creator of the Klipschorn and pioneer of audio technology, is on display at the Klipsch Museum of Audio History in Hope, Ark.

Photo by Jerry Habraken /Texarkana Gazette.

HOPE, Ark.—The renowned Klipschorn got its start in Hope roughly 71 years ago, and you can still savor the sound of that storied history.

You'll discover it at a modest building that at one time housed Klipsch speaker manufacturing. In fact, it was the original Klipsch factory, where Paul Wilbur Klipsch moved his young operations after selling speakers out of a tin shack for a couple years.

Now it's called the Klipsch Museum of Audio History, where the story of an eccentric, passionate genius and his beloved loudspeaker is told through the many artifacts that visually convey the narrative of his success with hi-fi wizardry.

Invented by the late Klipsch, an Indiana-born engineer and true audio pioneer, the Klipschorn has won a fervent following over the decades. They're the kind of fans who each year descend on Hope for a Klipsch Pilgrimage and talk speakers and all things Klipsch on a fan forum with thousands of members.

About a week-and-a-half ago, this museum changed hands during a formal ceremony at the manufacturing plant, putting it into the care of these dedicated fans.

The Klipsch Museum of Audio History went from Klipsch Group Inc. to the Klipsch Heritage Museum Association Inc. and will continue to store Klipsch archives and celebrate his influence on how we hear music today in our living rooms.

Another aim of the fledgling nonprofit organization is to promote STEM education. In such ways, they plan to advance the Klipsch legacy. Getting this museum organized involved Klipsch Group donating the land and the building. For Klipsch fans, the connection is strong.

"When you look at our board (of trustees), the vast majority personally knew Paul Klipsch, knew him for years," said Travis Williamson, a Klipsch fan who emceed the Klipsch Museum of Audio History transfer ceremony and provided legal counsel to the group, about the people now running the museum, folks who were deeply affected by the Klipsch genius.

Paul Jacobs, the president and CEO of Klipsch Group Inc., talked about how his life was changed by hearing "Stairway to Heaven" on Klipsch speakers. He was only 13 years old.

"In the summer of '73, I fell asleep to that song every night, and my passion for music it changed my life in so many ways," Jacobs said, noting "live your passion" is one of the key lessons he learned from Klipsch

About this transformational experience, Jacobs said, "Paul has been changing lives like mine for over 70 years. Whether that's what he started out to do, whether he knew he was doing it, there are thousands of people around the world that went through an experience similar to mine through what Paul Klipsch was doing."

Count Jim Hunter—a longtime engineer, the resident historian at Klipsch and the man who's taken care of the museum for many years—as being among those who are delighted to see a future for the museum and Klipsch archives. Williamson described him as "the world's foremost authority" about the Klipsch company and its founder.

"It's almost surreal it finally has come to pass," Hunter said about this coming to fruition. He's been willing to lay down in front of the bulldozer to keep these things here, he says.

What will someone find inside the museum that would inspire such unbridled love?

"To me, it's the papers and letters and documentation that he left that's just incredible," Hunter said. Klipsch was a legendary pack-rat and forever a teacher. "His personal letters back and forth with consumers would stack 20 feet thick. We have correspondence with one woman in the Dominican Republic for 20 years."

Such dedicated correspondence was indicative of something essential in the Klipsch personality. What drove this? "He liked to teach people," Hunter said, "particularly if he'd get somebody that knew they didn't know enough and knew to learn."

Hunter, employing a wealth of understatement, said Klipsch found several good audiences for sharing the knowledge he gained about audio technology, which he began gathering as a child.

As a youngster, Klipsch, the son of a mechanical engineering teacher, started building his own speakers. It was when Klipsch came to Hope and worked, as part of his military service, at the Southwest Proving Grounds that the young inventor laid the groundwork for what would become his speaker manufacturing business in 1946, Klipsch & Associates.

Now, education is one key to the museum's purpose.

Paul Jacobs, CEO and president of Klipsch Group Inc., speaks during the unveiling ceremony for the new Klipsch Museum of Audio History at the Klipsch plant in Hope, Ark.

Paul Jacobs, CEO and president of Klipsch Group...

Photo by Jerry Habraken /Texarkana Gazette.

"The aim of the museum is to promote STEM, because Paul Klipsch was the poster child for STEM before the word was coined," Hunter said. They'd like to show how science, technology and engineering worked in Klipsch's life—"and hopefully spread the love."

Klipsch was known as an eccentric man with a handy ability to dispense truths as he saw them. At the Klipsch website, you'll find a list of some of his well-known sayings, the kinds of things he'd proclaim that lingered in the mind. For example, when he described his newfound love for airplanes after first developing a fondness for railroads, he said "I didn't forsake my first love, I just became polygamous."

Also, company workers were once given T-shirts adorned with the word "B***s***," a word Klipsch uttered when he saw ludicrous claims in loudspeaker ads. The word became a company slogan, the company founder handing out buttons with the word when he ventured forth to trade shows.

"He was just inherently a genius, but I think the biggest factor is he also had integrity," said Hunter, who's ready to share great anecdotes from Klipsch's life. There are many such anecdotes. In a promo video about Klipsch's life during the transfer ceremony, he's described as a "genius and maverick."

"In 1953, I believe it was, Paul Klipsch met Arthur Fiedler and he was the epitome of music in the world, and so he gave Fiedler this Klipschorn," said Hunter, referring to one of the speakers now resting at the museum and the famous Boston Pops Orchestra conductor, "in return for using Fiedler's name in his advertising. So he scored the ultimate endorsement."

The Klipsch Museum of Audio History in Hope, Ark.

The Klipsch Museum of Audio History in Hope,...

Photo by Jerry Habraken /Texarkana Gazette.

What made the Klipschorn so groundbreaking? To tell this story, Hunter walks into another room of the museum.

"Movie theater sound is where the real science went on," Hunter said, motioning to a monster-sized 1930s RCA movie theater speaker parked on a shelf. "It's kind of big. The Klipschorn does more than this in a compact size." While the Klipschorn is a bit big, too, he admits, overall it's still compact for the job it does.

"Literally he brought movie theater-caliber sound in a speaker that you can get through the doorway to your living room," Hunter said.

Essentially, he explains, it comes down to physics because Klipsch was able to engineer a speaker with a folded horn in the most volumetrically efficient manner ever seen. "And I don't think anybody's done any better since. I mean, when you're right you're right," he said.

Hunter plans to have regular hours for the museum established by the end of June. Find out more about Klipsch and the Klipsch Museum of Audio History at Klipsch.com. Also, look for the website KlipschMuseum.org to be developed and find Klipsch Museum of Audio History on Facebook.

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