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Klipsch G-42, a sound bar speaker with 'horns'

Klipsch's new G-42 raises the performance "bar" for one-piece home theater speakers.

The long and sleek Klipsch G-42 sound-bar speaker Klipsch

Lets face it: sound bars are popular mostly because they reduce home theater clutter. The other big plus is that they eliminate the need to buy an AV receiver, and the cost savings can be considerable. That's all good, but I'm still waiting to hear a sound bar an audiophile could love.

I had hopes for Klipsch's new Gallery G-42 sound bar ($699), but it doesn't have internal amplifiers, so it must be used with a receiver. That's potentially a very positive sign, because the amps built into sound bars aren't as good or as powerful as the ones in Denon, NAD, Onkyo, Pioneer, or Yamaha receivers. Like all Klipsch speakers, the G-42 sports horn-loaded tweeters (more on that later). The sound bar is part of a new Klipsch series of Gallery speakers and 5.1 channel speaker packages.

Decked out with a gorgeous glossy black finish, the G-42 has a high-end sheen, and its 6-inch-high, 42-inch-wide, and 2.4-inch-deep cabinet feels sturdy. The 12-pound speaker can be wall-mounted or set on a cabinet with the included table top stand. The rear panel houses all-metal connectors for the speaker's left, center, and right channels.

Klipsch speakers are famous for their "horn"-loaded driver technology. The G-42 has three 1-inch titanium tweeters, and each one is mated to a Tractrix Horn. That design feature allows the tweeters to produce more volume per watt than conventional, flush-mounted dome tweeters. The flared horn in front of each tweeter also directs its dispersion to minimize floor and ceiling reflections, so the imaging is sharper and clearer. There are four 3.5-inch woofers (one each for left and right channels, and two for the center channel).

The Klipsch SW-110 subwoofer Klipsch

The G-42 doesn't make much bass; it should be partnered with a subwoofer. That's why Klipsch also sent a 10-inch, 200-watt SW-110 powered sub ($500) for this review. The Klipsches were used with my Onkyo TX-SR805 receiver and Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player for all of my listening tests.

The Rolling Stones' "Shine A Light" Blu-ray sounded better and better the louder I played it; and having a potent Onkyo receiver driving the G-42 gave the speaker an advantage over self-powered sound bars when it comes to full-throttle dynamic oomph. Hey, it's rock music and volume capability is nice to have. The G-42 wins on that score, and the mighty Klipsch duo will outrun any self-powered sound bar/subwoofer system I've tested. The SW-110 sub is powerful, but bass definition was only fair. All in all, the G-42 and SW-110 sub provide a far more exciting ride than the potent Zvox Z-Base 580 ($599) sound bar; it's not even close. But neither is the price; the Klipsch/Onkyo system is a lot more expensive.

The original "Saw" DVD is still pretty creepy after all these years, and the G-42 fully communicated the atmospherics of the film's claustrophobic torture room. The sounds of rattling chains and panicked breaths of the two main characters were scarily realistic. Since the G-42 has a dedicated center channel, dialogue was articulate, and I could hear the actors' voices bouncing off the room's tiled walls, but the voices sounded tonally thin. I experimented with the Onkyo receiver's bass management, but the blend between the sub and the G-42 was only fair.

The big sub provided the muscle required to deliver the sonic impact for the plane crash scene from the "Flight of the Phoenix" DVD. This is one of my favorite demo DVDs because it so quickly highlights weaknesses in home theater speaker systems. Most distort or compress dynamics, but the G-42/SW-110 system delivered the crash scene's visceral impact with more gusto than any self-powered sound bar, or any integrated sound-bar/subwoofer system I've heard to date. Nice, but the G-42 doesn't even attempt to produce the faux surround spaciousness you get with some sound bars. If you want genuine surround, add a pair of smaller Klipsch G-12 satellite speakers ($199 each) to your system.

Add up the cost of the G-42, SW-110 sub, and a receiver, and you've got a fairly expensive system, but one that delivers dynamics and power beyond the reach of most sound bars. Of course, you can get even better sound with a pair of Klipsch box speakers for a lower price than the G-42. It's your call, sound or style.