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Klipsch has made excellent speakers for decades but has never been able to fully translate its expertise to soundbars. While last year's Bar 4x models were a huge step up from previous designs, they remained hamstrung by tiny subwoofers. The new Cinema 400 keeps the last series' main speaker combined with a new subwoofer that is, quite frankly, humungous. The result is one of the best TV speakers in this price range I've ever heard.
Despite the prodigious amount of bass on offer, the Klipsch Cinema 400 doesn't sound leaden or muffled. Its pair of horn-loaded tweeters create bigger, more open sound than the JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass in the same price range. The Klipsch offers solid connectivity too, although its single HDMI port and lack of Wi-Fi streaming are limitations compared to some other soundbars. If you don't need those features, however, the great sound and bombproof build of the Klipsch Cinema 400 should ensure its place on your shortlist.
Klipsch made its name with horn-loaded speakers -- technically, a driver amplified by a widening diaphragm -- and the technology is used in both public address systems and megaphones. This design aesthetic takes pride of place on the Cinema 400. At either end of the soundbar is a gunmetal-colored Tractrix horn with a 1-inch tweeter inside. These distinctive horns flank a pair of 3-inch oval, fiber-composite cone woofers hidden behind an attractive, black tweed grill.
Unlike most soundbars the Cinema 400 is constructed of wood (MDF), and feels really sturdy. The bar itself is relatively wide at 40-inches across and quite tall at 2.8 inches high. The height can be an issue with some TVs, and proved tall enough to block the remote sensor on the Sony XBR-55X950G I used for testing. I had to raise my remote hand above the sound bar to get the TV to register commands. By contrast the shorter JBL 2.1 Bar Deep Bass had no problems allowing commands to pass to the television. Whether the Klipsch's height is an issue for you depends on your TV and installation, so it's something to keep in mind.
The wireless subwoofer is also constructed from wood and measures 11.87 inches wide by 16.12 inches high and 16.12 inches deep. It dwarfs the JBL 2.1 Deep Bass' sub and is one of the largest I've seen on any soundbar, period. The sub helps the system achieve a claimed 35Hz frequency response. If you crave even more/deeper bass, the soundbar does feature a subwoofer out to connect a wired sub, which could be used with or without this one.
The Cinema 400's connections include HDMI-ARC, Bluetooth, and 3.5mm analog and optical digital input. These should be fine for most users but I'd love to see a second standard HDMI input as well. HDMI ARC, which feeds a signal from your TV to your outboard gear, can be a little finicky depending on your equipment. Connecting your set-top box directly to the soundbar via a second HDMI port is always a nice option, and one available on competitors like the JBL 2.1 Deep Bass and Polk Command Bar.
The soundbar offers a Dolby Digital decoder, not DTS. Lack of the second major surround format isn't a big deal because DTS broadcasts and streams are relatively rare, and in a pinch you could always set up your source to output DTS as PCM instead. The soundbar also offers a number of sound modes which dialog, surround enhancement and "night" processing.
The remote is friendly little pointer with control over the sound modes, EQ and input. I found I would sometimes need to adjust the sub based on what I was playing, and the remote helpfully gives you a direct subwoofer volume control.
If I had to characterize Klipsch's sound it would be "detailed and gutsy," and it's no surprise the brand has been adopted by the rock establishment: both by fans of the genre and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame itself. The Klipsch Cinema 400 upholds this tradition but doesn't stray into upper-midrange unpleasantness as some other "bright" speakers can.
I compared the Klipsch to the similarly priced JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass, and found that the Klipsch sounded airy without being too forward while the JBL sounded a little more boxy. This is something I remarked upon in my Deep Bass review -- when it came to music in particular, the JBL lags behind others in terms of transparency and slam.
I started my testing with the lobby scene from the Matrix -- wherein our heroes Neo and Trinity trip the bad guys' metal detectors by carrying human truckloads of weaponry, and an over-the-top firefight ensues. The Klipsch subwoofer was able to go impressively deep, but it didn't gel as well with the main bar as the JBL combo. The bass line from this scene never came to the fore on the Klipsch in the way that it should. It wasn't a great start, but things quickly improved for Klipsch.
Avatar was next, and the jungles of Pandora became lush and full of life when heard through the Klipsch. I had an enjoyable romp alongside Jake's catlike avatar as he escaped the cutches of the rampaging thanator ending with a dunk in a waterfall. The JBL, on the other hand, made this scene seem a little smaller and some details weren't conveyed as well: voices were hollower and the click of the machine gun less natural. However, the Bar 2.1 was capable of some pretty tight bass effects and it offered better slam as the thanator smashed against the trees trying to get at Jake.
I listened to a wide selection of music on the Klipsch -- from country to electronica to hardcore punk -- and the soundbar didn't waver. It was as comfortable with the Strokes' fantastic comeback album, The New Abnormal, as it was with the trippy sounds of Maynard James Keenan's Puscifer.
Coriky includes two former members of Fugazi, and the chiming guitar and guttural vocal line of Clean Kill evoke memories of the DC quartet's Red Medicine record. The Klipsch pulled away from the JBL here, with better separation of the instruments and more of a sense of dynamics when I listened to the interplay between the drums and the guitar. I could feel Joe Lally's bass line with my feet.
The Klipsch wasn't all about power, though. It was able to convey the undulating guitar picking of Dolly Parton's classic Jolene, and the instrument's snap seemed to come out of a space much wider than physical speaker. Her voice sounded expressive and haunted in the best way. The JBL was a disappointment after that and, while the lyrics were still understandable, her voice didn't soar quite as much.
In over 15 years of testing soundbars I've yet to come across a model that is in my mind "perfect." There's always some kind of compromise made to fit a size, price or both. The Klipsch Cinema 400 isn't going to fit everyone -- it's big, and it doesn't have a laundry list of features -- but for the money it does a lot better than most competitors. If you value sound quality, the Klipsch Cinema 400 is well worth the money.