While most people would probably spend under a thousand bucks on a TV, some are lucky enough to be able to spend a bit more. The higher-end Klipsch R-10B ($600/AU$999) is a sound bar for those lucky souls.
Like the Klipsch SB 120 sound base that preceded it, the Klipsch R-10B is a high quality speaker system with few frills, but plenty of thrills. It's a stereo sound bar which corrects an "oversight" on the behalf of the SB 120: it adds a subwoofer, and a wireless one to boot.
While very few add-on systems can boast being as adept with music as with movies, the R-10B manages it, with the subwoofer both adding heft to action movies and slamming rock tracks. It outperformed our favorite bang-for-the-buck bar, the excellent Pioneer SP-SB23W , on most of our tests.
Aside from price, the Klipsch's only real downsides are poorer-than-normal Bluetooth playback (if you don't have an aptX phone) and a lack of inputs. All told though, this is a pretty top-notch system with an emphasis on sound quality.
When it comes to looks you could say that the R-10B is the sound bar version of the cheaper Klipsch SB 120 sound base. Both speakers have a touch of the macho about them: a huge stylized 'X' emblazoned on a wire grille.
The bar measures 40 inches wide, so it looks best when paired with a 46-to-50-inch television. Like most soundbars it is made of plastic, not wood. However the accompanying subwoofer is made of wood (MDF), and it is reassuringly weighty (25.1 pounds) if not all that large at 16 inches by 8.3 inches and 13.2 inches high.
The controls in the center of the sound bar are also identical to the sound base -- source, mute and volume -- and it has a similar LED display that glows one of three colors depending on the input.
While the sound bar also comes with a credit card remote control, it's a teensy bit better looking than the SB 120's with a Klipsch orange color scheme. Use your TV remote instead, though.
The R-10B is a 2.1-channel soundbar that consists of two horn-loaded fabric tweeters supporting two 3-inch polypropylene woofers, while the ".1" is a 8-inch ported subwoofer with a side-firing driver and a solid MDF cabinet. The company claims the system is capable of a frequency response of 27Hz to 20kHz, which is very respectable.
After you connect your sources via stereo analog RCA jacks, optical digital cable or Bluetooth, the R-10B you'll be ready to start playing movies or music. I need to note here that, while it's easy to forgive products like the $400 Pioneer SP-SB23W for only having two inputs, it's a little more difficult with a $600 product such as the Klipsch.
What's that? No HDMI either? Right, that's really a surprising no-show for a $600 sound bar with "Reference" as part of its name. Still, HDMI won't be missed in day-to-day use. We're a little more concerned that the subwoofer volume level isn't available via remote for easy on-the-fly adjustments; you'll have to reach around to the knob on the sub's rear panel. Bass and treble controls are also MIA.
With the Klipsch R-10B there's not much setup to do, and subwoofer-to-sound bar pairing is automatic. We briefly tried the 3D Surround Mode and heard little difference in stereo imaging when we listened to the R-10B running LPCM digital from our Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player. As it turns out, this sound bar only decodes Dolby, not DTS soundtracks. So unless you want to change the output settings on your source from bitstream to LPCM to get any sound from DTS discs, you won't hear much benefit from the R-10B's 3D processing.
When we tried the 3D effect with the Oppo's bitstream switched on with Dolby encoded films the R-10B's soundstage did seem more spacious, but we can't imagine anyone would want to fuss with the settings when changing between Dolby and DTS encoded films. Makes you wonder why Klipsch didn't bother to include DTS decoders on a "Reference" sound bar, doesn't it?
The R-10B wasted no time making its capabilities known when we played the "Gravity" Blu-ray. The sound is big, clear, and highly dynamic, a sizable step up from most of the sound bars that pass through the CNET listening room. The big subwoofer has to be credited with some of the praise -- it goes deep and never sounds like it's working very hard. The one area where the R-10B wasn't exceptional was soundstage width; it barely spread beyond the R-10B's 40-inch width.
Everything was going so well we decided to bring out one of our favorite sound bar systems -- Pioneer's less-expensive SP-SB23W -- for a round of comparisons. With the "Avatar" Blu-ray, the R-10B unleashed the full measure of the Hammerhead Titanothere's destructive powers to the nearby jungle habitat; the SP-SB23W reduced the intensity of the beast's mayhem. During the quieter jungle scenes, the R-10B sounded significantly more detailed and revealed layers of depth the SP-SB23W glossed over. That one had a softer/richer tonal balance, but the R-10B wins on clarity, dynamic punch, bass oomph and definition. It sounds great at soft, medium or loud playback volume levels.
The "Super 8" Blu-ray's train derailment scene also packed a tremendous wallop and delivered the full measure of the screeching metal wheels -- explosions and dialogue remained clear over the R-10B, while the SP-SB23W scaled way back on the energy and dialogue intelligibility. CDs also sounded really good, and that's never a sure thing with sound bars.
Paradigm's $1,500 Soundscape sound bar handily trumped the R-10B on most counts besides deep bass, but the Soundscape doesn't come with a separate subwoofer, though you can add one. So there are better sounding alternatives to the R-10B available, if you want to pony up.
The only place the performance of the Klipsch faltered was in the replay of Bluetooth audio, especially when paired with a phone without aptX support. Using an LG Optimus G , the Klipsch's onboard receiver became very sibilant, and given that the R-10B lacks a treble control it was almost unlistenable. To make sure it wasn't an issue with the phone I compared it to the Relay Bluetooth receiver, which was much smoother and intelligible. When I used an aptX-enabled smartphone with the R-10B though things were much better, so it's seemingly just a problem with vanilla Bluetooth.
While the sweet spot for soundbars is seemingly between $400 and $500 -- where the Pioneer SP-SB23W lives -- paying a little more for a speaker like the Klipsch will give you more midrange detail where it matters most: when watching movies. The R-10B is not quite the killer deal that both the Pioneer sound bar and sound base offer, but nonetheless, the Klipsch is a sophisticated performer that will offer more home-cinema thrills than many other soundbars at this price.