Shopping for a sound bar to improve the sonics of your television? The sweet spot is around the $400 mark, where you get the best mix of features and performance. You can pay much more, but you don't really get as much of a return for your money, especially when a quality pair of speakers and receiver can be had for under $500. Say, as an example, the ELAC B5 and the Yamaha RS-X279.
The Klipsch R-4 fits in the sound bar "golden zone" at $399, and includes all of the features you'd expect: wireless sub, Bluetooth, optical connectivity. Yet while this was a perfectly acceptable arrangement in previous years, competition has ramped up significantly. Models like the Yamaha YAS-203 and the LG LAS751M have shown that features and sound quality are no longer mutually exclusive at the budget end of the spectrum.
If you're not looking for an exhaustive features list and are already a Klipsch fan, then the R4 carries the company name quite well, but competition is tough in this very lively field, and it's not the best choice for the money.
The R-4B is the little sibling to the more expensive R-10B we reviewed in 2014, and with the $200 savings come a couple of changes, mostly physical. Both the sound bar and the wireless speaker are smaller than before, and the bar itself is only 3.5 inches tall.
While the R-10B was rather macho-looking, the R-4B uses a little less testosterone while still retaining a family resemblance. It's 40 inches wide and contains two 2.5-inch woofers in conjunction with dual 3/4-inch horn-loaded soft dome tweeters. The main speaker houses a readout in the middle with text which, albeit small, is better than the Aldis Lamp-like LEDs that most competitors use.
The R10 and R20 feature large subs, but the R-4 is more compact, featuring a 6.5-inch woofer inside a 6.3-inch-by-14.2-inch-by-10.4-inch enclosure. It's constructed from MDF instead of plastic and features the attractive brushed vinyl we've seen on other products this year, including others from Klipsch.
The remote control is a credit card-style model in the company's bronze and black livery. It includes controls for both the sub and general volume, but like most of kinds of this style of clicker, it's not at all ergonomic.
The R-4B is a 2.1-channel sound bar with a wireless subwoofer that's primarily designed to be hooked up to your TV via an optical cable, or for listening to music streamed over Bluetooth from your smartphone.
Like its brethren, the Klipsch will decode Dolby soundtracks but not DTS from your DVD and Blu-ray discs. The bar isn't a true surround model, but it comes with several modes including Virtual Surround, Voice Enhance and Night Mode.
The Klipsch keeps its connectivity options relatively sparse, with an optical port, stereo analog, Bluetooth and USB. By comparison, the similarly priced LG LAS751M manages to shoe-horn in both HDMI and multiroom features without compromising on sonic performance. Of course, if streaming music is your thing, adding a $35 Chromecast Audio gives you many of the features of a multiroom system without the hassle of learning a proprietary app.
The Klipsch R-4B is easy enough to setup, and subwoofer pairing with the sound bar is automatic, so far so good. Just be aware that since this sound bar doesn't have a DTS decoder, you have to feed it PCM digital audio from your TV, cable box, or game. To do that explore your components setup options to make sure your audio is set to PCM rather than Bitstream, or if that's not possible hook up analog connections between your sources and the R-4B.
With setup out of the way, we cranked up the volume for the battlefield scenes on the "American Sniper" Blu-ray, and the R-4B easily delivered the mayhem. The sharp blasts of bullets that punctuate street warfare were terrifyingly clear, and the sound of the lumbering military vehicles had substantial weight. The R-4B's pint-size subwoofer was surprisingly potent!
Using the R-4B in PCM mode, the speaker dished up oodles of texture and detail from the "Gravity" Blu-ray, and Steven Price's thrilling orchestral score fully exercised the R-4B. Astronaut Dr. Stone's (Sandra Bullock) panicked breaths as she gasped for air in her low-on-oxygen spacesuit kept us on the edge of our seats.
The R-4B was definitely up to snuff, so to put its talents in perspective we moved over to one of our reference sound bars, the Yamaha YAS-203, which greatly expanded the soundstage in all dimensions in DTS (Bitstream) mode. The YAS-203 sounds a lot bigger overall. When Dr. Stone is safely hunkered down in the space station, the low, rumbling hum of the control room's electronics and air circulation system provided a deeper foundation to the sound.
But since "Gravity" has a Dolby soundtrack and the R-4B does have a Dolby decoder, we switched the Oppo over to bitstream, and listened again to the R-4B. Ah, that made a big difference -- the soundstage blossomed and overall clarity improved, so the R-4B was better than we first thought. While this test is effectively comparing the difference between the audio streams on the disc, it helps to illustrate that having the choice of both Dolby and DTS gives you greater flexibility, and this is something the Yamaha does (and the Klipsch does not).
Listening to music files over the R-4B for background sound was fine, but when we upped the volume we found the sound bar's treble push a tad too aggressive and bright. There's no tone controls to enable you to tame the brightness.
Streaming to the Klipsch over Bluetooth was similarly fine with no obvious artifacts, but the treble push became too much with rock. This is a home-theater component first, and music maker a distant second.
The R-4B is a competent performer; its little subwoofer gained our respect with movies, but the overall sound quality was nothing special. The similarly priced Yamaha YAS-203 trounced the R-4B in every contest.