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Klipsch RSB-8 review: Macho sound bar gives home-theater grunt

The Klipsch RSB-8 not only packs a long list of features into its midprice sound bar/wireless sub system, it also sounds terrific.

Ty_Pendlebury.jpg
Ty Pendlebury
Ty_Pendlebury.jpg
Ty Pendlebury Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

6 min read

While Klipsch has been producing sound bars for many years now, its talents were always seemingly elsewhere: traditional loudspeakers. Its sound bars have typically been solid performers but leaned toward home theater use rather than music -- and this may seem odd coming from the major sponsor of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

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7.9

Klipsch RSB-8

The Good

The Klipsch RSB-8 is a stereo sound bar with a wireless subwoofer which offers excellent movie sound and capable music reproduction. The addition of 4K HDMI pass-through and music streaming makes the system more flexible than previous Klipsch sound bars.

The Bad

DTS Play-Fi is finnicky to set up and use at times and adds $100 to the cost over the cheaper RSB-6. Other sound bars at the same price can offer true surround sound.

The Bottom Line

The Klipsch RSB-8 not only packs a long list of features into its midprice sound bar/wireless sub system, it also sounds terrific.

The Klipsch RSB-8 looks as masculine as any sound bar, although it, too, kicked more butt with home theater than with music. It augments its toughness with cutting-edge features and functionality. With the addition of 4K HDMI connectivity and multiroom music, the Klipsch is ready for the future in a way that the company's sound bars haven't been before.

If you're looking for something that makes your TV viewing more pleasurable and also plays some music on the side, the Klipsch RSB-8 is an excellent place to start. That said, there is a lot of competition at this price, from the excellent-sounding LG SH7B to the surround-sound-toting Vizio SB4551, both of which also offer multiroom music and potentially better value for money.

The Klipsch RSB-8 is available now for $499, while Australian and UK pricing and availability are yet to be announced.

Design

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Klipsch is never one to shy away from the macho aesthetic. The RSB-8's lines allude to car stereos, Marshall stacks and everything rock and roll. It's black because, of course, it is.

The black grille protects two 2.5-inch mid woofers and dual three-quarter-inch fabric tweeters. The length of the bar is 40 inches and its height is 3.75 inches. If your TV sits low, be aware that there's no IR flasher on the rear of the sound bar, so it could block your TV remote control signals.

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Sarah Tew/CNET


If you want a readable display on your sound bar, you'll need to look elsewhere. The Klipsch does sport a small legend denoting the active input, but it's not as useful as models with large, alphanumeric readouts like the LG SH7B or Zvox SB500.

The subwoofer that ships with the 'bar is small and tidy at 10.5 inches high, 7.4 inches wide and 13.5 inches deep. It features a 6.5 inch paper cone driver and is ported at the back.

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Sarah Tew/CNET


If your dog runs off with your remote, you can still control the sound bar using the buttons on the front of the unit, which include power, volume and input selection. Failing that, you can use the dinky credit card remote, but all of its buttons are pretty close together, and it's hard to use in the dark. Program in your TV remote or use a universal remote instead.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Features

While the RSB-8 bears an uncanny resemblance to the earlier RSB-4, there are some unmistakable changes going on behind the curtain. One of our main criticisms of the 2015 model was that it lacked HDMI support, but the RSB-8 finally offers HDMI pass-through of the latest video standards including HDR and 4K streams. The bar has one HDMI input and one HDMI out/ARC. There's also a minijack analog input, digital optical, Bluetooth and USB.

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Sarah Tew/CNET


The biggest difference between the RSB-8 and the RSB-6 (which costs $100 less) is the inclusion of Wi-Fi music and DTS' proprietary Play-Fi multiroom standard. Last year Klipsch announced it was partnering with DTS to incorporate Play-Fi into its products, and the RSB-8 is the company's cheapest sound bar to include it. As one of the few true universal multiroom systems, Play-Fi enjoys wide support -- from high-end brands like McIntosh to mainstream ones such as Polk.

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Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Klipsch calls its take on Play-fi "Klipsch Stream" but it's essentially a re-skin of the generic Play-Fi app. With this app you can stream from Pandora, Sirius Xm, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio and Tidal in addition Spotify Connect. The system will also let you add a pair of speakers as surrounds (which, depending on which Play-Fi product you choose, will cost you $300 and up).

If you're watching Blu-rays, DVDs or some TV programming, the sound bar will support Dolby Digital. Like many sound bars, the Klipsch doesn't support DTS decoding though, even though you might presume having Play-Fi would make DTS a given.

Setup

We liked that the Klipsch RSB-8 doesn't require any speaker calibration. It's a plug-and-play design, so we didn't have to fiddle with menus to get the best sound. Not only that, it's easy to adjust subwoofer volume and turn the faux-surround mode on or off via the little plastic remote.

What might take you a little longer is setting up Play-Fi. The system lacks an Ethernet port, so you'll have to rely on the strength and quality of your Wi-Fi. We tested the Klipsch with two different Wi-Fi access points and one worked without a hitch. The second wouldn't connect at all, however, even after pressing the connect button numerous times and resetting the app/router.

We've tested many Play-Fi -based systems over the years, and it's the occasional installation hassle like this (and the quirkiness of the user interface itself) that make us wary of fully recommending them. We've found Sonos and "Chromecast built-in" (aka Google Cast) offer generally more hassle-free, stable experiences.

Performance

Starting with "The Revenant" Blu-ray, the RSB-8 unfurled a broad and altogether spacious soundstage across the front wall of the CNET listening room. The scenes of American trappers trekking across the icy wilderness sent shivers up our spines. Dialogue was clear, and the little subwoofer was so well integrated with the sound bar that we forgot all about it. That's a huge compliment for any subwoofer, but even more so for a sound bar/sub system.

With the "Deepwater Horizon" undersea disaster Blu-ray, the little sub generated a room-shaking home theater experience. On the other hand, the similarly priced Nakamichi Shockwafe sound bar/subwoofer was an even more potent bass performer, thanks to its larger sub. As we auditioned other films, however, we came to feel the RSB-8's transparency and more natural sound were ahead of the Shockwafe's.

The RSB-8's "surround" mode comes on with just one button push on the remote, and it really does a good job of creating a wider and deeper front soundstage. The effect does tend to thin the sound out a bit, however, so we preferred to leave it turned off (though maybe you'll like it).

The Klipsch also includes a Dialogue Enhancement feature that boosts and equalizes dialogue for improved intelligibility. It helped a little, but again, at the cost of changing overall sound quality for the worse. The Klipsch RSB-8 is strictly a two-channel stereo sound bar, and sound bars with built-in center channel speakers, such as the Nakamichi Shockwafe, can boost center-channel dialogue volume without forfeiting sound quality.

As we played a few more Blu-rays and settled in with the RSB-8, we came to really appreciate its unforced sound and ease of operation. The RSB-8 may lack DTS capability, but it sounded good with every Blu-ray we tried.

But could it do a credible job with music? It didn't take long to discover the Klipsch sounded smoother and clearer than the Shockwafe system. Still, that one's bigger subwoofer and fatter bass might tilt the balance for some buyers. The RSB-8 sounded natural as long as we didn't push the volume too high, which turned the sound harsh (the Shockwafe was no better at playing music loud). Both 'bars were adequate for music, but if playing tunes is your priority, you'll do better with a standard speaker system.

The Klipsch RSB-8 was at its best with movies, where it got closer to the sound of a 5.1 channel speaker/subwoofer system. Not fully there, mind you -- "surround" immersion was a no show -- but we never felt the RSB-8 was limiting our home-theater fun.

When we got the Play-Fi app to work, it performed as expected. We were able to play music to the RSB-8 in sync with a Polk Play-Fi speaker without any issues.

Conclusion

Is the extra $100 over the RSB-6 worth paying? If you're fine using Bluetooth for streaming music from your phone then we'd say "no"; DTS Play-Fi can be a bit finicky at times. When it works, however Play-Fi's sound quality really helps the RSB-8 pull ahead of any Bluetooth solution.

Overall, the RSB-8 is an excellent performer when it comes to the no. 1 reason you buy a sound bar -- to make your TV sound better. Its ease of use and punchy sound will surely endear itself to many potential users.

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7.9

Klipsch RSB-8

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Sound 8Value 7
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