Klipsch SB 120 soundbase

The Klipsch SB 120 is an under-the-TV audio solution for those who prioritise high sound performance over features.


7.5
CNET Rating


The Klipsch SB 120 is one of those TV enhancements best referred to as a soundbase rather than a soundbar. It is a well-built rectangular prism, 831mm wide, 336mm deep and 99mm tall. The depth gives it a substantial interior, all the better for sound reproduction. The solid build makes it safe for you to deposit your TV on top of it. Klipsch says that it is safe for TVs up to 45 kilograms. (For reference, a typical modern 55-inch TV isn't a great deal more than 20 kilos.)

This is clearly designed for connection to a TV — with one useful extra. The two input connections are optical digital audio and analog stereo. You can switch between them. But the normal situation is that you'll plug the optical output of your TV into this input. You can set the TV's audio settings to permit Dolby Digital (sometimes called Surround) to be output because the SB 120 supports Dolby Digital inputs in addition to PCM.

The extra is Bluetooth, so you may not need to plug your portable music player into the analog input.

All the loudspeaker drivers are in a row across the front. Outermost are a pair of tweeters, 19mm aluminium dome ones. Klipsch as a company is famous for its horn-loaded speakers, going right back to the 1940s. These tweeters are indeed horn loaded, but they are extremely shallow, so I doubt that they do much in the way of improving the efficiency of sound transfer — the main purpose of horns. Just to the inside of these are two mid-range drivers, each a 76mm unit. And inside of those is a pair of woofers. These are 76mm tall and 127mm wide for a larger cone area. They are called oval shaped, but they are more like rectangles with semicircles at each end.

The internal enclosure is bass-reflex loaded, with the tuned ports venting to the front. A row of controls occupy a small area, centred at the bottom front. There's a small remote control that comes with the unit, and you can program your TV's remote to operate the unit instead if that's more convenient for you.

(Credit: Klipsch)

In use

There's no doubt about it: Klipsch knows how to make loudspeakers. This unit sounded very good — far better than it ought to have for the price. The sound was well balanced tonally except for the deepest bass registers.

Indeed, that is a real limitation of this unit. While the bass is quite good, with a strong mid-bass performance, the lack of a subwoofer output means that you can't improve it. What bass this unit delivers is all you're ever going to get from it.

But, as I said, the good balance down to at least mid bass certainly didn't leave me pining for it. There is a subwoofer level adjustment on the remote. This raises or lowers the relative level of the two larger speaker drivers and so can change the balance, but it won't add any bass extension. If you feed the unit Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, it will accept and (at least attempt to) reproduce the LFE channel.

The speaker was nicely dynamic, too, by which I mean that it didn't markedly compress the dynamic range of the music. When I was playing some King Crimson, for example, Bill Bruford's drum punched cleanly through the sound with no unreasonable limitations. The system was perfectly happy producing rather high volumes as well. Not quite full home theatre system levels but ones that won't leave you dissatisfied on movie night.

There's a 3D key on the remote (and front panel) that purports to switch the unit into a surround mode. I'm not quite sure what Klipsch was trying to achieve here, but the net effect when I fed it with a variety of both Dolby Digital 5.1 and stereo sound was to give a nasty little boost to the upper mid-range, giving the sound a pinched quality, while producing no additional sense of surround at all. I'd just leave that one off.

Only one Bluetooth device can be paired to the unit at a time. To change devices you have to unpair the previous one. This might not suit some households where multiple family members might all like to be able to use the Bluetooth facility easily. Still, the whole process of unpairing and creating a new pair only takes about 15 or 20 seconds, so it isn't too much of a burden. The unit sounded just as good with Bluetooth as with CDs.

When I measured the output, I was a little surprised that the bass didn't extend quite as deeply as I had expected. There was a shoulder at 68 hertz, below which the bass output diminished quite rapidly. There was still a little output in the mid-50 hertz but not really much that was musically significant. While I was measuring things, I checked what the "3D" processing was doing to the tone, and it did indeed put in a six-plus decibel peak at 1.8kHz and also sucked out a section of lower treble, reducing the band between 2500 hertz and 3500 hertz by about 6dB. It's hard to see what that has to do with surround sound.

Conclusion

Nonetheless, for a one-step sound fix on a TV, the Klipsch SB 120 soundbase is highly effective and gives a fine musical performance via Bluetooth. Just don't expect to upgrade the bass end at a later date.



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