Klipsch came out swinging with its soundbar lineup this year, unveiling five new soundbar models for 2019, alongside its new WiSA wireless surround setup and even a pair of fully wireless earbuds that (no surprise from Klipsch) sound fantastic.
The first of the new bars to make it to our doorstep is also the most affordable, the $300 Bar 40. While it’s short on extras, the Bar 40 packs a sexy new look, impressively detailed sound, and a slim-and-trim wooden frame that teases a touch of luxury, while still appealing to those looking to save on their soundbar buy.
Get the horns
Right out of the box, the Bar 40 makes a statement, with muscular twin Tractrix Horns (a signature Klipsch design touch) flanking a sleek, fabric-sheathed centerpiece made of MDF wood in place of plastic. Brushed aluminum panels on the top complete the package for a striking look that still stays out of the way in most setups. In a segment in which every new model seems to be racing toward design anonymity, it’s a refreshing change.
The cubed wireless subwoofer offers less to crow about from an aesthetic standpoint, but I was pleased to find that its 6.5-inch down-firing driver is also set within an MDF cabinet in place of the usual plastic shell. In fact, the last time I remember seeing a soundbar in this price class that wasn’t wrapped almost entirely in plastic was Pioneer’s SP-SB23W from way back in 2013. I was just a kid back then. But I digress.
Flashy, crystal-white LEDs in front offer a basic visual display, though we can’t help but wonder if the bar’s topside display — which gives more detailed cues like denoting when Surround or Dialogue modes are engaged — would be better oriented, you know, somewhere you can see it.
Along the top panel are basic control keys to complement the slim infrared remote. Said remote (which looks a lot like the one that comes with KEF’s LS50 Wireless speakers) offers intuitive access to subwoofer and volume control, Bluetooth pairing and playback, and even a dedicated key to dim those white-hot LEDs up front.
(Quick side note: Along with the aesthetic similarities, in a much weirder coincidence, I noticed that switching sources on the Bar 40 somehow also turned the KEF LS50 speakers on and off. It’s a wild world out there.)
Hold the extras
As mentioned, the excellently designed Bar 40 loads up fewer features than I’d expect at its price point. The system offers an ample collection of inputs, including HDMI ARC, Optical, 3.5mm, and Bluetooth streaming, and even a subwoofer output so you can swap in your choice of wired subs. But unlike some of our favorite bars in its class, including Yamaha’s aging YAS-207, there’s no separate HDMI input. That means you’ll not only be fully reliant on your TV to decode sound for gaming, Blu-ray, and streaming devices, but you’ll also lose a precious HDMI input on your TV if you connect via HDMI ARC.
Speaking of sound decoding, the Bar 40 supports only basic Dolby and Dolby Digital Plus, with no DTS decoding at all. That’s another surprise, especially considering that the aforementioned YAS-207 offers both Dolby and DTS decoding and even adds DTS Virtual:X for a wider soundstage on both the vertical and horizontal planes. In fact, even Vizio’s $160 SB3621n soundbar comes with the latter features, though to be fair, we’ve never been all that crazy about the sharp edge DTS Virtual:X brings to the sound signature.
Right out of the box, the Bar 40 makes a stylish statement.
Klipsch’s Bar 48, also newly released, comes with Dolby decoding as well as DTS, DTS-HD, and DTS Virtual:X, giving me the feeling that Klipsch is reserving a fair few VIP extras for its $500 system.
For its part, the Bar 40 packs a basic surround sound mode that helps expand the stereo soundstage, as well as Dialogue mode for some extra pep in the midrange, and Night mode to cool the bass when the kids crash. That’s about it for sound adjustment, though, with no EQ or default sound modes like Music or Movie. I love how easy it is to adjust the subwoofer level for balance, but found myself relying on it rather heavily when switching between sources.
Getting back to that luxury feel, within the bar’s wooden enclosure are dual fiber composite woofers alongside dual tweeters at the sides that are fed through Klipsch’s Signature Tractrix Horns, which help shape the frequencies for impressive accuracy.
I was happy to discover the Bar 40 arrives with everything needed for easy setup, including a mounting kit and a high-speed HDMI cable to connect to your TV’s HDMI ARC input — the latter of which even LG’s $1,000 SL9YG left out. After connecting the bar to my TV’s HDMI ARC port, and plugging in the power cords, the bar was ready to rock.
ARC is the preferred connection, allowing you to control basic soundbar functions like volume and power with your TV remote (as long as you’ve got CEC turned on in your TV settings). That said, I was unable to turn the Bar 40 on or off with the TCL 6-series TV remote used in testing. I reached out to Klipsch, which offered a simple fix in the form of a firmware update, but being that the bar doesn’t offer internet connection, you’ve got to do it manually with a flash drive. Newer units should ship with the update.
The bar also worked fine for volume and power with the Sony TV remote in our test room at the office without the update, so this may just be a TCL issue. Communication between TVs and soundbars can often be tricky, and as a backup, Klipsch also offers a way to manually program most TV remotes to control the basics.
Named for its 40-inch size, the lengthy Bar 40 impresses the moment you turn it on, offering a wide soundstage and rich, detailed sound in the midrange and treble. In fact, I found myself marveling at the bar’s sharp attention to the subtlest moments, from the glinted steel of the Dora Milaje’s spears in Black Panther to softly painted lip movements in dialogue from sitcoms like The Office and Parks and Recreation. The system is an immediate step up from your TV, to be sure, offering clear and clean dialogue in virtually every scene.
That meticulous treatment of the upper frequencies also responds well to music, especially horns, which are rendered with a sweetness that seems to flutter lightly in your ears with smooth resonance. Guitars and synths are also quite well done, with crunchy definition that elevates the sound above your average soundbar at this price point. The Chemical Brothers’ Escape Velocity offered a particularly striking example of the Bar 40’s clear and precise upper register.
Surround mode adds icy sibilance to effects like explosions and gunshots.
It’s not all gravy when it comes to performance, with my main quibbles spawning from basic balance issues when trying to coax more power from cinematic moments. The sound is already on the edge of getting sharp in the upper register, and in action films, it was immediately evident that the Surround mode renders upper-midrange effects, especially explosions and gunshots, with an extra layer of icy sibilance that didn’t jibe well with my ears. Like most 2.1 soundbars, it doesn’t offer a ton more immersion.
Going back to stereo provides a much smoother ride, but I still wished for more punch in the midrange in climactic scenes, which turned into a bit of a tug-of-war between the somewhat restrained lower frequencies from the mini subwoofer and the brighter moments up top. Again, a bit of basic equalization could go a long way to even things out across the board, both for music and cinematic content.
Finding the right spot for the subwoofer helps smooth out the kinks, though, and I was able to coax some excellent (if somewhat restrained) sound for all sources with a bit of effort.
Klipsch warranties its soundbars for one year on electronics and three years on woofer, cabinet, and non-electrical mechanics. You can find out more at the company’s website.
Like a Lexus from a rental shop, Klipsch’s Bar 40 is short on extras but big on luxury looks and feel, offering good performance and a sweet design that make it worth consideration for those looking to amp up their TV sound in style.
Is there a better alternative?
At $300, Yamaha’s YAS-207 is still our favorite soundbar when it comes to stretching your dollars. It offers a welcome mix of solid performance, simple design, and tons of features, though in a much less stylish package. Then again, it’s a soundbar.
AT $350, Yamaha’s YAS-209 (review coming) also adds Alexa to the loaded package to take things even further. You can also find plenty of other affordable bars that offer solid performance for well less than $300, including Vizio’s new SB3621n-GB soundbar. Honestly, the entry-to-midrange soundbar market is loaded with options, so the Bar 40 has its work cut out.
How long will it last?
With a well-built MDF cabinet and relatively modern features like an HDMI ARC connection, the Klipsch Bar 40 should last as long as you need it to.
Should you buy it?
If you’re looking for taught detail and a bit more style than your average bar — and you don’t mind dumping features like an extra HDMI port and DTS decoding — Klipsch’s Bar 40 is definitely worth consideration.