Klipsch Cinema 1200 Soundbar Review
It's not all about the size of the package when it comes to performance, says Michael Darroch…
Cinema 1200 Soundbar
USD $1,899 RRP
The year was 1998, and along with events such as the incorporation of Google and Microsoft's launch of Windows 98, Altec Lansing released a device that would divide AV enthusiasts forever – the soundbar. The appeal was obvious. What was not to like about the ability to improve on the TV's sound, but without the complexity of wiring and placing multiple unsightly loudspeakers? The lure of a fertile market has since guaranteed a steady stream of soundbar innovations, but building to a compact size and price point often leads to underwhelming results. Rare exceptions exist – such as Sennheiser's venerated Ambeo – but on the whole, it can feel like a market that places convenience above performance. Klipsch aims to challenge that notion with its Cinema range of soundbar systems, and I've been able to spend some time with the company's new flagship 1200 model.
Sitting at the top of the range and with a price tag to match, it features Dolby Atmos 5.1.4 support through the included wireless subwoofer and surround speakers. It also sports Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi connectivity for Alexa, Google, and Spotify Connect – allowing you to sync and control multiroom audio streaming via your phone or voice assistant. HDCP 2.3 is supported via the two HDMI inputs and one eARC enabled output, allowing 4K60Hz or 8K30Hz passthrough (although Klipsch tells me a pending firmware update touts 4K120 and 8K30 support), and there is also an optical input for legacy TVs or external devices.
These connectivity options might not include all the bells and whistles, given some premium soundbars are moving to include 11.1.4 Atmos support and wider streaming options like Roon and Tidal. Still, it's clear that Klipsch has taken a lesson from the phrase 'jack of all trades, master of none' and chosen to focus on the most critical parts to provide a compelling listening experience. Of these omissions, perhaps the most surprising is the complete absence of DTS support, with only Dolby and LPCM processing available.
For legacy DTS Blu-rays, this will mean setting your player to output Dolby as Bitstream and DTS as PCM, which won't noticeably impact the end result, but for current-gen UHD discs, this means you will miss out on 3D audio from any DTS-X titles. Given the ubiquitous nature of Dolby Atmos in the current-gen market, this isn't the end of the world, and Klipsch anticipates the Cinema 1200 to be used largely in conjunction with TV streaming services which are almost exclusively Dolby-based. Still, there is a risk that if DTS-X gains market traction, this could become more problematic.
Contained within the comically large box, you find the soundbar, surround speakers, subwoofer, wall-mounting template and hardware, instruction manual, and remote – all snugly nestled into place. The remote deserves mention here because, sporting a modern, motion-activated, white LED backlight normally reserved for high-end AVRs and projectors, you are assured of being able to see what you are pressing without having to fumble for a light switch. It's solid and easy to use, with less button-juggling due to the main functions having individual buttons to operate, but the line-of-sight for the IR receiver is quite narrow, meaning you need to be in a fairly frontal position to get a reliable response to your commands. Klipsch advises that an update to the Klipsch Connect smartphone app is on the way, which should soon add app control as well as EQ adjustment, so keep your eyes peeled for this.
Unpacking the Cinema 1200, you are presented with a visceral visual style. Where some manufacturers like DALI aim to make the soundbar an artistic expression of style, and other manufacturers seem to fall into the trap of making what can be generously described as industrial off-cuts, Klipsch has gone for a unique blend of form and function that continues the design first seen in the previous Bar range. With contemporary brushed metal end-sections capping off a textured fabric wrap (which sadly hides the real timber construction) and broken by the upfiring Atmos speakers on top, the Cinema 1200 doesn't scream for attention as you walk into a room, but guarded on each side by the purposeful Tractrix horn tweeters, it's impossible not to feel drawn in by the promise of performance tugging at the edges of the design.
Another great detail from Klipsch is the large and clear display hidden on the soundbar's front beneath the fabric. Under normal operation, the display can be hidden and invisible, but on action, it will illuminate through, allowing you to see what you are operating from the comfort of your seat, being large enough for even the most near-sighted of us to discern. The Cinema 1200's 1372x75x157mm dimensions roughly match the width of a 65” TV to provide a noticeable left-right separation without being overly tall and risking blocking parts of your display. The included wireless 'Surround 3' speakers share a similar style (albeit missing the horn-tweeters) with the same timber/fabric design and sharp edges providing a continuation of the theme set by the soundbar. They are also small enough not to take over a room when combined with slim-profile stands or wall-mounted.
Interestingly, if you thought this was all pointing to a fairly restrained package – you are about to be surprised because the included wireless subwoofer is an absolute behemoth in soundbar terms. Housed in an enclosure that stands over half a metre high (516mm), 396mm wide, and 403mm deep, it thankfully holds a rather refined air thanks to its black satin-finished timber panels on the sides and top. This helps to ensure that although it is huge, it can easily blend into a room, looking almost like a small occasional table. Overall, the choice of materials and apparent solid build quality lends itself to a raw, elemental and, in my opinion – quite a premium feel.
Beyond the looks, Klipsch has worked hard to give the Cinema 1200 performance much larger than its form factor, borrowing materials and design philosophies from its Reference range of speakers. Each of the L/C/R channels has two 76.2mm (3 inch) fibre-composite woofers and a 25.4mm (1 inch) soft-dome tweeter driven through a Tractrix 90°x90° horn. The woofers are oval-shaped to maximise the surface area within the height constraints of the chassis dimensions. Atop the soundbar, we have two upfiring 76.2mm Cerametallic woofers, recessed at an angle for ceiling reflecting Atmos duties. The surround units are based on a 76.2mm fibre-composite woofer similar to the front channels, again with an upfiring 76.2mm Cerametallic driver for the rear Atmos height duties.
The subwoofer is a 12-inch down-firing driver in a ported enclosure. It's the sort of unit I would traditionally expect to be a standalone subwoofer rather than packaged with a soundbar. Although I can't speak to any published specifications for the subwoofer amplifier, the amount of low-frequency extension on offer supports the number I've seen and cements its place among the Klipsch subwoofer range. In all, we have 1200W of claimed peak power for the whole system, and although a sizeable chunk of that is going to the subwoofer, Klipsch's reputation for high sensitivity speakers ensures that the other drivers use the remaining power efficiently. The intent to create a soundbar that bears the hallmarks of its popular Reference range of speakers is evident. The whole design and implementation speak to a no-compromise approach to the unforgiving limitations presented by the soundbar form factor.
Setup is effortless – once you connect everything to a powerpoint and the relevant HDMI cable to your TV's ARC port, everything just works. Setting up Bluetooth and network connectivity is as simple as can be expected. One minor gripe of mine, which most soundbars overlook, is a pink-noise tone for level setting, and the Cinema 1200 is no exception. It does allow adjustment of levels for the left and right surrounds (-6 to +6) and front and rear height pairs. Using a disc with test tones, I found that I could never get the surrounds to match the soundbar, always running a few dB hotter than the main channels, even at the lowest setting. This is not an accident – responding to feedback about the surrounds in the previous Bar range, Klipsch has deliberately boosted the surround output – and, in classic Klipsch form, not by a trifling amount. I doubt there are too many end users setting up their soundbars with a decibel meter, and when gaming or watching TV this wasn't something that felt unnatural, but it would be nice to have some additional play in the level settings for both the surrounds and the subwoofer, which also shares this tendency to run hot.
To suit a range of tastes, the 1200 comes equipped with several sound modes. Standard will upmix content to 5.1.4 and is said to be suitable for all media playback. Direct will output the unaltered input signal up to 5.1.4 and is recommended for “artist intent” playback of movies, TV, and stereo music. Movie, Music, and Game are similar variations on Standard with different EQ optimisations relating to their content. Lastly, Party Mode will output to all channels. My preference was almost exclusively Direct mode as this was the closest to a flat response that the Cinema 1200 will offer.
Still, the trade-off for this is that the volume level does seem to drop overall, meaning on quiet sources (I find Disney+ to be one of these via my Android TV) you have to bump the volume up quite high to get reasonable output. Given the large range on the volume control (1-100) this can feel like a marathon of button pressing up and down. Changing to Standard shifts the volume up (and bass level), but also results in a less natural sound. There are also two levels of Dialogue Enhancement, and Night Mode, which serve to increase the centre channel output and reprofile the EQ to boost vocal intelligibility and reduce the subwoofer output accordingly.
Starting with the Willow Springs Raceway scene in Ford vs Ferrari, I was immediately struck by how large and dynamic the sound from this package was. Between the enormous subwoofer and cinema-esque horn tweeters, the Cinema 1200 is every bit the auditory sledgehammer you might be expecting. This room normally runs modest floorstanding speakers and a quality AVR, but moving to the Cinema 1200 did not feel at all like I was losing the entertainment experience. No matter how hard they try, many soundbars end up lacking presence and weight to the sound, but not so this one.
The soundstage and imaging were quite remarkable considering the limited width of the chassis. The rich output felt full size and full range, which is a bizarrely unsettling experience when looking at the relatively small package the sound emanates from. The race cars' roaring engines were full bodied but didn't interfere with the finer details such as the noise of the tyres screeching across the asphalt as they desperately tried to grab purchase against the lateral corner loads, or Ken Miles' quips as he cheekily overtook his rivals. Increasing the volume didn't seem to introduce any real sense of distortion either, with the subwoofer and horns able to stay in the game almost as high as you'd dare to take it.
This is still a soundbar, so of course, the limited mid-bass size does mean that these lower-mid frequencies don't carry the weight as easily as the upper and lower octaves, even with the oval drivers. However, this is a necessary compromise and should be considered in the context of what you are saving in convenience with the smaller form factor compared to full-sized speakers. Klipsch explained that the goal of the Cinema 1200 was to “make a true home theatre experience, in soundbar form”, which I can say has been achieved with the classic Reference sound signature here in full force. There's a bright and lively soundstage set by the mid-bass drivers, and especially the horn tweeters, tempered by an almost overpowering level of bass available from the subwoofer. If you live above neighbours, expect complaints and have excuses ready because Klipsch's claimed 109dB maximum output is largely going straight down into the floor and beyond.
Not all of life is roaring engines and explosions, and utilising the classic Hans Zimmer Live in Prague Blu-ray, we find the Cinema 1200 to be just as capable at musical duties as it is at action – albeit with similar characteristics. The brass sections of the Pirates Medley are brought to life with great energy and body – a tangible and lively performance rarely associated with a soundbar. Fine detail is represented confidently as the various musical components come together, and the subwoofer keeps the output balanced with a strong low end. The midband response is largely appropriate, but you do notice the limitations in things like the single bass-drum kick at the 1:17 part of the medley; this poignant drum kick provides definition between the wandering opening bars, and the sharp, stylistically angry cello solo from Tina Guo, but it seems to lack presence emanating from the smaller form-factor drivers, and is a little too quick for the subwoofer to add real body to.
With the Cinema 1200, Klipsch has sought to address some of the criticism at a lack of immersive audio in the Bar range, so it was only natural to turn to the 2016 Dolby Atmos demo disc to see what '.4' would add to the overall experience. The circling helicopter in the audio demo or the spaceship moving overhead in Dolby Horizons come through with a clear sense of height and position, as you would expect with such bold intentions. Yet I did find softer, more delicate sounds such as the hand instruments and nature effects found in the Santeria audio demo tended to lack that pinpoint sense of position that you would have in a dedicated (ceiling-mounted) Atmos environment. This can mainly be attributed to the compromises inherent in any upfiring Atmos solution and shared across this market segment. However, some rivals have helped offset that by introducing additional ear-level channels (such as the Samsung Q950A's 11 channel bed-layer).
While not the most cutting-edge Atmos implementation in the soundbar market, the inclusion in the Cinema 1200 is far better to have than not to have and does add that much-needed extra dimension of height to your movie-watching experience. Ultimately, when you are selecting an upfiring Atmos speaker, you are making a conscious decision to sacrifice the quality of your height effects in return for simplicity in setup and keeping your landlord onside by not cutting holes in your ceiling – but what the Cinema 1200 might sacrifice in outright channel count, it makes up for in spades with its full-bodied and cinematic output.
Another trait that becomes apparent in the Dolby Atmos demos is the way that the Cinema 1200 handles the relationship between the subwoofer and the main LCRs. The limited size of the mid-bass drivers means that a large portion of the workload is sent to the sub. While the 12inch, high-powered driver is more than up to the task, we can't kid ourselves – much like the GT40 in Ford vs Ferrari, Klipsch has taken a monstrous engine and squeezed it into a system that's not quite equipped to manage the large output. The sheer output and somewhat resonant nature of the ported subwoofer results in sometimes unexpected results. In the Dolby Leaf demo, this manifested as an overemphasised 'whoomf' with each twirl of the leaf as it made its journey around the room. Other places this might be noticed is action-cam footage where wind-noise is a feature, again hitting that resonant point where the over-excited subwoofer gives a bit too much emphasis in the frequencies that might normally be rolled up to a bass driver to handle more appropriately. You can reduce this dramatically by dropping the subwoofer level (and if the -6dB setting is not enough, you can use Night-Mode 1 to drop the level by 50%), but then you tend to lose some other low-frequency detail as the gap between the subwoofer and mid-woofer widens.
Hopefully, this should become more restrained with the updated EQ control in the anticipated Klipsch Connect app update, but for now, I don't think Klipsch is upset by any complaints about “too much bass”. If you're reading this, joyfully rubbing your hands together, I have even better news for you – the Cinema 1200 also includes an RCA subwoofer output, allowing you to wire in a second subwoofer. Given the quantum of bass on offer already, this seems a bit like putting four extra engines onto an Airbus A380, but they're your neighbours, not mine.
While I haven't been a Klipsch fan traditionally, I have the greatest respect for the company's achievements as a manufacturer. It has contributed an impressive amount to the industry, and its speakers have a loyal, worldwide following. The brand has become synonymous with music and home theatre, with a trademark sound that people love or loathe, which purists can sometimes dismiss. The Cinema 1200 is, in every sense, a modern Klipsch product, but with classic Klipsch DNA.
The lack of DTS support is a baffling exclusion, the bass is prodigally overpowering, and some rivals have superseded its 5.1.4 channel count – yet despite its flaws, I love the sheer absurdity of it. It's a soundbar that doesn't at all feel like a soundbar. It's a roaring V8 engine sandwiched into a Ford Fiesta. It's raw. It's dramatic. It plays to that primal instinct that draws us to the melody and beat of music. It is every bit the dynamic, explosive, exciting home cinema experience you could need in a lounge-room environment, but in a compact, life-friendly soundbar form. Klipsch has taken a Howitzer to a knife fight, and the result is pure, unadulterated entertainment.
With a 20 year passion for home cinema ensuring he will never be able to afford retirement, Michael’s days involve endless dad-jokes and enjoying the short time before his son is old enough to demand the home theatre becomes a temple to Frozen II.
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