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Klipsch SPL-120 Subwoofer

Review Date June 11th, 2019 by
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Overview - The Klipsch SPL-120 Subwoofer is a 300W 12" active sub that looks handsome and delivers room-filling bass. Test in both single and dual configurations alongside a set of 2018 Reference Premiere speakers, we were generally impressed by the sub's performance at quiet and reference volumes, but found it lacking compared to Klipsch's larger (and pricier) 15" offerings and the KEF KUBE 12B, which costs about $100 more than the SPL-120. Still, if you have Klipsch Reference or Reference Premier home theater speakers, and want an aesthetically matched sub, the SPL Series is Recommended

Klipsch SPL-120 Subwoofer Review product shot - no grilles

OVERALL
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Intro

Whether you're rocking a sound bar, bookshelf speakers, or even mighty floorstanders, a subwoofer is the key to bringing dynamic, full-range audio to music, movies, and TV shows. In this grand era for bass-heads and audiophiles, where we have access to uncompressed and lossless multi-channel audio, nothing beats FEELING movies in your chest. Or, in the case of the front-ported Klipsch SPL-120 subs, feeling it pushing air across your legs. (More on this in a minute.)

Klipsch was kind enough to send us dual SPL-120 subwoofers along with two Klipsch RP8000F towers, four RP-600M bookshelf speakers, one RP-504C center channel, and four RP-500SA Dolby Atmos elevation / surround speakers. SPL-120s MSRP for a penny under $600 each, feature a 300W Class D amp with a 600W of peak power, as well as a 12" Spun Copper Cerametallic™ Woofer for the classic Klipsch look, shock absorbing feat, and a Front-Firing Internal Flare Port.

This subwoofer looks excellent, especially when paired with other copper-colored Klipsch gear, and sounds the part, but is it the right 12" sub for you? Read on, dear readers. Read on.

Klipsch SPL-120 Subwoofer Review product shot

Specs

Courtesy of Klipsch.com, here's the SPL-120 Product Page and a Specification .pdf.

Klipsch SPL-120 Subwoofer Specifications

Klipsch SPL-120 Subwoofer Review product shot

Build Quality & Design

Wrapped a scratch-resistant ebony finish, the Klipsch SPL-120 fits right in with the rest of the Reference Premiere Series. It genuinely looks like real wood that's been stained a light black color so you can still see some of the grain. Examine them close enough and, sure, you can tell it's a print, and you can't compare these to higher end speakers and subs, but they look the part. Up front, you'll find the contrasty Spun Copper Cerametallic™ Woofer above the front-firing port designed to minimize port noise. I love the look of Klipsch gear uncovered, but for anyone with children or pets, I recommend using the included black fabric grilles to protect the woofer. (Also, I wish Klipsch would use magnetic grilles on their subs -- the steel grille posts are hazardous if left in place.)

It's also worth commenting on the subs' proportions. 12" is a great size for subwoofers. 15" models offer more performance, but eat up floor space. By comparison, 12" models still tuck away into corners or behind/between furniture and don't take up much more space than their 10" or 8" cousins.

Klipsch SPL-120 Subwoofer Review product shot

Underneath each SPL-120, you'll find four shock-absorbing rubber feet to keep vibrations at a minimum. And, around back, you'll see a power cable input, R/L line-in inputs, a three-mode power switch (on /  off / standby), a phase switch (0 & 180 degrees), a low-pass filter knob, a gain knob, and a WA port. Klipsch offers an optional WA-2 Wireless Subwoofer Kit for $130 that allows you, using that WA port, to place this sub anywhere in your listening space with power access. We didn't use this feature for our review, but I've tested in the past, and it works quite well, even in standby mode.

Like most of the Klipsch home theater products I've reviewed in the last four years, the SPL-120 subwoofer is handsome and well made. Over several months, I've encountered zero performance or compatibility issues. They simply plug-n-play. 

Klipsch SPL-120 Subwoofer Review product shot

Setup

Setting up a subwoofer, or dual subs, is relatively easy if you already know your room. For those less familiar with the process, here's a simplified summary:

  1. Place your sub in your primarily listening position and, connected to your AV Receiver, play test tones or some sort of bass-heavy material.
  2. Walk around your room to see where it sounds the best. You're looking for power and clarity with no muffled sensation or missing frequencies. It helps to take measurements if you're set up for such things.
  3. Move your subwoofer to that spot you just found.
  4. Calibrate your room with your AV Receiver's processing

In my case, my location selection is limited by "what's safest for my toddler," so I tucked each sub between my entertainment console and the RP8000F floorstanding speakers, then ran a Denon AVR's built-in Audyssey multeq xt32 software. The first step was balancing subwoofer levels; it's best to start at 50% gain, and then adjust as your AVR takes measurements. Then I let the software do its job, correct a few distances, and away... we... go!

Klipsch SPL-120 Subwoofer Review product shot

Performance

While dual subs offer more even, precise, and authoritative LFE experiences, I'm going to assume most folks are looking to add one sub, so let's first talk about solo subwoofer performance. 

The Klipsch SPL-120 stands alone nicely. It requires more gain, of course, and I prefer to center my single-sub setups, but the 120 thumps and bumps along with music and movies. Watching and/or listening to Beyonce's Homecoming delivers snappy drum beats while and Roger Waters The Wall offers deep percussive hits from falling bombs and strafing airplanes. 

On the movie side of things, I always trot out Pacific Rim and Mad Max Fury Road as my control tracks. I also listened to Black Hawk Down, Into the Spider-Verse, and Aquaman to round out the experience. Generally speaking, I was pleased. The SPL-120 is a good sub. It brings gunshots and rumbling engines and screaming helicopters to life with an LFE presence you can feel in your chest

But with a frequency range limited to 24Hz on the low side, it sometimes felt underwhelming during the biggest explosions, thunder cracks, and monster roars. In truth, if I only had the budget to buy one new subwoofer, I prefer the KEF KUBE 12B (reviewed HERE), which hits 22Hz, and sounds more finessed in the way it rolls into deeper notes. Also, where I felt like I could push the KEF forever, certain effects and volumes make the SPL-120 honk and distort. For the LFE experts and diehards among us, I don't think this sub is for you; then again, you're going to spend a LOT more money chasing lower frequencies.

Still, my takeaway is that the Klipsch SPL-120 is quite good, just not amazing.

Klipsch SPL-120 Subwoofer Review product shot

However, in a dual-subwoofer configuration and paired with RP8000F towers, the system thumped more clearly and heartily at background and reference volumes. From hip hop beats to heavy metal drums, I loved listening to CDs, vinyl records, and streaming music from our various digital gadgets. Testing clips from those aforementioned Dolby Atmos sound mixes revealed a fuller sensation than the single-sub configuration. Bass tones were more responsive at all volumes, and it produced some literally house-rattling moments. 

My favorite experience, though, occurred during How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. The titular Hidden World exists inside a dormant volcano caldera in the middle of the open sea. Imagine the ocean itself draining into a lost world via a series of falls that make Niagara look like bubbling stream. In this moment, the rumbling waters hit a frequency that pushed so much air through the SPL-120s' front-firing ports that I could feel a breeze on my feet and legs. Not only was this moment sonically amazing, but it was a bit like going to a 4DX or sense-a-surround screening. There were other times where my toddler had left a plastic ball in front of the subs, and a big bass hit would roll it away. 

It's not a feature every sub needs, but it sure felt unique to me.

Klipsch SPL-120 Subwoofer Review product shot -- with grilles

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed my time with the Klipsch SPL-120 subwoofers. At $600, they deliver room-filling bass that accentuates your favorite LFE-friendly music and movie soundtracks, and they're handsome to boot. (My wife always loves having copper-toned Klipsch gear in the house.) However, despite many positives, if I were in the market to buy a new sub or two, I'd personally swing for a KEF KUBE 12B or one of Klipsch's 15" subs (the SPL-150 or the R-115SW) to get a little deeper bass response and refinement. That said, those options will cost you more money and take up more room you may not have.

Still, the Klipsch SPL-120 is an attractive mix of price, performance, design, and size. It's not the best I've heard in this price range, but it's Recommended for Klipsch owners looking to match their current gear, or anyone looking for a powerful-yet-relatively-compact 12" sub. If you're a bass aficionado, though, on a quest for subsonic LFE and ultimate performance, you should look elsewhere.

Sale Price $602.49
List Price $603.11
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3rd Party $599.00
Usually ships in 24 hours
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