If you'll recall, it was back at CES when we realized that AirPlay devices would be "set to explode" by this year's end -- and it's certainly proving true as a storm of new speakers have hit the market over the last few months. Of all the speakers we'd spotted on the show floor, however, a select bunch AirPlay-enabled speakerbar prototypes from Klipsch's newly unveiled Gallery lineup of high-performance home audio wares really perked our ears -- and widened our pupils. It wouldn't be until July that the smallest version, known then as the $400 Gallery Studio, would be officially unveiled as the Gallery G-17 Air, priced at a spendier $530.

Now, nearly four months later the G-17 is finally hitting retail (albeit with a $20 price increase), aimed just a notch below $600 options like B&W's Zeppelin Air, but well above others including iHome's $300 iW1. We've been testing a model G-17 Air for a few days now, so join us past break to find out whether its beauty is deeper than its insanely glossy black shell.
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Klipsch Gallery G-17 Air soundbar review


Hardware


To be frank, our G-17 Air unboxing has been one of the more interesting ones to date. Upon opening it up, the first things we noticed were a pair of white Mickey Mouse gloves and a sheer black, scroll-like cloth -- this is a speaker, right? Of course, mixed in were the usual manuals, a dinky remote, a power adapter and a metal-and-tinted-glass base with four screws. Finally, we reached the G-17, which was lovingly wrapped in a scratch-free cloth bag. Pulling the cloth back, we we're nearly blinded by the unit's glossy reflection, which also reveled the impetus to Klipsch including those gloves -- it's a fingerprint magnet.


Although the 7.5-pound G-17 can be wall-mounted, the glass stand was more than adequate for our needs -- plus, it makes it look sort of like a giant Kinect. Gloves still on, we lined up the base's bracket with the speaker's back and after a few uneven attempts, attached both with the included screws, which then remain hidden by a rubber insert. While we wish it was a bit easier to bolt together, the base stays in place with a firm grip and extremely secure overall fit. From there it was a matter of finding a listening area to set it down on, plug it in to the wall and to grab a look at it fully assembled while up AirPlay. We managed the whole process without a single smudge to the unit, so suffice it to say, we're fans of the Mickey's. And that cloth? Turns out that it's a speaker grill (doh), which magnetically attaches to the back top and bottom of the speaker with a snug fit if you'd prefer a simpler look.


We've seen our share of oh-so fancy AirPlay speakers, but the G-17 Air raises the bar on beauty. The build is rock-solid across all of its angles, and it not only looks, but also feels worth its weight as high-end piece of audio equipment. Our geeky side loves how fierce the unit looks grill-off as an eye-catching gadget, and we also respect how the grill quickly subdues it enough to blend into a room. Better yet, it's no different in appearance than the rest of the Gallery lineup, meaning folks who may have other G-series home theater speakers in their abodes can keep the theme going.


We've seen our share of oh-so fancy AirPlay speakers, but the G-17 Air raises the bar on beauty.

As far as tweak-ability and extras go, the G-17 is totally leaving things to its from-the-factory sound performance and visuals, opting away from an extensive feature set and notably devoid of an onboard EQ. On the right side of the bar, you'll find a column of black buttons with translucent markers for the power, volume up and down, input source and wireless. All of the buttons depress smoothly with a reassuring click, but oddly, only the power and WiFi / AirPlay button (which also haphazardly indicates volume) light up. At best it's a minor quibble, but when controlling the unit without iTunes or an iDevice, it's essentially impossible to visualize if the volume is at, say, 6 or 11. While we're on its controls, it's worth noting that the included remote replicate all of the 17's functions and adds in Fwd / Rwd and Play / Pause button, but it's sadly missing those for shuffle, repeat and mute. It feels like the dime-a-dozen type that ship with many an AM / FM radio, but then again, you'll most likely be controlling things from your iDevice or iTunes directly, anyway.


Moving to the back, along the left and right are a duo of mounting brackets, and in the center is a deeply set connections panel with a reset button, power input, USB port (for audio and iDevice charging) and 3.5mm line-in jack if your WiFi should ever go on the fritz. Considering these connections are in tow, we're disappointed that a measly audio cord and 30-pin to USB cable weren't included for the price. Notably, the deep positioning lets wires easily drop down from the G-17 if wall-mounted, but it did make them a bit tricky to plug into -- even with our long and slender fingers. Lastly, on left side you'll find a large bass port, while on the front-center there's an IR receiver planted between its woofers. On the one hand, you won't find a variety of standard connections like others in G-series, but it's completely acceptable -- after all, its main purpose is being a wireless system.


Like the iW1 we recently reviewed, the G-17 Air takes an oddly long amount of time (up to 40 seconds) to boot-up and connect to WiFi. It's evidently a trend with these AirPlay speakers, and laughable, considering that our massive 750-watt bass guitar amplifier, MacBooks and iDevices startup quicker. Klipsch has informed us that this is a limitation of the currently available Airplay chip, and that advancements to shorten the startup delay will be issued via a firmware update when they become available. What's impressive, however, is how cool the speaker (and its power brick) remains even when left on for days -- at worst it gets slightly warm to the touch, even with moderate volume. So, folks opting for anchoring it to the wall likely shouldn't worry about heat causing cracking or discoloration to their paint.

AirPlay and setup


As far as wireless connectivity is concerned, up to four G-17 Airs will work over 802.11b/g WiFi networks, and setup can be done using Klipsch's Air iOS app (an iPad-optimized version is slated for next year) or a computer. Using our iPhone we loaded the Klipsch Air app, and were greeted by a step by step process with clear instructions and visuals on what to do. It worked within our first try, allowing us to quickly rename the unit and hook it up to our secure network. Better yet, it's done over ad-hoc WiFi, meaning we didn't need to plug our iPhone into the G-17 as we've experienced with other units. Notably, the app also features tips on using AirPlay and follows Klipsch's various social feeds.


Of course, if you don't live the iOS lifestyle, AirPlay can be setup using a computer, although, you'll still need iTunes in order to steam. Up until now, we've been used to failed network setup attempts over ad-hoc WiFi with our MacBooks and other speakers, but the G-17 Air worked like a charm. Upon latching onto the unit's ad-hoc WiFi signal, we entered its IP address in our browser and gained access to a local G-17 setup webpage. From there, we were allowed to change its name, sync it to our WiFi network and get firmware information. This method does take quite a few minutes longer and doesn't look as pretty, but thankfully, it's not very complicated either.


As expected, with the G-17 Air hooked up to our network we were able to give it a whirl using our iPad, iPhone and iTunes on our MacBook Pros. Anytime we selected the G-17 from our devices we were promptly connected within a few seconds, and our music almost always came streaming out of its speakers without a hitch. Be that as it may, AirPlay's slight lag between various commands still exists here, and there is the occasional sound cutout. It's certainly not specific to the G-17, but it is worth noting if you're new to AirPlay.

So, "What about other devices, like Android?" you may find yourself asking. Well, the unit is technically capable of wireless DLNA streaming, although, currently Klipsch isn't "announcing the feature," citing that its "test results showed inconsistencies between devices and DLNA compatible apps." That said, the company did note that many AirPlay-enabling apps can be found within Android Market.

Sound


For its size, the G-17 Air gets loud.

Alright, welcome to the section about sound -- the part where G-17's speakers do their, er, "speaking" using our tunes! As soon as we began streaming our albums through the system, we we were blown away by the performance. For its size, the G-17 Air gets loud and stays clear doing it, predictably blowing systems like the $300 iW1 out of the water. Even with the volume maxed out the G-17 didn't break a sweat, remaining free of rattles or perceivable distortion. Of course, being a soundbar it doesn't give out the widest soundstage, but we were impressed at the detail we could pick out at even five to six feet away. Klipsch notes that the maximum listening distance is ideally under 12 feet away -- we found it could easily fill-out an average living and then some. The unit is bi-amplified, utilizing a duo of 2.5-inch Klipsch long-throw IMG woofers (rated for 20 watts each) and two 90 x 90 degree Tractrix-horned .75-inch tweeters (rated for 10-watts each), all wrapped up inside of its "bass-reflex" enclosure -- doing that name itself justice, if we may say so.


The system pumps out a massive of amount of natural and thumpy low end, reminiscent of playing our Fender Jaguar Bass through our 4 x 12 bass cabinet from a gigging life passed. In saying natural, we really mean it and imagine many a bassist will appreciate its level of articulation. Dynamics are amazingly present in the mix, and we could accurately hear and feel the flow and nuances of various bass lines from Matt Rubano's melodic Taking Back Sunday licks to LMFAO's throbbing Party Rock beats -- even dubstep wobble was right at home with this rig. It was hard to believe an external subwoofer wasn't helping to achieve the feat, but placing our hand in front of the hurricane of air pressure coming out of the bass port quickly quelled our doubts.


Flipping over to the highs, we were equally satiated. Whether it was the tight horn section in a Rick James track or the bashing cymbals and aggressive snare hits of Every Time I Die's blend of southern metal, things remained quite silky with a pleasing attack. We're also happy to report that while the highs are lively -- as we've come to find with Klipsch -- they're not harsh or overly sibilant. Basically, you'll get the chills from the clarity of vocals, without shrill inflections stabbing your eardrums.

Basically, you'll get the chills from the clarity of vocals, without shrill inflections stabbing your eardrums.

This brings us to the mid-range, which is where we're a bit torn. Overall, the system has an incredibly thick sound, but the mids have a slight scoop in level among the overall mix to our ears. When songs kick in with the full force of a band, certain intricacies of guitar-work seem to almost gasp for some extra air -- if you like chunky electric guitars mixed-in closer to the front, it's something to keep in mind when considering the G-17 Air, as it doesn't have an onboard EQ. With that out of the way, the rig still handles this area dutifully, with a warm tone that's right at home across many music genres.

Wrap-up


To say the Klipsch G-17 Air exceeded our usual expectations of an Airplay-enabled speaker would simply be an understatement -- it's clear that the folks at the company put a great deal of work into what was merely a concept on the CES floor nearly eight month's ago. The speaker itself is built like a (glossy) rock, and the sound that comes through is as solid as the foundation. If we had to nitpick, the rig could benefit from a quicker bootup time, clearer volume indicators, an improved remote and possibly an app-enabled EQ (a lá Libratone) to raise the mids. AirPlay itself still has some minor quirks as usual, but overall the implementation for setup is a breeze here, and the performance generally pleasing.

Compared to less expensive AirPlay speakers like iHome's $300 iW1, the $550 G-17 Air is an unquestionably a major step up, and we'd easily choose this puppy over options like the slightly spendier $600 Zeppelin Air. That said, the G-17's certainly quite pricey for a single unit, but if you're looking for a primo AirPlay hookup for the casa, we can't say enough good things about it. As it stands, Klipsch's G-17 Air is the current AirPlay-enabled soundsystem to beat at its price point. Any takers?

Klipsch

Klipsch Gallery G-17 Air

Pros

  • Gorgeous design and impressively solid build
  • Thick sound with gobs of bass and silky highs
  • Runs exceptionally cool during use

Cons

  • Slightly trapped mids
  • Fingerprint- and lint-magnet
  • Rear ports are difficult to access
Summary

For its price, Klipsch's G-17 Air is the current AirPlay-enabled sound system to beat.