Review: LG Speaker Bar
Often in our quest for theater quality of sound we invest in audio set-ups now known as a Home-Theater in a Box. These are low-cost set-ups that deliver an experience that is normally tenable for a layman who does not care much about audio detail, but rather just wants the surround sound swishing effect. While doing so one major trade-off is clutter because these set-ups normally have multiple speakers that have wires dangling all over the place, which basically means that the look of the room goes for a toss. Of late, companies have started making virtual surround sound systems that dramatically reduce the number of speakers with a large speaker bar that tries to mimic the surround sound effect by way of bouncing the sound waves from near by opaque surfaces. These systems are easier to install, look much better and normally don’t have many wires. The LG Speaker Bar is another system that is of this kind but also adds a wireless woofer module that further reduces the clutter. Let’s see if it can provide a solid sonic experience while looking good at the same time.
As is the case with most sound bars, the LG Speaker Bar does not really stand out from a design standpoint. It is more of a run of the mill affair. That said, it indeed does have a solid build quality as LG has used solid plastics in its construction. Users can attach two digital optical cables and a singular auxiliary 3.5mm jack. LG claims that it has designed the Speaker Bar to align well with a 42-inch HDTV, we can say it even works well with a 46-incher TV. Additionally, it also houses a USB port on the extreme right hand side, but if you are using an iPod than this can only be used to charge it, but if you have an Android smartphone with a microUSB port than it is possible to access the media directly off the device.
It also has twin optical outs for digital audio. On the face of it, the main sound-bar itself features a faux wood finish that looks quite neat and it as three exposed audio drivers at both ends without speaker grills and the middle is home to an LED display that frankly is not very useful once you are more than 8 feet away from the speaker.
The Woofer module, works wirelessly and frankly is a giant piece of gear, so if you are looking to install this system in a small room, we will not recommend it because the large Woofer module looks ungainly and consumes a lot of space. Again the design is rather Spartan but the thing is that it is not the most expensive speaker out there so this is rather forgivable. Luckily, because of the wireless setup there is literally no clutter as there is only a singular power cable that comes with the Woofer and it magically syncs up with the sound bar.
At the end of the day when one purchases an audio product it’s always about the sound quality than the looks of the product itself. In the case of the LG Speaker Bar, things are not as clear cut as one would imagine it to be. But describing its sound signature is not very hard. The mid-range is extremely wonky, as at times it is non-existent, the sound tends to get overly muddy when complex musical passages are played on it. By muddy we mean the speaker compensates for its weak mid-range by adding an unpleasant low-end thump to songs that have a big sound, think Highway to Hell by AC/DC, and at the same time adds an overly treble sound signature to songs that necessarily are not very loud but are more heartfelt and subtle. A good example of this problem can be heard on songs like Little Wing and Wind Cries Mary by Jimi Hendrix. Simply put the mellower and clean guitar parts sound extremely trebly and bereft of any mid-range response and the same problem trickles down to the vocals and unfortunately while all this is happening the bass booms in an unneeded fashion. When one adds harsher genres like metal into the equation, just don’t even bother, because of songs like Master of Puppets by Metallica the sound is not only muddy, it clips at 50 percent volume. These speakers just cannot handle such music.
All said and done, while its performance, as pure source of audio is not ideal, it main utility will be at the center of ones living room. Now here is where another flaw comes to the fore and it’s actually more related to the build quality of the product than a purely aural flaw per say. So for testing it as a home theater we popped in a copy of The Dark Knight and in the opening sequence the bass boomed perfectly but there was an unfortunate problem. The woofer grill/cloth was vibrating like crazy which created an unpleasant sound, in the process ruining the experience. And mind you, it’s not underpowered as it can pummel 300Watts of sound, so if you have cranked up the sound the vibrations do become very acute.
But apart from this the sound quality was rather adequate. We noticed this problem only happened when the low-end really went low and boomed. Interestingly, this did not happen when we plugged in our copy of Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith. The experience was very nice and the sound stage was as good as one can expect from a virtual home-theater. Of course, the effects would have sound grander in a true 5.1 setup, but this is more than adequate for someone who is basically looking for a theater like experience but is not very obsessive about the minute nuances of the sound.
There are not a lot of features one expects of a sound bar, but notably the LG Speaker Bar can play audio wirelessly via Bluetooth, so this is another plus. Of course, the sound quality is not par with some of the Apple certified AirPlay docks and home-theaters, but this is nonetheless a handy feature to have. Setting up the Bluetooth bit is also quite simple and the process is very painless.
If you care about the clarity of the vocals and speech, then LG promises some sound processing that ensures that. When one adds the general aesthetic advantage of the product then it becomes a no-brainer especially over similarly priced home-theater in a box setups, because aurally they normally are not vastly better, plus they create a lot of clutter and their calibration is also quite problematic.
At Rs 19,990, the LG Speaker Bar is not exactly a steal, but then again its not a very poor product. Of course if you want to use it purely to listen to music then you will be better of with an iPod Dock as for most audio use case scenarios it sound quite miserable. That said, its real forte is reproducing the theater sound in a neat package that does a decent job of reproducing a surround sound like effect. Yes it does come with its own set of flaws as the bass booms in an ungainly fashion in some cases and treble gets a bit out of control, but that’s true for most products in the price bracket. If one is looking for an easy to set up and use speaker system that does duty purely has a home-theater then the LG Speaker Bar can do decent service. However, this product is an absolute no-no for an audiophile.