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Promising middle-of-the-pack unit, bluetooth fail
on May 11, 2013
Those just starting their search for a soundbar might want to look at the three important tips below for buying and evaluating equipment in 2013: 1. Check your TV's inputs and outputs before you buy a soundbar. 2. Opt for Bluetooth and HDMI connections. 3. Use the system for several hours over a couple of days to let the speakers break in a bit before judging sound quality. If you are familiar with these three concepts just scroll on down to the product review.
1. TV inputs and outputs. Depending on age and equipment, there are many potential ways to hook up soundbars to TVs; some will produce excellent audio and others will reduce the sound signal to simple stereo that lacks some of the Dolby enhancements (ask your salesperson what this means if you don't already know). To be sure you get the best possible audio, look at the back and/or side of your TV set to see which inputs and outputs you have, list them on a piece of paper, give the information to a salesperson on the phone or at your local electronics dealer/big box store, and ask which soundbars will work best with your TV. You might also want to take a picture of the back of your TV on your cell phone so your salesperson can actually see what the input/output options are. If you can't tell what kind of inputs and outputs your TV has and you don't have a cell phone to take a picture with, tell the salesperson the brand and model of your TV and he/she can probably look it up to find out what kind of connections your TV has/needs. This is especially important because some older TVs don't have optical or HDMI connections or don't send sound via an optical cable, which means your soundbar will have reduced-quality sound or even no sound at all. All of this may seem overly technical and unnecessary because it is well known that soundbars generally cannot produce the true surround sound of a 5.1 or 7.1 system anyway. However, you are paying your hard-earned money and you should get the best possible audio your TV and soundbar can provide at whatever your price point might be.
2. Bluetooth and HDMI. Many of the soundbars becoming available in 2013 have Bluetooth built in, which will let you stream your music from your phone, iPod, iPad, PC, etc. This is extremely convenient, so make sure the soundbar you buy has Bluetooth even if it costs a few dollars more; you'll be glad you did. HDMI connections, especially with ARC (your salesperson will tell you what that is), will give you the best possible sound from and control of your TV and soundbar.
3. Break-in. Yes, speakers need time to break in, so don't make a final judgment about the quality of your soundbar without playing the unit for at least several hours over a period of a few days. Also, be sure to try various sound sources, settings and sub locations to find the optimal ones for your situation. If after break-in the soundbar doesn't meet your needs and standards, return or exchange it. Before you buy, make sure you know what the seller's return policies are so you can make a return or exchange within the required time window.
Here's my review of the LG NB3530A soundbar.
Set-up: Piece of cake. 2-3 minutes to unpack and 3-4 minutes more to hook up (including removing the old sound system and wires). Thank you, LG, for including the required optical cord. The most difficult part was getting access to the back of my big-screen TV in a fairly tight cabinet.
Overall audio quality: At this price point soundbars are not for audiophiles; however, this overall audio quality is much better than that of my Sony TV speakers. After break-in the soundbar bass is still a bit boomy and lacking in sharpness and musicality--not bad, just nothing special. Treble is good, not too sharp. Mid-range is OK. Bass and treble lack precise adjustment though there are several generic settings (e.g., Natural, Bass, Clear Voice, Game, Night, Loudness, 3D Sound) that change the bass/treble mix. Overall middle of pack for sound quality. You would probably need to spend at least 50-60% more to get a soundbar with a meaningful improvement in audio.
Surround sound: Do not expect this or any other 2.1 soundbar to provide true surround sound like that of a 5.1 or 7.1 system. However, when the remote is set on "3D Sound" the sound field expands to a couple of feet on either side of TV and moves further into the room than on other settings, which provides some semblance of depth.
Sound quantity: My family room is 16'x18'and is open on one entire side to a kitchen/dining nook of similar size. This soundbar, which sits on the front of the cabinet shelf in which my TV is located, filled the family room with sound at about 40% of the maximum volume level setting on the remote; any more would have made my ears bleed. At the highest volume level I could stand (40%) there was not much distortion--it was just simply too loud to bear.
Wireless subwoofer: The wireless sub paired with the soundbar almost instantly. Having a wireless sub is good because it lets you try the unit in various places in the room to find the best location without having a speaker wire to trip over. Audiophiles will argue that a wireless sub loses some quality compared to a sub connected via speaker wire, which is true, but many listeners won't notice much difference. Be sure to note that virtually every "wireless" sub does have a power cord and must be placed close to a wall outlet so you can plug it in. Out of the box this sub sounded weak and colorless, mostly a dull rumble that, fortunately, began to improve after several hours of use. Using the "bass" or "loudness" setting increases the bass impact, but if you really want to rattle your windows, loosen your tooth fillings or punish your apartment neighbors, you will need to get a system with a bigger sub (size of sub speaker not revealed by manufacturer). This sub's response for music and movies was about average for its price point.
Bluetooth (BT): As noted above, I am a great fan of Bluetooth. However, with this soundbar I found that almost every other music track I played from my iPhone or a streaming radio station via BT had skips or stutters, a situation that caused me to return this unit. This may simply have been a quality control issue with the soundbar, and the big blue and yellow store immediately credited my return with no hassle, but I really hate to waste my time returning or exchanging defective units.
Connectivity: This unit lacks HDMI and uses an optical cable to connect to the TV. For technical reasons that your salesperson can discuss with you, this limits the quality and quasi-surround nature of the sound. If you choose a soundbar without HDMI, make sure you understand any limitations posed by other types of connections.
Remote control: Nice design, easy to handle, buttons are well laid out and clearly labeled. The buttons are not back-lit, a nuisance rather than a deal-breaker.
Looks: The soundbar has small dimensions and a low profile and the sub is a bit smaller than that of some similar systems. The soundbar's exposed speakers with no grille cloth take a while to get used to, but at least they do not have chrome rings or faces that make them stand out as some systems do. While I was watching TV the speakers were not visually distracting.
Pros: Middle of the pack sound quality, much better than TV speakers. Easy to set up and operate. Moderate price.
Cons: Neither LG nor any source I could find via Google provides critical details such as the frequency response of the speakers in the soundbar and the size and frequency reponse of the subwoofer. I therefore bought the unit based on what little information LG provided and was prepared to return it if it didn't sound good. Minimal ability to control bass and treble was an issue. The lack of an HDMI connection was also a concern because optical cables can compromise sound quality and equipment control. The choppy Bluetooth connection was a deal-breaker, thus the two star rating.
Bottom Line. I have looked at and listened to quite a few sound bars, and I think this middle-of-the-pack unit might have come close to meeting my basic needs at a moderate cost except for the problem with the skipping Bluetooth and lack of HDMI. I am now shopping at a higher price point in hopes of increasing audio quality and finding a unit with both HDMI and a reliable Bluetooth connection.