Budget Bars: Soundbars from Vizio, Samsung, LG, and Harman Kardon Page 3

LG NB3520A

Price: $299

The LG NB3520A’s glossy black plastic cabinet gives it the same visual flair as a pint of Guinness — in this case, poured into a plain rectangular box. Its exposed speaker drivers are an interesting touch, though, seeing as most inexpensive speakers go to great lengths to hide their transducers.

Each channel uses 80 watts to power a 1-inch silk dome tweeter and two 2.5-inch midrange drivers. The sub’s 7-inch woofer is powered by 140 watts.

The LG does not have HDMI switching — a big negative in my book regardless of price. The added convenience of HDMI switching is worth some extra money to me (or, in the case of the Vizio, less money). Instead, your input options are two optical connections and a USB port (to plug in thumb drives, not iPods). It also has Bluetooth for wireless streaming from a smartphone.

The LG soundbar remote looks like a small TV remote, and it has roughly the same number of buttons. An AV Sync feature — one that’s also found on the Samsung — is there to minimize lip-sync issues.

Performance

If your thing is vocals, the LG is your soundbar. Tom Waits didn’t need to call; his voice was so far forward that I could smell the beer. Aside from sounding overtly forward, with midrange taking center stage at the expense of everything else, the LG came off sounding a bit nasal as well.

When you activate the LG’s 3D sound feature, you get a better balance, with voices receding almost behind the bar. Better, but still not great. The “surround” effect in this mode is rather wide but also seems to accentuate certain frequencies. The sound of cymbals, for one, was very noticeable.

And when I listened to “You Can’t Lose a Broken Heart,” Billie Holiday sounded smaller through the LG than on the others bars, and the horns at the beginning of the track were very harsh.

The Faces didn’t sound much better: all cymbals, guitars, and mush. The LG subwoofer offered some low-end reinforcement, but that was mostly just low thuds. To be fair, though, I wouldn’t classify any of the subwoofers in this group as “good” or even “not bad.” There also wasn’t much blend between the bar and the sub.

Perhaps the most egregious aspect of the LG’s performance is that it flips the left and right channels with stereo recordings. The iconic guitar-riff opening of “Stay With Me” that’s hard-panned to the left? With the LG, you hear it on the right — at least when using the Optical 1 input without any other processing active. Guess what? If you use Optical 2 or any other input, the channels are correct.

The LG fared far better with movies. The 3D Sound processing created a reasonably large soundstage, and its sound in that mode had a better balance than Samsung’s bar. During big action scenes, the forward quality of the vocal range was a benefit, letting dialogue come through fairly clearly, and there was enough treble to create some atmosphere and make effects audible.

On the features side, the LG easily made a Bluetooth connection with my phone, and it found the files on a thumb drive plugged into the USB input and played them without a fuss.

Bottom Line

The LG NB3520A lacks HDMI switching, plus it has mediocre overall sound quality, a rather average design, and a channel-swapping software bug. Its USB and Audio Sync features are cool, and it performed better with movies than with music (certainly what soundbars are mostly meant for), but even so, it doesn’t hold up against the others bars featured here.

Soundbar
(2) 1-in tweeters, (4) 2.5-in mid/woofers; 2 x 80 watts; 39.4 x 3.2 x 2.0 in; 5.1 lb

Subwoofer
7-in woofer; power, 140 watts; 7.7 x 15.4 x 12.5 in; 15.2 lb

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