There's not much to budget sound bars. Sound quality generally ranges from mediocre to "good enough," there are a couple inputs around the back, and most include a wireless subwoofer--that's it. That pretty much describes the LG LSB316, although its Bluetooth functionality is a standout feature. Bluetooth may sound ho-hum, but it enables AirPlay-like music streaming from iOS devices; you even use the same AirPlay icon to enable it. And since Bluetooth is available on non-Apple smartphones and portable devices, you're not locked into an Apple gadget. The LG LSB316's so-so sound quality means it wouldn't be the first sound bar we'd choose, but it's a good choice for less demanding listeners that want the convenience of wireless audio streaming via Bluetooth.
The LSB316 has a typical design, with a long sound bar and a wireless subwoofer. The real style of the unit comes in how thin the sound bar is, measuring only 2 inches deep. There's no speaker grille up front, with three exposed drivers on the far ends. There's a front-panel display (which isn't always a given) and it's easy to read from about 10 feet away. There are a few front-panel buttons under the display and a USB port to the right, which can be used to play back digital music files
The LSB316's included remote is decent, although more cluttered than it needs to be. We liked the centrally located input button and the volume rocker is easy enough to find. However, there are plenty of confusing design choices. What looks like a directional pad in the middle of the remote is really a set of playback controls for USB sources. Overall, it's a usable remote, but it could be a lot better.
Built-in Bluetooth: As good as AirPlay?
We've made a big deal about AirPlay on AV receivers and (somewhat to our surprise) we found the Bluetooth functionality on the LSB316 works almost identically to AirPlay with iOS devices. Make sure Bluetooth is activated in the settings, cue some music using the iPod app or any other music application (including Rhapsody and Pandora), and select "LG Audio" from the AirPlay icon, and then your music will stream directly to the LSB316. It's seamless as the experience with other AirPlay-enabled devices, like the Denon AVR-1912 and Pioneer VSX-1021-K.
Even better, Bluetooth isn't limited to iOS devices. We used the Samsung Epic 4G Android phone, and while the experience wasn't quite as easy, we were eventually able to stream music stored on the phone and from music apps. We've been disappointed by the sound of Bluetooth audio devices before, but we were more underwhelmed by the LSB316's overall sound quality with music than we were with any kind of Bluetooth compression. More on that later.
|Front-panel display||Yes||Virtual surround||Yes|
Like most budget sound bars, the LSB316 has a wireless subwoofer and remote. The wireless sub is a step up from the otherwise excellent Sony HT-CT150, which has a wired subwoofer. While the LSB316 has a virtual surround mode, we wouldn't give too much weight to that factor, as we didn't think it worked that well. If you want real surround sound from a budget sound bar, check out the Vizio VHT510.
|HDMI inputs||0||Coaxial inputs||0|
|Optical inputs||2||Minijack input||Yes|
|Analog audio inputs||0||Max connected devices||3|
|Other: Bluetooth, USB port|
The LSB316's connectivity options are decent, but we'd still like more. Two optical inputs will cover, say, a cable box and gaming console, but many home theaters have other devices like a Roku XDS or Blu-ray player. There's also a minijack input that's labeled as a portable audio input, although you can use it with a home theater device with an adapter cable.
If you have more than three devices, you may be able to use your TV for switching between more devices. The main downside to that configuration is that you'll have to juggle two remotes, with the TV remote to switch inputs and the LG remote to adjust volume.
There's also a USB port on the front, but it's really only useful in a pinch. Between the remote's layout quirks and the limitations of the front-panel display, it's not easy to navigate stored music. If you've got a thumbdrive with a bunch of songs you want to listen to, it should be fine, but don't expect to be navigating lots of folders.
|Dolby TrueHD||No||DTS-HD Master Audio||No|
Like nearly every other sound bar home theater in a box (HTIB), standard Dolby and DTS decoding are handled by the LG LSB316. The LSB316 is also capable of decoding Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD Master Audio Essential, but you're unlikely to hear the sonic benefits of those formats on a system like this.
The LSB316's sound bar can be placed on a shelf in front of your TV, or wall-mounted with the included bracket. Once we had everything plugged in, the wireless subwoofer automatically synced with the sound bar. While the sub can be placed up to 32 feet away from the sound bar, it will sound best when the sub and sound bar are within 4 or 5 feet of each other. The bass felt a little lightweight overall, so we kept it turned up to or near its maximum level (+6). To maximize bass output, the sub should also be placed close to the wall behind the TV.
Before we started "serious" listening we experimented with the LSB316's Sound Effect surround modes. Well, that's what LG calls them, but the LSB316 is strictly a two-channel system. There is one virtual surround Sound Effect setting; it widens the stereo image a bit, but the sound quality suffers. We stayed clear of that and used the Bypass, Natural, or Loudness Sound Effect mode settings with movies and music. With those settings the stereo image spread beyond the actual edges of the speaker, and soundstage depth was pretty impressive. The Sound Effect settings and woofer level adjustments are easily accessible via the remote.
The LSB316's clarity and finesse with demanding films like "House of Flying Daggers" was impressive. The circle-of-drums scene demonstrated the subwoofer's poise and definition, but deep bass and impact were in short supply. So much so that we thought the LSB316's Dolby Dynamic Range Control was inhibiting the soft-loud dynamics, but turning it on or off barely made any difference. The upshot was that while the LSB316 could play loudly, it didn't seem powerful.
We next compared the LSB316 with the Vizio VHT510 sound bar system while we watched the Rolling Stones' "Four Flicks" concert DVD set. Both systems feature wireless subwoofers, but the Vizio's also uses wired surround speakers. Not surprisingly, the VHT510 produced a bigger, more room-filling sound than the LSB316. The surround speakers' contributions made a big difference, but the VHT510's subwoofer was also significantly more powerful than the LSB316's. The VHT510's overall dynamic oomph was superior; the sound was on par with a midprice HTIB system. The LSB316's performance fell far short of what we heard from the Vizio.
Next, we watched some of "Sideways," in which Miles (Paul Giamatti) and his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) go on a wine-tasting tour of California vineyards. It's a nice quiet film, but even there, we noticed that the dialogue sounded a little "boxy" and closed-in over the LSB316. We reduced the boxiness by opting for the "Loudness" Sound Effect setting, but the dialogue never sounded completely natural to us. Intelligibility was never a problem though.
CD sound can be hit or miss with sound bar speakers, and it was definitely a miss here. Rock and jazz CDs sounded thin, and the treble range was verging on harsh. The LSB316 is a step up from most TVs' built-in speakers, but there are better-sounding alternatives to choose from.
The LG LSB316's mediocre sound quality definitely makes it tough for us to give it a whole-hearted recommendation. The better-sounding Vizio VHT510 and Sony HT-CT150 are more to our personal taste. But if you're not a critical listener, the LSB316 does almost everything else well and its built-in Bluetooth functionality is very convenient.