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LG LSB316 review: LG LSB316

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.

Audio decoding capabilities
Dolby Digital Yes DTS Yes
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.

Setup
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.

Performance
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.

Conclusion
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.

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