Price (RRP): $1899
Manufacturer: LG Electronics
I’ve gone on at length before about how hard it is to deliver surround sound, let alone 3D Dolby Atmos with just a soundbar. Fortunately, the new top-of-the-range LG SN11RG 7.1.4 soundbar solves that problem by including wireless rear forward and up-firing speakers.
Before we get into the review I urge you to thoroughly read our Dummies Guide to Dolby Atmos and DTS. That is before you buy any soundbar or if you ‘know it all’. Buying a Dolby Atmos soundbar is just the first piece of the puzzle to actually getting genuine Dolby Atmos or DTS:X 3D surround sound with height channels.
Review: LG SN11RG soundbar
- Australian Website here.
- Manual and Support pages here (near the bottom).
- Price: A$1,899
- From: Legitimate retailers.
- Warranty: 12 months
- Country of Manufacture:
- About: LG is a one of the largest South Korean consumer electronic companies
All about the LG SN11RG
So, what is the LG SN11RG soundbar? Well, it consists of four separate boxes, plus a remote control. The soundbar itself is a biggie: 1443mm wide by 146mm deep by 63mm tall. Inside it packs ten drivers. On the top of the soundbar, close to each end, is a round 75mm grille. Each houses a 50mm driver firing almost directly upwards, but canted so that it’s a little forward or out into the room. This provides front height.
There are three two-way sets of drivers across the front, each consisting of an rectangular driver with rounded ends, measuring (roughly, since I was trying to peer through the grille, and LG doesn’t give specifications) 25mm tall by 75mm wide, and 19mm to 25mm dome tweeter. These do front left, centre and right duty. There’s also an additional one of those rounded-rectangular drivers on each end of the soundbar, firing directly to the left and right.
Each set of drivers has 50 watts of power available to it from a Class D amplifier.
The surround speakers are small things, just 212mm tall, 130mm wide and 192mm deep. Since they connect wirelessly to the soundbar, each only needs to be plugged into power. Each has another of those upwards-firing 50-mm drivers on top, to provide rear height (and thus the .4 in 7.1.4). And each has a 65mm forwards-firing driver. Again, each of these drivers has 50 watts of Class D power available to it.
The LG SN11RG subwoofer and connections
The subwoofer is 390mm tall, 221mm wide and 313mm deep. It has a forwards-firing driver that sits behind a cut-out measuring around 190mm. My guess for driver size is 165mm. The back carries the port for the bass reflex loading. It is also wirelessly connected, so all it needs is power.
The soundbar has two HDMI inputs and one HDMI output. I checked them with Dolby Vision UHD and 2160p60 content, and the video passed through to the TV perfectly. The HDMI output supports eARC, which means that a TV can feed back full multichannel audio to the soundbar.
If your TV doesn’t support eARC or regular ARC, then you can still feed video from the TV to the LG SN11RG soundbar via its optical digital audio input. In addition, the unit supports Bluetooth audio and, of course, Wi-Fi. There is no Ethernet port.
But there is a microphone, because the LG SN11RG has Google Assistant built in, in addition to Chromecast Audio support.
I might as well mention here that while you can do cool things like say, “Hey Google, play me some music” – within a few seconds the LG SN11RG soundbar was playing “She Chameleon” by Marillion from Spotify when I said that – unlike most network-enabled home theatre receivers, the soundbar doesn’t show an onscreen display on the connected TV.
Setting up the LG SN11RG
Setting up the LG SN11RG proved to be easy … so long as you’re okay with its limitations. Once I’d plugged everything in and switched it on, all the wireless connections were swiftly made between the components with no intervention by me. Nice.
Setting up the network side of things was easy, too. It was just a matter of firing up the Google Home app on my phone, waiting a second while it found the LG SN11RG, and then following the instructions.
When Google Home had finished its stuff, it said I should install the LG Wi-Fi Speaker app and then threw me into the app on the Play Store. All I had to do was hit the “Install” button.
The app lets you do things like select the input for the soundbar, set night mode (to reduce neighbour annoyance), adjust the relative levels of the different speaker channels, and a few other things. You can adjust bass and treble with the included remote control.
There’s also an “AI Room Calibration” setting. Select that and the LG SN11RG soundbar produces a bunch of odd test tones and then gives you the option to sample the settings it has made prior to saving them (or not).
Huh? No measurement microphone. And it only seemed to effect the soundbar itself, not the surround speakers.
How about setting the surround speaker delay? There are no settings for that.
However, in my judgement LG has dialed a fair bit of delay into the surround channels on the sensible assumption that they will be closer to the seated listeners than the front sound bar.
Listening using the LG SN11RG soundbar
The sound performance of the LG SN11RG soundbar was tuned by Meridian, a British high-fidelity company of rather high repute. It invented the Meridian Lossless Packing compression system for high quality DVD-Audio music, which later evolved into Dolby TrueHD. And it is behind “MQA”, which amongst other things is a new compression system for delivering high resolution audio over the Internet as standard resolution data rates. Check out the highest tier of TIDAL to access this.
So, having praised Meridian’s technical bona fides, I feel somewhat freer in saying: I’m not a fan of Meridian tuned sound, at least as it appears on LG devices (I haven’t experienced it elsewhere.) In my opinion, it tends towards bass forwardness, with a gradual rolling off of the high end. That makes for a true sense of power, excellent rhythm and a very comfortable listen. But that’s somewhat at the cost of accuracy and detail.
The only adjustment I made to the default sound was to drag down the subwoofer level by around four decibels.
Stereo music played back through the LG SN11RG soundbar is really quite competent. Yes, I’d prefer a little more detail, and some depth in the stereo imaging. What the LG SN11RG did deliver was clean, room-filling music. It was smooth and comforting, and occasionally quite exciting. The strong bass performance helped here. There was certainly enough transparency to give me a full sense of what was going on in the music, the types of instruments and so on. Drumming seemed a little compressed, dynamically, when I advanced the volume to probably inappropriate levels, but the soundbar held things together nicely despite this.
Over the years I have become a little jaded about the wireless subwoofers provided with soundbars. They’ve often been quite flimsy things, faking real bass by high levels of mid-bass. The subwoofer provided with the LG SN11RG system does use chipboard construction, rather than MDF, but it still seemed to be rather more solidly constructed than most. My main problem with it was the default high setting. Adjusting it down by 4dB – you can use the app or the remote – tidied things up nicely there. The deep bass was probably not super-extended, but it was satisfyingly clean and loud.
Most of the music listening was via the system’s network connectivity, streaming from Spotify and using Chromecast to send music from my NAS to the soundbar. The LG app was difficult to use as a music player. To get from a playing track to the control section involved stepping all the way back, level by level, through the music selection process. I used BubbleUPnP for sending music, and it worked well.
That was equally the case with movies. Regular talky stuff was fine and clear and comprehensible. More in-your-face movies? I ran through a couple of the beach scenes – sorry, the beach battle scenes – in Edge of Tomorrow. I kind of expected the system to run out of oomph. Wrong I was. It was loud, engaging and pretty sharp at delivering surround detail in all directions, including fully behind and fully above me. So I turned it up and it went louder, and made the movie more enthralling. And a bit louder, and even better.
The LG SN11RG soundbar is a real surround system, with a really quite engaging performance on surround sound movies. I also ran some Dolby ATMOS demo content through the soundbar, and of course it delivered the proper 360-degree sound field.
After all that, I did some quick measurements on the subwoofer. Measuring up close to the front of the driver, it delivered from 48 hertz to 150 hertz, ±3dB. Bass reflex speakers also deliver sound from their port. Measuring there produced an output of 29 to 76 hertz ±3dB. Pretty impressive.
Running headlong into a rabbit hole
Naturally, I went to find out whether each of the speakers did what it was supposed to be doing. Principally: were the discrete surround channels being sent to the left and right rear speakers, was the LFE channel going to the subwoofer? (This isn’t as obviously true as you’d think. If a Blu-ray player senses that the audio device can only accept two channels, it will mix down the sound to said two channels. The device may then use surround processing to extract some of the surround data, but in most cases the LFE channel is just abandoned.)
So I popped an old Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus test disc into the disc spinner and ran a 5.1 channel test section. The speakers produced exactly what they were supposed to. The only thing that worried me was that the test voice sounded just a little thin coming out of the surround speakers. Was the system properly re-directing bass from the surround channels to the subwoofer?
I went to another test disc to see if I could hear this more definitively. That one sounded okay, but it wasn’t definitive. So, I figured, I’d play the “Pure Audio” Blu-ray version of The Who’s Tommy. The 5.1 channel sound of this mix is delivered in DTS:HD MA format, 24-bits and 96kHz. I chose that because Keith Moon’s drumming mostly comes out of surround left speaker. Ugghh! It was only playing back in stereo! Maybe it was the high-resolution sound, I thought to myself. So I tried the surround mix of King Crimson’s Red from DVD Audio, which I know to be sampled at 48kHz.
Nope, still stereo.
Fixing the problem
Long story short, here’s what was happening. In fact, it wasn’t being converted to stereo. The channels were being handled in a different way depending on the source format. So here are three scenarios:
- The source audio is Dolby 5.1 – the sound comes out of the channels you expect
- But if the source audio is Dolby 7.1 – it is handled differently. Instead of surround left and right coming out of the surround speakers, they come out of the left and right outwards-firing speakers on the ends of the soundbar. Rear surround left and right come out of the left and right surround speakers. Sorry, but this is wrong.
- And if the source audio is PCM 5.1, surround left and right are treated the same way as they are in Dolby 7.1, and the surround speakers are left without any signal at all. Likewise, wrong.
A setting in the LG app can improve things. I had “Rear speaker output” set to “Original sound” (“Listen to the sound from the original source channel” says the description.) But when it is set to “Surround” (“you can always listen to the sound from the rear speaker”) the system seemed to send the surround channels to more or less the right speakers. My memory is that Moon’s drums are solidly at surround left. This system delivered them to the left of the room, spread between surround left and front left.
All this is bit of a pain. You have to change that setting to optimise sound depending on what you’re playing. And remember, you probably won’t want it on “Surround” when you’re playing stereo music, because if you do the system pulls sound of the signal and plays it from the rear speakers.
But what about that bass management?
Which brings me back to the original thing I was trying to sort out. One my test discs has a walk-around-the-room-in-voice chapter, in which a man speaks as his voice circulates twice around the room (I’m pretty sure this is panned electronically, not that he actually walks). As I played that, the man’s voice was properly masculine as it started at left front, then went to centre and right front. But as it ran down the right wall from front to back, it thinned out. The voice panning across the back had essentially no bass.
I’m now quite confident that the system is not doing proper bass redirection from the surround channels.
What I did find interesting was that the motion of the voice was fairly smooth, which I hadn’t expected in view of the inability to set time alignment. That means a reasonably accurate surround effect. Except for the tonal variation due to the loss of bass in the surround signal.
Gadgetguy’s Take – the LG SN11RG is the company’s best yet
Fortunately, it’s rare for surround channels to carry significant bass content, so that probably won’t be a problem. If you’re after a convenient, all in one boost to your TV’s sound quality combined with decent network music playback, do check out the LG SN11RG soundbar. It’s one of the best of the genre.
You can read more about our coverage of LG soundbars here.