If you need great audio but you don’t have a lot of room, soundbars may well be the thing for your living room. But hold up a second, because while a bar of sound might be ideal, LG’s idea of a plate of sound that sits under the TV might be an even more discreet way of playing your movies and music.
The name LG has never really fit together with soundbar, with the brand releasing various sound systems over the years, but never really taking the time to jump into the “home theatre in a long block” category that we now more commonly call soundbars.
And now it is, but with a different interpretation on how a soundbar should look and feel.
That interpretation comes in the form of a plate, stretching out the dimensions of the soundbar and slimming it down so it more closely resembles a small block to raise the higher of your TV ever so slightly. And that’s precisely where it goes, sitting under the TV so it does raise your TV ever so slightly.
But it’s not just doing that, as the LG SoundPlate takes four neodymium speakers and two downward firing subwoofers and throws them into the 35mm tall block body.
Connections in this thin and wide soundbar are limited, with merely an optical port taking the wired sound, and Bluetooth being used for wireless audio. There is only a power plug after this.
A remote is also included, and this allows you to jump between the optical of your TV, and wireless Bluetooth streaming, while also changing volume, switch on LG’s “Cinema Sound” mode which increases dynamics, use an LG TV specific mode, and mutes the volume completely.
It’s fairly flat, but as thick as some other soundbars, and yet covers more space.
What is it? It’s LG’s SoundPlate, an idea that encases four speakers and downward facing subwoofers inside a plastic body, strengthened to take the weight of a television sized up to 55 inches.
If you have anything bigger than a 55, the SoundPlate isn’t for you, but if it’s 55 and under, the SoundPlate has been designed to take the weight of the TV and press is down on a rectangular block with softened edges that measures 35mm thick and contains speakers and subwoofers, effectively hiding the speaker in plain sight, and meaning you don’t have a long block sitting in front of the TV like you do with other soundbars.
Aesthetically, the design on the SoundPlate is simple, with a basic black edged box and silver speaker grill in the centre, with this speaker following around the edge of the speaker on the sides, fading into the black frame at the end of the left and right sides.
Behind this grill is four speakers, with two along the front, and two close to the corners and sides, effectively producing a four-channel sound system.
But four channels is hardly enough for a home theatre, and taking the part of the point-one (.1) are two down-firing subwoofers on the bottom of the SoundPlate, bringing the speaker system up to 4.1, and making it suitable for home entertainment.
Setting up the SoundPlate is pretty easy, just make sure to have two people there when you’re doing it. Your TV sits on top of the SoundPlate, so you’ll need to take the TV down, put the SoundPlate in, and then put the TV back on the SoundPlate.
Plugging it in is just as easy, and with only a power plug and optical audio cable, it’s not exactly a difficult process. From here, you’re ready to go, so just switch on the TV, the SoundPlate, and start listening to audio.
To test this new style of soundbar — and that’s what it is: a soundbar in a plate that sits under a TV — we ran music over Bluetooth from our mobile phone handset to test its music side of things, and then let a few movies push through it.
Over on the Bluetooth audio side of things, the plate was easy to get working with our HTC One phone we were testing with it, and from there, it was just using the SoundPlate to play back audio over Bluetooth.
Depending on the track, we found the subwoofer was overpowering what was being played through the regular speakers, which is something that is unfortunately completely out of your control on the LG SoundPlate.
During Laura Mvula’s “Green Garden,” the highs and mids were clear and precise, and Dave Brubeck’s take on the West Wide Story piece “Maria” was solid through the mids too. But head into some pop and rock, and the subwoofer’s issues with heavy bass take over, and in “Radioactive” by the Imagine Dragons, the bass was clearly heavier than it should be, shaking the entertainment unit holding our TV and SoundPlate, and generally sounding creaky at the same time.
Overall, the music lacked a richness we like to hear out of speakers, though, and it’s something we’ve identified in at least one other soundbar, and something the SoundPlate didn’t quite have.
That’s not to say the music from the SoundPlate was bad, and it wasn’t tinny either, it just lacked a certain warmth. It’s as if LG has put all the right parts there, but they don’t sing as well as they could.
Switching to movies and video games, we move to the optical input, which is the only other way the LG SoundPlate can take input. Most TVs support this way of sending out sound, but if yours doesn’t, you won’t be able to use the SoundPlate.
For movies, we tested Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” and found that the sound was mostly clear, with strong obvious explosions and decent dialogue, though it lacked the richness and strong depth we expect from a multi-channel home entertainment system.
Just like with some of the music tests, however, the bass was clearly the part that was heavier than the rest, pushing out more boom than we expected.
And that’s something you learn about the subwoofers in the LG SoundPlate early on: they are how they are, and if you think they should change, too bad, because LG doesn’t let you pull them down or increase the amount of attention the bass plays.
For some people, that will be fine, but for others, the lack of control is concerning, especially since you can’t decide if the bass should be lesser or greater, something other soundbars generally offer. Granted, other soundbars generally don’t include the subwoofer built directly into the body and are separate devices, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the bass shouldn’t have some form of control exerted over it, and LG’s lack of control here is a touch frustrating.
Also annoying is the lack of connectivity options, and with only optical or Bluetooth supported, there isn’t much the SoundPlate will connect to. In fact, it’s pretty much either your TV or your phone and tablet. If you want to take an RCA connection from something else, you can’t, nor can you send HDMI the way of the SoundPlate, and a 3.5mm stereo jack isn’t supported either. It’s optical or Bluetooth only, and that’s a fair bit limiting on a $600 condensed sound system.
With the audio forced through optical for your home theatre, you’ll likely take a feed from your TV, but this proved interesting, as parts of the optical audio stream went missing as we ran through the menus of our PlayStation 3 and Apple TV.
They’re minor missing sounds, mind you — the blip noises as you navigate the menus of the console and media streamer — but the LG SoundPlate was clearly dropping them, playing back a few, but silencing the rest, suggesting the SoundPlate had troubles with small clips of audio and clearly wanted longer streams.
The lack of an LCD on the SoundPlate can also be frustrating, as you’re really just dependent on a blinking red light to find out how loud your volume is, or when you’re hitting any of the buttons on the remote, and it doesn’t really tell you how loud you are, giving you only an indication that you are pressing volume up or down with a blinking red light.
Perhaps we’ve been spoiled, but on a $600 system, a better notification than a tiny red light at the front would be nice.
Ultimately, our biggest dilemma with the SoundPlate comes down to the price, and while the sound is decent, it’s not as full or rich as we’d expect on a device sporting a $599 price tag. Street price will likely be a little lower, sure, but given the combination of features and flaws, the $600 mark seems a touch high, especially in comparison to the soundbars the SoundPlate competes with.
LG’s way of making a soundbar disappear into the furniture is definitely an interesting idea, and people who want more than what their TV sound can offer will surely be intrigued by the idea LG is offering here.
Ultimately, we’re intrigued too, but would like to see some things ironed out, like better optical audio tracking, and a subwoofer that you can change the levels on.
There are loads of soundbars out at the moment, many of which not just offer more control but more ways to connect, and that makes the $599 price of the LG SoundPlate hard to justify.