Those slim flat panel TVs look great, but sound, not so much because there’s not room for big speakers or big amplification. That’s what makes a sound bar a good investment — sound is just as important as a great picture. LG’s NB3730A 300W 2.1 Smart Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer knows how to “sound off,” but it doesn’t stop there.
The NB3730A has a slim profile that’s about 47-inches long, but it’s not high — that’s important if placed in front of a TV with a low-slung stand (the case with many 50” and smaller models). All connections are on the back and take about 3 minutes to put together: connect the power cord and run it into the AC; connect a digital optical cable (included) between it and the audio out of the TV; place the wireless subwoofer nearby and plug it into an AC outlet (there’s no switch as it turns on/off in sync with the sound bar). Of course you do need to change the settings of the TV to channel the sound (in this case a Sony Bravia 50” LCD) to send the audio out, but that’s it.
There’s a paring button on the back of the sub, but it looks like it was set through default because when I first turned the sound bar on, when I plugged the sub into the wall outlet, it too went on (the LED light on the front going from red to green). But should there be a power glitch needing to mate the two again, it’s not going to be a problem because of the pairing button.
The sound bar is all glossy black which helps to hide the magnetically shielded recessed speakers — there’s no grill covering the woofers and tweeter at each side. Control can be done through touch sensitive icons at the center or, more sensibly, through the remote.
Now a sound bar doesn‘t have to try very hard to have more volume than the speakers in one of today’s flat panel TVs — even a slim sound bar like the LG has more room for placing multiple speakers connected to larger amplification. But once you get past that, the real value comes from the nuances of sound. Take this example: the Bravia’s 10 watt stereo speakers reproduced the general surface noises in the SKYFALL scene which has Bond chasing after a bad guy, both on motorcycles. But the LG brought out the “gritty” rumble of the treads of the tires as they screeched from being abused on the road. This deeper sound came partly from the addition of the subwoofer, but just as much from the LG’s speaker set. It wasn’t a simple volume thing.
But speaking of volume, the real test comes from how loud you can play without losing clarity and introducing “noise.” Continuing to use SKYFALL, I raised the volume to around 80% of maximum and, while jarring to stand close to, dialogue continued to be cleanly heard even when in the midst of the music swelling during action scenes.
I also played through most of Disney’s Wreak-It-Ralph, just to enjoy the retro gaming sound effects that pepper the movie. I remember what those sounds should be like from my days at the arcades and happily the NB3520A reproduces all the bleeps and blaps, the staccato highs and synthesizer lows accurately (and entertainingly). But I did find that raising the bass too high could muffle some dialogue if the sub was fairly close to the sound bar so I dialed back on it, as compared to when playing Bond.
LG figured that adding some glitz to this sound bar could raise it above the others — which is fine providing that the “glitz” provided a real value. In this case, “Smart TV” functions are built in and displayed on the TV through a HDMI cable. These consists of Netflix and other premium sites, plus LG apps to access and use for video, gaming and other functionality. All of this works in a competent fashion, although not at lightning speed so some patience must be cultivated. There is both wired and wireless Internet for connecting and the setup for Internet access can be quickly done.
To see how music sounds, I decided to use the NB3730A’s Bluetooth feature. A press of the remote cycled to BT pairing and my Mac’s iTunes library was ready to go. Playing a variety of high-resolution music files showed that the LG’s can handle symphonic pieces with better than reasonable results — the string section coming through clearly in Mahler’s 3rd even when played slightly above 50% of the volume level. Switching to pop, I drove the volume of some old Boston tunes nearly all the way up and enjoyed the bone-shaking bass from the sub. The speakers did start to “give” a bit at the higher frequencies (most likely a result from being encased in plastic and not wood/wood composite), so I dialed it back a little. But few will find this a problem because if they’re playing anything that loud they’re not looking for nuances, just a sheer noise “wall.”
I also played the most recent B52’s “Keep This Party Going” which is super heavy on the percussion. The NB3730A reproduced the electronic drums properly (no dull thuds) and didn’t get in the way of the lead singers very, very low voice. The sound bar’s size also makes for better stereo separation, as exhibited by playing The Cars’ “Dangerous Type.” Standing about 10 feet back and facing the NB3520A, I could clearly hear the separation of the electric guitar riffs at my left and the synth at my right.
The NB3730A has a 3D Surround mode which strives to create a pseudo surround effect. It mildly enhanced the audio of SKYFALL, but can’t duplicate the effect of actual surround speakers. This is true of pretty much all of these psycho-acoustic surround modes (with a few exceptions) but some will find it to their liking. Me, I prefer leaving the sound at its “Natural” level. But I can certainly see the NB3520A taking the place of the center speaker in a 5.1 audio setup or even that of the Left and Right front speakers if stereo separation is not a vexing concern.
USB port for playing music, Home media server software included (PC/Mac), Wall mount bracket included
No dedicated volume button on the sub
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.