Andrew Robinson began his career as an art director in entertainment advertising in 2003, after graduating from Art Center College of Design. In 2006, he became a creative director at Crew Creative Advertising, and oversaw the agency's Television Division, where he worked for clients such as TNT, TBS, History, FX, and Bravo to name a few. He now has one of the most popular AV-related channels on YouTube.
I'm beginning to like soundbars more and more. I know my wife likes, no, loves 'em, which is why I've designated our new living room as a soundbar-only setup. In our previous home, our living room doubled as my main theater/listening space, so you can imagine what hassles that put my wife through. No longer, as soundbars are aimed as much at quality as they are convenience and the $299.99 LG NB3520A (3520A) 2.1-channel soundbar system, reviewed here, is one of the best at both.
The 3520A is a sleek piece of kit comprised of a single gloss-black soundbar with exposed drivers and a wireless powered subwoofer. Focusing on the soundbar for a moment, it is strictly a two-channel design, possessing four two-and-a-half-inch midrange drivers and two one-inch soft dome tweeters. The left and right driver arrays are separated by most of the bar's 40-inch width, which just so happens to be where its touch-sensitive controls and info display are located, though neither disrupt the facade's glass-like finish. Very cool. There is no speaker grille, so the six drivers are on full display, something that is proving very popular, as both Panasonic and Samsung have adopted a similar design language. The soundbar itself measures just under 40 inches wide by three inches tall and two inches deep. It doesn't weigh much, either, at a whopping five pounds. Inputs include two digital audio inputs (optical), a USB input (that can also charge connected devices) and what LG calls a "portable audio input," i.e., a 3.5mm jack. Behind the scenes, the 3520A packs 160 watts of total power between the left and right speakers, along with a host of other features like Bluetooth connectivity, external HDD playback, AV sync and more.
As for the 3520A's subwoofer, it features a seven-inch driver encased in a gloss black bass reflex enclosure. As I said before, it is a wireless design, meaning all you have to do is place it within range of the soundbar and plug it into an outlet. Subwoofer level is controlled via the soundbar or included remote. It does take a bit of finessing before finding the ideal setting, but trust me when I say your experimentation will be well worth it in the end. The subwoofer itself is powered by its own 140-watt internal amplifier, giving the entire system, soundbar and all, a total power rating of 300 watts.
The entire system, despite being only a 2.1 setup and not a true multi-channel one, is capable of playing back LPCM, Dolby Digital, DTS, MP3 and WMA audio formats. It also has sound controls, adjustments and features such as 3D Sound Optimizer, Natural EQ, By Pass, Bass Blast (BASS), Clear Voice (CLRVOICE), Game EQ, MP3 Up-Scaling (Music Retouch), Night Mode and Loudness.
In terms of sound, the 3520A is on par with, if not even perhaps a bit above, others in its price category. Out of the box and without the subwoofer properly dialed in, it can seem a bit anemic or cold. However, after a bit of subwoofer level experimentation (and placement), you should arrive at a sound that is a little on the cool side of neutral, but pleasing nonetheless. Bluetooth connectivity is one of the features my wife and I enjoyed most, as most everything nowadays is able to connect via Bluetooth, as opposed to AirPlay or other proprietary wireless connectivity options. With the MP3 upscaling audio option engaged, Pandora music files sounded fine, with the 3520A proving to be quite brilliant at playing back music at ambient levels. If only all devices were as simple as the 3520A when it comes to wireless connectivity, no one would need to pop for an expensive whole-home audio system. As far as movies are concerned, the 3520A excelled and exceeded this reviewer's expectations. I previously wrote about another fine, roughly $200 soundbar system, the Panasonic SC-HTB20. I believe the 3520A takes the performance benchmark set by the Panasonic and expands upon it, possessing more natural air, separation and 3D-ness (it's a word) from a mere 2.1 setup. My wife and I watched the recently released Prometheus (20th Century Fox) on Blu-ray disc via the 3520A and had zero complaints, at least in terms of the film and the 3520A's sound quality. Is the 3520A going to step in and replace a dedicated multi-channel or discrete loudspeaker setup? No, but for its asking price. it's far from mediocre and something I could see a lot of budding enthusiasts, especially women, getting behind. I liked it.
Click on to Page 2 to read about the High Points, Low Points, Comparison and Competition and the Conclusion . . .
The 3520A's fit and finish is first-rate, despite its plastic materials.
The 3520A's controls and ease of use are among the best I've seen and simple enough that even my wife could get it to sing without consulting the manual ... or me.
The 3520A's sound quality is slightly cool or lean of neutral, though it's not the end of the world for enjoyment. Where the 3520A excels is in its ability to sound more like surround sound than its direct competition does, despite being a 2.1 system.
The wireless subwoofer is among the easiest subs to set up, though level and placement can be a little fussy.
The 3520A's Bluetooth connectivity is a huge plus and so easy to connect that it puts costlier AirPlay components to shame.
The 3520A lacks grilles to protect its left and right speaker drivers, which may be a deal breaker for those with curious children or pets.
The subwoofer included with the 3520A does take a bit of finessing on the listener's part in order for it, and subsequently the rest of the system, to sound its best.
The 3520A's high-gloss finish is prone to showcasing dust and fingerprints, though I applaud LG's inclusion of a microfiber cloth to combat the issue.
Competition and Comparison
There is no shortage of soundbars these days, especially ones costing less than, say, $400, with many falling between the $200 and $300 price points. While I consider the 3520A to be a leader in its respective space, it does have some stiff competition, starting with the Panasonic SC-HTB20 I spoke about earlier. There are a number of soundbars from Vizio that also sound good, as well as Samsung. If you want to step up to that next tier in terms of performance, it is my belief that you'll have to spend upwards of $800 or more and begin looking at soundbars from the likes of ZVOX, Aperion, Polk and MartinLogan.
For more on soundbars, please visit Home Theater Review's Soundbar page.
The LG NB3520A 2.1-channel soundbar at just under $300 is yet another example of not having to spend a lot in order to get a lot. While it isn't about to replace a dedicated home theater system any time soon, it is a very worthy upgrade to your HDTV'sinternal speakers. Moreover, its looks, simplicity and ease of use give it a high WAF rating. It's Bluetooth connectivity and copious sound options make it a good fit for today's popular music services like Pandora, too. Careful subwoofer placement is key to extracting the most out of the 3520A's overall sound performance but, once there, the 3520A should reward you with years of pleasing, trouble-free sound.