REVIEW – LG NB3730A Soundbar Audio System

By on Jun 5, 2013 in Reviews, Speakers

Introduction

While I know my affinity for soundbars doesn’t always sit well with some of my more hard core home theater fans, it doesn’t temper my support nor keep me from seeking them out and enjoying them. To me a soundbar represents a logical step up from built-in display loudspeakers, while also serving as a “gateway” drug for future home theater purchases. My wife adores them, and sometimes, despite having a purpose-built home theater, it’s nice to bask in the relative simplicity of a soundbar. For example, LG’s NB3730A reviewed here.

The LG NB3730A retails for $399.99 and is available most everywhere LG products are sold, this includes a number of online retailers as well. For a penny under $400 you get a two channel soundbar, a wireless subwoofer and a host of Internet streaming and wireless audio options. Focusing on the soundbar aspect of the NB3730A package, it is quite stunning. The “bar” itself measures 40.9 inches wide by 2.8 inches tall and 1.9 inches deep. It weighs 5.5 pounds, which makes it easy enough to mount below your display using the included mounting hardware. The soundbar itself is a two channel design, with each channel possessing three drivers; two bass/midrange drivers complimented by a single soft dome tweeter. The drivers are exposed to the world (no speaker grill) so those with pets or small children should take extra care to protect them (the drivers) from abuse. In the center of the soundbar’s gloss black facade rests its touch-sensitive manual controls as well as its display -all of which go “dark” when not in use. Behind a small trap door on the front of the NB3730A  rests a USB input that can be used to playback both audio and video files if need be. Around back you’ll find the NB3730A’s input/output options that include; an Ethernet port, HDMI out and digital audio input (optical). There is even a removable power cord too.

The wireless subwoofer is modest in size but not quite as svelte as the soundbar itself, measuring 7.7 inches wide by 15.2 inches tall and 11.7 inches deep. It’s a little heavier too at 15 pounds. The only connection option on the sub is its attached power cord as the rest of its implementation is carried out via a wireless connection with the soundbar. Also, its level controls are handled via the soundbar’s on screen display so it really is a matter of plug-n-play.

As for the rest of the NB3730A’s features, the system can receive and/or pass through all of today’s current surround sound codecs, this includes Dolby Digital Plus as well as DTS, though obviously some re-encoding internally is required to playback such material via a 2.1 channel system. According to the NB3730A’s manual, all audio is processed and playback via DTS two-channel audio. Also, if the audio is being passed through via the NB3730A’s optical audio out then the output is limited to 48Hz and 5.1 -not lossless. All incoming/outgoing PCM signals are limited to 2 channels or 5.1.

Along with modern surround sound support, the NB3730A also has the ability to connect to your home’s network -both wirelessly as well as hardwired. This gives the NB3730A the ability to not only access any locally stored media (DLNA), but online media via third party services such as Netflix and the like. Those familiar with LG products already will no doubt recognize the LG Apps control panel present on the NB3730A.  The NB3730A also has Bluetooth capability as well. I mentioned above that the NB3730A has a front mounted USB port, which is capable of playing back AV file formats such as mp4 and mp3s. In truth a wide variety of file formats are compatible with the NB3730A, formats such as; mkv, avi, wmv and flac to name a few. Supported codecs include; XVID, MPEG, h.264 and AVC -again, just to name a few. As for locally stored images those can be in jpg, jpeg, png or gif format and are “limited” to resolutions less than 4,000 x 3,000 pixels and 24-bit.

Which brings me to the remote. The NB3730A’s remote isn’t your typical soundbar style remote but rather one that seems more suited for LG’s HDTV. In truth, that is what it is, for if you already own an LG display or maybe LG Blu-ray player than the NB3730A’s included remote is predisposed to control those too. The remote is very cleanly and clearly laid out and feels good in hand and is easy enough to navigate from the moment you press the power button. I really do like the remote and feel its “friendly” vibe will likely sit well with novice users -and women.

Specifications

LG doesn’t share much about the NB3730A’s actual performance specs as it pertains to the soundbar’s frequency response etc. What they do share is the NB3730A’s amplifier compliment and power output, which is 80 Watts per speaker set for a total of 160-Watts in the soundbar alone and 140 Watts for the subwoofer. Combined, the NB3730A on a whole packs 300 Watts of total power, which should be sufficient for small to medium sized rooms based on my experience with it and similarly equipped soundbars from competing manufacturers.

Application

Setting up the NB3730A is pretty straightforward thanks to a) its all-in-one style operation and b) on screen menu. The NB3730A is really meant to replace your display’s built-in speakers rather than be a true substitute for a full blown home theater system. This is why it lacks a lot of input/output options. I connected the NB3730A to my 70-inch Vizio E-Series display via its HDMI output as well as its optical input. The HDMI output allowed me to view the NB3730A’s on screen menus upon my Vizio display as well as stream video content via my home’s network to the Vizio as well.

The optical connection going from the Vizio’s digital audio out to the NB3730A’s optical in allowed me to use the NB3730A with other devices such as my Dish Network Hopper DVR. By coming out of my Vizio display via an optical connection (your only option with the NB3730A) into the soundbar, I could bypass the Vizio’s internal speakers and route all outside audio signals -i.e. those coming from either my Blu-ray player or DVR -to the soundbar as if it were my display’s internal speakers.

While it is possible to wall mount the soundbar out of the box using the included hardware, I did not, though a quick glance at the wall mounting instruction revealed a mounting procedure that seemed simple enough.

Once connected it was time to do go through a few quick setup steps, which I was politely guided through via the NB3730A’s on screen menus. I connected the NB3730A to my home network via the on screen display and remote control, which was painless. Next, I logged into my Netflix streaming account. I don’t really rely on any other streaming services -or at least none that the NB3730A supports -so the Internet setup portion took no time at all. Though admittedly, I did miss the presence of a QWERTY keyboard a la my Vizio remote as that does make typing in things like one’s email address a bit easier -and faster. Once I had the NB3730A’s network functionality up and running it was simply a matter of adjusting the few speaker trims, mainly the subwoofer’s overall level (though there is a four band, digital graphic EQ present), and double checking the system’s overall video output settings before I was ready to rock and roll.

Personal Impressions

I tested all of the NB3730A’s various sound settings, but ultimately chose either the system’s “Natural” or “3D Sound” settings for the bulk of my listening tests. For two-channel music I felt that the system’s “Natural” setting suited music well whereas its “3D Sound” was best for movies and/or broadcast content. In terms of the NB3730A’s sound, I found it to be a touch lean of neutral, but not wholly unpleasant -though admittedly going with higher resolution music files did improve things a bit. Beginning with two channel music via the soundbar’s front mounted USB stick, I cued up Hanz Zimmer’s “Seville” off the Mission Impossible II soundtrack. I was taken aback by the wireless subwoofer’s performance, which for a low power output, mass-market, sub produced taut and fairly extended bass. It’s frequency response was nowhere near 20Hz, but as a mid-bass woofer to augment the soundbar’s midrange and high frequencies it fit the bill nicely. I could “juice it” a bit via the onscreen menu’s subwoofer controls to give the “feeling” of deeper, richer bass but doing so came at the expense of speed and accuracy, so I left well enough alone. A foundation shaking subwoofer the NB3730A’s wireless sub is not, but for what it is, it is appropriate. As for the soundbar itself, it was a touch cool and a bit lean but not clinical. The midrange was a bit “flat” but still incredibly articulate and resolute. The high frequencies were a bit rolled off at the extremes, which in this instance is a good thing. The high frequencies lacked some extension, but for what they were, much like the subwoofer, things seemed appropriate. When pushed too hard the tweeters would compress and traits like excess sibilance was common.  I found I could “cheat” the system’s overall soundstage and spaciousness by engaging the NB3730A’s “3D Sound” setting, though doing so, with some two channel fare, didn’t always yield positive or wholly natural sounding results. As far as the track “Seville” was concerned, the “3D Sound” setting did aid in bringing back the track’s otherwise awesome ambience as well as leant a bit of extra body to the midrange and bass.

Speaking of soundstage, I felt as if the NB3730A’s overall sound or even surround sound performance possessed solid width though its vertical dispersion, regardless of the source material, was a bit lacking. This is not uncommon among soundbars, though I felt the NB3730A wasn’t as good as some in this regard. Dynamics on the other hand, especially with movies such as the sci-fi flick Prometheus on Blu-ray, were surprising. While the NB3730A may have lacked lifelike vertical dispersion, its ability to fill my modest sized living room with big, full-bodied sound was still impressive. Dialog, like vocals in my two-channel tests, lacked some body and natural resonance, but nevertheless remained intelligible at even high volumes. The subwoofer was also equally up to the task, and if I’m honest, elevated above its previous performance with two-channel content. Again, the quality of the incoming signal being (largely) a determining factor here.

As for the NB3730A’s other notable features, interacting with Netflix streaming via the soundbar and on screen menu proved to be no different -better or worse -than doing so via my Vizio display exclusively. The audio video quality of streaming was indistinguishable from other streaming devices I had on hand for direct A to B comparisons. The NB3730A therefore representing yet another way to add a touch of Internet connectivity and/or modern streaming conveniences to an aging system or display without having to spend a lot of money. If you already have such abilities, then perhaps the NB3730A’s value proposition isn’t as strong.

Another nice feature -arguably my favorite -is the NB3730A’s Bluetooth connectivity. Connected either of my Android based smartphones to the soundbar was as simple as selecting it from my phone’s Bluetooth menu and hitting pair (connect). Once paired the two devices always “found” one another and as a result allowed me to stream unlimited music from my Google Play account to the NB3730A with little drama. This is one of the big reasons why I came away from my time spent with the LG NB3730A so satisfied. While not a “high-end” sounding soundbar per se, its ease of use, back to basics approach to entertainment and overall sound quality was rather refreshing. This is what I’ve liked about LG’s soundbars in the past and was pleased to see LG hadn’t mucked with the formula here.

Things To Consider

As far as soundbars go the NB3730A manages to be both full-featured and basic all at once. Its sound is a welcomed improvement over any and all built-in HDTV speakers, however, that is all it is really going to be replacing. It’s lack of additional inputs does limit it a bit, as most of its operation -both on screen and off -is somewhat dictated by its connection to a display.

Because it’s driver compliment is a bit on the small side, both in size and number, the NB3730A’s resulting sound isn’t going to be “big” enough to fill large or even some medium sized rooms. Therefore it is my recommendation that the NB3730A be installed in bedrooms and/or dens rather than in media or large family/living rooms. If your room is too big than it is possible the NB3730A’s resulting sound could sound anemic. Over compensating by increasing the subwoofer’s output will only result in “tubby” bass. Also at loud volumes the NB3730A does exhibit some spatial flattening and when pushed too hard the tweeters can and will become fatiguing. With its means though, the NB3730A is incredibly balanced and nice sounding.

If you system or display already has Internet connectivity and/or built-in Apps than the addition of similar within the NB3730A is simply overkill and possibly money wasted. If you don’t have such functionality already present in your system than the NB3730A is a great way to add it while also improving  your HDTV’s sound. But if improved sound is all you’re after than there are less expensive, but comparable ways to go about it.

Comparable Products

There are hundreds of soundbars available on the market today. Some cost less than the NB3730A whereas others cost markedly more. Within the NB3730A’s price range I’d consider soundbars from either Vizio or Samsung to be competitors. Some of the Samsung soundbars share more than a passing resemblance to the LG and have similar sonic traits to boot. I haven’t really been the biggest fan of Samsung soundbars as I find their sound to be even more thin and a touch two dimensional when compared to the LG. Vizio on the other hand makes a fine soundbar in my humble opinion, and even has a few that manage to cost much less than the NB3730A -though they admittedly lack some of the LG’s higher functionality. Still, within the NB3730A’s wheelhouse these are the two other brands worth considering.

On the higher end of the spectrum a few of my favorites include; MartinLogan’s MotionVision, Outlaw Audio’s OSB-1 and Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 2. All three are fantastic, though admittedly are far more expensive and lack much of the NB3730A’s ability to playback streaming content such as Netflix streaming.

Conclusion

At $399.99 retail I’m not certain I’d label the NB3730A soundbar from LG a “steal,” but it’s a solid buy. Its feature set and Internet connectivity are a huge plus that make up for what it lacks in inputs and flexibility. The NB3730A’s overall sound quality is nice provided you keep the volume and surrounding physical space within reason -push either to 11 and things can get nasty, but within its comfort zone the NB3730A is comfortable. While the NB3730A may not get my outright buy recommendation, it is still a strong contender within the space and worth considering if you’re in the market for an affordable soundbar solution.

Copyright © 2012, Andrew Robinson