As sleek as it gets
What is the LG NB5540?
LG has been back to the drawing board for its range of 2014 soundbars and the results are certainly highly attractive.The NB5540 we have here is LG’s range-topping entrant for 2014 and boasts a claimed 320W output, a relatively large and powerful wireless subwoofer and a 192kHz / 24Bit capable DAC to underscore its audiophile credentials.On paper, the DAC is the major differentiator between the NB5540 and the NB4540, which is priced around £70 cheaper than the top-tier product, which has a suggested price somewhere in the £479 region. Let’s see how LG’s new breed stacks up.
LG NB5540 Design & ConnectionsThe NB5540 is remarkably low-slung and very lovely to look at. LG quotes a product height of just 35mm but we measured it closer to 40mm, not that it really matters as, whichever way, it’s highly unlikely to conceal the lower portions of your TV screen.
The main speaker bar has arch-shaped ends that are vented to aid dispersion of sound and is encased in a hard, gun metal coloured plastic shell bearing a fine meshed grill to the front. On top of the bar are some silver, inlaid buttons for basic controls. Behind the grille is VFD display, which is very easy to read and provides useful information regarding sound modes and input selection.
They don't get much better looking than the NB5540
The subwoofer, as you would hope and expect, is a far bulkier proposition to the main speaker bar and is a fairly imposing unit, as far as soundbar packages go. It takes the tape at 296 X 332 X 296mm (W x H x D) and comes with its own integrated power supply. The cabinet is covered by a black sheeny cloth and there’s an indicator light which glows red when disconnected and green for the opposite.
Barring the power inlet, all of the physical connections are located in a recess and include one HDMI in, and one out for Audio Return Channel (ARC) functionality, plus a S/PDIF digital optical and a USB port. There is also a 3.5mm jack for the likes of MP3 players and smartphones, as well as the almost obligatory option of Bluetooth.
LG NB5540 Setup & OperationLG has redesigned their remote controls for 2014 and they are now generally shorter and chubbier than we’ve seen in years gone by. The handset features dedicated buttons for AV Sync (delay settings), Woofer Level, Sound Effect, Info and Auto Volume, as well as all the usual volume controls and a sleep timer button. Even if your TV doesn’t have ARC compatibility, you still have a chance the control will send some basic commands to it by means of entering a code, but manufacturer supported is limited to only a half dozen brands, with some notable omissions.
On the subject of ARC, we had major issues getting it to work with this particular soundbar and the Samsung H6400 TV in for review at the time. We could establish an ARC connection so that the TV's audio was playing fine through the system and the TV's remote would control volume but, as soon as we switched inputs, the connection would require re-establishing in the Samsung’s menus. The fault appears to lay with the Samsung implementation in this instance, however, as we had the NB55400 working fine with a couple of other TVs but it’s something to be aware of, should you run in to difficulties.
Given the inclusion of an HDMI output, it’s a tiny bit curious that LG doesn’t offer the option of a display based user interface. Instead, you will need to rely, solely, on the combination of remote control and display panel but it’s no real hardship as all the controls you will really ever need are catered for by the two.
Is a 'HiFi' DAC wasted here?
LG NB5540 FeaturesAside from the inclusion of Bluetooth technology, LG is plugging the NB5540 as a an outlet for HiFi enthusiasts with the addition of a USB DAC (Digital-to-Analogue-Converter) capable of sampling frequencies from 32 to 192kHz, at a bitrate up to 5000kbps. The largest of those numbers are restricted to FLAC but there is also support for OGG and WAV files, in addition to the usual MP3 and WMA extensions.
There are a few limitations with USB playback though. For starters, your iDevice (Pod, Pad or Phone) will be incompatible and it won’t work with Android, either. Quite whether this a speaker really capable of doing justice to lossless codecs is something else we’d call in to question, too, so those not really bothered by the inclusion of this fancy DAC might want to look down the product range to the NB4540 in order to save a few bob.
LG NB5540 ListeningWe had wondered that the relative size of the cabinets and drivers in the package might cause a bit if a tonal mismatch with the NB5540 and, at default settings, it was certainly the case. In our room – which is a fairly typical living room – the sub was noticeably overpowering the rest of the mix and shook the ground a little more than you would want, given the material it was doing it with.
As this is a wireless speaker, that does give you some scope in being able to experiment with sub placement to overcome any such issues, provided you have a power supply relatively close, that is. As it was, we settled for notching the level down by around 5 clicks and it immediately became better integrated without losing impact when required.
There is a slight tendency for the NB5540 to sound a bit strained in the mid-ranges however and although this doesn’t tend to be any great loss when viewing movies and TV, it does take some of the gloss off the musical output, where the richness of the piano, for example, is somewhat lost. As ever with the audio products from the big two Korean manufacturers, it’s with brighter and ‘poppier’ tracks to which this soundbar is suited.
The sub can overpower so will require careful setup
The DSP (Digital Sound Processing) modes of the NB5540 are a mixed but there’s no doubting that the Cinema options does provide some additional verticality and, therefore, a better ‘surround’ experience. We do have to say that extended listening in that particular mode did leave us feeling slightly fatigued from the experience so you’ll need to experiment to see if it suits you. All in all, the NB5540 is a fairly versatile soundbar that provides more than competent audio in terms of movies and TV listening but ‘HiFi’ DAC notwithstanding, we didn’t find it the most musical performer.
- High impact bass
- Beautiful styling
- Easy to set up and control
- Sub can be dominating at default settings
- Mid range is sometimes compromised
LG NB5540 Soundbar ReviewSoundbars don’t really get better looking than the LG NB5540, and they’re certainly rarely so sleek. The main speaker bar measures less than 4cm in height and is beautifully finished by a gun-metal coloured coating. To the middle is a clear and well-presented display panel and at the rear are a good set of connections, including HDMI in/out, S/PDIF, USB and a 3.5mm auxiliary jack. You also get the option of Bluetooth streaming.
All controls and setup processes are accessed via the supplied remote, which is shorter and wider than we’re used to from LG but we certainly have no complaints. Given the inclusion of an HDMI output, it’s slightly unusual for LG not to have offered an on-screen menu system but there’s nothing really missing, so those with TVs lacking in ARC functionality, might as well not bother with it.
The LG NB5540 proved a particularly good handler of multichannel movie soundtracks with a solid and resonant subwoofer underpinning the rest of the mix. We did have to tame the subwoofer quite considerably from its default settings however, else it completely dominated. The Cinema listening mode proved particularly convincing in terms of providing a surround-like experience, although we did find it ear-fatiguing over long periods.
We didn’t find the package so well suited to music, however, despite the presence of a USB DAC capable of sampling frequencies from 32 to 192kHz, at a bitrate up to 5000kbps, although that’s somewhat dependent on what you’re feeding it. Those with a penchant for dance music or pure pop music will probably find it a perfectly good listen.
All things considered, namely its gorgeous design, excellent connectivity options and meaty bass performance, it's a good soundbar but we're not quite sure it justifies t its price-tag.
UPDATE: LG has informed us that the suggested retail price of £287.99 they initially told us was incorrect so we've updated the review to reflect that.
Ease of Use8
Value for Money6
Our Review Ethos
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