What is the LG SP11RA?
The LG SP11RA is the latest flagship soundbar from the Korean manufacturer, and boasts a similar set of features to last year's SN11RG, with wireless rear speakers that incorporate upward-firing drivers for a fully immersive 7.1.4-channel experience with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks.
The SP11 also includes Meridian audio technology, an AI room calibration feature, eARC, Chromecast, AirPlay 2, and support for Hi-Res Audio. This soundbar works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, plus there's Spotify Connect.
This year, LG has added TV Sound Mode Share, which allows the soundbar to take advantage of the AI-enhanced processing in the Gen 4 Alpha 9 processor found it its 2021 TVs, plus there are new gaming and sports sound modes.
Since this is a top-of-the-range soundbar it's relatively expensive, and will currently set you back £1,499 as at the time of writing (July 2021). But has LG addressed issues from last year, and how does the SP11RA compare to Samsung's new HW-Q950A.
The LG SP11RA uses the same chassis as last year's SN11RG, with an identical sleek frame, curved edges and low form factor. The build quality is excellent, with a full-length wrap-around perforated metal grille, and a brushed aluminium finish on top with circular metal grilles at either end. There's a black and dark grey finish, along with a five character display on the front right.
The forward- and side-firing speakers are located behind the metal grille, while the upward-firing speakers are behind the circular grilles on top. The soundbar measures 1443 x 63 x 146mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 7.2kg. The width makes it better suited for TVs with screen sizes of 55 inches or larger, and LG includes a template and dedicated brackets for those who want to wall mount.
The wireless subwoofer is also the same model included with previous generations of soundbars. It's made of MDF, and has a finish that matches the main unit. It uses a 7-inch front-firing driver with a rear port, and measures 221 x 390 x 313mm (WxHxD) and weighs 7.8kg.
The wireless rear speakers include front-facing and upward-firing drivers in well-made and reasonably compact cabinets, with a finish that matches the main unit. Each speaker measures 130 x 212 x 191mm (WxHxD), weighs 5.2kg and comes with wall mounting brackets.
Connections and Control
The LG SP11RA houses its connections in a recessed area at the rear of the soundbar, and here you'll find two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output that supports eARC. The HDMI ports can pass 4K, HDCP 2.3, VRR, ALLM, and high dynamic range, including HDR10 and Dolby Vision, but not HDR10+.
In terms of other physical connections, there’s an optical digital input and a USB port, but no Ethernet port for a wired connection. The wireless connections consist of built-in Wi-Fi (2.4 and 5GHz) and Bluetooth 5.0, plus there’s support for Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2.
There are plenty of connections, including two HDMI inputs with support for eARC, ALLM, VRR, and Dolby Vision
The touch sensitive controls on the soundbar itself are located at the top and towards the centre of the main unit. These allow you to select input, change the volume, turn the power on and off, play/pause, and pair Bluetooth devices.
The remote control has been given a redesign and now looks more like LG's TV zappers. It's a definite improvement on the small and fiddly controller included with previous LG soundbars, and the new shape is bigger, more comfortable to hold and easier to use with one hand.
The included remote has been given a redesign, and is a definite improvement over previous years
The button layout has been simplified, and is sensibly laid out. There's an on/off button at the top, beneath this is volume up/down, mute and input select. There's a dedicated button for pairing Bluetooth devices, a circular set of navigation controls, and buttons for accessing the sound modes and settings menus.
LG also offers a soundbar app (iOS and Android), which is very effective, and provides access to all the controls found on the remote and even a couple of extra ones: Dynamic Range Control, Auto Volume Leveller, and AI room correction. Those connecting via HDMI-CEC can also use the TV remote to adjust the volume.
Features and Specs
The SP11RA uses a 7.1.4-channel speaker configuration, based around front-firing left and right drivers, a centre channel, side-firing width drivers, upward-firing front height channels, wireless rear speakers with upward-firing drivers, and a wireless subwoofer.
The two forward-firing speakers and the centre channel are composed of a 40x100mm woofer and 20mm silk dome tweeter, while the rear speakers just use the 40x100mm woofers. The four upward-firing speakers each use 2.5-inch woofers, and the bass reflex subwoofer uses a 7-inch driver.
The 7.1.4-channel speaker layout supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based audio
There’s 50W of built-in amplification for each of the front, centre, side, rear and upward-firing speakers, and 220W for the subwoofer – producing a total of 770W of power. That’s plenty of grunt, ensuring this soundbar is capable of producing a big and powerful room-filling presence.
The SP11RA supports object-based audio in the form of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X thanks to the 7.1.4 speaker layout, creating a genuinely immersive experience. It also supports all the other Dolby and DTS variants (with the exception of IMAX Enhanced DTS:X), along with LPCM.
In terms of file support, there’s high resolution audio with a 192kHz/24-bit DAC and support for MP3, WAV, AAC/AAC+, AIFF, OGG, and FLAC file formats. There’s also Google Chromecast, Apple AirPlay 2, and Spotify Connect built-in, allowing for streaming content from other devices.
More: Audio Formats
The AI Sound Pro has been upgraded, and there are new Sports and Game sound modes
The soundbar sports a number of sound modes, including an upgraded AI Sound Pro which automatically analyses content to instantly optimise audio settings, Standard, Music, Cinema, Sports, Game, Clear Voice and Bass Blast – with Sports and Game being new modes this year. Other settings include Night Mode, Dynamic Range Control, Auto Volume Leveller, and a User EQ.
The AI room calibration uses two mics built into the soundbar, and employs test tones to determine the layout of your room, before configuring itself for the best audio by applying algorithms designed to compensates for the environment.
If a source is connected to the soundbar using the optical digital input there's an automatic power on/off function, and a sound sync feature. For those using SIMPLINK (HDMI-CEC), there's an AV sync feature available via the remote app (0-300ms).
The new TV Sound Mode Share allows the SP11 to utilise the Alpha 9 Gen4 processor in LG TVs
New this year is TV Sound Mode Share, which allows the upgraded 2021 Alpha 9 AI Processor in LG's TVs to help the SP11 produce better sound. The soundbar uses this feature to access the TV’s processing power, allowing AI Sound Pro to make the audio clearer and more consistent. Finally, the soundbar works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Set Up and Operation
The LG SP11RA is simple to set up, especially if you use the soundbar app. Not only does it allow you to bypass the less-than-informative LCD display at the front of the soundbar and connect to your Wi-Fi, but also provides access to more features than the remote control.
The soundbar should be placed on a flat surface in front of the TV, with all the drivers free of any obstructions. LG includes brackets for those who would rather wall mount. The subwoofer is placed at the front of the room, and should pair automatically with the main unit.
The soundbar, rear speakers and subwoofer are easy to install, and there are brackets for wall mounting
The rear speakers should be placed behind the main listening position, and given the angle of the upward-firing drivers, the further back the better. The speakers are marked left and right, and there are brackets for wall mounting if you prefer, but don’t forget you need to plug in the main unit, subwoofer and rear speakers – that’s potentially four plugs in total.
The upward-firing drivers literally bounce acoustic beams off the ceiling, thus creating the illusion of overhead speakers. For this to work properly, you ideally need a low, flat, and reflective ceiling. If you have a very high, uneven or vaulted ceiling, this kind of technology might not be for you.
If your TV supports eARC, you can send lossless audio back via HDMI, but if not you'll need to connect any lossless sources directly to the soundbar, although you can still send lossy audio back via ARC. If your TV doesn’t support ARC at all, you can use the optical digital connection, but this means you won’t benefit from HDMI-CEC.
For testing, we used LG UP970 and Panasonic DP-UB820 4K Blu-ray players, a Sony PS4 games console, a Manhattan T3-R Freeview PVR, and an LG 77C9 OLED TV. The latter's ARC capability with Atmos was tested using its Netflix, Disney+ and Apple TV+ apps, and its eARC capabilities were tested by connecting the 4K disc players to the TV and sending lossless audio back via HDMI. We also paired the soundbar with an iPhone X to test the quality of streamed music.
The AI room correction feature is quick, easy to use and effective, but you can also manually set up the SP11RA
Once installed, all you need to do is follow the instructions in the remote app. This will allow you to run the AI room correction feature and optimise the sonic performance of the SP11RA for your specific acoustic environment. For those who would rather set the different speaker levels manually, you can use the remote or better still the soundbar app, but the levels adjust both channels simultaneously, which can be an issue in asymmetric rooms.
The LG is easy to operate, and the soundbar will detect incoming audio signals from whichever input you have selected and decode automatically. For audio signals apart from Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, you can apply the various sound modes mentioned in the features and specs section.
The LG SP11RA delivers a generally excellent performance, and is definitely better than last year's SN11RG, which had problems allocating bass to the surround channels. The overall soundstage has plenty of width at the front, thanks mainly to the size of the soundbar itself, and the side-firing drivers. There's a good surround presence, while the front and rear upward-firing drivers produce effective overhead channels. Finally, the subwoofer lays down a solid foundation of bass.
When positioning the rear speakers, the further you can get them away from the main seating position, the better. If you're sat too close you'll hear the upward-firing drivers directly, rather than reflected off the ceiling, which shatters the illusion. This applies to any upward-firing rear speaker, regardless of manufacturer, but it's worth considering if you're tight for space. As a result, the SP11 is better suited to bigger rooms, although the subwoofer does feel slightly under-powered when dealing with a larger surface area.
However, the LG creates a believable hemisphere of sound, and the Dolby Atmos Amaze trailer sounded suitably immersive. The steering of effects was smooth and precise, with insects buzzing about and birds fluttering overhead. There's a pleasing rumble of thunder, followed by a drenching downpour, and the overall experience was very realistic. As I ran through the various tests the channels felt correctly separated, and the bass was properly allocated to the five main channels.
The highly directional nature of the Chaos Walking Dolby Atmos soundtrack proves a great test of this soundbar's ability to render effects with precision, placing them within three dimensional space, and steering them around the soundstage. In the film, mens' thoughts are audible and float above you in the sound mix, hovering in mid-air. The LG handled this well, and also did a great job of reproducing the subtle sounds of the surrounding forest.
No matter how chaotic (pun intended) the mix gets, the actual dialogue always remains clear and focused thanks to the dedicated centre speaker. There aren't a lot of big bass moments, but the sub handles the various action scenes well. A climactic showdown in a derelict spacecraft has a suitably cavernous feel and, overall, the SP11RA does a great job of reproducing this frenetic and directional soundtrack (shame about the film).
The SP11 creates a believable hemisphere of sound, and the bass is properly allocated across the main channels
Moving on to DTS:X and the LG is equally accomplished, with the Atomic Blonde soundtrack feeling suitably bruising and brutal. The punches and kicks have a visceral thud, the gunfire retains impact, and the dialogue is sharp and detailed. The surrounds kick in nicely, and there's a great sense of immersion during a scene that takes place within a demonstration on the streets. The SP11 also reveals its capabilities with music, handling the film's 80s pop songs with great aplomb.
The SP11RA had no problems decoding lossless Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks sent via a direct HDMI connection, and was also able to handle the same soundtracks via eARC. When it came to lossy Atmos mixes via the C9's internal apps the results were also excellent, with Netflix, Apple TV+ and Disney+ shows like Shadow and Bone, For All Mankind and Loki all sounding enjoyably immersive.
When it comes to two-channel music, the SP11 benefits from the width of the soundbar itself to produce some excellent stereo separation. As a result, the imaging and placement of effects is very good, and the soundbar has a warm and rich sound. The sub is also well integrated, making the LG a surprisingly effective way of listening to music. The extensive streaming, file and Hi-Res audio support also help in this regard.
The AI room correction is useful for smoothing out the more egregious aspects of the room, and the overall soundstage is quite cohesive thanks to the use of similar drivers. The SP11RA can handle 5.1 and 7.1 as well, and the various sound modes work effectively. The upgraded AI Sound Pro works well for general viewing, but for music we generally used the Standard mode, while the Cinema mode can be useful for upmixing non-immersive soundtracks.
Overall, the SP11 delivers a great all-round performance that makes it a good choice for catching up on TV, listening to music, watching your favourite movies, or playing games. However, since we had the Samsung HW-Q950A in for review at the same time we were able to compare them, and found that the Samsung soundbar was generally more accomplished, with a greater sense of immersion, and a deeper bass presence from its subwoofer.
- Immersive 7.1.4 performance
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
- eARC support
- AI room calibration feature
- Chromecast and AirPlay 2
- Hi-Res Audio support
- Sleek and well made
- Improved remote control
- Effective soundbar app
- No HDR10+ passthrough
LG SP11RA Soundbar Review
Should I buy one?
The LG SP11RA is a solid 7.1.4-channel soundbar, which addresses the bass issues that plagued last year's SN11YG (since fixed with a firmware update), and produces an excellent overall performance. It also forms part of a select club of soundbars that can deliver a genuinely immersive experience with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based audio soundtracks.
The SP11 sounds great with music, is simple to set up and easy to optimise thanks to the AI room correction feature. It also boasts a host of useful features that includes support for eARC, Chromecast, AirPlay 2, various sound modes, and Hi-Res Audio. There's a redesigned remote, new TV Sound Mode Share feature, and it works with Alexa and Google Assistant.
The soundbar can't pass HDR10+, which is no great loss, but crucially it can pass Dolby Vision without any issues. Ultimately, the SP11RA is a decent effort from LG, and is a possibility for anyone wanting an immersive system without the hassle of an AV receiver and speaker package, but there are better options.
What are my alternatives?
If you're on a tighter budget, you could consider the JBL BAR 9.1 (£899) with its detachable wireless rear speakers. This eye-catching soundbar includes a wireless subwoofer, eARC, auto set up, and support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. There's no HDR10+ passthrough, only one HDMI input, no remote app, and the front soundstage is a little narrow, but, overall, the JBL is an excellent performer and great value for money.
However, for only an extra £100 you can buy the Samsung HW-Q950A, which is definitely the best soundbar currently available. It delivers a staggeringly immersive 11.1.4-channel layout, which results in an awesome Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundstage with powerful bass. It now has an auto EQ feature, plus built-in Amazon Alexa, two HDMI inputs, eARC, and AirPlay 2. And unlike the SP11RA it can pass both Dolby Vision and HDR10+.
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