(Pocket-lint) - The LG SP11RA is the company's flagship soundbar for 2021, which builds on the earlier SN11RG by adding AirPlay 2 and a mode that utilises the processing in LG's latest TVs.
All the previous features are also present and correct, meaning a 7.1.4-channel speaker layout including wireless rear speakers with built-in upward-firing drivers. There's also Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based audio decoding, fancy AI room correction for optimum sound, and more.
But there's a little problem when it comes to compatibility with Dolby Atmos passthrough for some players. Does that hold the SP11RA back from its otherwise immersive sonic greatness?
- Soundbar: 1443 x 63 x 146mm; 7.2kg
- Subwoofer: 221 x 390 x 313mm; 7.8kg
- Rear speakers: 130 x 212 x 191mm; 5.2kg
The LG SP11RA uses exactly the same cabinet as the SN11RG, with the same sleek frame, curved corners and low form-factor that shouldn't block your TV's screen. The width will accommodate larger screen sizes, and there's a choice of placing the 'bar in front of your TV, or wall-mounting it using the included template and dedicated brackets.
The design aesthetic is minimalist, with a solid build quality, and a dark grey finish. There's a full-length wrap-around perforated metal grille hiding the front- and side-firing speakers, a brushed aluminium top plate with a pair of circular metal grilles for the upward-firers, and a five character display on the front right.
The included wireless active subwoofer uses a 7-inch front-firing driver with a rear port, it's well-made and finished to match the main unit. The same goes for the compact rear speakers, which include upward-firing drivers, and come with mounting brackets. The sub and rears should pair automatically when first turned on – although if not, there's a button for manual pairing.
Connections and control
- 2x HDMI input; HDMI output with eARC
- Optical digital audio input; USB
- Wi-Fi (2.4 and 5GHz); Bluetooth 5.0; Chromecast; AirPlay 2
The LG SP11RA sports a pair of HDMI inputs, an HDMI output with eARC, a USB port, and an optical digital audio input. In terms of wireless connections there's a choice of built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, plus Chromecast and AirPlay 2 – with the last of these being new for 2021.
All the HDMI ports can pass 4K/60p and HDCP 2.3, plus there's support for ALLM, VRR, HDR10, HLG, and Dolby Vision. And if that's getting a bit acronym heavy for you then follow the explainer links below, which help breakdown why these variable refresh rate and high dynamic range passthrough features matter.
- What is ALLM and VRR? TV gaming tech explained
- What is Dolby Vision? Dolby's own HDR tech explained
- What is HDR? Why HDR will improve your movie watching
While the lack of HDR10+ passthrough isn't a surprise, the SP11 suffered compatibility issues during our testing when it came to Dolby Vision. We were unable to pass DV content using a Panasonic 4K disc player, although there were no issues with an LG spinner and the Apple TV.
There are plenty of control options, including touch-sensitive buttons on the top of the main unit for power on/off, input, volume up/down, play/pause, and pairing Bluetooth devices.
The separate remote has been given a much needed makeover, and now looks more like the glossy black zappers included with LG's TVs. The new shape is a definite improvement; it's bigger, more comfortable to hold, and easier to use with one hand. The button layout has also been simplified, so it's more intuitive with on/off at the top, and the volume, mute and input select keys underneath. There's also a button for pairing Bluetooth devices, navigation controls, and keys for accessing the sound modes and settings menus.
LG also offers an effective soundbar app (for iOS and Android devices), which provides access to all the controls found on the remote and a few 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, plus there's limited voice control via Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.
- 7.1.4-channel configuration
- 770W of built-in amplification
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding
- Meridian Technology
- AI room correction
- Hi-res audio (192kHz/24-bit)
- TV Sound Mode Share
The LG SP11RA doesn't differ hugely from the earlier SN11RG model when it comes to the features, which are still headlined by the fully-immersive 7.1.4-channel speaker layout. This is comprised of front-firing left and right speakers, a centre channel, side-firing width drivers, upward-firing front height channels, wireless rear speakers with up-firing drivers, and a wireless subwoofer.
As with previous generations the two forward-firing speakers and the centre channel are each composed of a 40x100mm woofer and 20mm silk dome tweeter, while the rear speakers each use a 40x100mm woofer. The four upward-firing speakers at the front and rear use 64mm woofers, and the bass reflex subwoofer uses a 178mm (or 7-inch) driver.
There's plenty of power to drive all these speakers, with 50W of built-in amplification for each of the front, centre, side, rear and upward-firing channels, plus 220W for the subwoofer – resulting in an impressive 770W of grunt. The SP11 certainly has no trouble delivering a room-filing soundstage with scale and volume to spare.
The soundbar decodes the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based audio formats, producing a three-dimensional hemisphere of sound that genuinely immerses. It can also handle all the other Dolby and DTS variants, along with LPCM, and even use upscaling algorithms to make full use of all those speakers with non-immersive soundtracks.
The AI room correction feature utilises two mics built into the soundbar to measure various test tones to determine the acoustic properties of your room. The algorithms then configure the soundbar to compensate for the negative aspects of the acoustic environment, improving the overall sonic performance, and producing distortion-free audio.
New this year is TV Sound Mode Share, which allows the SP11 to take advantage of the upgraded 2021 Alpha 9 AI Processor in LG's newer TVs to produce better audio. The soundbar accesses the TV's increased processing power, allowing the AI Sound Pro mode to sound clearer and more consistent when analysing audio signals on-the-fly. There are a number of other sound modes, too, all of which are fairly self-explanatory, including Standard, Music, Movie, and Bass Blast.
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. Finally the SP11 works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, adding extra speaker smarts.
The LG SP11RA is an undeniably impressive performer, and its use of actual drivers to create its 7.1.4-channel speaker layout immediately sets it above competing soundbars that bounce sound beams all over the shop or apply psychoacoustic trickery. We simply played some test tones and can confirm: the sounds emanate from the correct locations.
The overall system produces a three-dimensional bubble of sound, and the object-based decoding ensures that audio effects are placed in space or steered around the sound field with remarkable precision. The side-firers help give the front soundstage greater width, while the four up-firers bounce sounds off the ceiling to create the illusion of overhead channels. The effectiveness of the latter will depend on your ceiling – so the more reflective, the better.
The dedicated centre speaker ensures dialogue remains clear and focused on the screen, while the rears add plenty of surround effects behind you. Finally the subwoofer lays down a solid foundation of bass that's better integrated than last year and correctly applied to the other channels.
The AI room correction does an excellent job of ensuring there's a cohesion to the entire system, which means sound effects move seamlessly from one speaker to another. The inherent power of the overall system also means there is plenty of scale to the soundstage, making this soundbar a good choice for larger TV screens and bigger rooms.
As a result, whether you're catching-up on your favourite TV show, watching a movie, listening to music, or indulging in a marathon gaming session, the SP11 can deliver the sonic goods. There's a warmth and richness to the sound, combined with a composed and assured delivery that produces an engaging and hugely entertaining experience.
The 4K Blu-ray of Chaos Walking boasts one of the best Atmos soundtracks to date, with extensive use of the overhead channels. In the movie, mens' thoughts are actually audible and visibly float above their heads in a fugue that's called 'The Noise'. The object-based mix allows these sounds to literally float in three-dimensional space, hovering over the soundstage.
The soundbar's sides and rear speakers are also used effectively to surround you in the sounds of the forest world on which the story takes place. The sub deftly handles the big bass moments with power and poise, while the centre channel ensures that no matter how complex the mix becomes, dialogue is never lost in the cacophony of 'The Noise'.
The LG is equally as accomplished with DTS:X soundtracks, and watching Atomic Blonde on 4K disc allows the soundbar to reveal is musical strengths, spreading the eclectic mix of 80s pop songs across the front of the room. The action is also suitably visceral with punches and kicks enjoying a boost from the sub, and gunshots are delivered with a percussive thump.
With TV shows the experience is no less immersive, and the Atmos soundtrack on the Netflix series Shadow and Bone is a real treat. This is especially true when people enter The Fold and the oppressive nature of the darkness is enhanced by an enveloping sound mix.
The LG SP11RA is a solid offering that builds on its predecessor, resulting in a well-designed system that produces an enjoyably impressive soundstage, regardless of the whether it's TV, movies, music or gaming that you're listening to.
Thanks to the 7.1.4-channel speaker layout, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based audio sounds particularly good, creating an immersive hemisphere of sound with a deep foundation of bass. The delivery is powerful, and thanks to the AI room correction feature, setup is easy.
It's a good overall effort, with only the inability to pass HDR10+ and some Dolby Vision compatibility issues with certain source players spoiling the otherwise immersive sonic party.
JBL Bar 9.1
For those on a budget, this package is hard to beat thanks to its attractive price and genuine 7.1.4-channel experience. There's a shapely main unit, wireless subwoofer, and detachable and rechargeable wireless rear speakers. There's support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, along with eARC, and an auto setup feature. There's only one HDMI input, and no HDR10+ passthrough or remote app, but otherwise it's an excellent performer and great value for money.
If you can afford the SP11RA, then you should really consider the Samsung HW-Q950A instead, because this 11.1.4-channel system is the best and most immersive soundbar on the market. Not only do you get an exceptional Dolby Atmos and DTS:X performance, two HDMI inputs, eARC, Hi-Res Audio, and built-in Alexa, but new this year is AirPlay 2 and auto room correction. Throw in full passthrough of HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, and you've really got the complete package.