Onto performance and although the HB45E’s sound has distinct budget traits, it’s actually a very competent system, and if you’re upgrading from TV speakers then it’ll augment your enjoyment of movies tenfold. What we like most is the crispness of the sound – like many of LG’s systems, it’s been tuned by audio guru Mark Levinson and he’s geared it towards those who like lots of top-end in the mix, coaxing out the detail of Blu-ray’s Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks.
Case in point: Inception, which the LG presents with a beautifully lively and textured character. Its complex action scenes are alive with subtle background sounds and aggressive ‘foreground’ effects like shattering glass and gunfire, which are conveyed without excessive harshness – although they’re not as snappy and controlled as a decent amp/speakers separates pairing.
It’s an open, airy sound, with all of the elements given room to breathe within the seemingly narrow front soundstage. Those front speakers also do a great job of isolating dialogue so that important exposition doesn’t get lost amid the carnage. Virtual mode, or any of the other Sound Effect modes for that matter, do little to improve width, so stick to ‘Bypass’ or Natural where possible.
Despite the crisp, trebly sound, there’s enough body in the midrange and bass depth to keep the sound balanced. Inevitably the passive subwoofer lacks the punchiness and agility you get from a good powered sub, and as a result LFE-laden action scenes can get a little muddy, but despite its flaws it’s probably one of the better all-in-one subs we’ve tested of late.
The upbeat synth-pop of Mark Ronson’s Record Collection sounds rhythmic and vital, with that inherent crispness pushing the hi-hats to the fore, but the afore-mentioned sub shortcomings mean that the kicks and basslines aren’t quite as tight and ‘phat’ as Ronson probably intended. But that doesn’t necessarily stop it from being a perfectly enjoyable system for everyday listening.
On the visual side, the HB45E transmits pictures to a TV with not a pixel out of place. Inception’s images are clean, razor-sharp and most importantly the system captures its bold, lustrous cinematography. With more colourful fare like Iron Man 2 or Avatar, colours are treated with unerring naturalness and subtle shading.
The HB45E’s main selling point is its unusual cosmetic approach, which makes it a distinctive, flexible and appealing system. But it’s not just a pretty face – behind the style is a great-value, feature-packed system that does a decent job with Blu-ray soundtracks and music, delivers stunning hi-def pictures and presents few operational problems. Some HDMI inputs, Wi-Fi support and a wireless sub would have been nice, but if you’re only shelling out two hundred and fifty quid, beggars really can’t be choosers.