The BB5521A is a very impressive performer, delivering sound that sparkles with detail and packs plenty of low-frequency oomph. What it lacks in surround envelopment it makes up for in sheer enthusiasm and room-filling power. It’s surprisingly potent by soundbar standards, belting out movies loudly with the volume barely turned up a quarter of the way.
We slid Clash of the Titans into the slot, skipped to the giant scorpion attack in chapter 8 and felt the system’s force. In the lead up there’s some lovely high-frequency work as Perseus legs it through the woods and rolls down the side of a hill – the delicate crunch of twigs and bark is beautifully teased out by the tweeters. This continues throughout the scene as the warriors move onto the dusty desert land. Gravel crunches underfoot, and as scorpion claws burst through the ground the hiss is clear and crisp.
When we get into the meat of the action, it’s the sub’s time to shine. The scorpions thump the ground and smash into pillars with a tight punchy thud, fusing tightly with the soundbar rather than overpowering it, while the score’s pounding percussion and low string stabs drive the scene along urgently. The sub and soundbar form a cohesive union, linking up to supply a seamless sense of depth.
At the same time the soundbar’s drivers contribute more of that gorgeously crisp detail, from the brief chink of armour to pebbles raining down from the scorpions’ huge tails. Punching their way through the melee are the cries of people being thrown around and the garbled screech of the scorpions, showing that the LG’s dialogue chops are up to scratch despite the lack of dedicated centre.
It’s utter chaos but masterfully handled, with the LG making it possible to pick out all the individual elements within the 4.1-channel soundstage while keeping things nicely balanced across the frequency range. There’s impressive drive and dynamism behind everything, plus when the going gets loud you don’t have any of the nasty brightness that some soundbars can suffer from.
On the downside there’s absolutely no surround presence at all with the Virtual mode engaged. The sound is nice and wide across the front of the room, but that’s where it stays – the Yamaha YSP-2200 is a much, much better bet if you’re after a convincing surround sound experience.
And if for any reason you’re thinking of ditching the sub and using the soundbar on its own – don’t. Its own bass response is poor, so without the sub covering the bass and lower-mid frequencies the sound is horribly compressed and thin, unbearably so at louder volumes. We can’t think why anyone would, but we say it just to underline how important the subwoofer is to this system’s success.
We’re also impressed by how sympathetically the BB5521A treats music. OK, high-end hi-fi it ain't, but there’s enough detail, openness and vocal clarity in its rendition of Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto to earn the title of 'decent all-rounder'.
In terms of pictures, the LG’s hi-def reproduction is right on the money whether you’re watching in two or three dimensions. Clash of the Titans’ fine computer-generated detail scrubs up beautifully on our 55in Samsung set, making the image seem dazzlingly lucid, backed up by luxuriously vivid colours.
There’s wonderful depth to the image too, making the movie’s epic shots of Greek landscapes seem suitably cinematic, but it’s combined with a beautiful sense of subtlety that makes gentle shading and textures on skin look smooth and natural. Add fluid movement, clearly visible shadow detail and poised 3D pictures into the melting pot and you’re onto a winner.
All told then, about the only major concern we have with the LG BB5521A is precisely its raison d'être - it being all-in-one. Not because it doesn't work beautifully but simply that it's the nature of technology that certain sectors move faster than others, so one part or another of this system may be redundant in a couple of years time. The audio part of the equation will remain relevant for the foreseeable future but the other multimedia features are in such a state of flux, we'd be inclined to keep the lot seperate. That said, for its core functions - Blu-ray playback and audio - it will do the business for years to come.
The LG BB5521A is a superb soundbar system, not only because it’s packed to the hilt with features but also because its sound quality is so darn enjoyable. It’s rare that a soundbar system delivers such clean, uncoloured high-frequencies, tight punchy bass and clear dialogue all at the same time, and it’s even more unusual to find one that’s this easy to use and plays a wide range of sources and formats with such slickness. Throw in excellent picture quality and stunning looks and you’ve got a must-buy system. The lack of wall mountability and unconvincing virtual surround are small minuses, but otherwise this is a soundbar superstar.