- Review Price: £205.00
LG boasts one of the widest selections of all-in-one home cinema systems in the business, offering something for all tastes and budgets. But one thing that unites them all is great value for money, and the HT32S is yet another feature-packed one-box system with a temptingly low price tag. This system also landed on our doorstep shortly after we finished playing with the superb HB354BS one-box Blu-ray package, so understandably our hopes are high.
LG systems usually have dashing good looks, too, and the HT32S is no exception. For the centrepiece DVD/receiver console, LG has come up with yet another distinctive design concept – the curvy table-top unit features a sloping top section and a deep black finish with gentle blue highlights. Stunning.
But the best bit is the bank of touch-sensitive playback controls on top, emphasised by soft white lighting. The circle in the middle cleverly lets you control the volume by whizzing your finger round inside it. Also embedded into the top is a display that provides a decent amount of information, but because it faces upwards it may be hard to read from a distance. The disc slot is located on the front of the unit.
If you want to channel your other kit through the system, then the analogue and optical digital inputs enable you to do so. Elsewhere, you’ll find an HDMI output (which can output upscaled 1080p, 1080i and 720p pictures), component and composite outputs and an FM radio antenna input. The three pairs of spring-clip speaker terminals prevent you from upgrading to 5.1, and the lack of HDMI inputs is also a pity. On the side are two more connections – a USB port for playing media from flash memory drives and a 3.5mm minijack input for listening to MP3 players.
The supplied front speakers are the same ones you get with the HB354BS, and are pretty as a picture. Their oval shape and glossy black finish complements the main unit beautifully, and each one sports a silver horseshoe stand, which look great but aren’t very stable (pun intended).
The system’s features-to-price ratio is fairly generous. Virtual Sound Matrix (VSM) is an obvious highlight given the lack of rear speakers, as it attempts to replicate a 5.1-channel effect from two speakers. Other cool features include CD ripping onto a USB stick or MP3 player, and DivX, MP3, WMA, JPEG playback (but sadly not DivX HD).
Power output is rated at 300W in total, with 75W to each speaker and 150W to the sub. Audio can also be spiced up with a range of EQ modes, and there’s a mode to optimise the quality of MP3 files.
The onscreen menus are fast and functional but not particularly exciting to look at. The setup menu covers the basics, including speaker level setting and test tones, but there are no HDMI resolution settings – to do that, you have to press the dedicated button on the remote. Meanwhile the clear, logical displays for MP3/WMA playback make it easy to find the tracks you want. The remote is undeniably crowded, but the helpful placement of the often-used menu and playback controls makes easy to pick up and use. The surrounding buttons are cluttered but clearly labelled.
The HT32S doesn’t offer the best sound quality we’ve ever heard – at this sort of price we wouldn’t expect it to – but it’s a lot better than you might imagine, particularly when compared with Samsung’s HT-X720G. Like most of LG’s systems it has been tuned by Mark Levinson and maybe that explains why the system avoids making top-end frequencies sound excessively harsh and why dialogue is expressed with pleasing candour. Or maybe it’s because it uses the same speakers that blew us away on the HB354BS system. Whatever the reason, we’re impressed.
We loaded up ”Jurassic Park” on DVD and the HT32S communicates the movie’s rollercoaster action with plenty of energy and detail. Crisp effects are propelled into the soundstage, John Williams’ score sounds majestic and the roar of dinosaurs excites but never grates. What’s more, the lashing rain during the T-Rex’s iconic introduction sounds expansive with the Virtual surround mode activated, and although you never get the feeling that surround effects are behind you, the soundstage is certainly much wider than the ‘Normal’ setting. The overall sound is surprisingly powerful, too, allowing the system to make quite an impact even at half volume.
But as we said, it’s not the best we’ve ever heard. Although high frequencies don’t make you wince like some systems, the sound still lacks sophistication, with a tinge of brightness creeping in here and there. We’re also unconvinced by the subwoofer, which fails to kick out enough bass to make action scenes shake the foundations. You can crank up its volume in the setup menu, but when you do it gets boomy and loses cohesion.
We also tried out a range of CDs and the system delivers a performance that belies its price tag. OK there’s a bit too much ‘colour’ to give staunch audiophiles anything to get excited about, but it displays a surprising deftness of touch with gentle material, and a decent sense of timing with up-tempo rock and pop – all of which makes for an enjoyable listen. And surprisingly this pleasing performance is achieved with the Virtual surround mode turned on, which under normal circumstances would be to a music lover what garlic is to a vampire, but it provides a sense of openness that makes the other presets sound flat by comparison.
Picture quality is terrific – put the 1080p upscaling to work and you’ll be treated to clean, smooth edges, sharply focused detail and radiant colours. It’s not completely free from noise but for this sort of money we can’t complain.
The HT32S offers much better performance than you have any right to expect for a system costing just over £200 online. There are some tell-tale signs of its budget origins but on the whole it sidesteps many of the classic one-box weaknesses to deliver clean, enjoyable sound with movies and music. Throw decent pictures and nifty features into the mix and you’ve got yourself a real bargain, although if you want to hook up HDMI sources or upgrade to 5.1 in the future you’d better look elsewhere.
Score in detail