LG SP11RA Review
The SP11RA looks lovely and sounds excellent with both films and music, as well as introducing some interesting new features to the soundbar world. It’s perhaps a bit expensive given what some of the latest competition is offering, however.
- Powerful, detailed sound with especially good height effects
- Sleek, attractive design
- Good for both music and movies
- Feels a bit expensive
- Some unhelpful presets
- Occasionally lacks impact with film soundtracks
- Four-piece soundbar systemAlthough described as a soundbar, it comprises four separate units: the main soundbar, two rear speakers, and a subwoofer
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X playbackThe soundbar can decode and play through all of its 7.1.4 channels the latest and greatest ‘object-based’ sound formats, which place effects into a carefully constructed 3D sound space
- Real 7.1.4 channel outputThe drivers in the SP11RA’s various components are capable of delivering real (rather than virtual, via processing) front-left, front-right, front-centre, side-left, side-right, rear-left, rear-right, and four up-firing channels of sound, plus a subwoofer for bass
- eARC HDMI supportThis lets you pass lossless Dolby Atmos/DTS:X sound over HDMI from compatible TVs to the soundbar
- 770W total powerSpread around all the channels, this huge power output is actually larger on paper than that of the Samsung Q950A, despite that model having more channels to feed
The SP11RA is LG’s flagship soundbar for 2021. As with its 2020 predecessor, the SN11RG, it sports 12 channels of sound delivering 770W of total power, and can play both the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X premium sound formats.
New for 2021 are a couple of intriguing new audio processing features: the AI Sound Pro system familiar from LG’s TVs, and a new ‘Horizon’ music enhancement system from famed British Hi-Fi brand Meridian.
As with LG’s premium soundbars of the past few years, Meridian has also been heavily involved in the SP11RA’s core design.
- UKRRP: £1499
- EuropeRRP: €1599
- AustraliaRRP: AU$1749
The SP11RA is widely available in the UK for £1499 – which, crucially, gives it a £100 advantage over the recently reviewed HW-Q950A from arch-rival, Samsung. However, its price still places it firmly in premium soundbar territory, which inevitably puts pressure on its performance.
The SP11RA does live more or less up to premium soundbar expectations by comprising four separate enclosures – the main soundbar, a large wireless subwoofer and two wireless rears. It also fits an unusually high number of separate channels into three of those four enclosures.
In Australia, the LG SP11RA goes for AU$1749 at the time of writing (although this is based on a 5% discount promotion). The soundbar isn’t yet available in the US.
- Four-component system
- Two HDMIs, including eARC support
- Up-firing drivers in the rears
The main soundbar and rears of the SP11RA package are all good-looking units. The soundbar enjoys a slim profile that should fit comfortably under most of today’s TVs, and carries a smooth finish to its top edge that gives it a suitably premium feel.
The way its two large up-firing drivers sit flush with rest of the top edge looks smart, too, while the front and sides use a hard grilled finish that still feels opulent while providing a pleasant contrast with the smoothness of the top.
The rears are surprisingly compact considering they each have two drivers tucked away inside and, again, feature a robust and sleek (if not particularly imaginative) finish and shape. They feel heavy, too, raising hopes of plenty of power without you having to worry about them potentially jumping off your sideboard.
The subwoofer is reassuringly large, but slim enough when viewed front-on to be relatively easy to tuck down the side of a sofa or under a sideboard. (Since bass is non-directional, the subwoofer doesn’t need to be placed in a specific location.)
Connections on the main soundbar include two HDMI inputs, one HDMI output, an optical digital audio input, and a 5V USB port. The HDMI output supports eARC, meaning that it can receive lossless Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks back from your TV, as well as passing pictures on to the TV when you’re using a source connected directly to the soundbar.
The SP11RA helpfully sports an LED to track volume settings, inputs and so on. And unlike the Samsung Q950A, the SP11RA’s LED helpfully appears on the front of the soundbar, where you can actually see it, rather than being tucked onto the back of the top edge.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that many of LG’s new 2021 soundbars, including the SP11RA, are the first in the industry to receive Eco Product Certification for their minimal environment impact from independent Geneva-based product testing organisation, Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS).
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X playback
- 770W feeding into 7.1.4 channels of sound
- Meridian Horizon and LG AI Sound Pro processing modes
The first thing that establishes the SP11RA as a premium soundbar is its channel count. The front soundbar carries left, right, centre, left-side and right-side channels, plus two up-firing drivers designed to reflect overhead effects in Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks off your ceiling. The rears have both forward-facing and up-firing drivers, while the subwoofer just does its usual ‘.1’ bass thing.
This adds up to a ‘real’ (rather than virtual) 7.1.4 channel count – an impressive number by the standards of soundbars generally. That said, it’s only the same number as was included on last year’s SN11RG LG flagship soundbar, while Samsung’s latest flagship HW-Q950A model has become the first soundbar to carry 11.1.4 channels.
With LG not upping its channel count for its 2021 flagship soundbar, we need to look elsewhere for improvements over last year’s model. The main ones are two promising new audio processing features: LG’s AI Sound Pro system, and a Meridian Horizon mode.
The first of these brings the AI Sound Pro technology that’s been available on LG’s premium TVs to LG soundbars for the first time. It automatically identifies the type of sound being played, and adapts the soundbar’s playback profile to ensure you always get the optimum playback results.
The Meridian Horizon mode, which kicks in if you choose the Music preset, aims to turn two-channel stereo content into multichannel audio for a more immersive listening experience.
Turning to more regular features, the HDMIs can pass through 4K at 60Hz with HDR10 or Dolby Vision HDR.
There’s no support for the HDR10+ system, though. Admittedly, HDR10+ content – which adds extra scene-by-scene picture information like Dolby Vision – is not as common as its Dolby rival. However, it is certainly out there, and not supporting it on the SP11RA’s HDMIs seems a bit churlish given that many other soundbars now – including Samsung’s models – support both HDR10+ and Dolby Vision.
It’s perhaps a shame that there’s no support for passthrough of 4K/120Hz with HDR now that the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and latest PC graphics cards can all output this game-changing format. Especially since most of the latest AV receivers support this. To be fair, though, aside from a pair of soundbars just announced by Klipsch, no other soundbars couldn’t carry the HDMI 2.1 ports necessary for 4K at 120Hz either.
You can control the SP11RA using your voice via Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Siri, while content sharing is now supported via Apple AirPlay 2. Finally, the soundbar is Hi-Res Audio certified, supporting lossless playback at 24-bit/96kHz.
- Creates a great sense of height
- Forceful subwoofer
- Can struggle with hard impact sounds
There are many things the SP11RA does exceptionally well. For instance, the way it creates a sense of height with the object-based sound systems – especially Dolby Atmos – is almost uncanny. You can hear the vertical layering deployed in good Atmos sound mixes, even down to different elements of a score emerging at different vertical levels.
In fact, the heights of specific effects and vocals are placed with so much precision (to left and right as well as ‘up’) in the 3D sound hemisphere associated with Dolby Atmos that you almost feel like you can reach up and touch them.
In fact, full-on overhead sounds have more presence and clarity than they do with the Samsung Q950A soundbar, despite the SP11RA using the same ‘ceiling reflection’ system approach that Samsung’s soundbar does.
The extent to which the SP11RA’s sound swells out from the remarkably slim soundbar is excellent, too. The forward-facing drivers push hard into your room, but the sound spreads up, down, left and right so immediately upon escaping the main soundbar’s physical body that you almost completely forget where the sound is coming from.
Although this enables the SP11RA to take on and satisfy even very large viewing rooms, the built-in auto-calibration system also helps the system adapt well to smaller spaces. In other words, aside from rooms that have vaulted ceilings that might mess with the up-firing drivers, the SP11RA can adapt well to an impressively wide range of spaces.
Dialogue remains ultra-clear and intelligible at all times, even during the most ridiculously dense sound mixes. Left/right and back/front sound-effect transitions are handled with conviction, and the system – especially the main front soundbar – has a serious talent for bringing out even the tiniest detail in a movie mix.
The SP11RA’s subwoofer is impressively engaged with the action, kicking in forcefully, willingly and reasonably nimbly whenever it’s required. There’s none of the reluctance to get involved and flat-footed ‘bagginess’ that LG soundbar subwoofers suffered with a few generations back.
The SP11RA’s strengths ensure that it delivers not just a huge upgrade on any TV sound system, but a much more convincing full surround sound experience than the vast majority of rival soundbars, regardless of how big your room is. That said, there are limits to what it can do.
For starters, it doesn’t create as complete a ‘hemisphere’ of sound as the recently tested Samsung HW-Q950A. You don’t typically feel like there’s a great deal of sound down the sides of the room, and while the rears are good with height effects, their forward dispersal feels a little narrow compared with the front sound staging created by the main soundbar component.
Also, while the system can go seriously loud without any of the speakers dropping out or distorting, and without any of the bodywork starting to rattle, trebles can start to feel slightly hemmed in and harsh during very dense moments. The same treble issue can occasionally make high-pitched voices sound shrill, too.
Next, while dialogue is exceptionally clear, occasionally it can sound a little trapped in and narrow – as if it’s coming from slightly below the picture. Using something to tilt the soundbar up a fraction will rectify the issue, but this also reduces the effectiveness with which the SP11RA delivers height/overhead effects.
While the SP11RA subwoofer is very engaged with the action, meanwhile, it can from time to time sound slightly contained/boxed-in with very sustained, deep rumbles.
Where there’s a real complicated mix of voices or subtle effects, the soundbar sometimes struggles to figure out were the focus of the soundtrack lies. And finally, hard impact sounds don’t always hit with the potency they could. This applies both to heavy punching/firing sounds, and sudden eruptions of dense sound used to amp up jump scares.
Turning to LG’s new processing features, the AI Sound Pro certainly expands the sound stage in terms of both its dynamic range and the scale/scope of the sound, creating a more aggressive and forward presentation, as well as a larger sound stage. It also creates a genuinely Dolby Atmos-like/object-based sound field feeling from non-Atmos sources, and is better at retaining detail and vocal clarity with standard (rather than X) DTS sources than leaving the soundbar in its standard playback mode.
In addition, AI Sound Pro generally makes movies sound more immersive and the soundbar appear more powerful than any other preset. However, while these various talents make AI Sound Pro a worthy addition to the SP11RA, the mode can also stress trebles somewhat. Also, in a reversal of the AI Sound Pro situation on LG’s TVs, effects in AI Sound Pro mode on the SP11RA appear muffled and dull compared with how they sound with true Dolby Atmos source soundtracks.
AI Sound Pro isn’t as effective with music as it is with movie soundtracks, tending to make your favourite tunes sound like a bunch of disparate elements rather than an organic experience.
That’s not to say that the SP11RA isn’t a very good music performer in its standard preset, however. There’s a lovely balance between detail, character and warmth that creates a genuine hi-fi sensation, and the limitations occasionally exposed by the most extreme trebles and rumbles of big movie soundtracks don’t manifest with even the starkest and hi-res music tracks.
Bass can be a little strong using the out-of-the-box settings, but it’s easy enough to slightly rein in the subwoofer to achieve a more even, immersive musical sound.
Given Meridian’s long musical heritage, I was a little disappointed by the results of the new Meridian Horizon system accessed by choosing the Music preset.
I appreciate that turning stereo into an immersive multi-channel experience when you only have limited elements to work with isn’t easy. But while I enjoyed some elements of the Horizon technology – especially its even, organic tone, and the way it delivers what feels like a room-filling ‘wall of sound’ rather than a more spartan stereo effect – the lower end of the sound tends to become a bit muddy and thuddy, while subtle details lose clarity and presence.
These issues can be noticeable, especially with very bass-heavy music, to make AI Sound Pro mode actually seem like a better bet if you want to convert stereo music into a multi-channel experience.
One last tip is that you avoid the Bass mode with music, since this weirdly actually ramps up trebles so much that they become horrifically sharp.
Let’s finish on a fair note, though, by stressing that in its standard mode the SP11RA is actually a very capable music player indeed for a soundbar that clearly also loves home theatre.
Should you buy it?
It provides a huge sound with movies and music from a relatively small soundbar Despite its sleek design, the inclusion of excellent quality drivers throughout the system and a huge 770W of raw power see the SP11RA system make any built-in TV sound system (and many rival soundbars) sound puny by comparison.
Lacks a little impact and staging at times There are soundbars out there, such as Samsung’s (slightly more expensive) Q950A, that deliver a bit more impact and a fuller hemisphere of sound for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks.
The SP11RA is a very good soundbar. As with its 2020 predecessor, it produces a powerful, open, dynamic sound that’s particularly good when it comes to bringing out subtle details. Couple this with its impressively sleek and compact design, and it’s a terrific upgrade on almost any built-in TV sound system.
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Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital, Stereo, Hi-Res Audio formats.
Dolby Vision and HDR10.
Two HDMI inputs, one HDMI output with eARC, one digital optical audio input, one powered USB port, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2.