LG SJ9 sound­bar

LG’s range­top­ping sound­bar adds up­fir­ing driv­ers for At­mos, though in Aus­tralia it does so with­out the op­tion of adding rears for true sur­round.

Sound+Image - - Contents - Jez Ford

Dolby At­mos up­fir­ing speak­ers add im­mer­sion to its movie per­for­mance, but with mu­si­cal lim­i­ta­tions.

Dolby At­mos is the lat­est thing in movie sound­tracks, and sim­i­larly the lat­est ‘must-have’ in any AV au­dio sys­tem. The At­mos sig­na­ture bonus is its abil­ity to add height to sur­round sound, but in fact At­mos is de­signed to scale the sound­track in­for­ma­tion up or down to what­ever your sys­tem can han­dle, even down to mono, even in head­phones.

So the ques­tion arises, what do you re­ally need to en­joy Dolby At­mos?

Equip­ment

LG’s an­swer is this sound­bar — this and oth­ers, in fact, given that the com­pany’s high­est level of OLED tele­vi­sions cur­rently come with their own Dolby At­mos sound­bar built in. But here is the stand­alone so­lu­tion, the SJ9, which stands at the top of LG’s sound­bar range by some dis­tance.

It comes with a wire­less sub­woofer, and is la­belled as de­liv­er­ing 5.1.2-chan­nel sound — that’s five nor­mal sur­round chan­nels (three front, two “rear”), one sub­woofer, and the last ‘.2’ in­di­cat­ing two At­mos height chan­nels, here han­dled by up fir­ing midrange driv­ers on the top of the sound­bar. All seven chan­nels of sur­round+At­mos are han­dled in the sound­bar with a driver apiece, each al­lo­cated 43W of power (quoted at 1kHz with 10% THD), while the wire­less sub­woofer has its own am­pli­fi­ca­tion rated at 200W (again 10% THD). The sub­woofer is nicely com­pact with a 30cm square foot­print and just a lit­tle more in height.

There are plenty of sur­round for­mats han­dled by the bar’s elec­tron­ics. Be­sides Dolby At­mos, the SJ9 will de­code Dolby True HD, Dolby Dig­i­tal Plus, Dolby Dig­i­tal, DTS Dig­i­tal Sur­round, and is also able to han­dle high-res au­dio up to 24-bit/192kHz. It has the usual in­puts for au­dio con­nec­tion from your TV — op­ti­cal dig­i­tal and a mini­jack ana­logue in­put. But through nei­ther of those can you guar­an­tee the TV will pass through those sur­round for­mats from con­nected sources — cer­tainly not the ana­logue con­nec­tion, of course, but many TVs also mess with sound­tracks piped through their op­ti­cal out­puts.

So use the SJ9’s one HDMI in­put for your Blu-ray player if you’re a disc-lov­ing per­son, or if more of the stream­ing ilk, per­haps for what­ever box you use to re­ceive Net­flix and other stream­ing ser­vices.

What if you use a smart TV for Net­flix? Well the HDMI cable be­tween the sound­bar and tele­vi­sion in­cludes Au­dio Re­turn Chan­nel (ARC) abil­i­ties, so the sound­bar can re­ceive sound­tracks cleanly down that, pro­vided your TV proves com­pat­i­ble with ARC. Some TVs have only one or two ARC-en­abled in­puts, some don’t play nice at all, par­tic­u­larly be­tween brands. Clearly us­ing an LG TV with the LG sound­bar will be an ad­van­tage, but we also had a TCL TV in for re­view at the time, and that talked nice via ARC too.

Other rea­sons for stick­ing with LG at both ends are things like LG Sound Sync, the abil­ity to share a re­mote con­trol, and also ease of use with LG’s Mu­sic Flow app, which can be used with this sound­bar.

Per­for­mance

We do love that Mu­sic Flow app (right). A few years back when we tested all the wire­less mul­ti­room sys­tems then avail­able, from Sonos through HEOS, Blue­sound and the rest, LG’s Mu­sic Flow proved a sur­prise per­former of qual­ity — it could use a pro­pri­etary mesh sys­tem, so worked more re­li­ably than just the usual home Wi-Fi con­nec­tion; it was high-res au­dio ca­pa­ble, and the app looked re­ally pretty and worked very well. And the stand­alone speak­ers sounded good too. So it was dis­ap­point­ing, though we did un­der­stand the rea­son­ing, when LG Aus­tralia backed away from dis­tribut­ing Mu­sic Flow speak­ers here. As one of many mul­ti­room sys­tems up against a strong in­cum­bent, the mar­ket wasn’t worth chas­ing.

That now be­comes a lit­tle is­sue here, be­cause this sound­bar is de­signed to work to its max­i­mum ef­fect with those Mu­sic Flow speak­ers. Like a num­ber of high-end ri­vals, the SJ9 bar and sub can pair up with two of those Mu­sic Flow speak­ers, us­ing them as true rears for real sur­round and a far more im­mer­sive per­for­mance. But not in Aus­tralia, where those speak­ers aren’t sold. So here it’s At­mos and ‘sur­round’ com­ing from the front only.

The Mu­sic Flow app is still a handy thing, how­ever, es­pe­cially if you’re us­ing the SJ9 for play­ing mu­sic. The Mu­sic Cast app has con­tin­ued to evolve and is now even pret­tier. It of­fers key mu­sic ser­vices in a neat row of Tune In in­ter­net ra­dio, Spo­tify Con­nect, Deezer Pre­mium+. It cre­ates a graphic of the al­bum art on your de­vice as if they were vinyl al­bums strewn across a ta­ble, lovely! And it finds DLNA shares on your net­work and is still high-res au­dio ca­pa­ble, and of course mul­ti­room ca­pa­ble (though with­out the rest of the ecosys­tem, only to other LG sound­bars in other rooms).

There’s also Blue­tooth (SBC codec only), and Chrome­cast built in, rapidly be­com­ing a key stream­ing tech­nol­ogy as well as ad­dress­able via Google Home. Pan­dora may be gone from Aus­tralia now (shame!) but there’s still a host of other Chrome­cast-ca­pa­ble apps which can stream straight from their na­tive app to the SJ9.

Some con­trol func­tions work through HDMI any­way — for ex­am­ple our TCL TV re­mote could mute the LG sound­bar. And when lis­ten­ing to Dolby At­mos sound­tracks di­rect from Blu-ray, LG’s own sound­bar re­mote would also turn up the TCL TV’s sound, but this meant we’d fre­quently get a dou­ble dose of echoey thin sound from the TV slightly in ad­vance of the sound­bar. Ev­ery time we touched the LG vol­ume, we had to turn down the TCL sound again. With no way we could find to de­feat this HDMI-CEC cross-breed­ing, it got a bit te­dious, but pre­sum­ably wouldn’t hap­pen within an all-LG sys­tem. An­other is­sue came from the unit’s abil­ity to de­tect a sig­nal on its in­puts and switch to them. Fre­quently, when watch­ing a Blu-ray player plugged into the LG’s HDMI in­put, it would ap­par­ently de­tect ARC au­dio and switch to that, turn­ing off the Blu-ray in­put and blank­ing the screen.

We started by lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, to get a han­dle on the SJ9’s fun­da­men­tal tonal qual­i­ties. It wasn’t the most pro­pi­tious start: Jack White’s thrilling duet Love

In­ter­rup­tion emerged with boxy thin vo­cals, boxy strummed gui­tar and, from the couch lis­ten­ing po­si­tion at least, very lit­tle stereo spread, with all the el­e­ments close to cen­tre.

We ex­per­i­mented with the sound­bar’s avail­able ‘Sound Ef­fects’. We hoped ‘Stan­dard’ would pro­vide a flat set­ting, but this seemed to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the scale of sound and to box it thinly in the cen­tre, with the sub­woofer mum­bling bass off to one side. The ‘Mu­sic’ set­ting was marginally worse for mu­sic, in­tro­duc­ing ad­di­tional peak­i­ness in the up­per mids. ‘ASC’ seemed to cre­ate a dip in the up­per bass. The most plea­sur­able lis­ten, we’re sur­prised to say, was ‘Bass Blast’, but this had its lim­its at medium vol­ume, above which it be­came fairly un­pleas­ant and still mu­si­cally un­sat­is­fy­ing. On the ‘Live in Lon­don’ take of Leonard Cohen’s Tower of

Song, half his vo­cal tone was pulled over to the sub­woofer, the other half emerged box­ily from the sound­bar. It was as if there were two sep­a­rate Leonards in the room.

And pro­foundly dis­tract­ing, with ev­ery new song the wire­less sub­woofer didn’t start on time, but chimed in a quar­ter-sec­ond late, com­pletely de­stroy­ing the open­ing im­pact of any num­ber of songs. That alone was a deal killer for mu­sic lis­ten­ing. As for bass han­dling, Neil Young’s Walk

With Me has con­tent down in the 30s of hertz, but this was en­tirely ab­sent through the LG sub­woofer, which just made a ‘thrup’ noise with each bot­tom D bass note, just the at­tack on the string with­out the tone that fol­lowed.

MP3, WMA, FLAC, AAC, OGG and WAV are listed as sup­ported file-types; AIFF files wouldn’t play, and not all WAVs ei­ther, (we note in the man­ual the un­help­ful note that “Some wav files are not sup­ported”).

For movies, there’s a rich­sound­ing ‘Movie’ sound op­tion, or you can try ‘ASC’, which “an­a­lyzes the prop­erty of in­put sound and pro­vides the sound op­ti­mized for the con­tent in real time”. When you feed it an At­mos sound­track, these op­tions all dis­ap­pear, as does the op­tion for the neigh­bour-friendly Night Mode. Bat­man v Su­per­man was first up, and the ad­di­tional scale of the sound de­liv­ered by At­mos and the LG’s up­fir­ing speak­ers was clear — it is a big sound, a wide sound, and the bass is sig­nif­i­cant if not very tight or con­trolled. With Dolby At­mos test clips there was quite the im­mer­sive ef­fect with high-rang­ing for­est noises, even the faintest of feel­ings that the At­mos ‘sy­camore seed’ test clip was be­ing panned be­hind the lis­tener. But there’s no real sur­round from this front-only sys­tem given the non-avail­abil­ity of Mu­sic Flow speak­ers here, and the ob­vi­ous com­par­i­son must be made with Sam­sung’s K950 sys­tem, which (at the higher price of $1999) has real rear speak­ers with ad­di­tional ceil­ing-pointed At­mos-en­abled driv­ers, thereby cre­at­ing a true sur­round space in the home (full re­view S+I Feb-Mar 2017 is­sue).

Of course, how many users want real sur­round speak­ers in the home? Not many, judg­ing from the de­cline of lounge room sur­round in the last decade. So if you have an LG TV, and you want a big movie sound from a sim­ple bar+sub so­lu­tion, this will de­liver.

Con­clu­sion

De­spite an ex­cel­lent app and high-res abil­i­ties, we couldn’t rec­om­mend the SJ9’s per­for­mance for those hop­ing to use their sound­bar for mu­sic play­back as well as movies, while the lack of Mu­sic Flow speaker avail­abil­ity in Aus­tralia largely stymies the mul­ti­room abil­i­ties here, while also re­mov­ing the abil­ity to use its ‘Home Cin­ema mode’ with ad­di­tional rear speak­ers. But we like the SJ9’s phys­i­cal de­sign, and its At­mos-en­abled driv­ers al­low it to pro­duce rich-sound­ing sound­track per­for­mance with higher than usual frontal im­mer­sion.

SPECS

LG SJ9 $1699 Con­nec­tions: 1 x HDMI in, 1 x HDMI out (ARC), op­ti­cal dig­i­tal in, ana­logue mini­jack in, Blue­tooth (SBC only). Eth­er­net, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi Di­men­sions (whd): 1220 x 60 x 150mm (sound­bar); 296 x 332 x 296mm (sub) Weight: 5.7kg (bar); 7.6kg (sub) Con­tact: LG Aus­tralia Tele­phone: 1300 54 2273 Web: www.lg.com/au

LG SJ9 sound­bar+sub­woofer

LG’s Mu­sicFlow app is now even more at­trac­tive, and re­mains high-res-au­dio ca­pa­ble.

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