LG SJ9 Dolby Atmos Soundbar Review
It's a good soundbar but the Atmos is very front heavy
What is the LG SJ9?The LG SJ9 is a 5.1.2-channel soundbar that supports Dolby Atmos immersive audio by delivering the five main channels and two overhead channels from a single unit. It is LG's first entry into this rapidly increasing segment of the soundbar market and finds the SJ9 up against the Yamaha YSP-5600, the Samsung HW-K950 and the Samsung HW-K850. The SJ9 includes a wireless subwoofer, along with built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, and there's support for LG's Music Flow multi-room system and Hi-Res Audio. It also includes features such as Sound Upconverting, Adaptive Sound Control and Auto Sound Engine and it supports 4K HDR passthrough. The SJ9 has a listed price of £999 as at the time of writing (June 2017) and on paper it looks like a solid addition to the growing list of Dolby Atmos soundbars but, without separate rear speakers, will it be immersive enough? Let's find out...
SoundbarThe actual soundbar itself uses a very attractive low form design with rounded edges and smooth contours. We really like the look of the SJ9 and the soundbar has been designed to compliment LG's TV ranges, especially the 55-inch models, and fit perfectly beneath the screen. We happened to have an LG OLED55B7V in for review at the same time and we can vouch for the fact that the soundbar paired with that particular model very well. It's certainly a better-looking soundbar than either of Samsung's models or the huge Yamaha YSP-5600 and along with their OLED TVs, suggests that LG's designers are on something of a roll.
LG have taken a very minimalist approach to the design of SJ9 with a wrap around metal grille that hides the left, right, centre and surround speakers. These speakers use 100mm woofers combined with a 20mm tweeters and each has 43W of amplification. There are two circular form-fitted grilles on the top of the unit for the upward-firing 2.5" woofers which also have 43W each and bounce sounds off the ceiling for the front overhead Atmos channels. The key factor here is that unlike Samsung's HW-K950, the SJ9 doesn't have separate rear speakers nor does it have any rear overhead channels, so we'll be interested to see how immersive the soundstage actually is in reality.There are silvered grooves around the bottom of the unit that stand out against the charcoal grey styling and give the design a bit more flair but otherwise that's it apart from some basic controls on the right rear of the unit and a simple display on the front to the right of centre. This display shows the selected input, the volume, any chosen effects and it also identifies when a Dolby Atmos signal is being received. The fit and finish of the soundbar is very good and the whole unit has a solid and well-engineered feel to it. The soundbar measures 1200 x 58 x 145mm (WxHxD) and weighs 5.64kg.
The soundbar is well-made with sleek and minimalist styling that is designed to compliment LG TVs
SubwooferThe wireless subwoofer isn't quite as stylish as the main soundbar, with a fairly standard cubic shape and understated black design. The subwoofer uses a wooden construction with a cloth grille around the sides and overall we'd say it's better looking than many of the other subs we've seen recently. The subwoofer uses a bass-reflex system with a 6.5-inch driver and a port at the rear, plus 200W of amplification built in.Whilst not exactly huge the subwoofer is larger than the more slimline models that Samsung use but it should be easy to position towards the front of your room and it feels reasonably well made. Just don't forget that although the subwoofer is wireless in terms of connecting with the soundbar, you will need to plug it into a wall socket. The subwoofer itself measures 296 x 332 x 296mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 7.6kg.
The subwoofer delivers plenty of bass but there's only one HDMI input and the remote is disappointing
Connections & ControlIn terms of connections the SJ9 has a single HDMI input and an HDMI output that supports ARC (Audio Return Channel). The HDMI input and output both support 4K, HDR and HDCP 2.2 and we had no problems using the SJ9 with the Samsung UBD-M9500 we were also reviewing at the time but we have read of owners having problems with certain other players especially the Oppo UDP-203. This is apparently because of an issue with the soundbar incorrectly reading the EDID (Extended Display Identification) tables from certain players but LG are aware of the issue and working on a firmware update.
We have to say that the inclusion of only one HDMI input at this price point is disappointing and we would have liked to see at least one more. Whilst you could connect all your devices to your TV and then send the audio back to the SJ9 via ARC that will restrict you to Dolby Digital, so for lossless Dolby TrueHD/Atmos soundtracks you'll need to connect the source directly to the soundbar, which will limit you to one device. The SJ9 also has an optical digital input, a 3.5mm analogue jack and an Ethernet port, along with built-in WiFi (2.4G/5G) and Bluetooth 4.0.The biggest disappointment when it comes to the SJ9 is the remote control which is a small, fiddly black plastic number. It has all the buttons that you'll need and it gets the job done but it isn't especially comfortable to use and is prone to getting lost down the back of the sofa. The buttons also aren't well laid out and nor is it particularly obvious what some of them do, so for example F (which stands for Function) is the button you use to cycle through the inputs. However using the remote you can turn the SJ9 on or off, select the inputs, change the volume, choose sound effects and play/pause and skip content and access the special features.
At the right rear of the soundbar there are some basic controls that allow you to turn the SJ9 on or off, cycle through the inputs, turn the volume up or down, connect to your WiFi network and add the soundbar to your Music Flow network. Thankfully since the SJ9 supports Music Flow you can also use the smart device app to control the soundbar and this app is not only well designed and effective but also provides all the controls found on the provided remote, as well as many others.
The SJ9 has a decent selection of features, including support for LG's Music Flow multi-room system
Features & SpecsThe SJ9 boasts a number of features, aside from its decoding of Dolby Atmos, but the main one is probably support for LG's Music Flow multi-room system. This allows you to either build a multi-room system starting with the SJ9 or add the soundbar to an existing network of other Music Flow devices. Music Flow uses a mesh network and is a highly effective multi-room system. As part of this the SJ9 also supports Hi-Res Audio up to 24-bit/192kHz, allowing you to enjoy lossless playback of file types that include FLAC (up to 192kHz), OGG (up to 48kHz), WAV, ALAC, MP3, WMA, AAC (MPEG4), AAc+ and AIFF.
The SJ9 also includes Sound Upconverting to up-sample 16-bit/48kHz to 24-bit/192kHz, as well as Adaptive Audio which intelligently analyses the frequency levels of audio from content that you're watching and enhances the mix to emphasise certain aspects such as vocals for the news or bass for action movies. LG have also developed their Auto Sound Engine which automatically optimises audio for different volume levels. There are a number of sound settings including Standard, Movie, Music and Bass Blast that you can try out, although if the source is Dolby Atmos that is the only option.Music Flow will allow you to use certain wireless speakers as rears in a proper 5.1.2 setup and, as we'll explain in the performance section, that's a really useful feature. Other useful features include an audio delay, although we never had recourse to use it, and Auto Music Play which allows the soundbar to automatically take over playback of audio from a connected device once it senses the device is nearby. The SJ9 also has Chromecast built-in, allowing you to cast music, podcasts and radio stations to your soundbar with apps like Spotify, Google Play Music, Deezer and TuneIn. The SJ9 comes with an optical digital cable in the box, although you'll need to use HDMI to get full lossless Dolby Atmos, and there are also brackets and a template included should you wish to wall mount the soundbar.
What about DTS?The SJ9 can decode Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Atmos but it is restricted to lossy DTS 5.1, which means that you can't listen to lossless DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks and that also means there's no support for DTS:X. This isn't unusual because Samsung's Dolby Atmos soundbars are similarly restricted and thus can't support DTS:X either. Quite why this should be is a mystery because clearly DTS-HD Master Audio is the main format on Blu-rays but with Dolby dominant in terms of DVDs. streaming and, to large extent, Ultra HD Blu-ray, perhaps the manufacturers are taking the view that it's Dolby Atmos support that matters going forward. The Yamaha YSP-5600 does support both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X but has other limitations.
LG SJ9 Soundbar Video Review
PerformanceOverall we thought that the LG SJ9 delivered an impressive audio performance, although we did have some issues that we'll come to in a minute. However purely as a soundbar the SJ9 delivers quality audio with an open front soundstage and good stereo separation. We found that for general TV watching the LG reproduced dialogue clearly and remained focused on the screen, whilst music was nicely rendered across the front wall. There was good localisation and precise imaging of effects within that front soundstage, which meant TV dramas and even movies sounded very good. The mid-range was well represented, as were the higher frequencies, and the subwoofer did a commendable job of filling in the low-end with some well integrated bass. The system could also go very loud with the 500W of built-in amplification ensuring that the SJ9 filled the room without ever distorting or sounding brittle.
This impressive performance also extended to music and listening to the new Roger Waters album Is This The Life We Really Want? the SJ9 did a marvellous job of reproducing the complex layers of the album's production, the sparse instrumentation and reminding us that for all his lyrical genius, Waters really can't sing. We also enjoyed the room-filling anthems of Send Away The Tigers by the Manic Street Preachers, with the subwoofer handling the bass and drums admirably. The complex arrangements of Kate Bush's live album Before The Dawn were also produced with room-filing precision and there was excellent treble and a pleasing lack of sibilance. We're not suggesting that the SJ9 could go head-to-head with a good set of stereo speakers and we do think that Samsung recent HW-M6500 sounded better but for a soundbar the SJ9 is very good when it comes to music, making it a viable addition to a Music Flow multi-room network.
When it came to full surround sound the SJ9 was more of a mixed bag, delivering some aspects with ease but struggling in other areas. The large front soundstage is even more apparent when listening to a 5.1-channel soundtrack with music and effects spread across the front of the room. Dialogue remains clear and effectively positioned with respect to the action on screen and the subwoofer continues to underscore the whole soundstage with plenty of deep bass. We watched some key scenes in Transformers which has a fantastic 5.1-channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and whilst the sound filled the front of the room and extended to the sides to a degree, we never really got the feeling that we were listening to a proper 5.1 system. Whether we were watching a film with a Dolby or DTS soundtrack the effect was largely the same regardless of whether one was lossy or lossless.
This is because the SJ9 doesn't have separate rear speakers like, the Samsung HW-K950, and instead has side-firing drivers built into the soundbar itself. These project sounds sideways, bouncing them off the side walls to create a surround effect. Yamaha have been doing this for years and the YSP-5600 can replicate seven ear-level channels and four overhead channels all from a single source. How effective this is depends on your room and how the system has been implemented. We know this approach can work in our room but we also know that the Yamaha requires quite a bit of setting up to get it right. There is no real set-up involved with the SJ9 and frankly the sense of surround envelopment was almost non-existent. This is why adding wireless rear speakers using Music Flow would be really useful because then the SJ9 could deliver a vastly superior surround experience.
So what about Dolby Atmos? Well starting with the Dolby demo disc we ran a few familiar scenes and were immediately aware that although the sound extended further into the room, it was still very much focused at the front. Yes we could hear sounds from above but they emanated from an area just above the soundbar and there was no real sense of a sound field outside the first third of the room. The subwoofer handled the bass very well and there was good localisation and steering of effects around the front of the room but compared to watching the same scenes, such as the crushing limo in San Andreas, on a proper 5.1.2 system the results were disappointing. The SJ9 might be able to deliver a slightly wider soundstage compared to the Samsung HW-HK850 – which is a 3.1.2 system – but there was very little difference in terms of the overall experience.
Although the SJ9 sounded great, the Dolby Atmos was very front-heavy in terms of effects
- Very good sound quality
- Great with music
- Dolby Atmos support
- Multi-room capabilities
- Attractive design
- Well made
- No real surround presence
- No DTS:X support
- Limited HDMI inputs
- Remote control could be better
LG SJ9 Dolby Atmos Soundbar ReviewThe LG SJ9 Dolby Atmos soundbar is a nicely designed and well made product that boasts a decent set of features including support for the Music Flow multi-room system. The remote control is disappointing, although the Music Flow app is excellent, there's only one HDMI input, but at least it can pass 4K HDR, and there's no DTS:X support although the SJ9 can decode DTS 5.1. The soundbar delivered an excellent performance in terms audio quality, creating a huge front soundstage. It sounded good with both movies and music, the subwoofer produced deep bass and the system could go loud without distorting. However the soundstage was very front heavy, with almost no surround presence at all – unless you're prepared to add wireless rear speakers via Music Flow. Although the SJ9 was capable of decoding Dolby Atmos and creating an effective overhead channel above the soundbar itself, once again the sounds were all emanating from the first third of the room and never felt immersive.
We have seen a number of Dolby Atmos-capable soundbars and none have been perfect. The Yamaha YSP-5600 supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X but it's huge and requires careful setup plus reflective surfaces to create a 7.1.4 experience from a single source. It also only has one HDCP 2.2 HDMI input and it can't pass HDR. The Samsung HW-K950 delivers an excellent 5.1.4 performance with wireless rear speakers and four upward drivers and can pass HDR but it also doesn't support DTS:X. Whilst Samsung's HW-K850 has the same strengths and weaknesses as the K950 but is restricted to 3.1.2-channels. The SJ9's main competitor is probably the K850 and if you're looking for a soundbar that can give you a great performance with a taste of Dolby Atmos without the hassle of rear speakers then both are excellent. Ultimately it will probably come down to personal preference and price but for those who are happy to live without actual rear speakers or may add them at a later date, then the LG SJ9 certainly comes recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £999.00
Ease of use9
Value for Money8
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