LG SL9YG Soundbar Review
What is the LG SL9YG?The LG SL9YG is part of the company's 2019 line-up of immersive audio soundbars, and sits just below the flagship SL10YG and just above the cheaper SL8YG. These new models include Meridian technology, a wireless subwoofer, support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, high resolution audio, and 4K HDR passthrough. They also boast built-in Chromecast and Google Assistant, making them fully-functioning smart speakers.
In the case of the higher-end SL10 and SL9, there's also a new slim-wall-mountable design intended to make installation more attractive and less intrusive. The unit is mounted flat on the wall, and the soundbar automatically senses the different orientation and adapts the sound field accordingly. The SL9 uses a 4.1.2-channel speaker configuration, whereas the more expensive SL10 has a 5.1.2 layout.
The SL9YG retails for £999 as at the time of writing (August 2019), putting it directly up against the similar Samsung HW-Q80R. The latter impressed me in testing, so LG's latest offering will need to deliver the goods if it's going to justify its price tag.
DesignThe LG SL9YG sports a main unit with a revised design compared to previous years that uses a lower form factor and a more angular shape. However, the construction remains solid with a largely plastic moulded chassis and a wrap-around mesh metal grille. The 'bar comes in dark grey and has a brushed metal finish on top, or at the front if you're wall mounting. The front and side-firing speakers are located behind the mesh grille, while the upward-firing drivers dominate the top of the chassis.
At the centre of the mesh grille is a five character display, and beneath this are four LEDs that indicate the status of Google Assistant. Both the display and LED indicators are also repeated on the top, above a set of illuminated touch sensitive controls, and become visible when the unit is mounted flat against the wall.
The overall design is minimalist in appearance, and the connections are in a recessed area on the underside. The main unit measures 1220 x 57 x 145mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 6.3kg. The width of the chassis makes this particular soundbar ideal for TVs with screen sizes of 55 inches or larger. If you plan on wall-mounting, LG includes a template, support rubbers to eliminate vibrations, and brackets but you're expected to provide your own screws and wall plugs.
The separate wireless subwoofer is composed of MDF, with three sides covered in black fabric, and a plain dark grey top plate. It uses a 7-inch front-firing driver with a rear port, and it's reasonably well made, but not as solid as the main unit. The sub measures 221 x 390 x 313mm (WxHxD) and weighs 7.8kg.
The build quality is good and the design is attractive, sleek and unobtrusive
Connections & ControlThe LG SL9YG has a fairly basic set of connections, with a single HDMI input and an HDMI output that supports ARC (Audio Return Channel). The HDMI ports are both 2.0 with HDCP 2.2, and are capable of passing 4K/60p and high dynamic range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision).
At a price of £999 that's a fairly stingy set of HDMI connections, especially when there's no support for HDR10+ passthrough and eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel). The former is hardly surprising given LG's disdain for the format, but the lack of eARC is surprising given the song and dance the company has made about including HDMI 2.1 on its 2019 OLED TVs.
The only other physical connections are an optical digital input and a USB port. In addition, there's built-in Wi-Fi (2.4 and 5GHz) and Bluetooth (v4.2 SBC), and, while not strictly a connection, the SL9 also includes a pair of near-field microphones for voice controlling the built-in Google Assistant.
As mentioned, there are some basic touch sensitive controls on the soundbar itself which are located at the top and towards the centre of the main unit. These allow you to select input, change the volume, turn the power on and off, play/pause, mute the built-in near-field mics, and activate Google Assistant.
The provided remote is similar to the dinky controller included with previous LG soundbars, but look closer and you'll see numerous differences. You'll still find large buttons for power, volume, function (for cycling through the inputs) and mute, but beneath those are new buttons for selecting sound effects, muting the internal mics, and activating Google Assistant. Under these are a series of smaller buttons for play/pause and skip forwards and backwards, navigating USB file folders, info, repeat, night mode, and sound tuning.
Aside from the controls on the soundbar itself and the included remote, there's also a handy smartphone and tablet app (iOS and Android) that provides access to all the controls found on the remote and even a couple of extra ones: Dynamic Range Control and Auto Volume Leveller. If you're connected via HDMI-CEC you can use your TV remote to adjust the volume, and thanks to built-in Google Assistant there's also the option of limited voice control for those who prefer to remain hands-free.
The connections are limited, and while the remote is still dinky it has a host of new buttons
LG SL9YG Features & SpecsThe LG SL9YG's main selling point is its ability to support object-based audio in the form of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X thanks to multiple speakers that create a genuinely immersive experience. It also supports all the Dolby and DTS variants (with the exception of IMAX Enhanced DTS:X), along with LPCM.
The system uses a 4.1.2-channel speaker configuration, based around front-firing left and right drivers, side-firing width drivers, upward-firing front height channels, and a wireless subwoofer. The two forward-firing speakers are each composed of a 40x100mm woofer and 20mm silk dome tweeter, the upward-firing speakers use 2.5-inch woofers, and the bass reflex subwoofer uses a 7-inch driver. There’s 50W of built-in amplification for each of the front and upward-firing speakers in the soundbar, 40W for each of the side-firing speakers, and 220W for the subwoofer – producing a total of 500W of power.
The side-firing drivers are intended to create the sense of surround channels, but in reality only add greater width to the front soundstage. However, if you want to add genuine surround speakers to the SL9YG, LG offers the SPK8-S wireless rear speaker kit for £149. This provides dedicated surround channels (but no rear overhead channels), expanding the system to 6.1.2 with an additional 70W for each of the rear speakers, resulting in 640W of power in total.The SL9YG boasts some impressive Hi-Fi credentials, in part thanks to the involvement of Meridian Audio. It also supports high resolution audio with a 192kHz/24-bit DAC and support for MP3, WAV, AAC/AAC+, AIFF, OGG, and FLAC file formats. There’s also Chromecast built-in, allowing you to cast songs, podcasts and stations from TIDAL, Spotify, YouTube and more.
There are a number of sound effects (modes) built-in, such as Adaptive Sound Control (ASC), Standard, Music, Movie, and Bass Blast. Other settings include Night Mode, Dynamic Range Control, Auto Volume Leveller, and a User EQ. The purpose of each setting is fairly self-explanatory, but I'll go through each one in more detail in the performance section.
There's an EZ wizard for simple set up, the ability to update the firmware over the internet, a sleep timer, the option to automatically dim the display, and you can playback music files from your smartphone. If you've connected to the soundbar using the optical digital input there's an automatic power on/off function, and a sound sync feature. If you're using SIMPLINK (HDMI-CEC), there's an AV synch feature available via the remote app (0-300ms).
The SL9YG is one of the first soundbars to have Google Assistant built-in, hence the G at the end of the model number. As a result, you can use voice commands to control the soundbar or find information, as well as play music and much more. To get things started you can simply say “Hey Google” or press the Google Assistant buttons on the main unit, controller or remote app, and you have a fully functioning smart speaker.
The final feature is the SL9's ability to be mounted flat on a surface in front of a TV or flat against the wall using included brackets. When wall-mounted the soundbar automatically senses the different orientation and optimises the sound field accordingly. This is possible thanks to the application of Meridian's advanced digital signal processing technology that creates a wide sound stage and raises the sound to ear level. I'll cover this particular feature in more detail in the next section.
There's a solid set of features headlined by Atmos, DTS:X and Google Assistant built-in
Setup & OperationThe LG SL9YG is extremely easy to set up, and the best approach is to use the remote app because not only can you see all the options without having to scroll through everything on the LCD display at the front of the soundbar, but also because you can access more features than you can with the remote.
I positioned the soundbar on a flat surface in front of my TV (there are additional feet if necessary), ensuring none of the drivers were obstructed in front, above, or at the sides. I then placed the subwoofer at the front of the room, and to the right hand side as you face the soundbar. It should automatically pair with the soundbar, but if not you can also pair the two manually.
The upward-firing drivers essentially work by bouncing sound beams off the ceiling and thus creating the illusion of overhead speakers. For this to work properly, you need a low, flat, and reflective ceiling. If you have a very high, uneven or vaulted ceiling, this kind of technology is not ideal.
After that, I connected my Ultra HD Blu-ray player directly to the soundbar using the available HDMI input, and all the other sources were connected to the TV, with their audio sent to the soundbar via HDMI ARC. If your TV doesn’t support ARC, you’ll need to use the optical connection.
For testing I used a Panasonic DP-UB820 4K Blu-ray player (for Atmos and DTS:X) connected directly to the soundbar, and a Humax FVP-5000T Freeview set-top box connected to my LG 65C8 OLED TV. I tested the ARC capabilities with Dolby Atmos provided by the latter from its Netflix and Amazon apps.
I connected the SL9YG to my home network using the wireless connection (LG has dropped the Ethernet port) and the Google Home app, which is a requirement but is also easy to follow. To create a Bluetooth connection, I simply selected the BT function and then paired the soundbar to my iPhone X, allowing me to test the soundbar's capabilities with streamed music over both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Once I had installed and connected the soundbar, all I needed to do was set the levels for the various speakers. You can do this by ear, but I used an SPL meter (there are plenty of free apps available) and an Atmos demo disc with test tones. I adjusted the top and side levels (surround is also available if you connect the optional wireless rear speakers), along with the subwoofer level to create a balanced sound field. Although the set-up is straightforward, I would like to see some form of automated room EQ on a soundbar at this price point.
The LG is easy to operate, all you need to do is select the correct input (HDMI ARC, Optical, Wi-Fi, BT, USB or HDMI), and then adjust the volume. The soundbar will detect the incoming audio signal from whichever input you have selected and decode it automatically. For audio signals apart from Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, you can apply the various sound effects (modes) mentioned in the previous section.
I conducted the majority of my testing with the SL9YG positioned on a flat surface in front of my TV, which is how I review all soundbars. While the majority of soundbars offer the option of wall-mounting, it would be impractical from the perspective of a reviewer and since the orientation is usually the same, it doesn't make any difference.
This is not the case with the SL9, which is specifically designed to be wall-mounted in a different orientation (see image above). I therefore did some testing with the soundbar positioned flat against a wall and supported from below (but without blocking the speakers).
In this orientation, the side drivers are still firing sideways, but the forward drivers are now firing downwards and the upwards drivers are firing forwards. The soundbar realises that it is in this orientation and applies Meridian's advanced digital signal processing technology to create a wide sound stage and raises the sound to ear level.
However, such an approach can never sound as good as the soundbar in its correct orientation with all the speakers firing in the directions for which they are designed. As a result, while wall-mounting looks both attractive and discreet, it compromises the audio performance. So for the best results I'd recommend installing the soundbar flat in front of your TV, and avoid wall-mounting all together.
It's easy to set-up, but the wall-mountable mode compromises performance
PerformanceThe LG SL9YG delivers exactly the kind of performance I've come to expect from one of their soundbars, producing a soundstage that's big, bold and fun. Last year's SK10Y was very similar in terms of creating a pleasingly engaging sound field, even if it was rather front-heavy in terms of its delivery.
Despite lacking a centre speaker, the SL9 produces a similar performance and adds DTS:X support into the bargain. The lack of a centre speaker might initially be thought of as a disadvantage, but in testing I never found dialogue to be unclear or unfocused, and it always seemed to emanate from the screen.
A dedicated centre speaker might be slightly more defined but, overall, I had no issues when it came to commentaries, voice-overs and dialogue. The use of decent speakers and the inclusion of plenty of power also help, ensuring that soundbar and subwoofer don't run out of steam.
The mid-range has depth and detail, while the higher frequencies are delivered without becoming shrill or sibilant. The subwoofer handles a solid low-end foundation, although it doesn't go as deep as some of the competition. However, it's effectively integrated with the soundbar itself, creating a balanced soundstage.
As a result, two-channel music sounds excellent, with the soundbar rendering a tonally-balanced presentation that benefits from good stereo separation and imaging. The lower frequencies crossover seamlessly to the sub, and listening to Heroine by Shakespeare's Sister, the beat is delivered with a driving urgency. At the same time, the falsetto vocals of Marcella Detroit on You're History and Stay are reproduced without sounding harsh or strident.
This impressive performance with music means that regular TV programmes sound equally as good, voice-overs are clear and any score or effects are delivered with a pleasing clarity. A more complex 5.1 mix also sounds nice, with a wide front soundstage and some excellent localisation of effects at the front of the room. However, the lack of any rear speakers means there is no sense of surround envelopment.
As good as the SL9 sounds with stereo and 5.1/7.1 content, the main reason for buying this soundbar is its support of both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. I started by popping on my Dolby Atmos demo disc and playing the Amaze trailer. I'm very familiar with this particular immersive mix, and while the LG sounds good, I'm aware that something is missing.
On the plus side, the soundbar produces a big wall of sound at the front, and effects are panned and steered across the room with a degree of precision. The upward-firing drivers bounce audio off my ceiling, and there is the sound of rain and thunder overhead. However, there's no presence from the rear, and no sense of surround envelopment. There are also no overhead sounds behind me, so immersive effects are restricted to the first third of the room.
The Netflix series Altered Carbon has a great Dolby Atmos soundtrack that is delivered using Dolby Digital Plus. My LG 65C8 sends this audio to the soundbar via HDMI-ARC, and the results are impressive. The cityscapes have a sense of height and scale, cars fly overhead, the fight scenes are rendered with powerful punches, and gunfire has a solid, ballistic kick.
The beginning of Mad Max: Fury Road sounds excellent on this soundbar, with the disembodied voices popping up in various locations at the front of the room. Max's voiceover sounds suitably gravelly, and the engine of the V8 interceptor has a pleasingly throaty growl.
The sub doesn't go as deep as the best systems, but as the War Boys fly overhead in pursuit of Max, there's a visceral thrill to the overall mix. As the interceptor crashes and rolls towards the camera, you can feel the force of the car approaching as it flings sand in your face.
The recent 4K Blu-ray release of Waterworld boasts a new DTS:X soundtrack that dials the volume up to 11, but the SL9 has the power to keep pace with this bombastic mix. The opening drums have presence and depth, while there's a sense of an empty expanse on the water (even if all the effects are emanating from the front).
The dialogue is clear, and the action sequences are reproduced with gusto. The Smoker's heavy machine gun fire tears through the atoll with a brutal ferocity, and the jet skis fly overhead giving the height channels a chance to shine. It's a solid object-based presentation but, as with the Dolby Atmos soundtracks, the effect is very front-heavy.
The various sound modes are bypassed when the LG is decoding Atmos or DTS:X, however, these modes are an option with two-channel, 5.1 and 7.1 soundtracks. The Adaptive Sound Control (ASC) is designed to change the processing on the fly, but personally, I found the loss of control to be a disadvantage.
I preferred using the Standard mode for regular TV shows, although the Auto Volume Leveller can be very useful with commercial stations where advert breaks are often deliberately louder. When it comes to two-channel sources the Music mode gives the stereo more presence, but Standard keeps things pure.
The Movie mode gives film soundtracks a greater sense of scale that I really like, and if you're a bass-head the Bass Blast mode does exactly what it says on the tin. If you want to bring the overhead channels into play, pressing the sound tuning key for three seconds turns the Surround mode on. As a method of activation this is hardly intuitive, so a dedicated button would be handy (as there is on the remote app). However, the upmixing is often very effective, giving non-object-based soundtracks greater immersion.
For those watching TV at night, the Night mode is self explanatory, reducing the bass and emphasising dialogue so as not to wake up the rest of the house. The Dynamic Range Control does something similar by reducing the highs and lows, and if you fancy tailoring the sound to your personal preference you can mess around with the User EQ.
The sound is big, bold and fun, but the presentation is focused at the front of the room
- Sounds great
- Google Assistant
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
- Plenty of bass
- Well made and attractive
- Soundstage front-heavy
- No eARC support
- No HDR10+ passthrough
- Only one HDMI input
LG SL9YG Soundbar Review
LG SL9YG VerdictThe LG SL9YG is a well-designed soundbar with a lot to recommend about it. It's attractive, nicely put-together, and it's capable of a big and bold sound that's sure to please.
There is a decent amount of immersion when it comes to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, although as you'd expect from a single 'bar and sub system the sound is focused at the front of the room. However, the side-firing speakers add more width and then there's plenty of amplification, even if the subwoofer could go deeper. The lack of a dedicated centre speaker didn't adversely affect the performance, and dialogue remained clear.
There's a decent set of features, headlined by built-in Google Assistant that turns the soundbar a fully-functioning smart speaker. There is also Chromecast, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and HDMI with passthrough of 4K/60p, HDR10, and Dolby Vision. However, a single HDMI input is stingy at this price point, and while the inability to pass HDR10+ isn't surprising, the lack of support for eARC is unexpected.
The various sound modes can prove useful, and while the SL9 is easy to set up, some form of automated room EQ would be handy at this price. When it comes to two-channel music this soundbar proves to be surprisingly competent, with nicely defined stereo imaging and well-integrated bass. Ironically, the slim-wall-mounting is the least impressive feature – it adversely affects the audio performance and is best avoided.
However, in all other respects, the LG SL9YG is an excellent soundbar and is certainly worthy of recommendation, even if it does face stiff competition from its arch-rival.
What are my alternatives?At this price point, there's really only one direct alternative to the LG SL9YG, and that's the Samsung HW-Q80R which also costs £999 (although if you were looking to save some money the 3.1.2-channel Samsung HW-Q70R is also very good at £799, and LG's own SL8YG can be picked up for £699).
As is often the case when it comes to LG and Samsung products, the two soundbars almost mirror one another. They both have a separate wireless subwoofer and support Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and high resolution audio, and they both work with smart speakers: Google for LG and Amazon for Samsung. They both have the option of adding wireless rear speakers, and were both developed in conjunction with audio specialists: LG with Meridian and Samsung with Harman Kardon (which is a subsidiary company).
However, there are also some differences. The SL9 actually has Google Assistant built-in, whereas the HW-Q80R merely works with Alexa. The LG also has more amplification power and a slim-wall-mounting option – although I question the validity of that particular feature. Conversely, the HW-Q80R has a dedicated centre speaker that creates a full 5.1.2-channel system, a beefed-up subwoofer, and two HDMI inputs, along with support for eARC and HDR10+ passthrough.
While both are excellent soundbars that deliver a full-bodied, if rather front-heavy soundstage, I'd be more inclined to go for the HW-Q80R because I feel you're currently getting more bang for your buck.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £999.00
Ease of use8
Value for Money7
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