LG SN7CY Soundbar Review

Where's the bass?

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LG SN7CY Soundbar Review
SRP: £399.00

What is the LG SN7CY

The LG SN7CY is a single-unit soundbar that includes upward-firing drivers to create a 3.0.2-channel system. There's support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, Meridian tuning, an AI Sound Pro mode, and high-resolution audio support.

It's a strange model, technically sitting above the SN4 and SN5Y (both of which include a separate subwoofer), and below the SN7Y, which also comes with a sub. So the question is: will the SN7CY miss a separate woofer or does it produce enough bass extension without one?

The SN7CY retails for £399 as at the time of writing (July 2020), and while it's £100 less than the SN7Y 'bar/sub combo, it's not cheap. So let's see if it delivers enough in terms of performance and features to justify its asking price. 

Design

The LG SN7CY sports a similar design to last year, with a low form factor and angular shape. The construction also remains the same, using a largely plastic moulded chassis and a wrap-around mesh grille. The 'bar comes in black and has a brushed metal finish on top. There you'll also see the upward-firing speakers, while the three front-firing speakers are located behind the grille.

LG SN7CY
LG SN7CY left view

The overall design is minimalist in appearance, and the connections are in a recessed area on the underside. At the front, between the centre and right speakers, is a five character display. It's reasonably informative, clearly visible and easy to read from a distance.

 

The design is minimalist, the build quality fairly good, and the display is informative and easy to read

The soundbar measures 890 x 65 x 119mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 3.74kg. The width of the chassis makes the SN7CY ideal for smaller TVs with screen sizes from 43 to 55 inches. The soundbar uses a power brick adapter, and there's a choice of stand or wall-mounting. If you're planning on the latter LG includes brackets and a template.

Connections and Control

The LG SN7CY has a single HDMI input and an HDMI output that supports ARC, allowing lossy audio to be sent back from a connected TV. The HDMI connection can pass 4K/60p high dynamic range in the form of HDR10 and Dolby Vision, but not HDR10+, which seems slightly shortsighted.

LG SN7CY
LG SN7CY connections

The only other physical connections are an optical digital input and a USB port. In addition, there's built-in Bluetooth (v4.0 SBC) for a wireless connection.

LG SN7CY
LG SN7CY touch sensitive controls

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 turn the power on and off, select an input, and change the volume up/down.

LG SN7CY
LG SN7CY remote control

The provided remote is the same as previous years – it's small and a bit fiddly, but it gets the job done. At the top there are large buttons for power, volume, function (for cycling through the inputs) and mute. Beneath these are play/pause and skip forwards and backwards buttons, and further down you'll find buttons for selecting sound effects, navigating USB file folders, info, repeat, and sound tuning.

 

The HDMI ports supports 4K60p, HDR10 and Dolby Vision, but not HDR10+

Aside from the controls on the soundbar and the included remote, there's also a handy app (iOS and Android) that provides access to all the controls found on the remote and some extra ones: Dynamic Range Control, Night Mode, User EQ, and Auto Volume Leveller. If you're connected via HDMI-CEC, you can also use your TV remote to adjust the volume.

Features and Specs

The LG SN7CY's primary feature is its ability to support object-based audio in the form of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X thanks to upward-firing speakers that create overhead effects. The system uses a 3.0.2-channel speaker configuration, based around front-firing left, centre and right speakers, and upward-firing speakers for the front height channels.

 

The 3.0.2-channel supports Atmos and DTS:X, but while you can add rear speakers you can't add a sub

The front left and right speakers are each composed of a 52x99mm woofer and 20mm silk dome tweeter, the centre speaker uses a 2-inch full-range driver, and the upward-firing speakers use 2.5-inch woofers. For added bass, there are also two 48x180mm passive radiators built into the rear of the soundbar. There’s 30W of built-in amplification for each of the three forward-firing speakers, and 35W for each of the upward-firing speakers in the soundbar – producing a total of 160W of power.

LG SN7CY
LG SN7CY right view

There’s no option to add a separate subwoofer (wired or wireless), but if you want to add surround speakers and create a 5.0.2-channel system, LG offers the SPK8-S wireless rear speaker kit for £149. This provides dedicated surround channels (but no rear overhead channels), with an additional 70W for each of the rear speakers, resulting in 300W of power in total.

LG SN7CY
LG SN7CY rear view

The SN7CY boasts some impressive Hi-Fi credentials, in part thanks to the involvement of Meridian Audio. It can also handle high resolution audio with a 24-bit/96kHz DAC and support for MP3, WAV, AAC/AAC+, AIFF, OGG (up to 48kHz), and FLAC (up to 192kHz).

More: Audio Formats - What It All Means

There are a number of sound effects (modes) built-in, such as AI Sound Pro, Standard, Music, Movie, and Bass Blast. Other settings include Night Mode, Dynamic Range Control, Auto Volume Leveller, and a User EQ. You can also manually adjust the levels for the top and centre channels, as well as the rear channels if you’re using the wireless speaker kit.

Setup and Operation

The LG SN7CY is extremely easy to set up, and the best approach is to use the 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, ensuring none of the drivers were obstructed in front or above. 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 ideally need a low, flat, and reflective ceiling.

LG SN7CY
LG SN7CY upward-firing speaker

I connected my 4K Blu-ray player directly to the soundbar, and all my other sources were connected to the TV, although if your TV doesn’t support ARC you’ll need to use the optical connection instead.

 

The SN7CY is easy to install, setup and operate, but for the best results use LG's remote app

For testing I used a Panasonic DP-UB820 4K Blu-ray player (for Atmos and DTS:X), and a Manhattan T3-R Freeview set-top box connected to my LG 77C9 4K OLED TV. I also tested the Dolby Atmos provided by the C9’s built-in Netflix, Amazon and Apple TV+ apps.

To create a Bluetooth connection, I simply selected the BT function and then paired the soundbar to my Apple iPhone X, allowing me to test the soundbar's capabilities with streamed music over Bluetooth.

LG SN7CY
LG SN7CY side view

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, allowing me to adjust the centre and top levels. You can also tweak the bass and treble if necessary.

The LG is easy to operate, all you need to do is select the correct input (HDMI ARC, Optical, 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.

Performance

The LG SN7YC delivers a decent performance with less challenging material, but as soon as things get demanding the limitations of this soundbar are all too apparent.

I started the testing with some two-channel music, and here the LG performed well. The front left and right speakers offered some decent stereo separation, and effective imaging that resulted in good placement of instruments.

Listening to the La La Land soundtrack, the soundbar delivered a clean and reasonably detailed soundstage. The treble didn't sound overly bright and the mid-range was un-congested. The bass performance wasn't bad either, with the passive radiators giving the drums on the uptempo numbers some pleasing depth. However the Man of Steel soundtrack was missing some of its power, and the lack of a dedicated subwoofer became more obvious.

Switch to TV broadcasts or streaming shows and the situation was largely the same. On less demanding soundtracks where the the mix is largely stereo and dominated by music, the SN7CY sounded pretty good. The dedicated centre speaker ensured dialogue remained clear and focused on the screen, and effects were spread out either side of the screen.

LG SN7CY
LG SN7CY installed in a lounge

So with the news, documentaries, game shows, concerts and more general broadcast and streaming material, the LG does a decent job, and will definitely sound better than the built-in speakers found in most TVs. However, moving on to a TV drama with a 5.1 soundtrack and the cracks begin to show.

Obviously the lack of any rear speakers mean there's no surround presence, but to be fair that applies to all soundbars that lack actual rear speakers or some very high-end sound projection and acoustic processing like the Sennheiser Ambeo (which costs over five times as much). What's more troubling is that much of the bass is also missing, and this is particularly apparent on shows with dynamic soundtracks like Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Watching Netflix shows like The Haunting of Hill House proves the SN7CY accepts Dolby Atmos from the TV's built-in apps over HDMI-ARC. The soundstage is also quite respectable, with the upward-firing drivers actually doing a decent job of creating overhead effects. Once again, as with most other soundbars, the effects are largely located in the first third of the room – so the sense of actual immersion is rather limited. Directional audio cues suffer the most, but obviously adding the wireless rear speakers would at least allow the LG to steer sounds around the room more effectively.

LG SN7CY
LG SN7CY seen from above

Moving on to the 4K Blu-ray of Blade Runner 2049 revealed the SN7CY isn't up to the challenge of the modern soundtracks found on today's Hollywood blockbusters. What should have been a huge and bass-heavy soundstage felt anaemic and under-powered. This soundbar can go reasonably loud, but push it too far and it becomes unbalanced, while the lack of a sub means the bass is simply AWOL. On the plus there are some decent overhead effects thanks to the flying spinners, and the dialogue remains coherent. But the overall experience is a pale imitation of what this track should sound like.

The same is true with the DTS:X soundtrack on the 4K disc of Bad Boys for Life. The amped-up action and Miami-influenced music loses some of its scale, with the SN7CY struggling to deliver the kind of over-the-top sound mix this film deserves. As a result the gunfights are less ballistic, and the explosions lack the thump you'd expect. The LG can create a decent wall of sound at the front of the room, but the lack of any seriously deep bass robs the film of much of its impact.

In terms of the sound modes, Standard is free of any processing and sounds the smoothest, while AI Sound Pro offers a bit more fidelity with dialogue. The Movie mode elevates the dynamic range, but this quickly sounds congested and strained, while Bass Blast swamps the soundstage in all the low-end energy the soundbar can muster, destroying any sense of cohesion. Generally, I stuck with Standard for music and non-Atmos/DTS:X movies, and plumped for AI Sound Pro with general TV watching.

Verdict

Pros

  • Dolby Atmos/DTS:X support
  • Upward-firing drivers are effective
  • Clear dialogue thanks to centre speaker
  • Good stereo imaging for music
  • Option to add rear speakers

Cons

  • Front-heavy soundstage
  • Limited bass response
  • No option to add subwoofer
  • No Chromecast or AirPlay
  • No eARC support

LG SN7CY Soundbar Review

Should I buy one?

The LG SN7CY is perfectly adequate single-unit soundbar, and if you're looking for something to beef-up the sound on your TV while adding a taste of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive audio, then it might be for you. But the reality is there are simply better options at this price. That's not to say the SN7CY doesn't offer some useful features, but the 3.0.2-channel layout really limits this soundbar's potential.

It's not all bad, with some decent stereo imaging for music, clear dialogue thanks to the dedicated centre speaker, and some nice overhead effects created by the upward-firing drivers. However there's no surround presence, so the soundstage is very front-heavy, and despite the dual passive radiators, there's very little bass. As a result, films lose much of their impact. You can add wireless rear speakers, but there's no option to add a sub and expand the low-end extension.

What are my alternatives?

The obvious alternative is the LG SN7Y, which is essentially the same soundbar but comes with a wireless subwoofer. It's £100 more expensive, but the inclusion of a separate subwoofer immediately addresses one of the SN7CY's biggest failings.

If you prefer an alternative to LG, the Sharp HT-SBW800 is worth considering. It's only £50 more and not only has a separate woofer for deeper bass, but side-firing speakers for a wider front soundstage. This 5.1.2-channel system also decodes Dolby Atmos, but unlike the SN7 it doesn't support DTS:X or have the ability to add rear speakers.

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
.
8

Ease of use

.
9

Sound Quality

.
.
.
7

Features

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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