Hands on: LG SL9YG Dolby Atmos soundbar review

Join us for a tour of the SL9YG, LG’s £1000 Dolby Atmos soundbar tuned by Meridian

What is a hands on review?
LG SL9YG review

Early Verdict

LG's £1000 Dolby Atmos soundbar looks good on paper and leaves a positive first impression

For

  • Open and expansive sound
  • Decent detail
  • Clever design

Against

  • Bass requires closer inspection
  • Can it do proper surround sound?

Given the interest in LG’s TVs (especially its five-star OLED models), you’d be forgiven for thinking audio products don't get a look in down at LG HQ. But the Korean giant has plenty to shout about when it comes to new audio kit, especially soundbars.

LG’s 2019 soundbar line-up includes three Dolby Atmos models: the SL8YG (£700), SL10YG (£1200) and, sandwiched in between, the £1000 SL9YG.

Build

LG SL9YG design and build

The SL9YG is a relatively slim and slender affair with an attractive, brushed metal effect on top and around its sides. A perforated speaker grill runs along the front and there are also two matching circular grilles on top.

It’s a 500W, 4.1.2 channel soundbar with four drive units firing outwards and two upwards – the latter are used to increase the height of the soundstage and make the most of Dolby Atmos soundtracks. The ‘.1’ refers to the accompanying wireless subwoofer.

If you’re wondering what size of 4K TV will suit the SL9YG, LG says it’s designed with 55in sets in mind. The SL10YG should partner 65in televisions, while the smaller SL8YG is a better fit for 49in flatscreens.

Those looking for a full-blown surround system can still achieve it with the SL9YG. You just need to partner it with LG’s matching SPK8 wireless rear speaker package. These speakers automatically pair with the bar, which then reconfigures its own audio to take into account the new additions.

Features

LG SL9YG features

Behind the LG’s wide front grille lies a scrolling display, while on top you’ll find a row of touch sensitive control buttons including a dedicated one for Google Assistant.

New for 2019, LGs Dolby Atmos soundbars feature Google Assistant, so you can use the built-in mics to ask the bar a question or drive a Google-based multi-room music system.

Along the back edge are the inputs, which amount to a single ARC-compatible HDMI output, one HDMI input plus optical digital and USB sockets.

Besides lying it flat in front of your TV, the SL9YG can be flipped 90 degrees and mounted flush against a wall. A built-in gyroscope works out the bar’s positioning and alters its audio processing accordingly.

It also switches the soundbar’s main display from the middle of the front of the unit to the top, so you can still see what it's up to.

Bluetooth streaming, Chromecast, 4K pass-through and hi-res audio streaming (up to 24-bit/96kHz) are also supported.

And, although a big focus of LG’s premium soundbars is their support for Dolby Atmos, they are also compatible with rival object-based surround format DTS:X.

LG SL9YG features

As was the case with LG's 2018 Dolby Atmos soundbars, Meridian has helped with the design and audio tuning. The company has included some of its own processing technology in an effort to improve sound quality.

Meridian's Image Elevation helps raise the perceived height of the sound system, so it's more in line with the picture on your TV. Meanwhile, its Bass & Space technology claims to increase "the perceived width of the bar’s soundstage, while simultaneously improving bass response."

Sound

LG SL9YG sound

Our demo starts with some clips from a Dolby Atmos demo disc and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the SL9YG takes everything in its stride. One scene is bustling with the noise of flying birds and buzzing insects and the LG appears to handle all the commotion confidently with minimal fuss.

The bar is positioned in front of and beneath the screen we're watching, but the various effects sound as though they’ve been lifted. The positioning of the soundbar in relation to the TV doesn't seem as obvious. A sudden whip crack of lightning is followed by a torrential downpour and the LG delivers a decent amount of punch and weight to reinforce the severity of the storm. There seems to be a good sense of scale and spread of sound too.

Next we're taken to the opening chapter from Mad Max: Fury Road and you can hear the voices in his head swirling across and above your listening position. It's hard to get a sense of any sound effects creeping in behind you, but the SL9YG spreads the soundtrack out and upwards with plenty of width and space to help draw you in. As Max is being chased through the desert by the War Boys, the bar and sub combo kick up plenty of drama.

During a brief musical blast of Hans Zimmer's Live In Prague concert, we experience Meridian's Upmix technology as it takes the stereo signal and mixes it through the bar's additional speakers. The processing seems to work well, but we need to experiment with more tracks (including ones streamed over Bluetooth) and also listen in stereo mode to really hear how it handles music.

Early verdict

A dedicated Dolby Atmos speaker system and home cinema amp is always going to beat a soundbar for pure performance. But where space is a concern and an all-in-one solution preferable, a premium do-it-all soundbar such as the LG SL9YG definitely has its place.

We'll wait for a review sample before we give you our final verdict, but first impressions are promising. If it can build on the solid performance of last year's LG SK10Y and compete with rivals like the Sony HT-ST5000, this could be a serious contender.

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What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.