(Pocket-lint) - LG's 2018 soundbars were generally very good, but mysteriously lacked support for DTS:X (the object-based rival to Dolby Atmos). This rather shortsighted decision put many immersive audio fans off, forcing them to choose from LG's rivals.
The company has learnt from its mistake, and for 2019 the new SL9YG supports both Atmos and DTS:X using a 4.1.2-channel speaker configuration. It also has Google Assistant built-in (hence the G at the end of the model number) and an ultra-slim wall-mountable design.
- Soundbar: 1220 x 57 x 145mm / Weighs: 6.3kg
- Subwoofer: 221 x 390 x 313mm / Weighs 7.8kg
The LG SL9YG uses a much sleeker design compared to last year's models, with a height of only 57mm, meaning it shouldn't block the screen. It's also large enough to complement large-size TVs of 55-inches and bigger. The build quality remains excellent, with a wrap-around mesh grille, and an attractive dark-grey brushed-metal finish.
The soundbar has front-firing drivers for the left and right channels – although there's no centre channel, which might affect dialogue. There are also two circular upward-firing drivers prominently positioned on the top of the soundbar. Unfortunately there are no surround channels, although you can buy optional wireless rear speakers.
The included 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.
- Two LED displays depending on orientation
- Chromecast & Google Assistant
- ThinQ and Google Home apps
- Included remote control
One of the big selling points is the choice of two completely different orientations: flat in front of the TV or flat against the wall. The soundbar automatically recognises the different orientation and adjusts the audio processing accordingly. For that reason there are two five-character displays – one on the top and one at the front. Depending on the orientation, one or the other is visible.
The two displays also have four LED indicators underneath for interaction with the built-in Google Assistant. There are some basic controls beneath the display located on the top of the soundbar – these include input selection, volume up/down, power on/off, play/pause, a mute button for the built-in far-field mics, and one to activate Google Assistant.
The included remote is rather dinky but at least offers large buttons for power, volume, inputs and mute, along with additional keys for selecting sound effects, muting the 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.
If you prefer using a smart device as a controller there's a useful remote app available for both iOS and Android. You can also vocally interact with the soundbar, play music and much more thanks to the inclusion of Google Assistant. Just say "Hey Google" or press the Google Assistant buttons on the main unit, controller or remote app, and you're good to go.
- 2x HDMI input; HDMI output with ARC
- Ethernet; Wi-Fi (2.4/5GHz); Bluetooth 4.2
- Optical input; 3.5mm analogue input
The physical connections are located in a recessed area on the underside of the soundbar, and are fairly basic with a single HDMI input, an HDMI output with ARC (audio passthrough), and an optical digital audio input. In terms of wireless connections there's a choice of built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, along with support for Google Chromecast.
All the HDMI ports can pass 4K/60p, wide colour gamut, and high dynamic range (HDR; specifically HDR10, HLG, and Dolby Vision). However, considering LG's 2019 TVs support eARC (enhanced audio return channel), it's strange that the SL9 doesn't include this feature. Less surprising is the lack of HDR10+ passthrough, because LG doesn't support this on its TVs either.
The LG SL9YG is easy to setup, so your biggest decision will revolve around whether you install the soundbar horizontally in front of the TV or vertically against the wall using the provided bracket. The SL9 will automatically adjust the sound processing accordingly, but when you consider wall-mounting means the forward-firing speakers are facing downwards and the upward-firing speakers are facing forwards, you can probably see the limitations of this approach.
LG claims that Meridian's advanced digital signal processing technology ensures the soundstage is wider and raised to ear level, despite the front-firing speakers now facing downwards. In reality the audio is severely compromised in this orientation, and for the best results we would strongly recommend installing horizontally in front of the TV. You should also remember that for the upward-firing speakers to be effective you need a flat and reflective ceiling.
- 4.1.2-channel configuration
- Two upward-firing drivers
- 500W of built-in amplification
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding
- Hi-Res Audio (192kHz/24-bit)
- Optional rear speakers for 6.1.2 system
Listening to music
Once installed properly, the SL9 sounds excellent, regardless of whether the source is a TV show, a movie or your favourite song. In fact the soundbar is great with music, in part thanks to its Hi-Res Audio support and Meridian tuning. The front-firing speakers deliver precise stereo imaging, while the subwoofer integrates seamlessly with the soundbar.
As a result the new Waterboys album Where the Action Is sounds particularly good, whether it's the strident and driving guitar chords London Mick, the epic sweep of Ladbroke Grove Symphony or the simple beauty of Piper of the Gates of Dawn.
Watching TV shows and movies
The LG remains equally as impressive with TV shows, although the lack of any rear speakers means 5.1 mixes aren't as enveloping as they should be. However Stranger Things 3 on Netflix remains hugely enjoyable, with its healthy mix of nostalgic 80's music and sci-fi/horror. Dialogue is clear, despite the lack of a dedicated centre speaker, and the sub's low-end grunt gives the giant monster in the final episode a pleasing sense of scale.
Speaking of monsters, the 4K Blu-ray of Godzilla: King of the Monsters boasts a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that's, well, monstrous. Once again the lack of any rear speakers stops the audio from reaching its full immersive potential, but the SL9 creates a dynamic wall of sound at the front of the room that gives the various battling behemoths an epic sense of size. The upward-firing speakers create some excellent overhead effects, although the sub does sometimes struggle to handle the seismic levels of bass.
The new 4K release of Waterworld has a shiny new DTS:X soundtrack that delivers an excitingly immersive mix. This time the sub proves more capable of keeping pace with a score that makes extensive use of drums. It also manages to give the heavy machine gun fire a pleasing percussive kick, while the upward-firing speakers send jet skis flying overhead. It's a solid object-based presentation but, as with the Godzilla, the effects are weighted to the front third of the room.
The are a number of sound modes available, all of which are disabled when the 'bar is decoding Atmos or DTS:X soundtracks. These modes can prove useful with less immersive content and the Adaptive Sound Control (ASC) makes for an excellent general purpose setting, adjusting the processing on the fly and changing it depending on the incoming content.
The Music mode emphasises two-channel stereo, while the Movie mode brings the upward-firing drivers into play, giving the audio greater height. The Bass Blast mode does exactly what it says on the tin, while the Night mode can be useful when the rest of the house has gone to bed. Finally the Auto Volume Leveller is handy on commercial channels where advert breaks tend to be deliberately louder.
As long as you install the LG SL9YG flat in front of your TV, the resulting performance is sure to please with a big and dynamic soundstage. The effect is rather front-heavy, but that's to be expected given the absence of rear speakers, and although there's no centre speaker it doesn't seem to adversely affect dialogue clarity. In fact the overall performance is excellent, with a detailed and precise audio quality that works well with TV, movies and music.
The inclusion of Google Assistant makes this soundbar smarter, but it's somewhat hampered by a couple of strange decisions. The absence of eARC and HDR10+ passthrough puts this soundbar at a disadvantage compared to the competition. It's a shame because the SL9YG is otherwise a solid soundbar, but with a few minor changes it could have been a great one.
If you're looking to save a few quid but still like the idea of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, then you could try the Panasonic SC-HTB900. This 3.1-channel soundbar and subwoofer combo uses psychoacoustic processing to create a greater sense of immersion, while slimline looks will fit nicely into most living rooms. Its performance with object-based audio isn't as impressive as the SL9YG, but it sounds just as good with TV and music. The only real downside is that like the LG it doesn't support eARC, nor can it pass HDR10+ and Dolby Vision.