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Review: LG LG SC9S Soundbar

An upfiring driver in the middle of this soundbar is a nice addition, but other bars have better features.
LG SC9S soundbar
Photograph: LG
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Tons of features and supported formats. Clear, detailed dialog. Impressive overhead effects. Punchy bass response with included subwoofer. HDMI 2.1 input for next-gen gaming support. App makes adjustments simple and easy.
Light and boxy sound signature. Lack of side-firing drivers limits immersion. Wow Orchestra isn’t particularly compelling. Lacks streaming extras found in Sonos and Bose bars.

In the ultracompetitive Dolby Atmos soundbar market, it’s tough to stand out from the crowd. LG’s latest gambit is the addition of a third upfiring driver in the center of soundbars like the new SC9S. The idea is to improve dialog and accentuate the overhead effects that help Atmos and other 3D formats create an immersive “dome” of sound.

By that measure, the design is a success. Dialog is clear, and the phantom channel seems to increase the potency of overhead effects. The thing is, even though Atmos titles are becoming more common, there are only so many effects happening above you. A lot of the action happens on the ground, and the SC9S doesn’t include the side-firing speakers that make models from Sony, Sonos, and Bose so effective at creating an immersive soundstage from a single unit.

The SC9S does pack an impressive feature arsenal, including the ability to work in conjunction with the latest LG C-series TVs via its Wow Orchestra system. Folks with any TV will get plenty of other modern features, too, such as versatile audio format support, next-gen gaming features, and an included wireless subwoofer, which many rivals lack. But is that enough to make this your Atmos bar of choice?

A (Mostly) Zippy Setup

The SC9S comes in a massive box, with a lot of space reserved for its special mounting bracket to pop beneath a C2 or C3 OLED TV. The general setup is quick enough, but you do have to follow the order mentioned in LG’s tiny instructions: Connect the HDMI cable to your TV’s HDMI ARC/eARC port, then plug in the subwoofer and (if applicable) rear surround speakers, then finally the bar itself.

I missed the memo and plugged in the bar first, and then had to pair the wireless subwoofer manually to get it working. I tested just the basic bar and sub. If you want to add the rear surrounds, they’ll cost you a few hundred bucks and, unlike most other brands, require a separate amplifier that wirelessly connects to your TV.

Otherwise, setup is a relative breeze with LG’s Soundbar app. I had the bar connected to Wi-Fi and updated with the latest firmware in a few minutes. That includes the AI Room Calibration mode, which is very loud and, to my ears, didn’t really seem to change the sound much.

Loads of Extras

One of the SC9S’ most touted features is its Wow Orchestra integration that matches the bar with the onboard sound from LG’s C2 and C3 TVs. Such ecosystem-specific features are becoming more common in the A/V space, especially with LG’s Korean rival, Samsung, whose Q-Symphony feature similarly integrates its flagship bars with newer Samsung TV speakers.

The SC9S goes further, including a special (and large) mounting bracket for those evo C-series TVs right in the box. The idea is that you’ll buy the bar when you buy the TV, but of course, that isn’t always viable when you’re dropping several grand already.

Regardless of your TV, the SC9S provides an impressive selection of cutting-edge features, including HDMI 2.1 passthrough via its spare HDMI port. This lets you plug in the latest gaming consoles and PCs to utilize high frame rates and features like VRR (variable refresh rate) and ALLM (auto low latency mode). Sony’s HT-A5000 is the only similarly priced rival to support these options, while the Sonos Arc (9/10, WIRED Recommends) and Bose Smart Soundbar 900 don’t offer HDMI inputs at all.

The SC9S also supports just about every major sound format. You can use Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X, and DTS-HD Master Audio, among a throng of others. You’ll also get streaming features like AirPlay 2 and Chromecast, Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect, and of course Bluetooth. The bar is compatible with smart assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant, but only through the app.

Speaking of the app, it’s by far the easiest way to control settings like basic EQ, sound mode swapping, and channel level adjustments. It’s not as loaded as apps from Sonos or Bose, which let you stream music and group other speakers, but it’s pretty intuitive and also proved quite stable in my testing.

Using the included remote is more tedious, with only a few LEDs and a loud robot voice to guide you as you scroll through the many options. If you’ve got the LG C2 or C3 you can use the onscreen menu, but the app offers a much deeper suite of settings. Otherwise, any TV remote lets you control the basics when connected over HDMI eARC/ARC.

The Three Channel Limit
Photograph: LG

The marvel of some of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars is how musical, full, and natural they can sound. It’s no simple task to make a singular bar sound more like a full sound system. While the SC9S certainly has its skills, it doesn’t quite cross over the hill to the special side for a couple of reasons.

The bar’s overall sound signature is thinner and lighter than rivals like the Sonos Arc and Sony HT-A5000, and less musical than Bose’s Smart Soundbar 900. There’s good overall detail, but film soundtracks and music alike feel lacking when it comes to meaty dynamics and midrange muscle. Brighter instruments like percussion and symphonic horns, and even lighter dialog and effects can come off with an icy touch.

More notably, without the aid of side-firing drivers, the SC9S’s soundstage falls shy of delivering the kind of near-magical virtual surround sound immersion found in top rivals. You can account for this by adding true surround speakers in LG’s SQ8-S surround speakers and proprietary wireless amplifier for $200 (or less on sale). But apart from the cost, this may not be viable for those with compact listening rooms.

The soundstage did ramp up when LG sent over a C3 TV to test LG’s Wow Orchestra feature, which utilizes both the TV speakers and the soundbar at once. The sound field provided more depth and feels bigger on the vertical plane. But the TV speakers also tend to accentuate the bar’s lighter tone color, making things all the sharper. Frankly, I’m just not sure about the trend of using soundbars in conjunction with the limited speakers in most TVs. Isn’t that why soundbars were invented in the first place?

That’s not to say the SC9S doesn’t offer some compelling talents. Thanks to its extra height speaker, Dolby Atmos films and TV shows are rendered with impressive overhead effects, from pouring rain to buzzing helicopters. This helps to expand the sound beyond the bar’s frame, mostly above you, which can create an enhanced sense of cinematic breadth. The system also does well rendering rich dialog from well-crafted dramas and films, providing crisp delivery that accentuates the subtle details.

The SC9S excels when it comes to bass response in powerful action scenes, from the pounding pop of Ant-Man’s flying ants to the booming explosions in Skyfall. The addition of a wireless subwoofer gives the bar a notable edge in the very deepest frequencies over standalone Atmos soundbars. That alone could make it worthwhile for some folks, as you’ll pay hundreds more to get the same low-frequency rumble from many competitors.

With compelling features many rivals lack—including a spare HDMI 2.1 input, support for DTS:X 3D audio, gaming extras like VRR passthrough, and the all-important wireless sub—the SC9S provides solid value. If those features are important to you, it’s worth considering, whether you own a newer LG C-series TV or any other model.

Otherwise, when it comes to pure sound quality and immersion, you’ll find better action for your Jacksons from our best soundbars list or one of the other options above.