LG’s best sound bar packs some mean capabilities in a slim body, like Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 decoding and hi-res audio streaming. It looks great on paper but how does it stack up in everyday use? Read on to find out!
Build Quality and Design
The SJ9 sports a rigid blend polycarbonates and metal befitting its role as LG’s top sound bar. It would look right under a 55” TV since it measures just 48” across and about 6” deep. Arrayed to deliver 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos audio, three of the drivers face the front and two faces upwards for height effects.
There’s also a bright LED display and an IR sensor for the remote control behind its speaker grill. In an effort to keep things looking posh the control buttons are kept hidden away at the back of the sound bar.
The wireless subwoofer is an elegant black cube with an acoustically transparent cloth. Together, both sound bar and subwoofer looked elegant and discreet in my living room.
The SJ9 also comes with a small plastic remote with rubber buttons. It isn’t anything posh but it is definitely practical. The controls are also laid out spaciously enough and clearly labelled. No real complaints there.
Slight downside here – the bar does measure about 3” tall and my Sony TV’s IR sensor got slightly blocked from the front. One workaround is to raise the TV slightly higher so that the sensor can be exposed.
The SJ9 comes with features you’d normally expect in top-line sound bars these days. 4K video pass-through (over HDMI), Bluetooth, and music streaming over WiFi using the LG Music Flow Player app (iOS/Android). The SJ9 could also serve as one node in a network of WiFi connected LG speakers for that multi-room audio experience everyone loves nowadays.
Supported WiFi music streaming services include Deezer, Spotify Connect and TuneIn Radio, but the SJ9 can stream from your NAS server too, if all your music is stored there.
Popular music file types like MP3 and even hi-res ones like .wma and .flac are supported here, among others. This makes the SJ9 a highly capable music streamer, despite lacking Airplay and having just a few music services under its belt.
Hard-wire ports like HDMI (ARC / Audio Return Channel) and Optical In can be accessed from the back, which is beneficial for owners of new UHD TVS and old HDTVs alike. I will recommend using the HDMI ports because that’s the only way you can get the Dolby Atmos codec to the sound bar.
As with the SJ7 (read review here) the SJ9 comes with various sound modes that enhance your audio in specific ways. The modes that I found useful were ‘Movie’ and ‘ASC’ or Adaptive Sound Control. ‘Movie’ mod for movies (duh) gave me enhanced height and spatial effects without sounding too artificial or dispersing the dialogue. What ‘ASC’ did for me was to balance my audio’s EQ regardless of what I’m playing, which works well for me as I enjoy a wide variety of music. However, I would normally leave the sound bar in ‘Standard’ mode. It’s honestly quite good enough at its default settings.
Putting it in ‘Movie’ mode the SJ9 up-processes movie audio and makes it sound more open and spacious. But even without any sort of enhancements, the SJ9 is a satisfying treat to listen to! Watching action movies and TV programs like Game of Thrones, the SJ9 never sounded boxy nor over-processed. The subwoofer did a mighty fine job filling my living room with atmospheric rumble whenever the situation calls for it, almost like what you’d get in a cinema. It also sounder louder and cleaner than your average S$500 sound bar.
But does it sound anything like Dolby Atmos? Hardly.
While I’m convinced of its ability to reproduce atmospheric effects, what it didn’t quite do right was its lack of virtual surround. Despite its ‘Dolby Atmos’ moniker, much of the audio felt like it was wrapping the area around the TV instead. It appeared that the system was able to decode Atmos 5.1.2 audio but could only achieve surround sound with a couple more speakers at the back. (To do that, you could purchase any LG Music Flow speaker and pair them with the SJ9.)
If you binge on Netflix every Saturday and you need to get a more cinematic feel, this is one sound bar you shouldn’t overlook. The SJ9 doubles as a solid performer for music, sounding detailed and spacious with great stereo and sound staging effects for a sound bar. However its subwoofer didn’t hit as tightly or as low as I would like, and maxing out its bass and subwoofer volume only improved it slightly. Despite its average bass response, the SJ9 sounded decent enough to enjoy.
Even without all a wide variety of music services (like offered with Sonos), the SJ9 is a powerful streamer with high-quality Bluetooth and reliable DLNA streaming. Connecting my phone to the sound bar was fuss-free and there weren’t any AV Syncing issues when watching videos. Signal drops were absent as long as my phone remained within my 320sqf living room.
Streaming from my NAS server was a breeze too. The Music Flow Player app made it easy to navigate my flac and mp3 music files. On the flip-side, the app doesn’t catalogue my music like Sonos does, so I had to manually tap through my folders to get to the songs I want. To make things easier, the Music Flow Player builds a list of previously played tracks so that it’s easier to get to your favourite songs later.
The LG SJ9 retails for S$1,288, a price that matches its top-line status yet still more affordable than popular bars from Sonos and Bose. (They cost twice as much with a subwoofer!) The SJ9 won’t deliver a full Dolby Atmos experience by itself, but its price is justified by it’s cinematic audio performance and essential streaming features. Definitely will include this in my list of great performers for the money!