LG SP9YA soundbar review: This 5.1.2 speaker has side-firing drivers

LG SP9YA soundbar review: This 5.1.2 speaker has side-firing drivers

Is it possible to receive a 5.1.2-channel billing for a soundbar that doesn’t have separate surround speakers? That’s the issue LG’s SP9YA raises, despite the fact that it lacks a pair of wireless surround modules. Instead, the soundbar uses side-firing drivers in the main speaker to create surround cues. The LG SP9YA isn’t the first soundbar to try this method; the Creative SXFI Carrier does a similar thing, with mixed results. (A rear speaker kit for 7.1.2 audio is available from LG.)

While the SP9YA’s claim to being a true 5.1.2 soundbar is dubious, its rich, full-bodied sound and vibrant Dolby Atmos and DTS:X height effects are undeniable, even if its surround cues aren’t as distinct as they could be. The SP9YA also comes with a slew of remarkable features, like AI-powered room correction, eARC, built-in AirPlay 2 and Chromecast, Alexa speaker groups, and Spotify Connect support.

Specifications of LG SP9YA soundbar

When you open the box, you’ll discover only the main soundbar unit and the wireless subwoofer, but no wireless surround speakers. LG touts the SP9YA as a 5.1.2-channel soundbar, so it’s a little puzzling when you find only the main soundbar device and the wireless subwoofer. LG includes the SP9YA’s pair of side-firing speakers as surround channels, making it a 5.1.2 soundbar rather than a 3.1.2 arrangement, as I noted earlier. These drivers on the side of the soundbar can’t quite compete with discrete surround speakers, as we’ll see (and hear) later. Fortunately, the SP9YA can be upgraded to a full-on 7.1.2 configuration with LG’s $180 SPK8-S Wireless Rear Speaker Kit, although LG did not provide us with the kit for this review.

LG SP9YA

In any case, the LG SP9YA has 11 drivers in total, with 10 in the main soundbar unit. Each channel has its own oval-shaped woofers (40x100mm) and tweeters (also 40x100mm), which are flanked by circular 2.5-inch side woofers that provide sounds for the two surround channels. Two up-firing 2.5-inch drivers are mounted on top of the soundbar casing, providing height cues for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks. Finally, there’s a 7-inch driver on the wireless subwoofer.

The upfiring drivers provide Dolby Atmos and DTS:X height cues by bouncing sound off your ceiling, making them a more convenient and cheaper alternative to ceiling-mounted height speakers. However, while upfiring drivers are a frequent feature of soundbars that support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, they require a specific sort of ceiling to work properly—namely, a flat, sound-reflecting ceiling between 7 and 14.5 feet in height. Upfiring drivers for Atmos or DTS:X won’t cut it if you have ceiling beams or a vaulted ceiling; in those circumstances, you would be better off with a soundbar that uses virtualization for height cues.

The 13.9-pound LG SP9YA is quite wide, measuring 48 x 2.2 x 5.7 inches (WxHxD) and stretching the entire length of the media cabinet that houses my 55-inch LG C9 OLED TV. The soundbar, on the other hand, has a low profile, allowing it to fit below my low-slung TV while barely touching the screen’s bottom border.

The 8.7 x 15.4 x 12.3-inch, 13.9-pound wireless subwoofer, on the other hand, is mid-sized in terms of wireless subwoofers, which means it’s not something you could (or would want to) tuck discreetly next to your sofa. Instead, put it behind your television, preferably not too close to a wall.

Inputs and outputs

The LG SP9YA has only four ports: an HDMI input, an HDMI output that supports HDMI-ARC/eARC, an optical (Toslink) input, and a USB-A connector that can access audio files, all of which are located in the right rear chamber.

The two HDMI ports on the soundbar give you a few alternatives when it comes to connecting to a TV. You might first connect a video source to the SP9YA’s HDMI input, then transfer both video and audio from the soundbar’s HDMI output (4K HDR passthrough is supported, including Dolby Vision) to one of your TV’s HDMI inputs.

However, because the SP9YA only has one HDMI input, you’d be limited to using it with a single video source. Given the SP9YA’s high pricing, we would have preferred to see at least one additional HDMI input.

LG SP9YA

An HDMI input, an HDMI output that also supports HDMI-ARC and eARC, an optical input, and a USB connection that can access a range of audio file formats, including FLAC files, are all included in the LG SP9YA.

Connect your video sources to your TV’s HDMI inputs, then transfer audio down to the soundbar’s HDMI-ARC port. As a result, you’ll be able to connect as many video sources as your TV’s HDMI ports allow, as well as hear audio from your TV’s built-in streaming apps through the soundbar. Even better, the SP9YA supports eARC, a “improved” form of ARC that enables lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, which are common on Blu-ray discs.

There’s also an optical input for connecting an older, HDMI-less TV in addition to the HDMI ports. There are no RCA inputs for TVs that don’t even have optical outputs, but let’s be honest: if you’re spending $1,000 on a soundbar, you’re not going to connect it to a tube TV from the 1990s anyhow.

Setup

You plug the soundbar into a power socket using a roughly 5-foot captive cord, which terminates in a regular two-prong plug rather than a wall wart, once you’ve either placed it in front of your TV or installed it under your TV. The soundbar comes pre-paired with the wireless subwoofer, and it should connect automatically once it’s plugged in. You may manually couple the soundbar and the sub if it doesn’t work, however, the automatic matching process worked perfectly for me.

While LG soundbars with built-in Google Assistant use the Google Home app to connect to your Wi-Fi network, the SP9YA (which lacks built-in Google Assistant—more on that in a bit) makes the connection with the new LG Sound Bar app, and the process was flawless. After firing it up on my iPhone and granting it permission to use Bluetooth, the app quickly found the SP9YA and prompted me to choose my network SSID and enter my password. Less than a minute later, the connection was made, and the soundbar prompt showed up as an option among my other AirPlay 2 and Chromecast devices.

Aside from Wi-Fi, the LG SP9YA has a room calibration feature that identifies your area’s acoustics by bouncing sounds off your walls and furniture. Unlike the Sonos Arc, which uses an iPhone’s microphone to collect measurements, the SP9YA uses its own built-in microphone to obtain calibration data. The entire procedure takes only a few minutes, and the results can be compared to the sound of an uncalibrated soundbar. While LG’s AI Room Calibration technique isn’t as precise as more complex calibration systems like Audyssey (which gathers measurements from eight microphone spots), considering the SP9YA’s price point, it’s a pleasant addition.

Controls, remote, and app

On top of the primary soundbar unit, the SP9YA includes seven capacitive touch buttons: power, input select—which, luckily, is no longer called “F” (for “Function”) as it was in earlier models—volume up and down, play/pause, Bluetooth pair, and Wi-Fi.

The LG SP9YA’s remote features a sleek, ergonomic design, but the volume buttons are placed far too high on the wand.

The soundbar has a two-microphone array just in front of the top buttons (but the two minuscule mic holes are so small that they’re easy to miss), as well as a five-digit display on the front panel that dims after a brief time of inactivity.

The remotes for LG’s 2021 soundbar range have been revamped, and the new wands are significantly sleeker than their boxy, cheap-looking counterparts. However, while the SP9YA’s remote is more ergonomic than prior LG soundbar remotes I’ve used, the buttons are laid out in such a way that you have to stretch your thumb out to reach the volume and mute buttons. The four-way navigation pad, as well as the sound mode, info, settings, and speaker level buttons, are all easily accessible, although the volume control is oddly placed on the remote’s left-hand side.

LG SP9YA

The new LG Sound Bar app replaces the older LG Wi-Fi Speaker app and allows you to operate all of the soundbar’s capabilities, including changing inputs, adjusting volume, cycling through sound modes, and altering speaker levels. It will also prompt you to run the AI-powered room calibration procedure during setup (which you can always re-run later), as well as fiddle with the AV synchronization if you have any lip-sync issues.

Sound modes and performance

The LG SP9YA has eight sound modes: Cinema (which mixes all audio sources to 5.1.2, including 2.0 stereo audio), Music (which uses Meridian technology to optimize its audio performance), Bass Blast (which boosts the bass while also mixing all sources to 5.1.2), Clear Voice (for boosting dialogue), Standard (which delivers the audio without any upmixing and minimal tweaking), Sports (which delivers the audio without any upmixing and minimal tweaking), Standard (which delivers the audio without any upmixing and minimal There’s also an AI Sound Pro mode, which employs artificial intelligence to tailor the sound to whatever you’re listening to.

While there are many audio modes to choose from, when it comes to Dolby Atmos or DTS:X content, you can’t pick a mode at all.

I began my listening tour with Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back on UHD Blu-ray, focusing on the Battle of Hoth sequence and the Asteroid Chase chapter. First and foremost, the LG SP9YA produced some of the greatest Dolby Atmos height cues I’ve ever heard from a soundbar. Consider the scene in which Luke throws a grenade at an Imperial Walker before dropping to the ground and watching the explosions above. I could hear the series of muffled explosions with an accuracy that I rarely hear from upfiring soundbars with the LG SP9YA. As Vader and his soldiers reached the disintegrating Rebel base, the sound of ice chunks falling from the roof is similar.

Aside from Empire’s handling of height cues, I liked how the LG SP9YA (like some of the earlier LG soundbars I’ve heard) doesn’t emphasize high- and low-end sound at the expense of the mid-range; indeed, those who prefer a brighter soundbar signature (like the Sonos Arc) might not like the LG SP9YA’s flatter sound. While the soundbar’s low-frequency effects (especially the noise of the Millennium Falcon’s engine as it corkscrewed away from chasing TIE Fighters) sounded a touch boomy at first, lowering the subwoofer setting calmed the bass.

I appreciated the distinct plops of rain as Deckard jogged for shelter under the awning of the noodle bar, as well as the swooshing spinners above and below as Gaff delivered Deckard to police HQ, on the UHD of Blade Runner (which, like Empire, features a Dolby Atmos soundtrack). The Apollo 13 UHD with DTS:X audio was also impressive, with strong bass, obvious height effects as the Saturn V’s engines came to life, and crisp pop as Lovell jettisons the escape tower.

I put on the normal Blu-ray of Titanic, which has a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, to try some non-Dolby Atmos and DTS:X content. I sampled the various sound modes while playing the “Ode to Titanic” chapter; Cinema mode sounded wide but blown-out and hollow (perhaps due to excessive upmixing of the height channels), while also burying the dialogue. AI Sound Pro seemed far more genuine and immersive to my ears, with Standard mode a close second. The engine room pistons sounded properly deep and kerplunky with AI Sound Pro activated, but the hiss as the Titanic’s bow slashed through the sea sounded sharp but not shrill.

Bottom line

Is the LG SP9YA really a 5.1.2 soundbar? Although I doubt side-firing drivers will ever be a great alternative for actual surround speakers, I suppose technically yes. While the surround effects on the SP9YA aren’t as apparent as I’d like, the overall sound is full, well-rounded, and vibrant without being boomy or harsh.

Personally, I’d still go with a Vizio Elevate, which has a 5.1.2 soundbar with true surround speakers. The LG SP9YA, on the other hand, would be an excellent pick if you have a living room configuration that doesn’t allow for satellite speakers or if you’re ready to pay $180 for LG’s optional wireless rear speaker kit.

 

 

 

 

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