I tested LG’s Dolby Atmos soundbar with this unique feature, and it’s a game-changer

LG S80QY soundbar with TV image of woman
(Image credit: Future)

I recently unboxed LG’s S80QY, a 3.1.3 channel Dolby Atmos soundbar that I’m running the rule over in preparation for a full TechRadar review. For a $650 soundbar, this LG is feature-packed – something you'd expect from the best soundbars. Along with Atmos and DTS:X processing, it supports Chromecast and AirPlay 2 streaming, has both Google Assistant and Alexa voice control, and handles 4K and Dolby Vision pass-through on its HDMI ports.

But the S80QY's real standout feature is the trio of up-firing drivers on its top surface (the .3 in that 3.1.3 designation). Most soundbars in this price range provide two upfiring drivers to convey the height effects in Dolby Atmos soundtracks. Not only does LG's soundbar come with three, but that extra one is uniquely used to convey dialogue – an important movie soundtrack element that can sometimes get buried in the mix (looking at you here, Christopher Nolan).

By using an additional upfiring driver, the S80QY not only increases dialogue clarity, but it manages to “lift” voices to screen level so they appear to be emanating from characters’ mouths. Wow.

LG S80QY soundbar on TV stand as seen from above

LG's S80QY (front) features an extra upfiring driver that's not present on the company's earlier soundbar (back). (Image credit: Future)

To make sure I wasn’t just imagining this effect, I made comparisons between the new soundbar and an older 3.1.2 channel LG model that lacks the extra top-mounted driver found on the S80QY. Watching with the earlier soundbar, voices were clear, but they also seemed to come from beneath the TV’s screen. The S80QY, in contrast, “floated” dialogue upward so it was naturally linked with the onscreen image.

This benefit that LG’s new soundbar brings is not something you’d really notice unless you made the same comparison – the ear is very good at tricking the brain into fusing sound and image. But having made it myself, it’s very apparent that LG is onto something here. It should come as no surprise that I strongly preferred watching with the S80QY in my system, even though I had previously been quite happy using its 3.1.2 channel predecessor.

I mentioned above that the S80QY is packed with features, so what else does it offer? There’s an impressive 480 watts of power on tap in total for both the soundbar and its companion wireless subwoofer. The HDMI ports support VRR and ALLM pass-through for gaming and eARC for routing audio back from a connected TV. It’s also Wowcast ready –  a feature that lets you make a wireless high-res audio connection between a TV’s HDMI eARC port and the soundbar using an optional adapter.

Beyond that, the S80QY can be linked with LG’s wireless surround speakers and has the company’s AI Room Calibration Pro feature to automatically optimize the sound for your viewing/listening space. And yes, it has a big, clear LCD front panel display – always a welcome feature in a soundbar.

Analysis: With soundbars, voice clarity is key

Why does anyone buy a soundbar? The general reason is to improve on a TV’s built-in audio capability, which in most cases can be disappointing, especially when watching movies. 

Dolby Atmos processing, along with upfiring drivers to bounce sound off your room’s ceiling and deliver impactful Atmos height effects is a main benefit, and one that’s found in better – and usually pricier – soundbar systems like the S80QY. Music playback is another benefit, and that gets uplifted here by high-res audio support and both built-in Tidal Hi-Fi and Spotify Connect.

Bass is yet another key soundbar benefit, especially if it can be squeezed out from a compact all-in-one model. In the case of the S80QY, LG leans on a sizeable subwoofer for bass (it’s notably larger than the sub included with my earlier LG soundbar), but in this case it comes with improved wireless range so it can be tucked away unobtrusively.

In the end, though, it’s getting clear-sounding movie and TV dialogue that matters most with soundbars. LG’s S80QY not only delivers on this key factor, but it provides an innovative feature that both lends clarity to voices and allows for heightened naturalness by elevating dialogue so it appears to be coming from screen-level. Like all the best innovations, it’s an entirely simple one, and one that goes far in adding value to not just the S80QY, but LG’s full lineup of premium soundbars for 2022.

Al Griffin
Senior Editor Home Entertainment, US

Al Griffin has been writing about and reviewing A/V tech since the days LaserDiscs roamed the earth, and was previously the editor of Sound & Vision magazine. 

When not reviewing the latest and greatest gear or watching movies at home, he can usually be found out and about on a bike.