Hands on: LG ThinQ SL9YG soundbar review

Immersive sound, but heavy on hardware

What is a hands on review?
LG ThinQ SL9YG soundbar review

Early Verdict

With a wireless subwoofer and optional rear speakers, the LG ThinQ SL9YG aims for an immersive sound, but ends up with a lot of excess hardware. On audio alone, though, this Dolby Atmos and DTS:X enabled soundbar impresses.

For

  • Auto-adjusting flush wall mount
  • DTS:X as well as Dolby Atmos
  • Google Assistant voice control

Against

  • Dull metallic styling
  • Wireless speaker design is not ideal
  • Bulky receiver needed for rears

What’s so special about the LG SL9YG? With voice control and smart assistants increasingly dominating coverage of new speakers and soundbars, you’d be forgiven for forgetting the real standout trend in soundbars right now: immersive audio.

The SL9YG is one of three new soundbars announced at this year’s CES 2019 tech expo, alongside the SL8YG and SL10YG. It’s the ‘9’ and ‘10’ models that have won CES Innovation Awards, with the SL9YG as the range’s premium model – despite being numbered between the other two. 

Only the SL9YG, however, is physically being demoed at LG’s busy booth. Able to be either hung on a wall below a TV, or perched in front on a table, the SL9YG soundbar also comes with digital signal processing by British audio company Meridian Audio – along with support for both Dolby Atmos and the rival DTS:X surround sound format.

Although LG’s new flagship soundbar does have Google Assistant compatibility, it’s the additional wireless subwoofer and (optional) wireless rear speakers enabling immersive audio that truly mark it out. But what is using the SL9YG actually like? Here are all our impressions so far, straight from the CES show floor.

LG ThinQ SL9YG soundbar review

Design

The SL9YG is, at its fullest, a 4.1.2-channel system. That’s four channels of audio in the soundbar itself, plus the wireless subwoofer, which is included by default as part of the package. 

However, also available are wireless rear speakers – the SPK 8 Wireless Rear Speaker Kit – which LG was showing bolted into the rear corners of a demo room. They were ranged very high, and pointed down towards the listening position. 

Even though they’re wireless, though, they're not free of clutter. Attaching them to the SL9YG requires installing a receiver box, which was shown alongside the subwoofer. 

LG ThinQ SL9YG soundbar review

For those after sleek minimalism, the SPK 8 Wireless Rear Speaker Kit’s clunky design doesn’t quite hit the note. Couldn’t the soundbar or the subwoofer have had a built-in receiver? 

Where the SL9YG does come up trumps is with its moveable positioning. Outside the demo room at CES the SL9YG is being shown-off for a second time, this time with on a motorised shelf, swapping every ten seconds between two positions; flat against a wall, and ranged underneath a 55-inch TV. LG says that the SL9YG can be installed flush to the wall because of a integrated gyroscope sensor, one that gauges its position before adjusting the direction of the sound. 

Though the SL9YG can be controlled via Google Assistant, we weren’t able to try that feature out over the noisy CES show floor. A rep told us that voice can be used to control volume and sound settings and, if you happen to have an LG smart TV, that too. Use LG’s ThinQ app and it can all be controlled remotely, though we’re not sure why you would want to. 

Incidentally, the ThinQ refers to the AI inside the SL9YG, which a rep told us means this soundbar can auto-adjust settings according to the content, though only after it has learned your preferences. 

Though the halls this year are full of voice-activated tech, the humble remote control hasn’t quite died-off yet; the SL9YG ships with a clunky little push-to-talk remote that that also has a ‘sound effect’ button for toggling through the various sound modes. 

If that’s a slightly old-fashioned way of getting voice in on the act, the brushed metallic styling of the SL9YG also is starting to see a little outmoded. However, the rounded corners do noticeably soften the look. 

LG ThinQ SL9YG soundbar review

Performance

Our demo involved a Dolby Atmos showreel coming from LG’s UBK90 4K Blu-ray player. Immediately noticeable is that the SL9YG, rated at 500W, is loud – and comes with impressive bass. What really impressed us, however, was that sound effects did indeed seem to come from above the SL9YG. 

Immersive audio in this kind of set-up is really about making sound appear to come from where your eyes are telling you it should come from – the TV – and the SL9YG definitely delivered on that. Explosions were rendered with force and balance, with plenty of detail seeming to come from the sides and rear of the soundstage. The demo makes it pretty clear that all the audio is down to Meridian Audio’s ‘Bass & Space’ and ‘Image Elevation’ tech. 

So does the SL9YG perform OK without those wireless rears in play? That we cannot say; we weren’t able to get them deactivated during the demo. However, when listening from the wings of the demo room, the surround sound effect noticeably faded. 

LG claims that Meridian’s ‘Upmix’ tech can put stereo music into immersive mode, too, though we can’t yet make a judgement on its success.

LG ThinQ SL9YG soundbar review

Early verdict

Though the LG SL9YG is being sold on aesthetics, Meridian Audio is doing the heavy lifting when it comes to this slim soundbar’s immersive sound. The result is powerful and cinematic, though it’s difficult to say how much that’s got to do with the rear speakers – which, frankly, few people after a sleek, slim soundbar will consider. 

We’re also not completely convinced about the soundstage when listening off-center, while the aesthetic styling of this soundbar is a little stale. Judged on sound quality alone, though, the SL9YG is an intriguing proposition – and we’ll update this review after testing the soundbar more thoroughly.

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.