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LG SJ9 review: Solid sound bar value for Dolby Atmos, Chromecast audio fans

One of the most requested sound bar features we receive from you, our readers, is Dolby Atmos support. Despite still being a fledgling format, the surround-sound system has captured the enthusiast community's imagination in a way not many features do. 3D may have come and mostly gone but Dolby Atmos and its visual partner high dynamic range appear to be here to stay.

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7.9

LG SJ9

The Good

The LG SJ9 is the most affordable Dolby Atmos sound bar system on the market, at least in the US. Home theater sound is dynamic and thrilling. Compatibility with Google Chromecast and 4K HDR offers some degree of flexibility and future-proofing.

The Bad

The LG SJ9’s subwoofer makes a lot of bass, but definition is only so-so. The sound isn't very refined when playing music. The 'bar lacks DTS:X or DTS-HD Master Audio compatibility. No surround speakers included.

The Bottom Line

Although not the most refined-sounding 'bar at its price, the LG SJ9 delivers Dolby Atmos and Chromecast audio in an affordable, attractive package.

The $749 LG SJ9 is the cheapest Dolby Atmos speaker we've seen yet. It also brings a solid array of features including Chromecast multiroom, 4K HDR pass-through compatibility, and the ability to add rears speakers if you want.

The good news is that the SJ9's up-firing speakers do add some spaciousness to its sound. And if you like watching movie stars hurting other movie stars with very large weapons, the punchy SJ9 will help you, er, enjoy that. If, on the other hand, you like rock stars trying to hurt you emotionally, then it's not the first speaker system we'd recommend. Compared to its Samsung rival, for example, the LG sound bar lacks nuance, a difference most obvious with music.

If you absolutely must have Atmos, value Chromecast built-in and want to spend as little as possible, the LG SJ9 is a decent first option, but for most Atmos sound bar shoppers, the $800 Samsung K850 is worth the extra money.

While the LG SJ9 is relatively affordable in the US, it's inexplicably expensive in the UK at £1,000. In Australia it costs AU$1,699, which is comparable to UK price.

Design

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Sarah Tew/CNET

There's a touch of retro to the SJ9's design. The distinctive bottom grille could have been ripped from the front of a Cadillac or a chrome-plated roadside diner. The sound bar itself is shaped like a big tongue depressor (a glamorous one!) with a series of drivers along the front edge, and two Dolby Atmos-ready height drivers in the top. 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The bar is 47 inches wide, relatively squat at 2.3 inches high and quite deep at 5.7 inches. It includes a bracket for wall mounting. The mesh along the front panel hides an LED display inside which helps you navigate the onboard menus -- helpful, since there's no onscreen display.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The sound bar comes with a relatively compact, wireless subwoofer roughly 12 inches square. Behind the front grille we measured a 6-inch driver that is ported at the back of the cabinet.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The small remote control covers all functions, but you probably won't use it after initial setup. Your TV remote is better for controlling volume.

Features

LG calls the SJ9 a 5.1.2 sound bar to signify five surrounds plus a sub and two overheads. That isn't technically correct, however, because the speaker lacks rear channels. Though LG bills this as a "standalone" system you can add rears if you like -- either a pair of LG H3s (if you have them) or better, the dedicated SPJ4-S surround kit for $127. Though we didn't test the kit, LG has confirmed that it will work with the SJ9.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The sound bar offers compatibility with Dolby Atmos for atmospheric effects, but like Samsung it doesn't offer the competing format DTS:X. While the unit will decode all other flavors of Dolby, too, including TrueHD, it will only understand basic DTS Surround.

The sound bar is HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 compliant meaning it should be able to pass 4K HDR material. It includes one HDMI input as well as an ARC output for connecting to your TV. Other connections include optical and 3.5mm though no USB.

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Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Like most sound bars these days the SJ9 offers wireless music via both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. LG was one of the first companies to jump onboard with Google and so the SJ9 features Chromecast Built-In. This means Android and iOS users can use one of the dozens of Cast-enabled mobile apps, and Android users can also stream lossless audio. Meanwhile LG's Music Flow system allows access to apps such as iHeartRadio and Spotify.

The TV also comes with LG Sound Sync, which lets you stream your compatible LG TV to the 'bar over Bluetooth.

Performance

The LG SJ9 proudly displays its Dolby Atmos drivers on each end of its top panel, and sure enough, they help the SJ9 project a bigger sound than what you get from standard sound bars. There's less of a sense of the sound coming from a skinny 'bar, and that's a welcome change. The SJ9's up-firing speakers opened up the sound in a positive way.

With the "Deepwater Horizon" oil rig disaster Blu-ray, the SJ9 flexed more than ample home theater muscle. During the scenes where the workers are trying to control the tsunami of mud, oil and seawater flooding the rig, the SJ9 conveyed the power of the onslaught. Dialogue remained clear, and dynamic impact was up to snuff. On the other hand the subwoofer's bass was, shall we say, somewhat "muddy," and not in a good way.

We like that the SJ9 is the most affordable Dolby Atmos sound bar system we've tested, but how does it stack up against the higher priced competition? Luckily we had two of the better Atmos sound bars on hand for direct comparison, the $1,495 Sony HT-ST5000 and the $1,198 Samsung HW-K950. They're more expensive than the SJ9, but what does the extra dough buy you?

While we weren't able to test with the LG's main rival, the $799 Samsung HW-K850, the main difference between this and the more expensive version is the addition of rear speakers. They should sound identical.

We started we used one of our favorite old demo discs, "The House of Flying Daggers" and went straight to the circle of drums scene, and put the SJ9 through its paces. When blind dancer Mei (Zhang Ziyi) jumps and kicks the drums, the bass notes she produced were satisfyingly deep and powerful. The $1,500 Sony HT-ST5000 system was clearer overall, and its bass definition handily trumped the SJ9's. Frankly, we were amazed by the way the HT-ST5000 reproduced the drums' bass transients, they were clean, fast, and powerful. The SJ9 was potent, but nowhere as precise.

When we played quieter scenes with Mei in the bamboo forest with the Samsung HW-K950, that one had the advantage of featuring a pair of wireless surround speakers that we placed behind us in the CNET listening room. The sense of being in the forest, with the sounds of birds and insects coming from all around, was better on the HW-K950 than on the SJ9. That's the benefit of a bona-fide 5.1 channel system -- it really did produce a more immersive soundscape with movies than the SJ9 or HT-ST5000. 

When we settled back down and just listened to the SJ9 on its own -- scene after scene of mass destruction with "Transformers: Age of Extinction" -- the SJ9 successfully pummeled our eardrums without sounding like it was working very hard.

As for music, the SJ9 sounded decent enough with the acoustic tunes from Jason Isbell's new "The Nashville Sound" album, with sound more or less on par with the HT-ST5000. However, we did find the subwoofer to be quite directional and had to move it next to the speaker for better integration. 

Next we compared the SJ9's music rendition with the Samsung HW-K950. Listening to the gentle rock track "Our Love" by Sharon Van Etten, the Samsung sounded more natural, with more "air" around instruments. It was more refined than the closed-in-sounding LG.

Some users on the LG SJ9 product page have complained that the sound bar couldn't pass video properly from a Xbox One S to an LG TV. We tried this ourselves -- adding the LG B6 OLED into the mix -- and weren't able to replicate the problem. The TV was able to read HDR information as well as reproduce the deep color from our "Spider-Man 2" test disc.   

Should you buy it?

It may be the cheapest Atmos 'bar out there, and it offers fairly good sound quality, but it's not as good overall as its rival Samsung. The main advantage the LG has over the similarly priced Samsung HW-K850 is that it has Chromecast built-in (and the distant hope of future DTS:X support). It does get a lot right, however, and with a significant price advantage over the even more expensive Sony HT-ST5000 and Samsung HW-K950, buyers shopping for a Dolby Atmos-equipped sound bar could find that reason enough to get the SJ9. 

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7.9

LG SJ9

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Sound 7Value 8