LG SC9S Review: Decent Sound, But Can't Compete With Sonos

In the ultracompetitive Dolby Atmos soundbar market, it’s tough to stand out from the crowd. LG’s latest gambit is the addition of a third upfiring driver in the center of soundbars like the new SC9S. The idea is to improve dialog and accentuate the overhead effects that help Atmos and other 3D formats create an immersive “dome” of sound.

By that measure, the design is a success. Dialog is clear, and the phantom channel seems to increase the potency of overhead effects. The thing is, even though Atmos titles are becoming more common, there are only so many effects happening above you. A lot of the action happens on the ground, and the SC9S doesn’t include the side-firing speakers that make models from Sony, Sonos, and Bose so effective at creating an immersive soundstage from a single unit.

The SC9S does pack an impressive feature arsenal, including the ability to work in conjunction with the latest LG C-series TVs via its Wow Orchestra system. Folks with any TV will get plenty of other modern features, too, such as versatile audio format support, next-gen gaming features, and an included wireless subwoofer, which many rivals lack. But is that enough to make this your Atmos bar of choice?

A (Mostly) Zippy Setup

The SC9S comes in a massive box, with a lot of space reserved for its special mounting bracket to pop beneath a C2 or C3 OLED TV. The general setup is quick enough, but you do have to follow the order mentioned in LG’s tiny instructions: Connect the HDMI cable to your TV’s HDMI ARC/eARC port, then plug in the subwoofer and (if applicable) rear surround speakers, then finally the bar itself.

I missed the memo and plugged in the bar first, and then had to pair the wireless subwoofer manually to get it working. I tested just the basic bar and sub. If you want to add the rear surrounds, they’ll cost you a few hundred bucks and, unlike most other brands, require a separate amplifier that wirelessly connects to your TV.

Otherwise, setup is a relative breeze with LG’s Soundbar app. I had the bar connected to Wi-Fi and updated with the latest firmware in a few minutes. That includes the AI Room Calibration mode, which is very loud and, to my ears, didn’t really seem to change the sound much.

Loads of Extras

One of the SC9S’ most touted features is its Wow Orchestra integration that matches the bar with the onboard sound from LG’s C2 and C3 TVs. Such ecosystem-specific features are becoming more common in the A/V space, especially with LG’s Korean rival, Samsung, whose Q-Symphony feature similarly integrates its flagship bars with newer Samsung TV speakers.

The SC9S goes further, including a special (and large) mounting bracket for those evo C-series TVs right in the box. The idea is that you’ll buy the bar when you buy the TV, but of course, that isn’t always viable when you’re dropping several grand already.

Regardless of your TV, the SC9S provides an impressive selection of cutting-edge features, including HDMI 2.1 passthrough via its spare HDMI port. This lets you plug in the latest gaming consoles and PCs to utilize high frame rates and features like VRR (variable refresh rate) and ALLM (auto low latency mode). Sony’s HT-A5000 is the only similarly priced rival to support these options, while the Sonos Arc (9/10, WIRED Recommends) and Bose Smart Soundbar 900 don’t offer HDMI inputs at all.

The SC9S also supports just about every major sound format. You can use Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X, and DTS-HD Master Audio, among a throng of others. You’ll also get streaming features like AirPlay 2 and Chromecast, Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect, and of course Bluetooth. The bar is compatible with smart assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant, but only through the app.

Speaking of the app, it’s by far the easiest way to control settings like basic EQ, sound mode swapping, and channel level adjustments. It’s not as loaded as apps from Sonos or Bose, which let you stream music and group other speakers, but it’s pretty intuitive and also proved quite stable in my testing.

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