LG unveiled at CES 2019 three premium sound bars, all supporting Dolby Atmos and DTS:X 3D surround. We tested the opening price point model, SL8YG, and found it to offer impressively loud, expansive and realistic tones at a premium price, for sound bars in this size .

The LG SL8YG ($796.99 street price) is a nicely styled and featured sound bar package, containing both a five-driver sound bar and wireless 220-Watt subwoofer for a 3.1.2-channel setup.

Each of the top three “premium” 2019 LG sound bars this year is designed for optimal results using the advanced acoustical engineering oversight of U.K. audio company Meridian. Among other things, that company is well regarded for its high quality DSP technologies.

Meridian boasts that its expertise can be heard in the delivery of high-quality overall sound that retains musical subtleties, while preserving rhythm, timing, and alignment, and for the most part we found this to be accurately demonstrated through the LG SL8YG .

The sound did present a relatively realistic sense of positioning, space and scale for vocals and instruments. In movie viewing it delivered good hard punch within bass and midtones.

Each of the models in the premium tier has a different sized sound bar designed to fit a different size television. However, each model is also capable of big and wide surround sound results even if the screen size it’s paired with surpasses the length of the main sound bar.

By length, the SL8YG is best suited to a 49-inch set, while the SL9YG is good for 55-inch sets and the SL10YG matches up best with 65-inch sets and larger. The SL8YG and SL10YG models are best used with tabletop placement. For wall-mounted televisions, the SL9YG offers a unique dual-positioning gyroscope-controlled feature that automatically rearranges the directional sound output of the drivers so that the sound bar can be optimally mounted flat against a wall where desired instead of resting flat on a table surface. The main display readout also switches to the top of the sound bar so that it can be easily seen in the wall-mounted position.

As for the sound to picture size dynamics of the SL8YG, we tested the sound bar against a 65-inch 4K television and still enjoyed a wide, immersive soundscape, although much of the impact and dialog seemed to be coming from the center bottom of the screen, where the sound bar sat. We believe this directionality would have been lessened somewhat with a wider sound bar.

Design

The LG SL8YG features a stylish gun-metal black plastic cabinet with a wide metal front grill behind which is a center-positioned scrolling white LED readout that indicates the input in use, wireless connection type (Wi-Fi or Bluetooth), hi-res audio streaming (up to 24-bit/96kHz), etc. The sound bar portion measures 41.75 inches long, 2.25 inches high and 4.75 inches deep. Corners are rounded and the top-mounted speakers positioned toward each end of the sound bar measure 3.5-inches in diameter and are covered with a perforated metal grill.

LG centrally places an elegant looking row of touch-sensitive controls on the top of the sound bar, where users will find function buttons including one dedicated for Google Assistant. This will enable using built-in mics for voice-control operation of the unit, or to ask Google a question, like you would a Google Home smart speaker. The mic-control button allows turning the mics off when desired.

Inputs are placed on the back of the sound bar, and include an ARC-compatible HDMI output, an HDMI input, an optical digital input and a 5V-500 mAmp USB port.

The mat-black floor-positioned wireless subwoofer measures 15 inches tall, by 12 inches deep by 8.75 inches wide. It connects seamlessly to the sound bar via Bluetooth during setup, and produces a nice deep bottom with a modest amount of punch. This is somewhat understated compared with subwoofers outfitted with larger drivers, but we found the effect to be pleasing overall without adding any distracting distortion to rattle pictures and nearby objects.

Overall Sound

We tested the SL8YG on a 65-inch 2019 Samsung 65Q80R 4K Ultra HDTV and found the sound to be full, deep and expansive enough for an immersive experience watching movies and live television content. We were impressed with the punchy bass and clear, direct sound that reduced some of the hollow, boxy qualities we’ve come to expect from lesser sound bar packages and built-in TV speakers.

The upfiring speakers on the sound bar offer an encompassing sound stage toward the front of the room making for vocals and effects that seem to be coming directly from the screen. However, we didn’t hear much in the way of direct overhead sound effects in the Dolby Atmos or DTS:X object-oriented surround sound formats. Although these soundtracks did present a wider overall sound stage, and certain effects were noticeably elevated to appear to be coming from somewhere just above our ears or, depending on the intended location of the object’s sound, just above the image on the screen.

Keep in mind that seating position (dead center is, of course, best) has a great deal of impact on from where or if these psycho-acoustic effects are heard.

Sounds of rain falling in a forest from the Dolby Atmos test disc did a convincing job filling the room in front of us and to our sides. But without add-on wireless rear channel speakers that are available for these sound bars, the illusion appeared to stop directly behind us. At these prices, we would expect the wireless rear channel speakers to be included.

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Perhaps the best asset of the LG SL8YG sound bar is the way it presents spoken dialog and vocals from music. Dialog is always very clear, appropriately loud and balanced and appears to come directly from the screen, as we expect the content creators intended.

Comparing this to our reference 5.1-channel surround sound audio system, we noticed the sound stage was somewhat more constricted and sound qualities were slightly more artificial than the effects and dialog coming from our dedicated B&W CDM front, center and rear-channel speakers. Bass tones lacked the dynamics of our Mirage subwoofer with twin 12-inch drivers. But at this price and size, the sound was quite impressive. It makes an excellent option for anyone looking for a nicely immersive home theater experience without the investment in money and space required for a full-blown mid-fi to high-end multi-speaker layout.

Listening to the sound track of Transformers: Age of Extinction, we found explosions to be punchy and dispersed with the sound of a space ship overhead appear to be coming from above ear level, but not directly above us.

Music

The LG SL8YG also does a nice job presenting music at a wide range of volume levels. Turned up the sound of Like A Rolling Stone on the Before The Flood live recording from Bob Dylan and the Band was punchy and expansive, filling the front of the room almost as if we were listening in the concert venue. There was a sense of realistic reverb, as we imagine there would have been witnessing the show in the LA Forum. The system did a nice job of expanding the 2-channel CD for a richer, fuller sound (not quite to Hi-Res Audio quality) than we would have expected from these relatively small drivers.

Rear Channel Support

Out of the box, the LG SL8YG does not support any physical rear-channel speakers, and the built-in DSP psycho-accoustic processing doesn’t supply any convincing effects behind us. But all of LG’s sound bars with a “Y” in the model number are eligible to add on an optional wireless rear channel speaker kit (model SPK8, 140W/2). These speakers automatically pair with the sound bar as the overall sound output is reconfigured to accommodate the additional channels. We didn’t have any rear-channel speakers for our review so, we can’t report how effectively the complete surround sound package performs.

Setup

Because the LG SL8YG is designed around Google and the Google Assistant voice control interface, setup is performed using a smartphone. We found the process to be more-or-less intuitive to setup, although we ran into a few hiccups trying to link our Android phone to both the sound bar and a connected Samsung Q80 QLED TV the first couple of attempts. It all came together after a few tries, and as pointed out the subwoofer and sound bar paired with each other almost instantly after they were powered up both units. So, in the end, the process completed satisfactorily. We suspect our intentional issues were related to user or network errors.

We found the built-in Google Assistant recognized our spoken commands to have the sound bar perform basic tasks, like turning down the volume to a specified level. However, asking it questions like, “OK Google, how much does the LG SL8YG cost?” produced a response of “I don’t have an answer for that. My team is helping me learn.” Fortunately, the Android phone sitting next to us picked up the query and immediately delivered the answer on screen.

Conclusion

The LG SL8YG is an impressive sound bar that adds dynamic and immersive aural highlights to on-screen images for almost any large-screen display, depending on the size of the room and seating positions of the audience, of course. At $796.99 the price is a bit steep as sound bars go, especially for a sound bar intended for a 42- to 50- inch television (in this size bracket the price of the sound bar will exceed the price of many mid-range televisions), but the results deliver good quality sound dynamics for both movies and music worthy of some 3.1-channel home-theater in a- box setups. At this price, it would have been nice if a pair of rear-channel speakers were included. But as delivered, the package reduces the clutter of separate speakers and additional power cords. The LG SL8YG is a great match for almost any of today’s higher performing 4K or even 8K televisions, and that includes most units with elaborate built-in sound systems. The wider sound stage and only modest hollow resonance here make for an impressive multi-sensory experience.

We therefore award the LG SL8YG 4.75 out of 5 hearts.

The LG SL8YG sound bar used for this review was a company loan.

By Greg Tarr

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