More soundbars become ‘better’ in combination with certain televisions. LG’s SC9S takes integration further, including an elegant base and audio functions tailored to LG OLED TVs. The eye-catcher, however, is the third speaker at the top.
The SC9S soundbar is one of the high-end soundbars that LG wants to entice movie lovers and gamers this year. In addition to the obligatory support for Dolby Atmos and several streaming options (including Chromecast), this device has more unusual aspects. The big eye-catcher is the presence of a third-height speaker at the top. This device, therefore, provides 3.1.3. That’s relatively unique – and intriguing, given that the latest surround formats don’t support a third-height channel upfront.
The LG SC9S is, as far as we know, also the first soundbar with an IMAX Enhanced label. And since IMAX includes Enhanced DTS:X sound, connoisseurs immediately know that the soundbar supports that rival format in addition to Dolby Atmos. Whether that matters depends on what kind of content you like to consume. DTS is relevant for gaming and fans of older films on Blu-ray; streaming services are still in the Dolby camp. Also present with this LG is a contribution from the hi-fi brand Meridian during the development. The partnership between the Koreans and the British company has existed for years and has yielded great things in the past.
Still, the SC9S is not intended to be the ultimate home cinema solution. Rather, it is a compact device that brings back the many channels of an Atmos soundtrack to 3.1.3. Therefore, Complete envelopment is not immediately intended, although you can invest in extra wireless speakers to ensure this. With this device, LG emphasizes clear dialogues that emerge from the mix and seem to emerge from the screen. Not unjustly because it is indeed important. The LG SC9S has a suggested retail price of 999 euros.
|3.1.3 sound bar
|Dolby Atmos (and earlier), DTS:X (and earlier)
|AirPlay 2, Alexa, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth
|HDMI-ARC, 2 x HDMI, optical
|WOW Orchestra stands for compatible TVs, hi-res audio
|97.5 x 6.3 x 12.5 cm (sound bar)
Close cooperation with the TV
But there’s more going on. A trend among TV manufacturers is to integrate soundbars more strongly with new television sets. Call it a piece of customer loyalty to convince people to purchase a TV set and a soundbar from the same brand. It’s also a way to match a soundbar’s specifics to those of TVs from a particular generation. That way, you can get better performance on paper.
With the SC9S, LG goes further under ‘WOW Synergy.’ In addition to integration in sound functions, you will find a bracket in the box to connect the soundbar very tightly to an LG evo C2 or C3 model. There is barely any distance between the bottom of the screen and the soundbar. The handy thing is that the soundbar is attached to the back of the television with this attachment. So you don’t have to drill extra holes in the wall when you hang the TV and soundbar. The bracket and soundbar replace the TV base when placed on the furniture. Assembly is not that difficult, partly due to a clear video from LG that explains everything step by step. The result is very tight; it looks much more like one subtle whole than combining any soundbar with your casual choice of TV.
Don’t you feel like laying an HDMI cable between the SC9S and a C3? Then you can even optionally install the WowCast adapter. In that case, the soundbar and TV connect via WiFi. Without lag, says LG. However, we have not been able to test that scenario. It seems an elegant way to seamlessly connect a wall-mounted TV to the soundbar. However, we have not been able to test this.
Under the name WOW Orchestra, there is a close collaboration in audio between this unit and certain LG TVs. This is a feature that LG introduced to its TVs and some soundbars last year. In the case of the SC9S, you can count on it with a 2023 OLED of the types Z3, M3, G3, C3, B3, or A3, an OLED TV from model year 2022 (Z2, G2, C2, CS, B2, or A2), or a QNED device from the series 99, 95, 90, 85 or 80. The WOW Interface, where you can adjust the soundbar settings on the screen, is available with the above devices and a few other types, including the Nano 80 and 75.
When you choose the WOW Orchestra mode, sound comes from the soundbar and the TV speakers. Older televisions also offered that; the difference is that the two speaker groups work together. The name seems to be a cheeky nod to Samsung, which offers something similar under the name Q-Symphony. Giving your arch-rival a stab that’s allowed, right?
Not too big
The SC9S has a compact appearance. That is special for a top model because most high-end soundbars are about the same width as a 65-inch TV. That is certainly not the case here. Even with a 55-inch screen, the 97.5-cm-wide LG comes across as compact. You get something very tight if you hang it with the bracket on an LG evo, even if the whole is hanging on the wall.
In any case, LG does not opt for a loud design. A rather sober and uniform finish has been opted for in terms of design. The SC9S, therefore, comes across as a slightly futuristic bar, sleekly designed with numerous small holes that give the impression that the entire soundbar is covered with one large speaker grille. It is a mini-trend with soundbars that no longer provide a full display. This is also the case with this device; the soundbar only communicates via illuminated LEDs hidden behind the front. If you still want to set more or get information, there are two other options. The accompanying LG Soundbar app is very clear, and with a compatible LG TV, you will see an extra menu on the screen. Here you can adjust the settings of the SC9S or, for example, select one of the many available sound modes. A smart display replacement presents itself when you press certain buttons. A female voice then tells you, among other things, which audio format is currently applicable. “Dolby” or “PCM,” for example. Spielerei? A bit, but sometimes useful during testing to check whether the audio was delivered in the correct format.
A wireless subwoofer is included with the SC9S. Not much can be said about this. This device is also not extremely large; placing it at the front of the TV set is best. Like more top models, you can expand this soundbar with wireless speakers (SPQ8) that you place at the back of your sofa.
An additional center speaker
When it comes to technology, the third up-firing speaker is especially eye-catching. LG introduced this technology to several soundbars last year, including the S90QY and similar S80QY. The extra speaker at the top of these soundbars is special. Top models that support Atmos normally come with two speakers at the top. They provide the front height channels (HFL and HFR) by radiating sound upwards to bounce off the ceiling towards the viewer. The third, the middle speaker on the SC9S, has a different purpose. The extra speaker complements the center channel; the idea is that dialogues and voices typically in that channel seem to come out of the TV screen. This is also what high-end home theater builders do when they hide center speakers behind a projection screen. After all, it does a lot in terms of immersion if voices coincide with the lips on the TV. That’s something the designers were aiming for. Because in addition to that upward-facing speaker, there is also a separate center speaker in the middle of the front. That immediately explains why there are two times ‘3’ in the 3.1.3 label of the SC9S.
It is an LG tradition to provide many sound modes on soundbars. And you also have some choice in that area with the SC9S. The automatic AI Sound Pro Mode works well with most movies and game content. In this mode, like Cinema mode, an HRTF-derived algorithm is applied to create a third sound layer between the regular surround layer and the height channels. So not the Voice of God option of Auro3D, but an extra intermediate layer. We don’t think some other sound modes, especially Music, sound good.
More effective is the calibration function, something that LG has been offering on its soundbars for some time – just like many rivals. It is, therefore, something very useful in most living rooms. Acoustically many rooms are not optimal; you tackle some problems with this function. It doesn’t take long to set up, although you do have to undergo loud test tones for a minute. In our opinion, that is not too high a price because the result is a tight layer and more definition.
Major streaming platforms
There is a proprietary app that comes with the SC9S. However, you will no longer find a music player in it, which you still have with older LG soundbars. This device is fully committed to the major streaming platforms: Chromecast, AirPlay 2, and Alexa. The latter is less relevant for the Benelux since the Amazon assistant still does not speak Dutch. You can continue playing songs by asking in English, French, or German.
With Chromecast or AirPlay 2, you can play all possible music. We think the Cinema mode is also the best when streaming music. With the brand new ‘The Ballad of Darren’ by Britpop icons Blur, we only got a full sound, with Music was very thin and thin.
An important plus with this device is the presence of two HDMI inputs that support HDMI 2.1. Even in 2023, this remains exceptional with soundbars. Connecting a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X and opting for 4K120 (or 8K/60 if you own an 8K TV) is possible.
Three levels of sound
Although we also used the SC9S with our LG OLED55C9, we mainly tested the soundbar with a 65-inch version of the OLED evo C3. This is one of several LG TVs equipped with the WOW Orchestra feature. Handy for testing is that you can quickly switch between the classic HDMI-eARC connection (only the soundbar plays) or the WOW mode (the soundbar plays with TV speakers).
If you don’t have a compatible LG TV, you can also use the SC9S. It then works like any other soundbar. One marketing promise lives up to it; we notice when watching the season finale of ‘Secret Invision’ with the C9: voices come out of the mix very strongly, and there is a strong impression that on-screen sound effects come out of the screen. The Russian guards’ gunshots towards the car heading toward them, for example. We choose the Cinema sound mode to make the dynamic effects stand out. The AI Sound Pro mode is also successful, but with some videos, it sounds just too nasal for us.
And what is the effect of the WOW Orchestra on the C3 TV? To begin with, the difference is huge. That differs from Q-Symphony, where the switch from solo-playing soundbar to soundbar plus TV speakers is relatively subtle. This is where enabling WOW Orchestra makes a significant change.
Soundbars with fewer speakers than required to reproduce all surround channels properly are often less able to convey the movement of sound effects. This LG does better. For example, in the fast opening scene of ‘Bad Boys for Life’, the Porsche races emphatically from left to right across the screen, and the many maneuvers in the hectic race to the hospital are convincingly transferred. This film is less noticeable, but during the extensive first part of ‘Spectre’ in Mexico, it is very clear how relatively large the SC9S can create a sound image in combination with WOW Orchestra. It’s a great shot, seemingly shot in one take, with Bond going through the Dia de Muertos festivities, then walking across the rooftops past a hotel room window high above the revelry. The ever-present party sound changes nicely in character and position, which the LG soundbar conveys well. The inevitable explosion also has enough impact, although there is no question of a thump that can be felt in your body.
Maybe it’s Meridian’s influence; the SC9S comes across as composed, which helps with better musical performance but makes action scenes less impressive. Great for ‘A Star is Born,’ with ‘V for Vendetta, we like to hear the British Parliament explode more spectacularly to the tones of the 1812 Overture. The special thing is that the SC9S in normal solo mode with the same scene is more intense and impressive but slightly less expansive. WOW Orchestra does create a larger sound image on the TV, but you lose in terms of bombastic spectacle.
The SC9S is an interesting alternative to soundbars tuned to blast. Due to the presence of a third-height speaker, it creates a grand sound image around the television. This effect will be even greater if you have a compatible LG TV.
- Clear dialog display
- Compact construction
- Expandable with additional speakers
- Bright app
- Large soundstage around the TV
- Integration with select LG TVs
- Some sound modes sound sub-optimal
- WOW Orchestra works well but reduces the spectacle content.