LG SP9YA Soundbar Assessment: Setting A Excessive Bar For Dolby Atmos

LG SP9YA Dolby Atmos soundbar

“The LG SP9YA Soundbar turns any room into an immersive, Dolby Atmos-powered home theater.”

  • Awesome and immersive Dolby Atmos
  • Easy setup
  • Chromecast and AirPlay 2
  • Level and EQ controls
  • Hi-res audio capabilities
  • Hardwired power cord
  • No access to network music libraries
  • Only one HDMI input

LG has a good track record of making feature-loaded soundbars that also produce impressive, room-filling sound. Its $1,000 SP9YA is the company’s latest effort in this space, continuing the 9-Series’ legacy of putting a ton of audio capability (like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X) into just one soundbar and one wireless subwoofer. For folks who want big, cinematic sound and a simple setup, it’s an attractive option.

Curious to know what LG has changed with the new SP9YA and how it performs? We’ve got all of the details right here.

What’s new?

The SP9YA picks up the baton from 2020’s SN9YG. Though the two products are nearly identical, LG has made two small but important changes:

  • The SP9YA ditches the 9YG’s Google Assistant-based smart speaker function, though it remains Google Assistant-compatible.
  • The SP9YA is AirPlay 2-enabled, as well as Chromecast-enabled. The 9YG only supported Chromecast.

What’s in the box?

LG SP9YA Dolby Atmos soundbar box contents.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Inside the enormous shipping box — which uses fully recyclable materials both inside and out — you’ll find the soundbar, a wireless subwoofer with a power cable, two mounting brackets and screws, a wall-mount template, a remote control with AA batteries, an optical cable, and some very basic quick-start paper materials.

Why LG includes an optical cable but not an HDMI cable remains a mystery, but you will need one in order to get the best possible audio from your TV.

Design

Like its predecessors, the SP9YA is a big, 48-inch-wide soundbar that will look great sitting in front of a 50-inch or larger TV, but it could easily dwarf a smaller screen. Thanks to its relatively short stature (just 2.24 inches tall), it’s unlikely to obscure the lower portion of any TV, big or small.

LG has kept the brushed aluminum look of the top surface on both the soundbar and the subwoofer, a smart choice in that it minimizes the appearance of what is a pretty big set of speakers. The only thing that interrupts the otherwise seamless design are the circular up-firing driver grilles. I prefer Dolby Atmos soundbars that hide these height drivers, like the Sonos Arc and Vizio Elevate, but that’s really a matter of personal taste.

A set of touch controls for volume, power, source selection, play/pause, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi are conveniently located on the top of the bar, but they’re barely noticeable. In fact, with the exception of the forward-facing LED display hidden behind the metal grille (which dims but never totally turns off), the SP9YA almost entirely disappears in a darkened room.

The wireless subwoofer uses a front-firing design, which I find often outperforms down-firing units of the same power rating.

My one concern is the soundbar’s hardwired power cord — it could make some installations really tricky, especially if you need to route the cord through cabinetry openings that are too small to accommodate the size of the wall plug. While LG’s TVs have detachable power cords if you first remove a concealment panel, I see no way to do this with the SP9YA.

Inputs and outputs

LG SP9YA Dolby Atmos soundbar ports.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

On the back of the SP9YA, you’ll find just four ports: A 4K/Dolby Vision-capable HDMI input, an HDMI ARC/eARC output, an optical input, and a USB port for storage-based music playback. I’d prefer to see more HDMI inputs at this price, and I’m surprised there’s no analog input or Ethernet jack, but these aren’t deal-breakers.

Basic setup of the SP9YA is a breeze. Grab the remote and you’re good to go for TV sound.

The good news is that, unlike some soundbars that treat the HDMI and optical inputs as a single input (meaning you can use one or the other but not both), the SP9YA considers these ports as discrete inputs. You can attach a streaming media player, cable box, or Blu-ray player to the HDMI input, while you use the optical port for an audio source like a CD player or a Sonos device. Each can be selected as its own source, giving you a pretty decent selection of connected devices.

Setup and configuration

Basic setup of the SP9YA is a breeze. Just plug the soundbar into your TV via HDMI or optical cables, plug the wireless subwoofer into the wall, then do the same with the soundbar, and turn it on. The soundbar and subwoofer automatically create a wireless connection, confirmed by a solid green light on the back of the sub. Grab the remote and you’re good to go for TV sound.

However, there’s a much deeper set of options available using the remote as well as the free LG Sound Bar app.

The first thing you should consider doing is using the A.I. Room Calibration feature. The bar emits a series of test tones over the course of a few seconds, and the two built-in mics determine how your room’s acoustics affect performance. Conveniently, the app lets you hear before and after sounds so you can decide which one is better. I didn’t notice a big difference but that might simply be a function of the particular room I was using.

At any time, you can switch the soundbar to Bluetooth mode and pair it with a phone, tablet, or other Bluetooth devices. But if you want a host of better audio options and deeper settings, it’s worth connecting the SP9YA to your Wi-Fi network.

Once you do, you’ll be able to add the soundbar to Google Home, Amazon Alexa, or Apple HomeKit, use Spotify Connect, and then stream audio to the system via Chromecast or AirPlay 2. I’ll discuss why this is a must-do in a moment.

Considering that the SP9YA offers Chromecast and Google Assistant compatibility, it’s awesome that LG doesn’t force you to complete the Wi-Fi setup from within the Google Home app — something we’re seeing a lot on Chromecast devices like the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage. You can always add the SP9YA to the Google Home app if you want, but it’s up to you.

Likewise, Apple’s AirPlay 2 is available as soon as you connect to Wi-Fi — no additional configuration needed.

Ease of use

LG SP9YA Dolby Atmos soundbar remote control.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The SP9YA’s included remote is well-designed from an ergonomic point of view — it’s comfortable to hold and easy to use — but it isn’t backlit, making it a little less easy to work in a dark room.

If you’re connected to your TV via HDMI ARC/eARC, most TV remotes should be able to control the soundbar’s volume and mute functions. I also found that streaming media devices connected to the soundbar’s HDMI input could also control these functions (I tried it with an Apple TV 4K and an Nvidia Shield TV). Normally, TVs connected via the optical cable won’t be able to control the soundbar’s volume — unless you own an LG TV, in which case enabling your TV’s Sound Sync option should give you this ability.

You can use the remote for advanced functions, too: A four-way directional pad lets you navigate deeper settings like speaker levels. But the LG Sound Bar app is so good, I highly recommend using it for these advanced settings instead of the remote. It lets you see all of the available channels (subwoofer, center, side, overhead, etc.), along with slider controls for each one.

The SP9YA is an incredibly potent system for both movies and music.

The one area where usability is lacking is music playback. As a Wi-Fi-connected speaker, there should be a way to access your personal media stored on a computer or hard drive connected to your network, but the Sound Bar app lacks this option and there’s no way to do it using the remote control either.

At the same time, if you want to play music from a USB storage device, you’ll need to navigate its contents via the remote control — the app can’t see or control that music.

Sound quality

LG SP9YA Dolby Atmos soundbar.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The SP9YA is an incredibly potent system for both movies and music. When I’m not reviewing soundbars, my normal system is a Pioneer Dolby Atmos receiver connected to a 5.1.2 set of discrete speakers, including ceiling-mounted speakers directly over the listening area. The SP9YA is the first soundbar I’ve tested that gets close to this setup in terms of immersion.

No, it’s not a direct replacement, but given its price and simplicity, it’s a very attractive alternative.

Dolby Atmos is the star of this show. I think the soundbar does well with all audio formats, but if you buy the SP9YA, you owe it to yourself to look for movies on Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, or other sources that have an Atmos soundtrack.

Whether it’s high-speed car scenes in Mad Max: Fury Road, Ford v Ferrari, or John Wick: Chapter 2, or the superhero action in a Marvel movie, the SP9YA has the sheer power needed to recreate movie theater excitement, while its height- and side-channel drivers deliver convincing 3D effects. The wireless sub does a superb job delivering low-end bass that you can feel in your chest, but it’s also a subtle performance that never overpowers the rest of the soundtrack.

If you live in a condo or share a wall with your neighbors, you might as well invite them to watch with you because they’re going to hear and feel those explosions, too.

Pro tip: Use the Sound Bar app to crank up the level of the overhead channels. This is the key to hearing the sounds that make Atmos, well, Atmos-y.

When playing Atmos content, the optional sound effect settings (of which there are eight to choose from) are inactive. But when playing non-Atmos audio, settings like Music, Cinema, or Game can profoundly affect the sound you get. Instead of relying on LG’s labels by assuming that Cinema is best for movies, I suggest you try them all. LG’s AI Sound Pro setting is supposed to automatically detect what kind of audio you’re listening to and pick the best setting accordingly, but I found it wasn’t always to my liking.

For instance, Game mode proved to be a better choice when streaming music than the actual Music setting. Likewise, the Bass Blast mode — meant to boost low-frequencies — seemed to do the exact opposite.

Label quirkiness aside, I had no problem getting the SP9YA to deliver satisfying audio results from TV shows, movies, and music. If you’ve been thinking about a soundbar to improve dialogus clarity, the SP9YA is a solid choice. I found speech to be very intelligible even with the default settings, and I was able to make it more pronounced with both the Clear Voice mode and by boosting the center channel output.

For music, I can’t recommend using Wi-Fi strongly enough. Bluetooth is handy for when you have guests over and they want to quickly play something from their phones, but for pure audio quality, AirPlay 2 and Chromecast are orders of magnitude better than Bluetooth.

Our take

LG’s SP9YA delivers amazing immersive sound from a single soundbar and subwoofer, making it one of the easiest ways to enjoy Dolby Atmos movies and music at home.

Is there a better alternative?

Finding a direct alternative to the LG SP9YA is tricky. Not many soundbars offer a full 5.1.2 channel configuration from a single speaker plus subwoofer.

The $799 Sonos Arc is great for Dolby Atmos and a more versatile choice overall, as it can double as an Alexa or Google Assistant smart speaker in addition to offering the best streaming music and multiroom capabilities in the industry. But you can only use it with a Sonos Sub — a very expensive $699 wireless speaker. That combo puts you well over the SP9YA’s $1,000 price. The Arc also lacks an HDMI input, making it less convenient for those with lots of HDMI source devices.

The $1,000 Vizio Elevate is probably the best comparison. It has excellent Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound and one of the best soundbar remotes, but you will have to contend with the extra surround speakers, which are hardwired to the wireless subwoofer. It’s also a better choice for movies than for music — there’s no support for lossless hi-res audio or Apple AirPlay 2.

We haven’t reviewed Samsung’s new $1,300 2021 HW-Q900A 7.1.2 soundbar yet, but given its specifications and our reviews of previous Samsung soundbars, it could be the SP9YA’s toughest competitor.

How long will it last?

Audio gear like soundbars tend to last for many years. They don’t get moved around much after they’re installed, and heat buildup (the cause of many electronics failures) is rarely a problem. The only unknown is how long LG will continue to keep the SP9YA updated with new software. It should still work fine without updates for TV audio, but some features, like AirPlay streaming, could lose support over the longer term. LG backs the SP9YA with a standard one-year warranty.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you’re ready to take the plunge into immersive Dolby Atmos audio and have access to streaming movies or music that use this 3D format, the LG SP9YA is a fantastic choice.

Editors’ Recommendations



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