Our first thought when unpacking the company’s LAS950M soundbar and subwoofer combo (also known as the HS9) was that LG has come quite a long way in recent years with the styling of its offerings. Both devices were elegantly understated with wraparound black grilles and clean, silvery tops. But equally interesting is that LG has come on in leaps and bounds with audio quality in its recent products, notably the Music Flow multiroom system, of which this soundbar can form a part. Let’s see if they perform as well as they look.
The system boasts a quoted 700 watts of power, of which 175W is for the subwoofer, and 75W apiece for each of the seven speakers within the bar. Two of those speakers are two-way — with a 25mm tweeter and a 75mm midrange. These are designed for left and right channel performance. At the centre is a 75mm full-range centre-channel speaker. Four other 75mm full-range speakers handle surround and surround rear. If you want to go for actual surround sound, then you can pair two of LG’s smaller Motion Flow speakers to act as wireless surround speakers.
Just to the right of centre, a display panel glows through the grille, showing input, track time and such.
The subwoofer communicates wirelessly with the soundbar, and the two units are pre-paired so no user interaction is required. LG doesn’t specify the size of the drivers in the subwoofer. There was a bass reflex port on the rear.
The soundbar has three HDMI inputs, two optical inputs and one 3.5mm analogue stereo. It also supports Ethernet and dual-band Wi-Fi, plus Bluetooth, and the HDMI out supports the Audio Return Channel from a connected TV. The optical and analogue inputs are located kind of under the others (see above) so aren’t easily accessible for ad hoc connections.
Bluetooth codec support appears to be limited to SBC. But music streaming support MP3, WMA, OGG, AAC (including iTunes style) and, losslessly, FLAC and WAV up to 24-bit/192kHz.
You can install the soundbar on a bench in front of the TV (an IR output and blaster is provided if the TV’s infrared receptor is blocked; the unit will repeat the TV’s remote codes). Or you can wall mount it, using included brackets.
You should install the LG Music Flow app on your iOS or Android device and use this to set up the unit. This is required, of course, to allow the app to control music streaming to it, but you can also set how the device gets audio from a connected TV: either via optical or via HDMI/ARC.
This process will also check whether the bar is using the most up-to-date firmware, and offer to update it if not. As delivered, there were two updates (apparently for two different parts of its operations). One of these was to enable Google Cast functionality.
The unit comes with an infrared remote control with a useful set of keys for easy operation. But you can also control a number of things via the app, including setting the input and the volume level, and adjusting the bass and treble or choosing from an audio EQ preset. There is also a set of discreet keys on top of the bar for volume, power, input selection, and network connection functions. If you adjust something with the remote or the keys on the unit, the matching settings in the app update.
You can do useful things like group this soundbar with other of LG’s Motion Flow speakers so that they all produce the same tune, or instead have different music streaming to individual other speakers or groups of them. And the speaker runs primarily in the DLNA space when it comes to network audio, so you can drive it using other apps.
I went for what would be a probably common set-up with this system: plugged into the ARC-supporting HDMI input of a latest-model LG TV, with a Blu-ray player and PVR plugged into a couple of its HDMI inputs.
This is one nice sounding system — dynamic and balanced and smooth sounding, remarkably so for a soundbar. That was after I reversed the many unfortunate settings which some previous user had left. Zeroing everything out gave this good tonal balance. Having ‘Bass’ turned up led to an overblown subwoofer that had to be turned way, way down, yet remained weirdly disconnected in sound. So go for ‘0’ on everything. The crossover between subwoofer and soundbar seemed relatively high in frequency so it worked much better having the subwoofer close to the soundbar rather than off in a distant corner.
I ran through plenty of music, fed primarily from the network. While this sound certainly won’t replace regular hi-fi loudspeakers, I could see it being used in the TV room very well indeed.
When I started drilling down into the system’s capabilities, a few oddities. First, I played a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 test track to confirm my suspicions that each channel scored its own speaker. Er, wrong. Everything came from either or both of the left and right channel mid/tweeter combo, plus the subwoofer. No sound came from any of the five full-range drivers which you might imagine belonged to those other channels. Knowing that the soundbar supports Dolby Digital and DTS but not the
high resolution lossless versions, perhaps my Blu-ray player was downconverting to stereo. So I put on a Dolby Digital 5.1 test DVD — with the same results.
I switched my connection to optical rather than HDMI in case something weird was going on there. Same thing. No matter what I did, those five speakers with their headline 375W of power remained unused.
Then I tried the Audio Return Channel connection to the TV. ARC performance is often quite unpredictable, and varies depending on what equipment is plugged in. But, hey, given I had a brand-new 65-inch LG TV and LG’s top-of-the-line soundbar. What could go wrong?
No sound at all. I went through innumerable settings without managing to produce the slightest peep of TV sound from the soundbar.
I thought I’d put on some streamed music while I typed up that interesting result, so I selected ‘WiFi’ as the input. I got some AC/DC playing and turned my attention to something else when… AC/DC stopped and the TV station’s sound started emerging from the soundbar. It showed an input of HDMI(ARC). When I switched back to LG TV input (as you’re supposed to for ARC), nothing. When I tried streaming music it would play a couple of seconds, then switch over to HDMI(ARC) and produce TV sound. In order to stream wirelessly I had to switch off the TV. This of course switched off the soundbar. I selected some music to stream, thinking it would switch the soundbar back on. All that happened was that the subwoofer produced the bass while the soundbar remained silent.
So I switched on the soundbar with the remote control, and all was fine. I switched on the TV and switched off its ARC function. Instead I chose the ‘wireless external speaker’ option from the TV’s menu and after one false start it connected and delivered its sound wirelessly to the soundbar and allowed network music streaming without getting confused by ARC.
You can see that we had some illogical operational issues here, and we’d strongly suggest that you leave ARC off. And we hope that LG might one day allow the soundbar to use the five unused drivers. But when it was all up and running, we had none of the reservations we’ve expressed in the past regarding LG’s TV sound units. The LG HS9 soundbar offers surprisingly good sound, with powerful streaming features as part of LG’s Music Flow system, and of course the ability to deliver sound from your TV.
LG Electronics LAS950M $1299
+ Very good audio performance for a soundbar
+ Attractive styling
+ Versatile with Music Flow abilities
– Doesn’t seem to use several of the built-in speakers
– Confusing Audio Return Channel operation
– App and instructions somewhat obtuse
Tested with firmware: NB7.136.50430.C
Soundbar drivers: 2 x 25mm dome tweeters, 2 x 75mm midrange, 5 x 75mm treble/midrange
Quoted power: 7 x 75W (bar), 175W (sub)
Inputs: 3 x HDMI, 2 x optical digital audio, 1 x 3.5mm stereo analogue audio, Ethernet, Dual band WiFi, Bluetooth
Outputs: 1 x HDMI, IR blaster
Bar dimensions (whd): 1100 x 106 x 135mm
Bar weight (kg): 8.2kg
Sub dimensions (whd): 296 x 332 x 296mm
Sub weight (kg): 7.8
Warranty: One year
Product page: www.lg.com.au