Companies such as Yamaha and Sony offer Dolby Atmos soundbars, but LG's SJ9 is one of the few that's available for under $1,000. While an Atmos soundbar isn't as precise in creating 3D sound as separate speakers, it can still amaze you as you hear leaves floating from the ceiling — and buying one soundbar is a whole lot easier than upgrading an entire sound system.
The SJ9 is a good overall soundbar with a slick design, but it has some rough edges, and you can get better audio quality if you don't need Atmos.
The SJ9 produces a lot of sound without taking up much space. The nondescript 47.2 x 5.7 x 2.3-inch soundbar packs in left, right and center speakers as well as two surround speakers on top of the unit. The surround speakers are what produce the height channels of the audio mix. To fill out the sound, the SJ9 comes with a wireless 11.7 x 13 x 11.7-inch subwoofer — fairly large for a subwoofer that comes with a soundbar.
The front of the soundbar features an LED display that shows the current input, and there are plenty of ways to connect: HDMI, optical digital audio, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 3.5 mm stereo.
On the back, there are buttons for power, input selection, volume, connecting to Wi-Fi and pairing with other speakers for multiroom sound (the speakers must be compatible with LG's Music Flow technology).
When Drogon seared the Lannister army in Game of Thrones, the screams of the troops sounded like they were coming from all sides of the room.
There is also an HDMI input, HDMI output, optical digital audio input, 3.5 mm auxiliary input and a wired Ethernet port. The unit can also connect to a Wi-Fi network and via Bluetooth.
The plain design hides a powerful system. The SJ9 can fill your room with sound, and performs fairly well overall — though it doesn't sound as good as similarly priced non-Atmos soundbars such as the Sonos Playbar. You're paying a premium for the Atmos experience.
The SJ9 delivered booming bass, which added a tactile experience to the cars tearing through the streets in Fate of the Furious. Even when you're not watching a movie with an Atmos soundtrack, you can use the system's digital signal processing to engage the top speakers, which helps it emulate a true surround-sound system. When Drogon seared the Lannister army in Game of Thrones, the screams of the troops sounded like they were coming from all sides of the room, thanks to the unit's Movie sound mode.
But the SJ9 doesn't do as well with dialogue. Sometimes the unit produced so much bass that it drowned out what the characters were saying; at other times, with the Movie sound mode engaged, the voices were overwhelmed by background sounds. The Sonos Playbar, while delivering less overall bass, had a much better balance.
When listening to music, the vocals also got lost in the mix, even when I turned down the bass levels. For example, Bruno Mars' singing on "That's What I Like" was overwhelmed by the bass. Nine Inch Nails' "Less Than" lacked the crisp detail that the Playbar produced.
The SJ9 is easy to connect, but there are a few rules to follow. If you plan to listen to movies with Atmos soundtracks, you need to connect to your HDTV's HDMI ARC input; you can't use optical digital audio. The video player must be connected to the SJ9's HDMI input as well, and the HDMI cables you use should support HDCP 2.2, a content-protection standard.
You can make a few tweaks to the sound, but more would have helped make the SJ9 a better performer. You can adjust subwoofer, bass and treble levels to make the sound more to your liking, but those didn't help me boost the vocals in music or dialogue in movies.
You can select from several sound modes, including Movie, Music and Bass Blast (which adds even more bass to the mix). The unit doesn't include any room-modeling abilities, which would have helped with more precise delivery of the Atmos surround sound channels.
I encountered a minor but annoying issue when watching movies in Atmos. It would take the unit about 15 seconds to recognize the extra audio channels, so I would often miss hearing the height effect when I first started playing a movie. But once Atmos decoding kicked in, it remained until I stopped the movie.
Atmos is a very cool audio technology and well worth the investment for those who appreciate the extra dimension it brings to movies and shows. If you're looking to get into Atmos for under $1,000, LG's $900 SJ9 delivers. It can easily fill a room with sound and its subwoofer pushes a lot of bass and low-end effects.
But if Atmos isn't driving your soundbar purchase, your money can go farther if you pick a more traditional soundbar, such as the excellent the $699 Sonos Playbar.