Everyone wants to make a Dolby Atmos soundbar. Everyone wants to buy a Dolby Atmos soundbar. These tend to be top-of-the-line products, which mean the price tags are well into the ‘premium’ territory too. Therefore, the fact they’ll likely appeal to a more discerning demographic means there is more weightage to substance, than purely style and the spec sheet. This is the era of Netflix, Amazon Video and Disney+ Hotstar streaming, at best possible audio and video formats. On most fronts, LG seems to have ticked the checklist with the S95QR soundbar, even though this isn’t a brand you’d (still) think off immediately for premium audio.
To be fair, Dolby Atmos audio isn’t the only trick up the S95QR’s sleeve. First and foremost is the 9.1.5 channel setup. Before you get boggled by the numbers, here is how LG claims this – three sit within the soundbar that’ll likely be placed somewhere below your TV, while six (three each, that’s the calculation) find combined placement in the rear speakers with the subwoofer adding in for good measure.
Logic dictates that more is better if you want loud or wider sound to accompany the TV, but in the real world, it isn’t always that simple. In LG’s case, success has been achieved to a certain degree with the up-firing speaker placements. The central channel in the soundbar itself is placed in that way, along with either side channels. Either rear speaker also has similar placement for some channels.
The idea is to create an envelope of sound around you, rather than the age-old logic of simply firing the sound in your direction to create the surround sound effect. Results will be subjective. But to be fair, there is a distinct sense that LG’s up-firing speaker implementation delivers a more immersive sound envelope that Sony’s similar attempts. But it is a learning curve for everyone.
More than most other home theatre systems, the placement of the soundbar and indeed the wireless rear speakers, becomes even more important. If you are thinking of tucking the soundbar in a shelf within the TV console for instance, that’d not be the best idea. It’ll defeat the purpose of sound that supposed to loop down from the ceiling. Same with the rear speakers. Keep them out of bookshelves.
In my opinion, British audio company Meridian’s processing tech is perhaps the LG S95QR’s trump card. This sound up-mixing capability (from 2-channel sources such as Live TV) into proper multi-channel without compromising quality, is almost as good as it gets. On this soundbar, it isn’t difficult to notice how good stereo audio sources sound. The only difference you’ll feel when switching between up-scaled to original multi-channel audio sources, is the level of volume itself – it is a tad lower on the former, perhaps to compensate for automatic audio levelling. Neat touch.
While great for TV and movies, you’ll soon realise that music isn’t the LG S95QR’s strongest point. Even within movies, when music takes the limelight momentarily. Top Gun: Maverick, which is otherwise a good way to test the soundbar’s sound enveloping promises (the illusion of fighter jets above and behind you isn’t a joke), also betrays its weakness. At the time when Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone makes its presence felt, there is a distinct struggle to get the vocals placed right. However, eliminate the complexity of scene, such as in simpler TV shows, and things smoothen out.
Secondly, the wireless subwoofer needs some tuning refinement. There is a distinct lack of the lowest of the lower frequencies coming through, and when the lower frequencies do get handed over, the subwoofer kicking in feels abrupt. There are no settings to change the handover frequencies, and the only option you have is to turn up or down the intensity of bass. Even at its lowest setting, it is still feels a tad too powerful for most content.
From the outset, there is little doubt LG has upped the game to sit comfortably in the price band which sees the S95QR sport a sticker with ₹1,09,990 printed on it. Dolby Atmos, particularly for video streaming services, is a strong (and in this day and age, the basic) foundation to build with for a soundbar with premium aspirations. Meridian’s sound processing tech adds it the smarts to handle stereo and streams with lesser channels. And LG’s insistence on up-firing audio as the core for the experience, has worked.
What is now needed, is some refinement. The subwoofer doesn’t come across as well integrated within the system, something we believe can be sorted by an audio processing tweak. Secondly, vocals which struggle to be set apart in some instances, can also find improvements with software updates to improve the equalisation that works in the background. Till these issues aren’t ironed out, the LG S95QR doesn’t become a definite pick, owing to competition such as the ageing but excellent Bose Soundbar 900 and the Sony HT-A7000. But it is already very close to it.
- ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vishal Mathur is Technology Editor for Hindustan Times. When not making sense of technology, he often searches for an elusive analog space in a digital world.