- Slim soundbar and compact sub
- Lively, engaging sound with muscular bass
- Easy to use multiroom app
- Generous features
- Could be more detailed and refined
- Limited loudness
- Single HDMI input
- Issues with NAS drive playback
- 300W power output
- Soundbar: 4 x 26 x 95mm mid/bass drivers, 2 x 20mm dome tweeters
- Wireless 170W subwoofer
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, DLNA, Spotify Connect and Chromecast
- LG Music Flow app with multiroom and hi-res audio support
- Dolby Digital and DTS decoding
- 4K/60p passthrough and HDCP 2.2
- Manufacturer: LG
- Review Price: £499.00/$748.50
WHAT IS THE LG SJ8?
If you like your soundbars to be heard but not seen then you’re going to love the SJ8. At a mere 38mm high, LG’s new 4.1-channel soundbar is so slim and discreet that you’ll hardly notice it’s there, which is great news if you want powerful sound with minimal clutter.
The SJ8 is the first model to emerge from LG’s 2017 range and sits just below the flagship SJ9, which adds support for Dolby Atmos. The SJ8 ships with a compact wireless subwoofer and a feature list that includes multiroom, built-in Chromecast, 4K passthrough and hi-res playback.
LG SJ8 – DESIGN AND CONNECTIONS
The sheer slimness of the SJ8 really is something to behold. In fact, I almost missed it while pulling everything out of the box. Needless to say it sits remarkably low on a TV stand, keeping well clear of my TV’s remote sensor. It’s designed to partner LG’s B7 and C7 OLED TVs, with an optional bespoke TV mount (T8) that stylishly connects the soundbar to the set. Alternatively, you can mount it on the wall using the supplied brackets. At 1.2m wide, it’s best suited to TVs of 55in and over.
The SJ8’s 38mm height didn’t give LG’s designers much room in which to work, but they’ve somehow crafted a very striking and elegant soundbar. The brushed black panels that encase the slender steel grille are major fingerprint magnets but look great, and I love the way the grille bends inwards at both ends. That said, its light bodywork and rather plasticky texture lack the premium feel I’d expect for the money.
LG has hidden the buttons on the back, with corresponding icons on the top panel. That’s a smart move since it keeps the rest of the bar free from clutter. They include keys for volume, input selection, Wi-Fi and Music Flow setup. The display panel is placed in the centre of the front grille. It’s small, but the digits are big and bright enough to read easily from the sofa, and it shows all the relevant information clearly.
The SJ8 provides one HDMI 2.0 input and ARC-enabled output, which pass through 4K/60p signals and support HDCP 2.2. It isn’t unreasonable to expect extra HDMI inputs at this price, though – the single input might be a problem for those who want to run games consoles and TV boxes through the SJ8. But if you’re keen to avoid a nest of HDMI cables, the optical input allows a single cable connection between TV and soundbar.
Being such a slim soundbar, it comes as no surprise that LG has paired the SJ8 with a subwoofer to beef up the bass. Thankfully, its compact 320mm-high enclosure and wireless connectivity make it easy to place. It’s styled to match the soundbar in a tasteful grey/black colour scheme, with a steel mesh covering the front-firing 6in woofer. The vinyl finish and exposed MDF on the back aren’t pretty, but the cabinet feels solid.
LG SJ8 – FEATURES
The SJ8’s driver array includes four 26 x 95mm mid/bass drivers and two 20mm dome tweeters. LG says that the use of these elongated mid/bass drivers compensates for the reduced cabinet height, enabling the SJ8 to match the sound pressure levels and performance of larger speakers.
Power output is quoted as 300W, with 2 x 65W from the soundbar and 170W from the sub. There’s on-board Dolby Digital and DTS decoding, but not TrueHD or Master Audio.
Built-in Wi-Fi allows you to stream music from NAS drives and PCs using LG’s terrific Music Flow app (more on that later) and create a multiroom system with other LG speakers on the same network.
Hi-res audio fans can give their tunes a run-out with support for FLAC, WAV, ALAC and AIFF up to 192kHz/24-bit, as well as MP3, WMA, AAC and OGG. The bar even up-converts standard resolution files to 192/24 using LG’s processing.
The SJ8 also supports Spotify Connect and built-in Chromecast, the latter allowing you to create an alternative multiroom system alongside other Chromecast Audio devices using the Google Home app. Bluetooth completes the SJ8’s impressive list of wireless talents.
There are plenty of audio modes to play with, including Auto Sound Engine, which optimises the EQ to suit the volume level. Another mode, Adaptive Sound Control, adjusts the frequency balance to suit whatever you’re watching.
You’ll also find a few sound presets – Standard, Bass Blast and Cinema – as well as user-defined bass, treble and subwoofer settings.
LG SJ8 – OPERATION
For day-to-day use, the SJ8 is accompanied by a small remote with neatly arranged rubber keys. It’s easy to use and fits snugly in the palm.
The buttons cover all the basics – volume, input selection, playback controls – with dedicated keys for every audio function. Any adjustments you make are clearly shown on the LED display.
Hooked up via Wi-Fi, the SJ8 can also be controlled by your smartphone using LG’s Music Flow app. It offers all the same adjustments as the remote using an intuitive on-screen interface. You can use the app to switch inputs or visit a range of music streaming services and Chromecast apps, including Spotify, Google Play, Napster, NPR One, iHeartRadio and TuneIn Radio.
The app is attractively designed but, crucially, it keeps things simple. Its bold homepage allows you to access favourites and playlists, as well as your recently played tracks.
A slick sidebar menu displays the range of streaming options. Selecting Music Server brings up a list of NAS drives and PCs on your network. Exploring your music library is a cinch thanks to the no-nonsense layout and quick scrolling – although it only loaded albums from my WD NAS drive up to the letter D, which is a pretty major fail.
The sidebar menu also contains a Connected Speakers option which lets you organise your multiroom system. You can create groups of speakers or designate other Music Flow speakers as rear channels in a 5.1 system, using clearly marked icons and helpful dialog boxes.
LG SJ8 – PERFORMANCE
Play Doctor Strange on Blu-ray and the SJ8 turns in a powerful and exciting performance. As Strange and Mordo defend Hong Kong from Kaecilius, it drives the action forward with punch and attack. The flurry of flying rubble and clanking weaponry is propelled forcefully into the room.
Smooth and subtle aren’t words that spring to mind when listening to the LG – it’s a boisterous listen – but if you’d rather feel invigorated by action scenes then the SJ8 is certainly the soundbar for you.
The soundstage is surprisingly big for such a slender soundbar. When Strange confronts Dormammu, the subwoofer lends weight and scale to his booming voice then emits a huge depth charge as the dark overlord hits Strange with a blast of energy.
Admittedly, the subwoofer is doing all of the heavy-lifting here, but the pleasing sense of cohesion between the two components means that isn’t a problem. Together they tackle sudden dynamic shifts with aplomb – you really feel the impact when The Ancient One slams her hand into Strange’s chest.
Out the box I found bass to be a tad boomy, but after reducing the subwoofer level by a few notches it started to integrate seamlessly. Helpfully, the SJ8 provides plenty of leeway here, with a range that goes from -15 up to +6.
Elsewhere, dialogue has clarity and presence, benefiting from a pleasing combination of upfront mids and weighty bass. I played a range of TV shows through the LG and I never struggled to make out the dialogue, from perky daytime quiz show hosts to the thick Scouse accents in ITV drama Little Boy Blue. The soundstage is reasonably broad too, although not a patch on Yamaha’s sound beam-based soundbars.
There are, however, a few things that take the shine off the LG’s performance. Treble is crisp and sparky but could be more detailed. During the opening scene of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the rain hisses clearly but lacks the layered subtlety that better soundbars bring to the table. As the apes traverse the tree branches, there’s more going on than the LG allows you to hear.
There’s also a slightly unrefined edge to the treble and mid-range. Brash is the wrong word, but it spits slightly when bullets shatter glass and metal objects collide.
Another minor issue concerns volume. When you push the SJ8 to maximum, it feels like there should be more in the tank. Listen to most soundbars at maximum volume for too long and you’ll either go deaf or insane, but I happily sat through the rowdiest of scenes without feeling the urge to turn it down.
Sure, the LG’s ability to play loud without descending into a shouty cacophony is impressive, but there isn’t enough headroom to really test your neighbours’ tolerance. The Bluetooth and Wi-Fi inputs seem louder.
Firing up the Music Flow app, I streamed some tunes from my NAS drive and the SJ8 proved to be a very enjoyable performer. Its attacking tone gives drum beats pleasing definition and energy, backed by solid, agile bass from the sub – provided you don’t have the level up too high.
Vocals sound clear and well rounded, and the spacious soundstage provides instruments with enough room to breathe. Treble is crisp, precise and reasonably detailed – but again, it isn’t quite sweet or subtle enough to make audiophile ears prick up. LG will hate me for saying it, but Samsung’s HW-MS650 delivers a more finessed musical performance, with the added bonus of not having to rely on an external subwoofer for its deep bass.
SHOULD I BUY THE LG SJ8?
All things considered, the SJ8 is an impressive soundbar that offers a healthy feature list and sonic excitement galore, but it doesn’t quite have the extra touch of quality to challenge the best bars in its class. The Samsung HW-MS650, Orbitsound ONE P70 and Monitor Audio ASB-10 offer a smoother and more detailed sound, and handle music with a little more panache. They also go louder when pushed.
That said, the SJ8’s lively, forthright sound still has plenty of appeal, bringing much-needed scale and impact to blockbuster movie moments. Gunshots snap, explosions slam and the clear mid-range makes movie and TV dialogue consistently clear. The compact subwoofer mucks in with surprisingly lithe and muscular bass.
The super-slim design is another big selling point, as are LG’s slick multiroom platform and Chromecast support. So if you opt for the SJ8 you certainly won’t be disappointed, but be aware that there are better-sounding bars on the market.
LG’s super-slim soundbar and compact sub deliver big home cinema thrills – but rival bars are easier on the ear.