LG SL10RG soundbar review: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Google Assistant can’t make up for dull, listless audio

Feature-packed though it may be, this pricey 7.1.2 soundbar doesn’t sound as sweet as its high-end competitors.

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LG

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At a Glance

The LG SL10RG checks many of our favorite boxes when it comes to high-end soundbars, including object-based Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, built-in Google Assistant and Chromecast, easy setup (for the most part), and a night mode that’ll keep you from waking the neighbors. But this 7.1.2-channel soundbar falls short in the category that matters most: sound, with audio that too often lacked detail, precision, and a sense of excitement.

The LG SL10RG’s sonic shortcomings make this $1,400 soundbar tough to recommend. If your budget allows you to shop in this price range, and you’re looking for a soundbar that packs a wallop when it comes to sound, consider instead the Samsung HW-Q90R, our current high-end soundbar pick.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best soundbars. Click that link to read reviews of competing products, along with a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.

Configuration

Including its wireless surround speakers and subwoofer, the LG SL10RG comes equipped with a total of 10 drivers, including three front-facing drivers (for the left, right, and center channels), two side-firing drivers (for the left and right surround channels), and two up-firing drivers (for the two height channels) in the main soundbar cabinet. You also get the left and right rear surround speakers and the wireless subwoofer, which all combine to deliver 7.1.2-channel sound.

By bouncing sound off your ceiling, the two up-firing drivers supply the all-important height cues for immersive 3D audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, but the effect won’t work property unless you have a (more or less) flat ceiling that’s between 7 and 12.5 feet high, and vaulted ceilings are an unfortunate no-no.

If your ceiling doesn’t measure up to Dolby’s specifications, you might be better off with a soundbar that supports DTS Virtual:X, an audio format that delivers virtual height effects without the need for up-firing speakers. Another option would be to roll up your sleeves and install actual speakers in your ceiling, although doing so would mean leaving the comfortable world of easy-to-install soundbars.

The soundbar cabinet itself measures 56.8 x 2.5 x 5.8 inches (WxHxD), so it’s quite wide (it’s several inches wider than my 55-inch LG C9 OLED TV), although not as tall as other soundbars we’ve tried in this price range. If you don’t want to plunk the SL10RG in front of your TV, you could opt to mount it on your wall beneath your screen using the included mounting brackets. The 15.4 x 12.3 x 8.7-inch subwoofer is about the same size as other soundbar subs, making it easy to tuck it behind (or at least near) your TV cabinet or in a corner of the room.

As with most “wireless” speakers, the subwoofer and surround speakers that comes with the SL10RG aren’t truly wireless. The subwoofer has a (roughly) five-foot power cord, while the surround speakers must be connected to a wireless receiver that has its own power cord. The good news about the included speaker wires for the surround speakers is that they’re each about 15 feet long, which gives you plenty of flexibility as to placement. On the other hand, you’ll be dealing with bare speaker wire, rather than the impossible-to-screw-up plugs that we’ve seen used on satellite speakers for other soundbars. We’ll cover the speaker wire in more detail momentarily.

Inputs and outputs

While many bargain soundbars give you just one HDMI input for your video sources, pricier soundbars tend to come with at least two, and the LG SL10RG is (thankfully) no exception. Besides the two HDMI inputs, the soundbar also comes equipped with an HDMI-ARC port, an optical (Toslink) input, and a USB Type-A port that supports MP3, OGG, and AAC audio files. 

lg sl10rg inputs Ben Patterson/IDG

The LG SL10RG comes equipped with a pair of HDMI inputs and a USB Type-A port that’s compatible with MP3, OGG, and AAC audio files.

The LG SL10RG’s various inputs and outputs sit in a cavity on the right rear side of the soundbar cabinet, while on the left rear side you’ll find a captive power cable, which is a bit of an annoyance if you want to temporarily remove the soundbar from your TV cabinet or its wall mounting. Personally, I find a removable power cable to be far more convenient.

Setup

Placing the soundbar cabinet in front of your TV or (slightly more complicated) mounting it on a wall is easy enough, as is arranging the wireless subwoofer and plugging it in. Getting the surround speakers up and running, however, might be trickier for those who’ve never worked with bare speaker wire.

Each of the surround speakers comes with rear positive and negative terminals, and you’ll need to insert the two ends of the bare speaker wires into each terminal and make sure you match the opposite ends with the correct positive and negative terminals on the boxy wireless receiver that powers the two speakers. Making the chore a bit trickier is the fact that the (insulated) positive and negative speaker wires look almost identical, save for a thin black strip on one of the wires.

Of course, home theater buffs wouldn’t have much trouble connecting the bare speaker wires. That said, soundbars are generally aimed at listeners who prefer a no-fuss, no-muss setup experience, and those folks would be better off with plugs designed to fit only in the proper way.

Once you’ve got the surround speaker connections figured out, the wireless speakers should connect to the soundbar automatically once all the components are powered up. You can also pair the speakers manually if need be, but the wireless connection process worked flawlessly with my review unit.

Next, it’s time to connect the soundbar to your video sources. Thanks to the two HDMI inputs, you can connect two video sources directly to the soundbar, and then connect the soundbar to your TV via HDMI. The LG SL10RG supports 4K HDR passthrough, and while Dolby Vision support isn’t listed in the soundbar’s specs, LG says that it does indeed work, and I confirmed Dolby Vision passthrough during my testing. Annoyingly, however, LG doesn’t include an HDMI cable in the box, which seems a little stingy given the price of the soundbar.

If you have more than two video sources and you don’t want to swap HDMI cables manually, you can connect your sources to your TV’s HDMI ports and then send audio to the soundbar via its HDMI-ARC (Audio Return Channel) port.

While using ARC for audio allows you to juggle more than two video sources, it also means you’ll have to forgo lossless video formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, which require more bandwidth than the ARC standard supports. The newer eARC (“enhanced” ARC) does have the bandwidth for lossless audio, but the LG SL10RG doesn’t support eARC, and indeed, we’re only now starting to see some soundbars that do.

Connecting the LG SL10RG to Wi-Fi is a silky smooth process thanks to the soundbar’s tight Google Assistant integration. You simply use the Google Home mobile app to discover and add the soundbar to your other smart home devices, and the app takes care of the rest. Within a few minutes, the soundbar was connected to my home Wi-Fi network, and the Google Home app even downloaded and installed a firmware update.

The LG SL10RG lacks a room correction utility, a feature we like to see in soundbars heading into $1,300-plus territory.

Controls, remote, indicators, and Bluetooth

Along the top of the LG SL10RG are a series of touch-sensitive buttons for power, volume, input selection, mic mute, and a wake button for Google Assistant. On the front panel is an LED display that shows the selected input or which menu item you’re adjusting, and it also lets you know when the soundbar has detected a Dolby Atmos signal. The display is fairly bright, but it dims to a more unobtrusive level after a few seconds of idle time.

The small, non-backlit remote that ships with the LG SL10RG features a prominent Google Assistant wake button that’s flanked by the sound mode and mic mute controls. Up near the top of the remote is a volume rocker, a button for switching inputs (confusingly marked “F,” for “function”), and a mute control, while smaller buttons near the middle offer playback control, settings access, a night mode toggle, and more. While I didn’t have much trouble finding my way around the top buttons on the remote in my dark living room, navigating the nine smaller buttons in the middle was frequently confusing.

lg sl10rg remote Ben Patterson/IDG

The LG SL10RG’s remote features a prominent Google Assistant button in the middle.

Besides the remote, the LG Wi-FI Speaker mobile app offers comprehensive access to most of the LG SL10RG’s settings, including sound modes, sound levels for the various speakers, and power modes.

You can also control the soundbar with Google Assistant voice commands, although control over the soundbar itself is pretty much limited to changing or muting the volume and switching inputs. You can also use Google Assistant to control your smart home devices, get a weather update, play tunes, and all the other things that Google Assistant normally does. But while it’s nice to have Google Assistant onboard the SL10RG, she can get a bit loud depending on the current volume level of the soundbar. It would be nice to set a maximum volume level for Google Assistant, so she’s not yelling when she’s responding to your queries.

You can pair the soundbar with your iPhone or Android phone via Bluetooth with help from the Google Home app. I had no trouble pairing my iPhone XS with the SL10RG, and I never had any issues reconnecting or with dropped connections.

Even better, the SL10RG features built-in Chromecast audio support, which allowed me to easily stream tunes from Spotify and other supported apps. When I tried to connect to the soundbar in standby mode, it automatically woke up without any issues.

Operation and performance

While I’m a fan of the LG SL10RG’s impressive arsenal of features and relatively smooth installation and setup process, none of it really matters if the actual sound isn’t up to par. Unfortunately, the SL10RG’s audio sounded disappointingly muted and inert, particularly during movies, with a frustrating lack of high-end detail. Its musical performance was marginally better, but still, it’s hard to forgive such sub-par sound in a soundbar this pricey.

Before we dive into performance details, let’s talk about the various available sound modes, including Standard, Music, Movie, and Bass Blast (a bass-heavy mode that I skipped after a quick sampling). A fifth sound mode, ASC (Adaptive Sound Control), “optimizes the sound in real time,” according to LG, while a welcome Night mode keeps a lid on the volume while boosting quieter sounds. There’s also a Surround setting that upmixes all audio sources for the height, side, and rear channels. For the most part, I stuck with the Movie setting for movies (all the sound modes are disabled when you’re watching a video with Dolby Atmos sound), while I tended to prefer ASC for dialog-heavy videos and music.

My first stop was 1979’s Superman, which has been remastered for Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. The swooshing titles in the famous opening credit sequence almost never fails to get my heart pumping, but the LG SL10RG’s performance sounded curiously flat. Yes, I could hear height cues when Marlon Brando’s credit soared (virtually) up and over my head, but John Williams’s heroic score felt surprisingly limp, and the powerful thump that usually accompanies Richard Donner’s “directed by” credit was a little mushy and subdued. Likewise, the spinning Phantom Zone didn’t make much of an impact as it captured General Zod and his minions before zipping out of the upper-right corner of the frame.

Next, I tried one of our favorite Dolby Atmos demos: the scene in X-Men: Apocalypse where a young Scott Summers wrecks a school bathroom with the energy beams shooting out of his eyes—and in particular, we’re listening for the shower of plaster particles that fall from the bathroom ceiling. The LG SL10RG did a decent job of making the ceiling debris sound like it was clattering over my head, but again, the lack of high-end detail and muddy bass robbed the scene of much of its excitement.

I also tried a non-Atmos scene: the thrilling launch sequence from Apollo 13. (The 4K Blu-ray of Apollo 13 has a DTS:X soundtrack, but I’m still waiting for my copy to arrive from Amazon.) Making sure that I had Movie and Surround modes switched on, I teed up the scene, and even as the engines of the Saturn V roared to life and the rocket soared past the camera, the sonics were underwhelming, with flabby bass, a surprisingly narrow soundstage, and (again) an overall muffled feeling.

At a Glance
  • Feature-packed though it may be, this pricey 7.1.4-channel soundbar doesn’t sound as sweet as its competitors.

    Pros

    • Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support
    • Easy wireless setup
    • Built-in Google Assistant and Chromecast
    • Two HDMI inputs

    Cons

    • Dull, inert audio performance
    • No room correction feature
    • Bare speaker wire setup for surround speakers may confuse home theater novices
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