Having lived with the LG OLED C3 TV for a full month, it came time to review the LG USC9S: a soundbar so distinctly designed for that specific TV (and the older C2 OLED) that, well, I'd forgotten that it comes with its own stand in the box to perfectly bring together TV and soundbar into one distinct unit (note: not as pictured). There's a separate subwoofer included for beefy bass too.
That design aspect is one clear reason to consider this soundbar, especially as the LG OLED C3's standard audio output is underwhelming. Add features such as AI Sound Pro to make best of the USC9S's triple upfiring speaker arrangement (it's compatible with Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and IMAX Enhanced object-based audio) and WOW Orchestra to integrate both (LG-only) TV and soundbar speakers and this is one veritable LG audio fest.
But while the LG USC9S definitely ticks the necessary features boxes – that design integration, the TV-plus-soundbar audio collaboration, those object-based audio formats, 4K/120Hz passthrough and eARC – does it sonically soar? For me it's been a mixed tale of highs and lows, especially at this price point, as I'll touch upon in this LG USC9S review...
LG USC9S: Price & Availability
The LG USC9S is available now, officially priced at £999 / $999 / AU$1499. That's a fair chunk of change for a straightforward soundbar-and-subwoofer combination (clearly you're paying for the included TV stand), so you'll be pleased to see from the shopping widget positioned above that this has been cut with considerable gusto since launch. At the time of writing I could pick up this LG for £799, but I'd still realistically want it to be even less to add to the appeal.
LG USC9S review: Features & What's New?
As stated up top, the clear thing that's new with the USC9S is that it's designed for the LG OLED C2 and C3 TVs. Well, those of 55-, 65- and 77-inches in size anyway, as those are the only ones that'll be able to utilise the included the stand-mount elements. If you've got either of those LG models wall-mounted then fear not, there's an included solution for that to create a below-the-TV bracket integration.
The USC9S is apparently the world's first Dolby Atmos soundbar with a trio of upfiring channels. The centremost one (which is the circular one prominently within the design) is used for upwardly projecting voice, to achieve better integration with on-screen speech, while the other two are upfiring channels just as you'd get in other soundbars handling object-based audio decoding.
Don't expect miracles from a 3.1.3 arrangement such as this, however, it's no LG S95QR experience (which includes multiple speaker units and is the top-of-the-top LG product). That said, if you would like to add some extras, then LG's SPQ8-S is compatible (but that's only going to drive the price up yet more).
There are plenty of headline features to adsorb too: the USC9S features two HDMI 2.1 ports, so 4K/120Hz passthrough is possible, and with eARC connected up to your TV you'll get great high-quality sound relay, plus all the other goodies supported, such as ALLM and VRR – albeit this at 60Hz, so consider which HDMI port you use on your TV and which on your soundbar. There's 24-bit/96kHz support for Hi-Res Audio too.
LG USC9S review: Design & Setup
I'm not going into detail about the LG OLED C3-specific setup here, as this review is focused on the USC9S soundbar and subwoofer as a standalone package, which I've also trailed on a non-LG older Panasonic TV in testing. Needless to say: the box is very large, as a lot of its contents (a lot of which is also just air) is dedicated to the stand attachment. You'll need an extra set of hands to integrate both TV and soundbar though, whereas soundbar alone you can setup solo.
Design-wise, the USC9S is a pretty straightforward-looking soundbar. It's 97.5cm long, so ideal for the best 55-inch and best 65-inch TVs, and it's really not too tall, at 6.3cm on the vertical. This means it'll sit in front of many TVs without blocking things, such as the receivers or the screen itself. The same is true with the LG C3, which is doesn't protrude above, thanks to that TV's single centrally-aligned foot stand.
There is a remote included in the box, although your general TV remote is likely to suffice for most control. And if you're desperate to change sound style then there are touch buttons along the soundbar's top edge, each represented by a symbol (on/off, source, volume down, volume up, play/pause, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi), with adjustments audibly spoken aloud – a method which I find, frankly, irksome. The front 'display' is a couple of LEDs that illuminate unnecessarily and don't really tell you anything.
Nonetheless, the non-reflective finish and the many machined holes across the entirety of the soundbar's front, sides, plus two upper sections for the upfiring speakers (the third central one is offset, darker in tone and slightly sunken into the bar's body), and overall it looks smart. I'm just not a fan of those not-so-useful LEDs.
LG USC9S review: Performance & Sound
The LG USC9S features soundbar mode presets that consist of: AI Sound Pro, Standard, Cinema, Clear Voice Pro, Sports, Music, Game Optimiser, Bass Blast.
Separate to that, with regards to the LG C3 OLED (and some other LG TVs) the way in which the soundbar communicates with the TV can be selected in a number of ways. There's HDMI, of course, but LG is keenest to select WOW Orchestra, which integrates both soundbar and TV speakers as one apparent cohesive whole.
But here's where my first big issue arises: for me the WOW Orchestra synergy has never been on point, seeming off balanced, echoey (even after making adjustments for sound delay), and not nearly as convincing as a Samsung equivalent Q-Symphony setup. That's been a big letdown, considering this is a flagship feature.
The presets, too, aren't all worth having in my opinion: Standard is actually really dull and flat; but AI Sound Pro is so overreaching in its attempts that things just sound harsh, overworked, and the high-end can become too crunchy; Bass Blast may also be unnecessary, seeing as there's a three-level subwoofer adjustment available for your bass-wanting pleasure.
Which, in general, all sounds quite negative. But hear me out here, as the USC9S does have plenty of positives: its sound is loud, the subwoofer is robust, and there's ample height as you'd expect from a trio of upfiring speakers. So as a wall of sound, despite headline features not being a winner, I've sat and listened to this soundbar playing music, 4K Blu-ray movies, games, TV, streamed shows, and it's an obvious upgrade over the standard TV baseline audio. If it was a little less money it would be even easier to praise it.
That's why I said up top that it's been a bit of a mixed bag: I think LG needs to get a handle on its headline features, with AI being, y'know, more actually intelligent, and WOW Orchestra picked apart so it's truly class-leading – as the potential is obviously there, but the delivery just isn't yet. Push such distinct features aside, though, and you're rewarded (outside of Standard preset, anyway) with a bold sound that'll elevate your cinematic or gaming experience.
If you want true surround sound, however, do take note that this soundbar is more focused on height and being a full and wide front soundstage, not a fully immersive experience as you can find elsewhere. Sure, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and IMAX Enhanced are great to feature, but with nine speakers across that three forward/side, three upfiring, and single subwoofer centre, it's going to be down-mixed as applicable.
LG USC9S review: Verdict
If I could I'd give the LG USC9S two different scores. For those buying an LG C3 OLED TV it's an excellent design choice because of how wonderfully it can integrate and upgrade that TV's sub-par sound. For such buyers this is a 4-star soundbar, as the score on page shows, noting that despite brand synergy there are ultimately better standalone soundbar competitors out there.
For those not buying an LG C3 OLED TV, where you won't benefit from those specific design integrations, nor WOW Orchestra integration (although I find LG's handling of both TV and soundbar speakers has never sounded right), I think there are too many misses to the USC9S to truly recommend it. Its AI Sound Pro is harsh and sounds odd to my ears, while the three-dimensional soundstage isn't ever quite class-leading for this kind of price point. For such buyers this is below a 4-star soundbar level.
So, yes, the USC9S is well-featured, given its three upfiring channels, chunky subwoofer, and 4K/120Hz passthrough with HDMI 2.1 and eARC. But for those looking for one of the best soundbars, while this LG's listing may tick the right boxes in most departments, the product as a whole just isn't fully cohesive across the board to please everyone – unless, that is, you're buying an LG C3 OLED where it'll both look and sound super.
If it's important that you have a single-box solution then the Sonos Arc is a great alternative. No, there's no subwoofer included, but the Sonos can still deliver chunky bass, coupled with a more delicate and measured sound profile to my ears, so it'll make any LG TV sound stellar. It just obviously won't look as integrated into the design aspect as the USC9S will with an LG OLED C3 TV.