LG SN7CY review: a cheaper Dolby Atmos soundbar that's seriously well-specced | T3

LG SN7CY review: a cheaper Dolby Atmos soundbar that's seriously well-specced

The LG SN7CY is a one-box Dolby Atmos soundbar that brings true upfiring speakers for a bargain price… but we need to talk about the sound quality

LG SN7CY review
(Image credit: LG)
T3 Verdict

The LG SN7CY looks the part, is priced to kill, and ticks most of the right feature boxes. It can go loud and delivers plenty of detail, too. Unfortunately, though, the balance of its sound just doesn’t feel right.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Impressively detailed sound

  • +

    Attractive design

  • +

    Aggressively priced

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Over-dominant, sometimes harsh trebles

  • -

    Bass needs volume to kick in

  • -

    Balance of the sound just doesn’t feel right

The LG SN7CY has been a really exciting soundbar on our review list, for a bunch of reasons. It comes hot on the heels of the excellent flagship LG SN11RG that landed itself straight in our list of the best soundbars, and aims to win hearts and ears with something way more affordable. 

• Read our LG SN11RG review

The SN7CY costs under £349, yet still offers a five-speaker design (including two up-firing drivers) and decoding of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks – that is a hell of an aggressive price. It's pretty much the only soundbar from a well-known brand in this price range with real upfiring speakers. 

It’s also another co-production with high-end British audio brand, Meridian, so there's no lack of expertise going into this.

With so much shared DNA between the £1,499 SN11RG and the SN7CY at a fraction of the price, surely the cheaper model has to be another winner… well, let's dig in.

LG SN7CY review: Price, release date and features

The LG SN7CY was released in summer 2020, and has plenty to offer for a soundbar that costs just £349, starting with its speaker configuration.

Despite being an all-in-one solution, where all of its speakers are contained in a single soundbar, it offers five separate true audio channels. Front left, centre, right, plus two upfiring drivers built into its top edge.

The upfirers are designed to bounce sound off your ceiling to deliver a sense of the ‘voice of god’ height effects you get with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Both these formats seek to create a three-dimensional space into which the listener is placed, and adding a sense of height to this sound bubble makes a huge difference.

There are numerous soundbars in a similar price range to the LG SN7CY that use audio processing to try and conjure a sense of height without using actual height speakers – the Sony HT-G700 is a prime example. But to date, none of those ‘virtual’ height channel systems has delivered results comparable from those you can get if you use real upfiring speakers.

You can also upgrade to include rear speakers if you partner the SN7CY with a set of LG’s £149 SPK8-S wireless surround speakers, which is a really great upgrade price for a full surround package (though we haven’t tested these).

The SN7CY doesn’t ship with an external subwoofer, delivering bass instead through two rectangular bass radiators on its rear. It also has a respectable 160W of power to spread around its five channels – enough, hopefully, to produce a room-filling soundstage provided the speakers are sufficiently sensitive.

The SN7CY’s connections are a little disappointing for its £400 price point. It has an HDMI input as well as an output to the TV, so it can passthrough 4K HDR video to the TV (meaning you don't lose a port), but the HDMI output also only supports ARC rather than eARC. This means it can only take in compressed (rather than lossless) Dolby Atmos or DTS:X sound from ARC-capable TVs. 

Also, while the SN7CY should pass Dolby Vision HDR (though for some reason this wouldn’t work for us) as well as the standard HDR10 HDR format, it can’t also pass the HDR10+ format used by Amazon Prime Video and a few 4K Blu-rays. 

However, that it has an HDMI passthrough at all is an improvement over the Sonos Beam (which is a major competitor at this price), so we’re pleased to see it.

A single USB port allows playback of a decent selection of audio formats including WMA, MP3, OGG and the high-resolution FLAC and WAV formats. There’s also support for music playback via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

A couple of other tricks worth mentioning are an AI Sound mode designed to analyse the incoming sound and continually optimise playback, and a Surround mode that upmixes limited-channel sources, such as stereo music, into all the soundbar’s available drivers (including the rear speakers, if you add them).

LG SN7CY review: Sound quality

Hopes that the SN7CY might be an affordable chip off the SN11RG block quickly prove misguided. Instead its sound magnifies the weaker aspects of its flagship sibling while binning most of the best bits. 

Take vocals, for instance. Whereas they had good presence and context on the SN11RG, on the SN7CY they sound artificial and compressed – despite the SN7CY being keen to give them lots of prominence in the mix. Add to this a rather narrow field of dispersion from the centre speaker and voices end up sounding both decontextualised from the background sound, and dislocated from the mouths of the people speaking on your screen.

Even with less complex sources, such as a stereo pop song, voices can sound too separated from the rest of the track. Female vocals sometimes sound so thin they become quite piercing too, and the same goes for high-pitched guitar sounds or shrill classical strings. What’s more, the shrillness and excessive prominence of high-pitched sounds just becomes even more pronounced if you try using the Surround Sound mode.

The soundbar’s treble over-emphasis also means it can bring too much attention to what were intended to be small or gentle background effects. So, for instance, you can become much more aware of people’s breathing while watching a film than you’re supposed to be, or background ambience such as subtle gusts of wind or distant radio music suddenly become distractingly thrust to the fore.

To be fair, this does all suggest that the speakers are very sensitive. And if the sort of detail the SN7CY picks out was partnered with more robust and aggressive mid- and bass ranges it might have contributed well in that more rounded mix. As it is, though, the SN7CY’s seems to be putting its emphasis in the wrong places to an almost uncanny degree.

That’s not to say the SN7CY’s bass radiators are entirely ineffective. While they’re rather shy until you really crank the volume up, once you’ve got them moving they can deliver more bass presence than you might expect from a single soundbar solution as tidy and compact as the SN7CY. It’s not a particularly dynamic, varied bass performance, but it certainly hits bass levels well beyond those most built-in TV sound systems can muster.

Unfortunately, though, the sort of volumes required to get the bass radiators ‘woofing’ are also the volumes that make treble effects harsh enough to feel off. So what you end up with is a soundbar that sounds too polite in the bass and mid-range departments at low volumes, but acutely sharp if you increase volumes to a point where the bass and mid-range kick in satisfyingly.

The bass units can also start to fall away with really extreme low-end effects. But I really am talking here about only the most bombastic movie track bass drops, not typical action movie scenes, so this won't come up too often.

However, a positive effect of the SN7CY’s obsession with small mix details is that it’s unusually good for a soundbar at portraying a sense of height with Dolby Atmos mixes. Overhead sounds at least appear to be arrayed at multiple height levels above your TV, and with noticeable and accurate left and right separation. 

Once again, though, there’s a catch to this, in that if anything the soundbar places too much emphasis on these height elements. And in doing so starts to remind you that you’re not getting any side or rear channels to fill in the Atmos sound ‘dome’ of sound that it's intended to deliver. 

Underpinning pretty much all of the issues I’ve got with the SN7CY’s sound is a strange lack of oomph at its heart. The SN11RG sometimes also fell prey to an  absence of impact during action scenes. But on the SN7CY this missing meat is much more of a defining issue.

The SN7CY isn't a disaster, and this review is full of criticisms because we expected better… its ability with height is unparalleled at this price, but it needs to get the foundations right before perfecting the roof.

LG SN7CY review: Design & usability

The SN7CY is very attractive. From the way its upfiring drivers sit flush within its polished, metallic looking top edge to its rounded edges and grilled front and sides, it looks and feels a class above its £399 price. It’s great, too, to find a clean, easy to read display on its front edge, something that’s by no means a given at this level of the soundbar market (the Sony HT-G700 does well here too – Sonos is a notable criminal here for having no information at all).

At 65mm tall, it stands a little higher than some of its rivals, but should still be slim enough to sit under the screens of most new TV designs.

The SN7CY’s remote control is small and tidy, and doesn’t overwhelm you with buttons. There’s no need to connect the soundbar to two separate apps during set up like there is with the SN11RG, either.

The only usability headaches are the rather obscure procedure for toggling the Surround Sound mode on or off, and the difficulties (to the point of impossibility) of finding a balance of volume, bass and treble that delivers a satisfying sound – at least, to our taste.

LG SN7CY review: Verdict

The LG SN7CY appears to have all the things you’d want from a £399 soundbar, and then some. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding, an attractive design, a true five-speaker configuration (including an innovative and tidy built-in bass solution), and lots of input from AV titan Meridian. Almost inexplicably, though, it manages to sound like less than the sum of its parts. 

Yes, it can go louder and sounds much more detailed and expansive than most built-in TV sound systems. But the balance and emphasis of its sound often seems at best uneven, at worst just wrong. Some of its strength may fit the bill for some readers, but it wouldn't be our first choice. Read on for those…

LG SN7CY review: Also consider

The main soundbar to be looking at here is the Sony HT-G700, which costs a little more, but delivers a superb balance that easy to customise to your liking, and features a wireless subwoofer to really make sure the bass is there. The HT-G700 doesn't have upfiring drivers, so its ability to give overhead Atmos is limited, but Sony processing does make it really impressive at adding height and width in front of you, and with the better sound overall, we think that's the way to go, as our Sony HT-G700 review explains. Like the LG, it's a compact bar with a tidy design.

If you definitely want upfiring speakers at a similar price, the Sharp HT-SBW800 is the best option – again, it costs a little more, and comes with subwoofer for real bass. It has seven drivers for some really effective Atmos audio, and sounds great overall – but it's much bigger than the SN7CY. That's 1.2m wide, compared to 90cm for the LG, which means it simply be too big for some TVs – it's for 55 inches and up, really. Read our full Sharp HT-SBW800 review if it sounds like it could work for you.

The best one-box soundbar with Atmos is the Sonos Arc, which is a big step up in price (more than double, in fact), but sounds simply superb thanks to a suite of 11 drivers, including dedicated upfirers. However, it's also a very wide load. Read our full Sonos Arc review for why like it so much, and what the potential hold-ups are.