Powerful audio performance with strong bass response and solid clarity. Versatile connectivity. Right speaker is portable.
Default audio settings can sound overly bass-boosted. 2.1 system is not, visually, what most people consider a soundbar.
- Bottom Line
The LG SJ7 breaks the traditional long soundbar into a stereo pair and adds a modestly sized subwoofer, with solid audio quality you can adjust to your taste.
When is a soundbar no longer a soundbar? How about when it's a 2.1 system that in certain configurations looks nothing like a soundbar? That's actually the appeal of the LG SJ7, a home theater speaker system with versatility as its main selling point. Available for $499, the SJ7 takes what might be the primary complaint about soundbars off the table: You can get plenty of stereo separation. Of course, this comes at a cost in the visual sense—the neat single slab you typically think of as soundbar is broken into a pair of bar-shaped stereo speakers. That said, audio quality is solid, and the SJ7 is a supremely versatile option for home theater buffs.
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The all-black SJ7 consists of three visually similar main pieces: the dual soundbar speakers and the subwoofer. The soundbar speakers each measure 2.9 by 13.4 by 4.3 inches (HWD), and the single subwoofer measures 12.6 by 6.7 by 9.9 inches and can be placed almost anywhere in the room (the floor is fine).
Behind the front-facing grilles on the soundbars, each unit houses dual midrange drivers and dual tweeters, all 2.3 inches, arrayed at the far ends of the front panel. Both speakers come with tray-like stands that allow them to be placed upright, but they also have tiny rubber feet on the bottom to keep them from moving when placed lengthwise. They can also be wall-mounted.
The secondary speaker is portable and can be used on its own, running off an internal battery (good for roughly four hours). In wired mode, the speakers deliver 60 watts per channel, and the sub delivers 200 watts. In wireless mode, the output decreases to preserve battery life.
The left speaker is the primary unit, and on its left side panel, there are plus/minus buttons, an F button (for Function, when switching between Bluetooth and wired audio modes), and a power button. The power button actually controls both left and right speakers—assuming they're plugged into their adapters. The left speaker also has connection ports on its rear panel—an Optical input (a cable is included), HDMI in, HDMI out, a USB service port, and the AC adapter connection. Setting up the system is straightforward—the sub automatically pairs with the two paired speakers, and then it's a matter of connecting input cables or pairing Bluetooth devices.
On the right speaker, along the back panel, there's a different array of connections, including a USB port (service-only), and a power adapter connector. There's also a switch for the speaker's mode—it can be turned off, or switched between Portable, Rear (for a pseudo-surround experience by placing the speaker behind you), or Sound Bar modes. When the left speaker is powered up and Sound Bar is selected on the right unit, the two speakers pair (provided they're near each other). On the right side panel, there are rubberized buttons for play/pause, Bluetooth pairing, and volume.
The left speaker has an LED readout behind its grille, displaying messages like BT when you're in Bluetooth mode, or HDMI when playing audio from an HDMI source. The input mode can be switched between using the F button (on the remote or the left speaker itself). Switching between the sources will break the Bluetooth pairing, but the speakers will automatically re-pair if your most recently paired device is in range and ready.
The subwoofer's front grille covers a 6-inch driver, and its back panel has a port for air to escape through. There's a pairing button (the sub communicates wirelessly with the speakers), and a connection for the power cable. It would be nice if the sub had its own individual knobs, but you can adjust bass and treble on the remote control, so it's not a huge deal.
The included remote control has several buttons, including power, the aforementioned F button, and plus/minus for Volume. There are also controls for Sound Effect (there are four modes: Adaptive Sound Controls, which is the default; Standard; Bass Blast; and Cinema), Nighttime Volume (which adjusts the EQ by lowering the frequencies that tend to go through walls and disrupt neighbors and housemates), EQ (with bass and treble adjusters), play/pause, and track backward/forward. Then there are more advanced controls for surround setups, including rear volume up/down, AV Sync (which synchronizes audio and video), Surround Mode, Auto Volume (raises low volumes and limits higher volumes), and Auto Power (for automatically powering up when the input source turns on). The remote runs off two included AAA batteries.
The SJ7 is compatible with LPCM, Dolby Digital, and DTS Digital Surround audio formats, and ships with the aforementioned optical cable, a power cable for the sub, and two power adapters with removable cables for each speaker. In all, the system will take up three wall plugs.
For home theater testing, we arranged the speakers in various physical arrays—vertically, as a separate stereo pair, pressed together in a more traditional soundbar setup, and in rear mode (with one speaker placed behind us). In stereo, with the speakers separated, the SJ7 performs quite nicely. The second scene in Pacific Rim is set on the stormy high seas—the SJ7 delivers some serious rumble here, even in Standard mode. In Cinema mode, the dialogue in loud scenes like this becomes obscured—Standard mode proved far more intelligible, but the bass rumble dies down a bit. Boosting the bass a couple notches in the EQ settings, however, does the trick, with crisp dialogue and deep, low rumbles living in harmony.
You can kill the stereo separation if you prefer to have both speakers sitting under the TV, looking like a single unit—but it does seem to lessen the intensity of the audio experience. Surround mode doesn't do much in this scenario—we recommend keeping it off, as you're just not going to get much of a real surround experience with a 2.1 system.
For music testing, we stuck with the vertical stereo array. While you can use these speakers in a traditional soundbar array—under the TV and pressed against each other, you won't get any real stereo separation on your music. Also, when listening to music, we used the Standard listening mode, but some listeners will prefer Bass Blast mode—when listening at lower volumes, Bass Blast is a nice way to still get some bass presence. For a more nuanced approach, you can adjust treble and bass on the remote, but for testing purposes, we kept these settings flat. As far as utilizing Surround mode while listening to music, don't. Stereo mixes do strange things through pseudo-surround algorithms.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the system delivers some serious thunder even without the Bass Blast effect on. At top volumes, the SJ7 will rattle your walls, and at top volumes with the Bass Effect on, the SJ7 even rattles itself a bit. This isn't a complaint, however—it's unlikely you'll need to reach these intense, high volumes and utilize the Bass Blast simultaneously; even in Standard mode, this subwoofer has some kick.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the SJ7's overall sound signature. The drums on this track can sound overly thunderous on bass-forward systems; through the SJ7 in Standard mode, the drums sound natural and full, with a pleasant roundness to them. Callahan's vocals also have nice richness, but enough crisp high-mid edge to keep things clear and defined. Once you start messing with the EQ, anything's possible—you can make this sound signature far brighter or bassier, and in Bass Blast mode, the drums begin to sound a lot less natural. So there's a wide range of sound signatures within the SJ7, but LG offers a nicely balanced baseline as a starting point.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop gets plenty of high-mid edge to retain its sharp attack, along with a nice sub-bass punch on the synth hits that punctuate the beat. From here, you can dial things up to super-boosted bass levels if you wish, but the vocals and the higher-mids and highs on this track are delivered clearly and cleanly in Standard mode. After several listens, I decided my favorite sound signature was probably Standard Mode, but with the Bass EQ boosted 2 or 3 notches, depending on what was playing. Boosting the bass slightly offers a solid experience without going overboard the way the Bass Blast effect tends to.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, also benefit from a slight Bass EQ boost. In Standard mode, with no EQ added in, this track still sounds full, rich in the lower register instruments without going too far, and crisp in the highs.
For $499, the LG SJ7 is a versatile soundbar with a solid audio experience that is equally at home playing music and film audio. If what you're after is a legitimate surround sound setup, or one that can mimic one—this isn't it. Despite the bells and whistles of the special effects, the SJ7 sounds best in plain old stereo, with some separation between the speakers. The EQ, and the fact that the right speaker can be used on its own, are all nice touches. If you're looking for a more traditional soundbar, we're fans of the more affordable Polk Audio Signa S1 and the pricier Sony HT-NT5, both of which have subwoofers, as well as the Zvox SoundBase 570 and the Sonos Playbase.
By Tim Gideon Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear. More »
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