If you have any sort of home theatre go buy Blade Runner 2049, the version with 4K resolution, high dynamic range and Dolby Atmos. Having seen this movie first in a cinema, then through my own home cinema and now via a soundbar I’m beginning to think it will sound great through anything north of the nasty little speakers turning up in televisions lately.
The sound engineering is masterful; lots of atmosphere, lots of voices and reverberations in vast cavernous spaces, lots of movement. Plus generous airiness and atmosphere if you can dial in a couple of overhead Atmos speakers. Your subwoofer works hard and when it’s not working hard it’s still working.
LG’s soundbars aren’t as good at Atmos as dedicated ceiling speakers, but they still sound great.
Gunshots sound like gunshots, a swarm of bees is unsettlingly accurate, the rain is constant. The music, by Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch, is dark, brooding, at times industrial and often threatening, nothing like the original Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack. And, bonus, Blade Runner 2049 is a good movie too, if ferociously long.
I wasn’t expecting a lot through a soundbar but it was still surprisingly lush. Mind you, this is a pretty impressive soundbar. LG’s SL8YG is the cheapest offering of its three wearing a Meridian badge. Meridian makes extremely expensive and extremely good audio equipment and it was approached by LG a couple of years ago to lift the Korean company’s audio offerings out of the mainstream. If the SL8 is anything to go by Meridian has certainly done that.
First things first. You won’t get surround sound unless you buy the optional rear speaker package for $199. While LG makes a big fuss about having Dolby Atmos this depends on your room, your hardware and the way you hook things up. And where you’re sitting. It fires the Atmos tracks at the ceiling so they’ll bounce back down to you from above, and while in most houses it stands a chance, it won’t work with a high, split or angled ceiling. But it’s not in the same league as having a couple of speakers in the roof.
What the LG’s Atmos delivers better than a stereo, however, is immersion. You feel the wet when K and his computer-generated girlfriend Joi are standing in the rain, and you hear all the empty space in the abandoned casino where he meets Deckard. You get it especially when K is being mercilessly interrogated by a disembodied voice in a featureless room.
And where the SL8 stands out is in creating sound that’s exciting and engaging, especially when it’s loud. The separate, included subwoofer plays a significant role here. The soundbar itself provides front left and right channels and a dedicated centre that, with the equaliser, helps with voice clarity. Get used to it and you’ll possibly wonder why people bother with surround systems when this can deliver a movie so effectively. And if you want you can hook it into your Wi-Fi and get Google Assistant.
It has seven sound modes; ‘cinema’ has the widest soundstage and, for me, the best equaliser presets. The music mode (and this thing decodes FLAC files and can upmix to 24/96) needed work for me, being very bass heavy. But play around with the equaliser and you’ll get it right. It lets you adjust bass, treble, centre and subwoofer.
At its recommended $1099 the SL8 is excellent value but I’ve seen it as low as $947. It’s good enough to give plenty of cinema systems with a couple of reasonable bookshelf speakers, a separate sub and a good amplifier, a solid run for their money.
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