- Lots of features
- Crisp, powerful sound quality
- Attractive onscreen design
- Limited subwoofer
- Occasional brightness
- Build quality not the greatest
- Review Price: £699.99
- Tallboy speakers with upright 3D drivers
- DLNA certified
- LG Smart TV
- 1100W power output
- Bluetooth and built-in Wi-Fi
After testing out LG’s previous efforts, we’ve come to expect great things from one-box cinema solutions like the LG BH9520TW. Blu-ray surround systems like these deliver shedloads of features, swanky designs and surprisingly assured sound quality, making them feel like terrific value for money even if they can’t quite match the performance standards of decent separates.
So it’s with much excitement that we take on LG’s one-box ‘big daddy’, the BH9520TW. This is a 9.1-channel Blu-ray system with four tower speakers for the front and rears (with a supplied ‘wireless’ kit for the rear channels) a centre and a passive sub. That makes it ostensibly a 5.1 package, but the extra four channels of the 9.1 setup are found in the top of each tower – these are ‘upright 3D’ speakers that shoot sound upwards to give movies a better sense of vertical immersion, a bit like the tilting top drivers found in some of Samsung’s tower systems.
This clever-sounding tech is part of a staggeringly generous line-up of features, which includes 3D support, built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, DLNA streaming, an iPod/iPhone dock and web content from LG Smart TV – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. At £700 it’s not the most affordable one-box system out there, but we’re already impressed by how much LG has packed in for the money. Let’s dive in and see if it’s a sound investment.
Despite its slightly plasticky build quality, LG has fashioned a gloriously good looking system here. The tower speakers are tall and elegant, finished in an eye-catching gloss black finish with two midrange drivers and tweeter embedded into the flush front section. The lines are straight as a die and there’s a real minimal vibe going on. The 3D speaker at the top sits underneath a raised grille, signposted by a glimmering brushed silver panel emblazoned with the 3D Blu-ray logo. Lovely stuff.
Each tower comes in three parts – the main speaker, a hollow middle section and a heavy square base. It requires a bit of DIY to put them together but it’s easy. The centre speaker is naturally styled in a similar gloss black finish and lies horizontally in front of your TV or in your rack – its thin, unobtrusive dimensions make this simple too. The subwoofer looks neutral enough and is remarkably compact, although build quality isn’t great, with a tacky dappled texture on the bodywork and a hollow sound when tapped. It’s a front-firing affair with a port on the back.
The main unit, however, is the most attractive part. The gloss black finish is highly alluring, but it’s the little brushed aluminium panel running along the bottom half of the sloping fascia that lifts it above mediocrity. Set into this panel is a row of illuminated touch sensitive controls, while a slick disc slot is preferred to a tray. A flap on the left hides a USB port and 3.5mm minijack input.
On the back the LG BH9520TW gives more cause for celebration. There are two HDMI inputs alongside the v1.4 output, allowing you to pass external hi-def sources through the LG’s circuits and boost their sound quality along the way. Optical digital and analogue stereo sockets offer further inputs for your audio kit, while composite video output, Ethernet, radio antenna input and a slot for the wireless transmitter complete the line up.
The main unit doesn’t have any terminals for the rear speakers, which forces you to use the wireless speaker kit for surround sound. To set it up, you have to plug the supplied TX card into the slot, and place the receiver at the back of the room in between the two rears (it needs its own power source). It’s a slim yet attractively styled gloss black box, with springclip terminals on the back that connect to the rear speakers using the supplied cables. Wireless is a bit of a misnomer but at least there are no cables trailing from the front to the back of the room.
The LG BH9520TW boasts an amazing feature list that mixes en vogue networking features with funky sound modes and other convenient functions.
Starting with the sound modes, the system backs up the upright speakers with 3D Sound Zooming, which tries to project effects towards you in tandem with the onscreen action. For example, if a plane is coming towards the screen, it’ll make it sound like the engine noise is doing the same.
There’s also a Sound Field Expansion mode that makes the soundstage feel wider, and a wide selection of Sound Effect presets including Game, Night, Natural, Bass, Clear Voice and more, plus a Bypass mode to side-step all processing.
On the networking side you get LG’s Smart TV portal, which offers an excellent range of premium apps including BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm, Netflix, Acetrax, YouTube, Dailymotion, Picasa, Blinkbox and more – supported by a range of games, puzzles and other curios sensibly separated into a different menu. More free video services would have been good, but otherwise the selection is impressive and the presentation is slick.
The content choice doesn’t stop there. You can also stream your own content over a network (wirelessly using built-in Wi-Fi or via Ethernet) or from memory devices, external HDDs, iPods, iPhones and iPads connected to the front USB port. Alternatively you can stream content from devices using Wi-Fi Direct or Bluetooth, leaving no stone unturned when it comes to music playback options.
The list of supported formats is decent too – MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, DivX HD, MKV, AVCHD, M4V, WMV, FLV, 3GP. It decodes all the key Blu-ray audio formats too, and in terms of power LG claims a total output of 1100W, with 2 x 140W to the front, 2 x 70W to the upright channels, 140W to the centre, 2 x 180W to the rears and 140W to the sub.
Despite the seemingly complex configuration with wireless rears and three-part speakers, the LG BH9520TW doesn’t take that long to set up. The speaker cables snap snugly into the clips on the back and the speakers slot together easily (all the screws are supplied). The wireless system is self-explanatory too – the only difficulty could stem from the need to place it near a plug socket, and hiding the wires.
There’s no automatic sound calibration, but it’s fairly easy to tweak sound to suit your taste. There’s a Speaker Level button on the remote, which lets you sets the loudness of individual channels (but not the 3D ‘upright’ ones) plus there’s a User EQ sound preset that lets you adjust the frequencies at 60Hz, 300Hz, 2kHz and 10kHz.
We’ve long admired LG’s approach to onscreen design and the BH9520TW is a good example why. The displays are bright and colourful, exactly what a first-timer would hope to see. Every screen is laid out with a sense of style and logicality that makes operation blissfully simple.
Take the home menu, for example. The seven icons are laid out in a row, conveniently breaking your choices down into Music, Movie, Photo, internet content, input and setup. The cute graphics, fonts and cartoony colour palette are easy on the eye, but this graphical sophistication isn’t at the expense of operating speed either as the cursor moves around quickly.
Select the ‘Premium’ section on the home menu and you’re presented with another great-looking menu, displaying the generous range of internet apps in large thumbnails. What makes it all the more attractive is that LG has superimposed the icons over a picture of a park. As you do.
These are backed up by gorgeous music playback menus, which display cover art where available, while cute dialogue boxes during playback let you change picture presets and check details about what you’re watching using the Gracenote-powered Movie Information feature – although access to the full setup menu still requires you to stop the movie (unlike Panasonic’s in-playback Option menu).
The LG BH9520TW’s remote is also a design triumph. The use of large rubbery buttons and clear labelling makes it easy to find the function you want, plus the raised bump in the middle aids ergonomics. There are plenty of buttons that let you access the key features quickly, but despite covering all bases it doesn’t feel cluttered in the slightest.
But if it’s not to your liking, you can download LG’s remote app and control the system using an Apple or Android smartphone.
To test the LG BH9520TW’s mettle we ran Clash of the Titans’s DTS HD Master Audio track, and were highly impressed by its sound quality. Not completely blown away perhaps, but in the world of all-in-one systems this is definitely one of the better examples. Our range of regular test discs reveals the LG as a fast, powerful and engaging performer, with nicely judged levels of bass and treble, clear dialogue and a generally clean and undistorted sound.
Skipping to the Kraken attack in chapter 15, the action is delivered on a large scale with big imposing effects and crisp detail raining down around the soundstage. The LG moves effects around quickly across its expansive soundstage and to its credit there’s a consistent tone as effects move from speaker to speaker.
We also revelled in the levels of drive and attack on offer. This means that sudden effects like buildings and boats being smashed to pieces sound satisfyingly forceful and demand your attention. And as the 1100W rating suggests, there’s a decent level of grunt here too – as the Kraken rips the city to pieces, he booms and thumps fill the room, and when the beast lets out an almighty roar you can feel it rumbling right through your chest.
In terms of dialogue it can sound a little boxy, although it neatly picks out the little echoes and whispers that surround Hades’s distorted voice during his exchange with Zeus, and it does a good job at nailing the depth and gravitas of all the deities’ voices.
Next we tried out the 3D Sound mode, bringing those upward-facing speakers into play, and what it provides is a richer and more fulsome sound with a convincing sense of height. The soundstage feels more open and spacious than in the ‘Bypass’ setting, which in turn adds extra excitement.
The sound is also reasonably crisp, making the hissing seawater and swishing of flying creatures really stand out amid the carnage of a noisy action scene. It draws out subtle stuff like the delicate crunching as the Kraken turns to stone, or the top end fizz of the orchestra’s brass section.
At times though it teeters on the brink of brightness, with high frequencies sounding just a touch too shrill, especially at loud volumes. It’s not consistently a problem, but the occasional chink of a sword and the odd screech doesn’t sound quite as comfortable as it would on a more assured speaker package.
The other thing that stops us getting too carried away is the LG BH9520TW passive subwoofer’s one-note bass performance. There’s no real variation or agility to its bass tones and could do with going a bit deeper and integrating more tightly with the satellites. Sure it makes it presence felt with reasonable punch and power, but do an A/B comparison with a decent powered subwoofer and you’ll soon hear what it’s missing.
There are absolutely no complaints about the LG’s picture quality – it’s capable of sending dazzlingly sharp pictures to your TV, backed up by bold yet natural colours, smooth tonal blends and terrific shadow detailing. 3D playback is an entrancing experience thanks to the system’s faultless handling of the complex full 1080p signals. We couldn’t discern any glitches or artefacts at all.
The LG BH9520TW Blu-ray surround system is a top drawer home cinema system, right up there with the Panasonic SC-BTT590s and Samsung HT-E6750Ws of this world. Not only does it boast a killer feature list, but also a slick operating system and offers superb performance – pretty much all you could ask for from a one-box cinema system. There are flaws in the sound and £700 is hardly peanuts, but we really can’t see any major reason why you wouldn’t consider it money well spent.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 8
|Number of Speakers||6|
|Audio Processing||Cinema 3D Sound|
|Dolby Pro Logic II||No|
|DTS Master Audio HD||Yes|
|Composite Video In||No|
|Component Video In||No|
|Component Video Out||No|
|S/PDIF Optical In||Yes|
|S/PDIF Coax In||No|
|Stereo Line In||Yes|
|Stereo Line Out||No|
|iPod Dock||Yes via USB|