AV Peripherals and Systems Guide
Hands-on: LG BH9430PW 9.1-channel Home Theater Speaker System
Among the barrage of TV-related product releases, LG also had a number of small updates to it room/home audio products such as sleeker sound bar solutions that are better compatible with a wider range of TVs in terms of positioning and placement. Leading the charge for audio solutions is their '9.1-channel' home theatre speaker system.
As with most home-theatre-in-a-box (HTIB) solutions, most of the audio processing and amplification capabilities are handled by a slim AV receiver with a built-in Blu-ray disc player. The biggest improvement in this year's 9.1-channel sound system over last year is that it now doubles up as a smart hub for your devices by supporting LG's Smart Share functionality and being able to mirror content playback from compatible devices. And yes, the LG BH9430PW even supports NFC technology for simplified device pairing and content sharing. The system is also compatible with iPhones and iPads to charge and access their stored content.
Other features and functions of the HTIB system are mostly similar to the previous edition, the LG BH9420PW. Physically, the drivers are much better reinforced with Kevlar-like material used for the speaker cones which LG clarified saying is high-tensile Aramid fiber. This should assist to reduce distortion and help produce a wider range of audio. Unfortunately, we didn't have the older HTIB set to perform and A/B comparison, but from the brief period of audio playback we were granted to form out initial opinions, the home theatre set sounded decent for its intended audience.
In terms of device configuration, the system comes with four tallboy speakers, of which the rear two tallboys are wireless units. All four main speaker units are configured with dual mid-range drivers (three-inch variety) and a tweeter each. Essentially, all tallboys are basically two-way speakers with a tweeter component handling the high notes. The center channel is also similarly configured as the main speakers. Rounding up the package is a passive subwoofer, but the combined gear is just adequate for a true 5.1-channel speaker system. So where did the other four channels go to?
Now that we've found the four 'missing' channels, a point to note that in all strictness, the LG BH9430PW is a true 5.1-channel speaker set. Just adding more drivers anywhere doesn't automatically make it an x-channel speaker system. This is because the audio standards for 5.1 and 7.1-channel speaker systems have been well defined from a positioning and audio delivery perspective that the industry uses these standards to design speaker systems and appropriate audio content to take advantage of the hardware in proper.
In the case of this '9.1-channel' speaker system, there's no real audio standard to address the audio properties of such a system. What exists in the market are post-process audio conversion technologies like DTS Neo:X (supports up to 9.1 / 11.1-channel speaker system) and Dolby Pro Logic IIz (supports up to 7.1 / 9.1-channel speaker system) that are among the more prominently implemented audio technologies that help up-convert traditional 5.1 and 7.1-channel audio mastering standards encoded on to consumer content like DVDs and Blu-ray. These post processing technologies use "height speakers" or otherwise also known as "presence speakers" to enhance spatial effects and add an extra audio dimension. Audio content optimized for these processing standards are embedded with the necessary height information that can be targeted to the relevant speaker and yet maintain compatibility with traditional multi-channel speaker systems.
Unfortunately, the LG BH9430PW home theater system only has support for standard decoding such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio and doesn't have support for these industry audio post processing conversion technologies. As such, the 9.1-channels are simulated by LG's 3D audio system processing to give you an enveloping surround sound field - but it's not accurate.
LG's method is commendable from space-saving perspective to achieve the quad 'height' or 'presence' speakers, but they neither follow the industry recommended positioning of true discrete speakers, nor does the system have the official post processing support in its amplifier. For casual users of the LG BH9430PW home theater system who aren't critical listeners (which are the system's intended audience), the expanded elevated sound field might actually captivate them. Audio enthusiasts however can tell at a moment's notice that generated audio envelope is simulated and not how the original audio material was intended to be heard. Of course one can switch off 3D audio, but that defeats the purpose of paying for extra hardware that you wouldn't use.
We're not saying the experience is bad, but it's just not accurate. For the casual users and HTIB buyers looking to expand the TV's audio delivery capabilities, a system like the LG BH9430PW is miles ahead of what the TV can handle. The simulated 3D surround would also likely be welcomed by these casual users looking to be captivated and entertained. As such, it is important to make a distinction between pure product excellence and with relevance to the intended target audience.
If you listen mostly to audio tracks, it is quite likely that most casual users would set their Hi-Fi or home theatre system to mirror the audio to all available speakers and not just the two front speakers (which is for stereo listening and that's what most audio tracks are designed for). As such, enabling 3D audio to activate all available channels should sound just fine for a more immersive audio listening pleasure (though once again, that's not how the audio was designed to be heard). So in a nutshell, 3D audio would appeal to some, but not all potential buyers.
Apart from the '9.1-channel' debate, there's not much to nitpick on the system as it's quite typical of this class of HTIB products. Simple, straightforward and pleasant looking should sum it up nicely and it doesn't hurt that the system comes with LG's Smart TV platform.