Price (RRP): $1099
For the 17 people in Australia who still haven’t taken the surround sound plunge (and for the rest of us who are looking at an upgrade), home-theatre-in-a-box kits remain the easiest and most complete way to get audio in four corners of your viewing room.
A single Blu-ray receiver unit provides media playback and controls the output, and the speakers are all identical (except for the centre) to have minimum impact on your decor.
LG’s top-of-the-line solution is big on style – and doesn’t shirk on functionality either – while, of course, remaining a solution for those who don’t want to go down the component route.
The BH9530TW is distinguished from its 2013 brethren by the funky bright yellow Aramid Fibre speakers. All five tallboy units sport these eye-catching cones, which are claimed to provide superior sound to plain old paper.
The other neat trick is that on top of each of the four main speakers is another upward-firing driver, which lets LG call this a 9.1 channel system that provides what LG calls ‘3D sound’.
Strictly speaking, it’s not a true 9.1 system (which would add two extra side channels and two extra back channels), but it’s an interesting way to give extra oomph to what are otherwise very slender speaker towers.
The rear channels are claimed as ‘wireless’, but of course in practice this really means ‘not connected to the main electronics unit’. Like similar wireless surround systems they still have to be wired up to a surprisingly bulky receiver box, and that box has to be plugged into the power-point.
The Blu-ray receiver unit incorporates a USB port and 3D Blu-ray drive and decodes all your favourite audio and video formats. With 2160p upscaling, the unit is also ready to mate with Ultra High Definition televisions, such as LG’s 84 inch LM9600 ($15,999).
A total of 1460 watts total output is claimed for the unit, with 200 watts reserved for the subwoofer, 180 watts for the centre channel, and 90 watts each for the surround speakers and vertical speakers.
Bluetooth and NFC allow streaming from compatible tablets and mobile phones, and with wireless LAN built-in you can integrate the system to your home’s WiFi to take advantage of handy Smart features. These include LG premium content apps such iView, SBS on Demand, BigPond Movies and vTuner, as well as the usual social networking apps, Skype and 3D video.
One of the real appeals of a home-theatre-in-a-box system is its ease of setup. Arrange the speakers in the corners of the room, plug them all in via the colour-coded wires, attach a TV via HDMI, and you’re away. The Blu-ray receiver has only a couple of inputs, enough for a games console and a PVR, so if you have half a dozen devices for some reason, you might still need to throw a basic AV switcher into the stack
When you switch on the system for the first time, it runs through a setup procedure that measures the output of each speaker and adjusts sound performance for your particular room.
For a single-box solution, the BH9530TW sounds good. Lots of clarity in the mid-range, highs that aren’t too harsh, and thanks to the subwoofer, lots of meaty bass.
The Aramid Fibre speakers seem to impart a slightly crisper nuance to movie soundtracks compared to some similarly priced paper-cone speakers we had to hand, but of course they are best for movie soundtracks. Great music, as always, is better served by dedicated stereo speakers.
The supplied remote allows single-button configuration of various surround modes, including the ‘3D surround’ setting that directs audio through the upward-firing speakers to create the impression of sound coming from above, as well as from the sides.
Would we call this a killer feature? Not really, though it does round out the sound a little more when activated. We would have preferred larger drivers in a traditional configuration.
When it came to handling content, the system did well with everything on a disc – DVD, Blu-ray, CD – but was less happy with digital files. For some files encoded in stereo, the system could not up-mix the audio to 5.1 surround, something most component-style AV receivers can do.
When you don’t have the space or budget for a custom assembled surround system with a big, bulky AV receiver in the middle, a single-box solution can be a useful compromise – but it will always remain a compromise, compared to dedicated kit.
However, the BT9530TW does a lot to make that compromise seem not so bad at all: big sound, sleek good looks, and a compact Blu-ray receiver console.
The ‘9.1 channel’ claim is cheeky, but the extra drivers do add to the overall quality of the audio.
If you’re tight on space, or need a simple, stylish solution, the BT9530TW will get your windows rattling and the neighbours banging on the wall, no problem.