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LG USC9S review: The perfect partner for the LG C3?

Our Rating :
£799.00 from
Price when reviewed : £800
inc VAT

The LG USC9S is designed for use with one of the company’s most popular OLED TVs, the LG C3, but is it any good?


  • Powerful, room-filling sound
  • Harmonises surprisingly well with C3 TVs
  • Neat design


  • Needs the C3/C2 to sound its best
  • The sub can come on rather strong
  • A bit expensive

The LG USC9S is one of only two new soundbars being released by the South Korean manufacturer in 2023. Instead of bringing a full new range to market as it usually would, the company has rolled most of last year’s models over and issued them with a firmware update that adds a surprisingly wide range of new features.

But the USC9S is an entirely new addition to the lineup and far from a standard one. It’s designed to be the perfect partner for LG’s C series OLED TVs and comes complete with a bracket that lets you attach it to most 2022 and 2023 C series screens. Intriguing as this makes the USC9S sound, it’s fair to say it also raises a few questions about its potential performance. So how well does it perform? Read on to find out.

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LG USC9S review: What you need to know

The USC9S comprises a main soundbar plus a subwoofer and has been designed for use alongside LG’s 2023 C3 and 2022 C2 mid-range OLED TVs. A mounting bracket is included in the box that enables the bar to be attached to the 55in, 65in and 77in C2 and C3 so it becomes either part of the TV’s stand if it’s sitting on a bit of furniture, or can hang just below the screen if the TV has been wall mounted.

It’s also designed to share functionality and audio duties with C3 and C2 TVs, so it can take advantage of their powerful audio processing and expand the soundbar’s audio staging by adding the TVs’ speakers to those built into the soundbar.

This doesn’t mean the USC9S has to be used with an LG C2 or C3 OLED TV, however. Some of its enhanced features can be used with other LG TVs, and it can function as a normal soundbar with any other brand of TV. Only with the C2 and C3 OLEDs, however, will you get the full twin benefits of LG-specific extra TV compatibility and the included fixing bracket.

The USC9S supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound, which it can play through a 3.1.3 channel count that includes three up-firing height channel drivers rather than the usual two. The third, central up-firer is used to essentially double up the centre channel sound so that its output can sound more as if it’s coming from your screen. You can expand the USC9S to a true surround sound system by adding an SPQ8-S package comprising two rear speakers that connect via cables to a wireless receiver unit.

READ NEXT: Our favourite Dolby Atmos soundbars

LG USC9S review: Price and competition

A fairly short-lived launch price of £1,000 has now dropped to £800. This new price seems much more sensible for a two-piece soundbar that needs to be used in quite specific circumstances to get the maximum value out of it.

After all, LG offers a full surround-sound (with rear speakers) soundbar package in the shape of the S80QR for £1,099, just £100 more than the USC9S’s launch price. Samsung, meanwhile, has a full surround-sound package in the form of the Q930C, which has a list price of £1,049 but was available for just £696 at the time of writing.

At the £800 level, the USC9S is up against numerous other single-bar or bar-plus-subwoofer models, such as the same-priced Samsung HW-Q800C, the Sonos Arc (£899), and the Sony HT-A5000 (£699). These are all highly acclaimed rivals, so even at £800 the USC9S has its work cut out to stake its claim against such a competitive crowd. Its unique functionality with the C2/C3 should increase its appeal to anyone who owns one of those very popular TVs, however.

LG USC9S review: Design and features

Whether you’re using it as a standalone soundbar system or you’ve got it attached to an LG C2 or C3 OLED TV, the USC9S is an attractive proposition.

The main bar is pleasingly compact considering it’s packing 400W of audio power and speakers for six separate channels: just 975 x 125 x 63mm (WDH). Those channels comprise three at the front and, unusually, three top-mounted up-firers. It also sports a beautifully smooth finish on its top edge that contrasts nicely with the three up-firing drivers.

The front edge and sides all boast a metallic-looking grille-style finish that stands out nicely against the smooth top edge, and rounded corners contrast well with the soundbar’s relatively sharp edges.

The USC9S subwoofer is inevitably a much chunkier affair than the main bar. It again features a nice crisp finish on its top and sides, and its relatively tall and thin profile means it tucks quite nicely down the side of a sofa or armchair.

One niggle about the USC9S’s design is that it doesn’t feature a proper LED readout. Figuring out volume levels, selected inputs and so on depends on a rather inscrutable system of coloured LED lights. You learn what all these lights mean eventually, but it’s certainly not an intuitive approach. Fortunately, it’s much easier to track what the USC9S is doing if you control it via LG’s Sound Bar app for Android and iOS.

Once you’ve gone through the seriously fiddly process of attaching it to the TV and, especially, the soundbar, the USC9S’s LG bracket actually works brilliantly. It supports the TV with plenty of strength and stability if you use it in its desktop stand configuration, while the wall bracket mounting option also looks very tidy, creating a slim but strong shelf for the soundbar to perch on just beneath the screen.

Aesthetically, then, the USC9S definitely gets real mileage out of the fact that it’s made for the LG C2 and C3. But what about the enhanced features that partnering the soundbar with a C2 or C3 TV can deliver?

LG USC9S review - wall bracket stand

Perhaps the most important of these is WOW Orchestra, where the speakers in the soundbar are joined by the speakers in the TV to create a supposedly larger, more detailed sound stage. In the USC9S’s case, this means that all the speakers in the soundbar are joined by all the speakers in the C2 and C3 TVs.

It’s also now possible for the soundbar and LG TVs to share different sound modes with each other, and for the soundbar to be controlled by the LG TVs’ remote controls – right down to some of the USC9S’s features appearing within the TV’s onscreen menus.

I should stress, though, that all of these features bar the special mounting bracket can also be achieved between many of LG’s soundbars and latest TVs. They’re not exclusive to the USC9S/C series TVs.

The soundbar can also play high-resolution audio files with samples up to 24 bits/96kHz, while available wireless service options include support for AirPlay 2, Tidal Connect, Chromecast and Spotify Connect. As well as supporting the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound formats, the USC9S can handle the IMAX Enhanced version of DTS:X.

From launch, the USC9S has benefitted from new features that LG has also introduced to the premium 2022 models that are still being sold in 2023. So, as well as the improved WOW Orchestra feature I’ve already mentioned, there’s LG’s WOWCast system for wireless transmission via an optional dongle capable of delivering lossless Dolby Atmos sound.

There’s also support for Triple Level Spatial sound, which claims to add a virtual mid-layer to the sound stage to help it build a more cohesive and immersive audio presence, and an improved Smart Up-Mixer system, which claims to do a better job of up-converting stereo sources into multi-channel mixes.

A new Clear Voice Plus feature seeks to make vocal tracks more prominent, while the USC9S’s AI Room Calibration Pro system for automatically optimising the sound to your room benefits from new, improved bass management.

LG USC9S review: Connections and control

The USC9S’s connectivity is pretty good. Particularly nice to find is an HDMI passthrough system, where you can connect an external device to a single HDMI input and pass the video from that source through to your TV via an HDMI output. The HDMI output can also be used to receive audio – including lossless Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks – from your TV using HDMI’s eARC functionality.

Gamers with the latest consoles or a high-end PC will be pleased to hear that the USC9S’s HDMI passthrough supports 4K resolution graphics at 120Hz, as well as variable refresh rates. Unfortunately, though, the 4K/120Hz only extends to standard dynamic range images. If you want to retain HDR (the USC9S does support Dolby Vision passthrough) with a game source, you’ll have to stick with a 60Hz frame rate. VRR only works up to 60Hz, too. Other connections include a USB service port and an optical digital audio input, as well as the now inevitable Bluetooth (version 5.0) and Wi-Fi options.

LG USC9S review - remote control being held

I mentioned in the design section that you can control the USC9S via a mobile phone app or your LG TV remote and menus (if you have a reasonably recent set). The USC9S also ships with an easy-to-use remote control, as well as offering support for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice control. If you can’t lay your hands on your phone app or the remote control, there’s a set of touch-sensitive on-bar buttons. The only frustrating thing about using the USC9S, really, is the previously mentioned lack of a proper LED display.

READ NEXT: The best TVs to buy no matter your budget

LG USC9S review: Sound quality

LG has developed a reputation for soundbars that go big. And despite its fairly compact size and the fact that it’s designed to harmonise with LG TVs, the USC9S upholds that reputation.

Soundtracks don’t get more humungous than some of the industrial scoring sections of the first couple of chapters of Blade Runner 2049. So it’s gratifying to hear the USC9S delivering these massive moments at a cavernous, room-filling scale that combines huge projection (how far the sound spreads beyond the soundbar’s physical form) with serious loudness. This is all delivered without distortion, drop outs, crackles or buzzes – even at volume levels way beyond anything normal ears will be comfortable with.

The vast staging of the main soundbar is partnered with a pretty impressive dynamic range, too. Shrill trebles are handled clearly and convincingly, without harshness, while at the other end of the spectrum the bar gets lower than most without those bass sounds appearing compressed, over-dominant or boxed in. And there’s plenty of fulsome, lively staging ranged between these two frequency response extremes, creating a consistently forceful and dense sound.

The new subwoofer design pumps out some of the deepest bass support we’ve heard from a soundbar system. This bass is clean and well rounded, too, giving true cinematic heft and impact to big movie staples such as explosions, punches, crashes, alien invasions, dinosaur footprints and the rest. The enthusiastic efforts of the subwoofer, in fact, are the biggest reason to buy the USC9S over its illustrious standalone soundbar rivals.

Vocals are clear, convincing and, thanks to the up-firing driver that repeats the centre channel information, sound accurately positioned on your screen. The USC9S also does a decent job when it comes to detailing, at least to the extent that subtle details in a mix tend to be cleanly and clearly presented.

LG USC9S review - up-firing speaker and controls

Using the soundbar and sub by themselves, without any input from our companion LG C3 OLED TV, I didn’t feel that specific location details in a film mix were placed quite as precisely as they are by some rival soundbars. The impact balance between effects didn’t always feel quite right, either, with some relatively small, background effects occasionally sounding a little too bright, while some dominant effects could sound a little pushed back.

When I added the C3 speakers via WOW Orchestra – the approach LG ideally wants you to take – both of these niggles were improved. The soundstage became slightly bigger in the vertical domain, and effects appeared with slightly better balance and more effective positioning. I also felt that the new Triple Level Spatial sound feature was at its most noticeable and effective with the C3’s speakers added to the mix.

The fact that adding the C3’s speakers to those of the USC9S has such beneficial effects is honestly quite a surprise given that the TV’s speakers aren’t actually very powerful by built-in TV speaker standards. LG has clearly worked hard on refining the tone and balance of the USC9S’s and C3’s on-paper very different audio capabilities so that they really do harmonise together quite nicely.

LG USC9S review - rear view compatible with

The only negative is that LG has seemingly had to slightly narrow the main soundbar’s soundstage a bit in WOW Orchestra mode to avoid the sort of vertical sound funnelling that might have occurred if the TV’s speakers were left sitting above the soundstage width that the soundbar is natively capable of producing.

There are a couple of residual issues with the USC9S’s movie performance, too, even when it’s being run alongside a C3 or C2 (or other LG Wow Orchestra-capable TVs). First, the bass from the subwoofer can come on a little too strong at times, drawing a tad too much attention to itself and sounding a little detached from the dynamic range of the main soundbar. Second, vocals feel a little short of forward projection at times.

I should also add, even though it’s pretty obvious, that in its out-of-the-box configuration, with no optional rear speakers in play, you only get an in-front-of-you audio experience rather than the full hemisphere of sound around you that’s associated with true Dolby Atmos.

LG USC9S review - soundbar on a table

All the results described above were achieved using the soundbar’s Standard sound profile. There’s also an AI Sound Pro option that uses processing to make the soundstage even bigger and more dynamic. This actually works quite well – more effectively than previous iterations on older LG soundbars, and especially with concert-type content, such as the classic Hans Zimmer Live in Prague Blu-ray. There’s a more pronounced sense of both height and width to the soundbar’s presentation, dialogue is even more noticeably locked to your TV screen, and the sound’s dynamic range appears slightly more extreme, too.

The AI Sound Pro mode does make vocals sound a bit more diffuse, though – a little less forceful, and more like they’re coming from the edge of the screen. Also, trebles sound slightly over-emphasised in this mode, even a touch harsh during very dense moments. For these two reasons, I personally preferred to stick with the Standard sound setting for films.

Turning to the USC9S’s performance with music, it’s pretty good rather than brilliant. In straight stereo mode, there’s a strong and well-balanced sense of left and right separation, and vocals are well staged over the rest of the mix. Everything sounds clean without becoming clinical and, for the most part, it all appears smooth and cohesive; nothing sounds jarring, and tempo shifts in a track don’t appear forced.

LG USC9S review - up-firing speaker and LEDs

Very high-pitched vocals can sound a touch harsh, though, and the soundbar doesn’t accommodate the subwoofer into music quite as successfully as it does with movie soundtracks. Perhaps because the sub’s main strength is at the very lowest frequencies, LG doesn’t get it to join in the fun as often as it does with movies – meaning that when it does appear, it can sound a little too obvious.

Switching to AI Sound Pro, which remixes music to take advantage of the system’s full speaker and WOW Orchestra potential, you get a much larger, more room-filling soundstage that can suit certain epic, industrial or ambient types of music quite nicely. It can sound a little clinical and forced with regular pop and rock tracks, though, as well as making vocals sound more muted and causing some relatively sibilant sounds to become a bit too prominent in the mix. Personally, for most musical listening, I found myself preferring the Standard setting.

One last performance point to mention is that I have seen reports in some quarters of users experiencing one or two problems – such as drop-outs and lag between devices – when trying to use the USC9S in conjunction with C2 and C3 TVs. That said, the only issue I experienced was sound taking a little longer to appear after hitting play in WOW Orchestra mode than it did through the soundbar alone.

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LG USC9S review: Verdict

The LG USC9S is an interesting addition to both LG’s soundbar range and the soundbar world at large. The included bracket that allows it to become a perfect design partner for LG’s C3 and C2 OLED TVs is a lovely touch, regardless of whether you’re wall-hanging or desktop-mounting them.

The way the soundbar’s performance is actually improved overall by combining it with the speakers in those LG TVs also gives us one of the soundbar world’s most successful soundbar/TV sound quality synergies.

There are a couple of issues, though. I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that some aspects of the USC9S’s performance are so designed with the C2/C3 partnership in mind that they slightly hold back its performance as a standalone system. The subwoofer could be a touch more nimble, too (though its weight and depth are both excellent), and music can sound a touch forced at the extremes of its frequency response.

These niggles are enough to give people looking at the USC9S as a potential partner for a non-LG TV pause for thought. But they’re likely not enough to dissuade C2 and C3 owners from considering the USC9S to be almost as ideal a partner for their TV as LG hoped it would be.

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