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LG Music Flow Smart Hi-Fi review - hands on with a serious Sonos rival

Tom Morgan
30 Aug 2014
LG Music Flow speakers
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LG's first multi-room audio system has learned from the best and could may prove to be serious competition for Sonos

LG is finally ready to launch its Music Flow wireless multi-room speaker system, in an effort to take on established names like Sonos but avoid the pitfalls of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections by using a proprietary mesh network for the best wireless performance.

We were at the UK launch last week to put the system through its paces, in order to bring you some early hands-on impressions.

We heard the first Music Flow speaker at a behind-the-scenes LG event in April, but the rest of the range was still to be finalised. Last week's official announcement revealed that the company has renamed the NP8740 to the much simpler H5, with the smaller H3 and larger H7 completing the standalone speaker range. That's very similar to the current Sonos range, which is comprised of the Play:1, Play:3 and Play:5, and nearly identical to Denon's rival Heos 3, Heos 5 and Heos 7 multi-room speakers.

The 70W H7 is the pick of the bunch, with Bluetooth streaming and NFC connectivity, a 3.5mm auxiliary input jack and wired Ethernet. It will cost £328.99, around £20 less than the Sonos equivalent, and should comfortably be able to a fill a room with sound just by itself. The mid-range H5 has a smaller 40W driver, but costs less - £229.99 per speaker. It has the same features as the larger model, however, and should fit more comfortably in a smaller room. The entry-level H3 speaker is set to cost £149.99 when it arrives later in the year. It has a 30W driver inside, and is ideal for setting up as a stereo pair or as part of a surround sound system.

LG will also expand the range with the HS6 soundbar, a £499.99 home cinema speaker that can connect to existing Music Flow units to add surround sound playback to your films and games. Complete with wireless subwoofer, the HS6 will produce 320W of sound power and support 5.1 DTS playback when paired with a set of H3s.

Finally, the £49.99 R1 network bridge will help set up Music Flow even if you don't have room to wire up a speaker directly to your router. Unfortunately there's currently no way to add Music Flow abilities to an existing speaker or sound system, so you'll have to fully commit to LG's ecosystem.

The entire range borrows materials, colours and shapes from LG's TVs and home cinema speakers, so should fit in smoothly with your existing gadgets. Each one looks stylish without demanding your attention, and based on our experience the build quality is excellent - every speaker feels suitably weighty and aren't adorned with unecessary LEDs.

According to LG, the entire range was designed with balanced sound and clear vocals in mind. We got to listen to a range of different genres throughout the night, and were impressed with the clarity. Acoustic and instrumental tracks had crisp and clean highs, letting us hear the detail from guitar strings and cymbals, while rock and electronic songs had a welcome amount of deep, low-end rumble. 

Switching to films, the soundbar had an excellent balance of vocal clarity and action at the low end, with the wireless subwoofer able to shake the room when turned up high. Paired with some H3 speakers at the rear, the virtual surround effects were convincing too, although still not quite as immersive as a full 5.1 system.

The accompanying Music Flow app will let you stream tracks stored locally on your smartphone or tablet, or music from online services like Spotify, Deezer, Napster and TuneIn, to all the speakers in a setup at once. You'll also be able to play a different track on each speaker, all from the one device. With 24bit/192KHz support, Music Flow will play nicely with hi-res FLAC files as well as regular MP3s.

You'll also be able to use LG's HomeChat system to "talk" to your speakers. Using a messaging app, you'll be able to send commands remotely to a Music Flow system and have it respond to your requests. This seems a little daft though, as unlike with LG's remote controlled washing machines, there's no benefit to starting up your speaker system remotely - particularly when it has Auto Sync.

The feature we're most excited about will take the track or playlist you're listening to through headphones on your smartphone as you enter the house and automatically play it through your Music Flow system once you're in range. According to LG this feature is unique to Music Flow, although we've seen similar setups using third party software like IFTTT.

Based on what we've seen, LG has done a fantastic job with its app and the speakers themselves sound fantastic. Music Flow has a few drawbacks compared to Sonos, most notably that you need at least one device wired in to your router and that it's impossible to create cross-service playlists mixing Spotify, local tracks and songs saved to a network, but considering it's the company's first attempt at multi-room we're hoping these are issues that get fixed in the long term.

The H5 and H7 speakers are set to go on sale in the UK later this month alongside the R1 network bridge, with the H3 speaker and HS6 soundbar to follow shortly after. LG has picked the UK as one of the first countries to get the system, so we're hoping to get the chance to give it a full review soon.

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