LG and Meridian Audio unveil jointly developed Dolby Atmos soundbars, ThinQ speaker and portable sound systems

posted on Wednesday, 18th April 2018 by Steve May

Dolby Cinema  Meridian Audio  Smart speaker 

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LG and Meridian Audio have presented a united front for the launch of their jointly developed audio range. At a global audio event in London, LG presented its ThinQ smart speaker with Google Assistant built-in, the PK series of portable Bluetooth speakers and a new soundbar family, led by the SK10Y Dolby Atmos model. Meridian Audio then opened the doors of its Huntingdon base, to talk enthusiastically about the partnership.

LG has done much to reinvent the premium end of the TV business, with its OLED TV models, and now turns to UK audio specialist Meridian to help it make similar strides with audio. “Not many people realise that the first product produced by LG in 1959 was a transistor radio,” quips David Seperson, Director of Global marketing and Communications (pictured below).

Dave Seperson

John Meridian

Meridian has provided engineering support for this inaugural range, explains Meridian Audio CEO John Buchanan (above), advising on component choice and making assorted physical changes to better serve audio quality, such as changing the shape of the drive cone container and adding absorbing materials. “The relationship is very symbiotic,” adds Seperson. “We’re learning a lot from them, they’re learning a lot from us. It’s not a one-shot deal.”

Leading the line-up is LG’s ThinQ smart speaker. Aimed at the upper end of the smart speaker market, it’s physically larger than Google’s own offering and Panasonic’s rival GA10. The £200 model is the first smart speaker we’ve seen powered by the new Android Things programming language. LG says this makes it significantly quicker to update and develop firmware for. Demonstrations of the WK7 are impressive, particularly when it comes to upper mid-range clarity.

LG’s PK Series of Bluetooth portables (the £100 PK3, £150 PK5 and £200 PK7, pictured below)) reflect the current style for urban sound systems, with pulsating lights and deep bass enhanced by dual passive radiators.

The small PK3 is aptX compatible, while its garish siblings support aptX-HD, capable of 24-bit 576 kbps data transfer. It seems these speakers are street punks with a PhD.

The PK3 is waterproof to IPX7, so if it takes a dunking around the pool, it’s still good to go. Battery life is rated at 12 hours. The PK5 and PK7 are IPX5 rated and have 18 hour and 22 hour battery life respectively, with a maximum power output of 20W and 40W. They also boast a Clear Vocal feature, which LG says plays into the trend of using connected speakers as sound systems for smartphone video playback.

The new range topping SK10Y Dolby Atmos soundbar, which retails for £1,200, is the largest yet from LG, measuring a full 65-inches wide. This reflects the growth in 65-inch TVs, it says. Even so, it represents something of a challenge when it comes to installation. LG provides a bespoke L-mount for those that want to wall mount.

PK7 PK 5 Speakers

SK10Y Soundbar

WK7 Speaker

Designated as a 5.1.2 sound system, it utilises an L/C/R array, bolstered by side-mounted far left and right speakers. Two upfiring speakers handle the Atmos height channel. Aluminium tweeters, capable of playback up to 40Hz for High-Res Audio (certified by the JAS), are said to provide a higher sound pressure level (by as much as 6dB) over silk dome tweeters.

The total power output is rated at 550W. The SK10Y offers variable overhead volume, to enable users to compensate for different ceiling heights.

The SK10Y is built around the Dolby DAP chipset, which includes a dialogue enhancer, volume leveller and volume modeller. The latter increases the bass level, even as system volume is decreased, in order to maintain a full-bodied sound at low levels. However, it’s use precludes DTS:X support. The soundbar is compatible with DTS MA though, which can be height up-sampled by the Atmos bar.

It’s partnered in the range by a smaller Dolby Atmos model, the £900 SK9Y, which has a total power output of 500W.

Joining the SK10Y and SK9Y is the 2.1 £600 SK8, this soundbar uses virtual Dolby Atmos processing, and has no upfiring speakers built-in. It’ll be a Currys/PC World exclusive. The company is also selling a separate pair of wireless rears, for use with all three high-end soundbars. This SPK8 upgrade comprises front-facing speakers and a seperate 140W two-channel amplifier.

Giving an overview of the current state of the audio market, Seperson said that while the HTIB (Home theatre in a box) sector was in decline, and mini system business static, soundbar sales were soaring, particularly in Asia. There’s also a clear trend toward Wi-Fi speakers.

While the first wave of LG with Meridian Audio products focuses a lot on High Resolution Audio, there’s no support built in for MQA, the studio-quality file format initially developed under the auspices of Meridian.

“When we started designing these products, we hadn’t yet partnered with Meridian,” reveals LG. “So we were too far down the road to include it, and no one was streaming with MQA. But we do see MQA as something in our future…”

Intriguingly, the relationship between the two companies may eventually extend beyond audio.

“This year our partnership is for audio products, but as we get more comfortable with one another and we see the direction the relationship wants to go, we’re certainly open to discussing all kinds of different things,” says Seperson. “Maybe taking the W8 wallpaper OLED TV and making that a Meridian product…”

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology journalist, who also writes for T3, TechRadar, Home Cinema Choice and ERT (amongst others).

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