Alternative title: improving my mood via ridiculous consumerism
Prior to the pandemic, the centre of all my entertainment was my computer desk. I'd get home and sit at my desk, watch videos, play games, listen to music, browse the web, chat, etc. I've spent time, effort & money making sure my desk setup is something I enjoy being at.
I'd happily come home, even after a day sitting at a desk at work, and go straight to my own desk. It might seem odd to some, but I liked it.
But the pandemic has somewhat changed this. I'm now sat at my home desk all day for work, and I began to find it difficult to enjoy the normal things I would whilst sat at my computer at my desk. With a winter lockdown upon us, I felt like I needed to find a way to enjoy the things I normally enjoy in a different way.
I could sit at my sofa and use my TV? My PC is plugged into my TV, I have access to all the streaming services I need, but.. it just wasn't that compelling. My TV was a 10 year old Panasonic plasma. A very good TV for a good while, but it's 1080p, not HDR, and a bit too small for my liking (42").
The LG OLEDs have been very good for a few years now, they've been coming down in price, have excellent features and brilliant picture quality. I avoided TV upgrades for so long because I didn't want to go from a plasma to an LCD, I wanted to wait for OLED to become attainable.
OLED has been attainable for a little while now, but given I rarely used my TV, I wasn't really in the market for a new one.
With the LG CX (and the prior C9), the stars aligned. Late last year I completed my PC upgrade, against all odds, I managed to get an AMD Ryzen 5950x and more importantly, an NVIDIA RTX 3080. The latter being important due to its support for HDMI 2.1.
This enabled a couple of important things:
- 4k@120Hz, HDR, 10bit, 4:4:4 Chroma subsampling
- G-Sync (variable rate refresh)
I game at my desk on a 1440p, 144hz, G-Sync IPS display. I never wanted to game on my TV because it was an inferior experience.
That's no longer the case - the LG CX is better in pretty much all ways I care about. So I bought one. It came in late December.
It's a fantastic TV, paired with the RTX 3080 - it has provided an excellent experience. Playing games in 4k, 120hz, HDR with G-Sync enabled on an OLED TV is not something I expected to be doing in 2020/2021. I didn't expect high refresh rate, variable rate refresh to be a thing on good TVs, let alone the best TVs.
It's uncommon for these kind of consumer electronics to get the combination of features so right, there's usually some big and annoying commission or compromise - but for me - there isn't. It nails it and as a result, I'm spending a lot less time at my desk.
The LG CX's in built speakers are surprisingly decent considering:
A) they're rear facing speakers
B) the profile of the TV is.. very thin.
But obviously there's only so much TV speakers can do, and to have such a great visual experience without an adequate audio experience seems like a real shame.
I briefly entertained the idea of doing a regular DIY surround setup with speakers + receiver, but I don't have the room, I don't want the added complexity and the added headache of worrying about if my receiver will ever bottleneck or reduce the feature set of my sources is just not worth it to me.
Soundbars are obviously not as good as a proper 5.1/7.1 surround setup - but that's not the point of them - it's to provide a better audio experience that is easier, simpler and more accessible. That's the reason why they're so popular.
So I began looking for decent soundbars that had some upward facing speakers to at least try and give some height effects when playing Dolby Atmos content. But I couldn't quite find a system that seemed to be rated well enough at the things I care about at a reasonable price.
I gave up. I thought I'd see what CES brought and maybe try in a few months.
Sonos Arc + Sonos One surround speakers
I had discounted the Arc quite early on, it's £800 for the soundbar alone. That's a lot of money. Way more than I was intending to spend. It's only £500 off the cost of the TV I just bought!
But over the course of a week or two, I began seeing more impressions / reviews that aligned with what I was looking for. I was more and more convinced that as a soundbar alone, the Sonos Arc seemed to be a good one. But it was still too expensive.
However, I then realised I could factor in a couple more points in favour of the Arc:
- I already had two Sonos One speakers. They're pretty good speakers for listening to music and podcasts, I'm pretty happy with their sound quality and the general user experience of them. I could use them as rear channel speakers with the Sonos Arc! I had a convenient place to put them on the back of my sofa at each end, and to wire them up to power fairly neatly.
- Because I have those Sonos speakers and already use them to listen to music and podcasts, I'm already in that Sonos ecosystem. Adding the soundbar would be a nice addition to that listening experience.
But still! £800! No. way.
Thankfully Bitcoin blew up and I used that to justify the purchase. Sorted. Thanks volatile cryptocurrency and your unfathomable value!
Arc + Surround impressions
Using the eArc port on my TV, the system is simple, easy to use, seamless and has worked perfectly without skipping a beat since. No lip-sync issues, no drop outs, my Atmos content is detected properly (PC based Dolby Atmos content required a setting change on the TV to passthrough).
I've been super happy with it. I do believe in my relatively small space, that I'm probably not far off ideal conditions for a soundbar like this - it's quite a boxy room, quite small, and I'm seated reasonably close to the TV. The soundbar gets incredibly loud without distortion, so I do think it would be able to fill much larger spaces well too though.
Testing the soundbar itself, before adding the surround speakers, I was impressed with the height channels. The height channels are upward firing speakers on the soundbar which bounce sound off the ceiling to your seating position to simulate an overhead effect from Dolby Atmos content. I should be clear though, it is definitely a subtle effect - there's only so much you can expect from this method of attempting to create the overhead effects.
A true Dolby Atmos setup would have actual speakers mounted overhead. This is a simulated attempt, and it does a surprisingly good job all things considered. The directionality of the overhead effects is particularly impressive, it's not just a flat and static overhead audio channel - you can hear sounds approaching and passing by in a particular direction. Again, it's subtle - I don't want to overstate it - but given the limitations it's working within, I'm reasonably impressed.
On the surround channels from the soundbar alone, these are also impressive and are more convincing, the 11 speakers across the bar are put to work well. It even somehow manages to get close to beginning to simulate a rear channel, perhaps by bouncing sound off the walls immediately behind me? Again as I said, I actually think I'm probably pretty close to the ideal conditions for all these simulated effects to work well, so YMMV.
So, soundbar alone? I'd have been very happy with it as-is. It is a real and significant upgrade over the TV speakers in every way. But I never intended to just use the soundbar alone. A key decision in buying this soundbar was so that I could utilise the speakers I already had as real rear channels.
I enabled them and was immediately blown away. This was after running the Sonos tuning software (trueplay) - as I did when the Sonos Arc was running by itself. It felt perfectly tuned for my seating position, I had to turn the bass down on the system (Arc + surrounds) as for my small space it felt a little much - including the vibrations felt in the couch, which is very cool and immersive, but has to be done in moderation.
On the subject of bass, many people recommend getting the Sonos Sub as part of this surround setup. And I'm sure even in my space it'd be a good improvement, but in terms of bass - I'm more than satisfied. If I ever move into a larger space though - the Sub will be next on the list.
The surrounds, being literally mounted on my couch arms (behind seating position - they're stable and out of the way) feel well placed and offer a real surround experience, this is no longer just a simulated effect.
Music listening is also a really fantastic experience when sitting right in the middle of the system. There are two modes you can listen to music in: ambient and 'full'. I choose full, which pipes the music in full through all of the speakers (appropriately for each speaker type).
Finally: the physical design of the Arc is also quite nice. It's a large bar, but it is relatively understated and doesn't stand out too much. It fits in well.
Has it worked?
I'm a month and a half in to my new setup, and, yes. I'd say it has worked. I don't spend anywhere near as much time at my desk anymore, so I'm less physically fatigued. I'm able to enjoy gaming more - 4k, 120hz, HDR, G-Sync gaming on an OLED is a wonderful experience.
There are still many types of games I prefer to play at my desk, but for the more laid back games I like to play on a controller, I prefer to play on my TV.
I've watched a great deal more TV and film. Which this setup is obviously excellent for. I already avoided the cinema as much as possible, I can't imagine I'll be rushing back anytime soon now that I have this.
Whilst I'm stuck inside more (weather, lockdown, etc), it has definitely improved my mood and given me a nice distraction.
A practical note about the Sonos Arc and the LG CX. The TV comes with quite a nice stand, it's low profile and nicely designed. But as it's very low, it means you have practically no space in front of the TV to place a soundbar without blocking at least a bit of the screen.
The Sonos Arc is also tall, so combining the low sitting position of the TV and the height of the Arc - you're cutting off a decent slice of your TV by default.
I knew and expected this - so ordered a replacement stand for the TV. A standard VESA TV stand which allowed me to configure the height. It took a great deal of time and effort for me to find the right height for the TV which would:
- Leave as little gap between the bottom of the TV and the top of the soundbar (for neatness)
- Leave enough of a gap that when laying flat on the sofa that the soundbar would still not block any part of the TV.
It took me a good 10-12 tries, each involving me carrying the large and heavy TV off the TV cabinet, un-mounting it from the stand and unscrewing / remounting the mounts at different heights. It was a real pain, but I managed it in the end.
Laying flat on my sofa at the lowest angle reduces the gap to basically nothing without covering the TV, and whilst sat up right the gap is reasonably small.
I've got a few photos below in case for whatever reason someone is searching for suggestions on using a Sonos Arc with an LG CX.