LG has been making TVs, stereos and phones for quite some time. They’re a big name in the consumer electronics game, and they’re using that name to take on the biggest names in the connected home music streaming game – Sonos and Samsung – along with a number of other smaller players with a stake on the table with their new Music Flow connected speaker system.
Like other vendors in the space, Music Flow isn’t just a single product – it’s a range. The speakers are quite attractive and have some weight behind them – a good sign, suggesting a decent magnet in the speakers which is where the sound quality comes from. They require a single power outlet per speaker, they’re easy to control and my oh my, they pack a pretty serious punch!
The range is simple with a Small (H3), Medium (H5), Large (H7) and Soundbar (HS6) products on offer. If you’re combining more than one of these speaker sets you’ll need the wireless home music bridge – What I really liked about the way the Music Bridge works is that all you need to do is to plug it into your wired network, it does all the hard work for you like magic from there. The wireless bridge actually operates its own wireless network for the speakers.
The first time I set up an individual speaker I found the process a bit hit-and-miss, but I can’t put this down to issues I’ve been having with my Wifi at home – a quick reset of everything and I was up and running, then quickly moved on to installing the multi-room bridge and adding lots of speakers!
LG was kind enough to furnish us with a full complement of Music Flow speakers – H3, H5, H7 and HS6 – to not only test out the speakers individually but get a feel for the user experience of the whole Music Flow system.
The whole system really is quite innovative, and makes you feel connected to your listening experience. Each of the speakers has an NFC receiver that allows you to have your music “follow” you through your house with a simple tap of your phone on the nearest speaker – other speakers are disconnected and the streaming to the speaker you’ve just tapped begins.
Music Flow has some features that allow you to take full control of your listening, or allow the system to develop some playlists for you. Additionally, you can “chat” to your system and let it know what sort of mood you’re in, so when you walk in the door you’ll have a music stream ready to go.
Without being silly, or deliberately pun-ny about it, the bridge really does take the system from a set of stand alone speakers and turn it into a music system. Giving you the ability to control various speakers as stand alone (from the same device) items or combine them into a single force, all blasting out the same tunes right around your house.
Setup really is as simple as plugging an ethernet cable from your router directly into the back of the bridge and supplying it with power. Music Flow does all the work from there – the app recognises the bridge and adding a speaker to your system becomes easier and faster.
While the ease of setup is all well and good, the existence of the bridge itself is something a lot of Sonos competitors are hanging their products around while Sonos themselves now consider it unnecessary – their products now talk to each other across your normal wireless network instead of relying on dedicated equipment. It’ll save you about $80 in the process.
The H3 is the baby of the bunch, but it packs enough punch to sound great in your backyard, kitchen, living room or bedroom. It’s not the most powerful speaker you’ll come across at 30W, but with a surprising heft to it, it’s not surprising to find that the quality of audio rather belies its size.
You’ve got the option when you hook up the speaker to connect via Ethernet or via Wifi, I opted for Ethernet on this one; Via the app I followed the bouncing ball and very quickly was streaming music to my first speaker in the set. Some pretty simple controls (given the majority of control is done via the app) are built into the H3 which include power and volume , with a capacitive circular control very similar to an iPod’s touch-controlled clickwheel.
While it’s capable of pushing some booming sound out, the H3 is obviously designed for space-conscious users in restricted areas like a bedroom or perhaps a bookshelf in your home. It doesn’t look out of place tucked away in any little space, and is a relatively cheap way to jump in and find out if the Music Flow system is going to work for you.
A big step up in both size and sound quality, the H5 device delivers well when compared to the H3 but doesn’t completely drain your bank account dry. With a modest yet well delivered 40W, the H5 is more than capable of delivering some serious sound even as a replacement for a living room stereo.
What really surprised me is how dynamic the audio capabilities of this unit are. I ran a simple 3.5mm plug into the portable input for this from my television and use it instead of the built in speakers for a while and the depth of sound is impressive. Voice channels are crisp without being sharp (if you’ve experienced this you know exactly what I’m talking about), mid range sound is clean and the low end; particularly when you see the size of this thing is nothing short of impressive.
I think probably the biggest selling point for this particular unit for me was on Australia Day, when I had the Triple J Hottest 100 streaming to it (as well as the H3 and H7 at times) all day. Some speakers are better suited to a particular type of music due to the way they deliver the power and audio range, but the H5 is a truly capable all-rounder. You’re going to struggle to surpass it in sound quality without spending significantly higher sums of money.
Now we’re getting pretty serious. The H7 packs a seriously impressive 70W, and if you decide to give the volume a crank in the right direction you’ll know about it. On its own, this is a pretty serious speaker – it packs a wallop and really delivers across the full range of sound, much as the H5 does.
While there’s a lot more to it, the H7 could essentially be described as the bigger and more powerful brother to the H5 – they look very similar in design, their controls are near identical and their inputs are the same. It’s extremely important to remember though that volume and power are not the same thing when it comes to speakers.
The power that you get out of the H7 when you turn up the volume is quite astounding. The bass isn’t just present, but penetrating and I was impressed at the output (although my beautiful wife might disagree).
This particular speaker made me wonder whether I’m getting old, frugal or just being practical. Don’t get me wrong – it’s an outstanding speaker for the budget, but I couldn’t help but think that compared to the H5 and its similar functionality; unless you’re in a particularly large living space, the step up in audio performance might not be worth the step up in price.
The HS6 is the soundbar of the Music Flow family, and worthy of some recognition. Despite minimal ability to change equaliser settings on the speakers, the sound balance was quite clean – from low volume right through to “the neighbours can hear exactly what we are listening to”. Striking that balance, particularly with a sub that has as much punch as this one does, is a feat – well done, LG.
When you go beyond getting serious, you generally end up with “wow”, and the HS6 soundbar has a reasonable amount of that wow factor. The Soundbar in the Music Flow range isn’t quite as pretty as the other speakers and while it’s close it doesn’t quite “fit” if you line them all up – the colouring is slightly different than the other speakers and the design is a more focussed towards fitting in an entertainment unit with your TV instead of fitting in with a stereo.
The HS6 isn’t a cheap purchase, but it’s also nowhere near the most expensive of comparable products around with Klipsch, Bose and Sony options coming in around the $1000 mark or more.
Nose to nose, the HS6 stands up well. You’re not paying the premium for the name on top of the product you’re receiving, but you’re still going to get an extremely good sound experience for your investment and – compared to the names mentioned above – you’ll get some extra functionality from Music Flow.
The HS6’s range is extremely good, and during my testing time only found a couple of moments where I noticed any flatness – this was while listening to some classical music. It’s worth noting too that this was at reasonably low volume, so the speakers were not being driven particularly hard at the time – most people could probably overlook it and in all honesty, you’d have to be listening for it to have heard it.
The HS6 packs a whopping 320W and delivers this through a rather imposing soundbar and wireless sub. When I refer to the soundbar I really do mean imposing – it’s over 1m long, and needs to have a bit of space around it for sound to really emanate from the speaker and not just bounce off the nearest wall.
If you’ve got room for it and are looking for a whole home entertainment and music streaming system, the HS6 combined with various other Music Flow Speakers could be for you.
The Music Flow App
It’s a light, clean and simple affair, showing some restraint and remaining faithful to LG’s standard app design of recent years. It’s not really a Holo nor a Material app, but that’s probably less important.
Two things bothered me about Music Flow when I had the system set up in my house, and one of these issues has been fixed this week.
Firstly, the power input across the multiple devices is inconsistent. While there are probbaly some technical reasons for this may differ, there are also plenty of ways to get around it and have a consistent power input plug on each device to make them more portable and interchangeable than they already are, or even for keeping a spare power cable in your patio/entertaining area to move a speaker to without the need to get wiring out from behind an entertainment unit.
Secondly, when I had Music Flow, the speakers supported a lot of streaming services with the exception of a big one for many Android users – Google Play Music. That’s been addressed this week, with a new firmware update bringing support for the Google Cast protocol, and with it the ability for Music Flow to play music from Google Play Music without draining your host device’s battery to play over Bluetooth.
Music Flow is a competent competitor to Sonos, the market leader in home streaming systems, and Samsung’s Wireless Multiroom Audio system. On the surface, LG seems to have thought through the good and bad points of these and amalgamated them into a user-friendly system that’s easy to set up, easy to use and (comparatively, at least) easy on the wallet.
The hardware is attractive, and the presentation of the speakers is mostly consistent across the range of devices. The functionality and user friendliness of the app helps bring a pleasant user experience, and the sound quality is outstanding – on par with significantly more expensive speaker systems. When you’re looking at bang for buck, in my experience the LG Music Flow system offers a better user experience than any other competitor.
On the bang-for-buck front, be aware that I listed some different retailers’ prices into the review to ensure that you keep in mind that many retailers often offer better prices on some items in the same range. and price matching competitors is common practice in the retail game, so it’s worth hunting around to see who’s got the best price. Prices in this sector of the market are “fluid”, with many retailers ignoring the manufacturer’s RRP.