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There's no way I can recommend the LG Music Flow H7 with its current price-tag. While, it has a ton of connectivity options, it still doesn't make creating a multi-room audio setup any easier.
It’s quite difficult to review a product like the LG Music Flow H7 speaker that is designed to be used in a particular manner and is meant for a certain kind of user. The reason for the trouble is that most times it’s almost impossible to find a similar product that can serve as a reference point to gauge performance and value. Also, at times putting the product through the review rigmarole standardised to a fault seems unfair when the product’s strengths lie in the niche and the unconventional.
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Of course, doubts such as the above can often escalate quickly and as a result, a reviewer, such as your truly, often needs to clear his/her head and ask those three simple questions about the product:
Physically, is it a quality product?
Does it do what it claims to do & does it do it well?
Is it worth whatever amount of money it asks of its buyers?
And presto! When boiled down to those basic tenets, the doubts disappear. If any product, irrespective of price, its makers’ intentions for it or the type of buyer it targets, is unable to answer those questions with satisfactory answers, then it deserves a poor rating and not a recommendation.
How does the LG Music Flow H7 answer those questions? Let’s find out.
But first, what is it?
The LG Music Flow H7 is a wireless speaker designed to be placed in a room in your house. However, unlike most traditional wireless speakers that are happy enough to offer Bluetooth or NFC connectivity, the H7 goes overboard with its connectivity options.
Let me list them out: you can play music off your phone or PC on the H7 over Bluetooth, you can use NFC to quickly pair your phone and the H7 and then play music over Bluetooth, you can connect the H7 to your home’s wireless network and play music from your phone or PC (using Google Cast), you can plug in an ethernet cable, add the speaker to your home’s wired network and then play music from your PC or phone (if you have a wireless router), and finally, you can use a 3.5mm cable to connect your phone to the H7 and then play music. All those connectivity options mean that if you want to listen to music, the H7 ensures that you will be able to in one way or the other.
The H7 is also part of LG’s new Music Flow multi-room audio series. What this means is that theoretically, you can place multiple Music Flow speakers (LG has launched the H7, H5 and H4 speakers in India) in different rooms in your house and you will be able to enjoy seamless audio playback off one/many sources. For instance, if you move from your bedroom to your living room, the music should follow you from one speaker to the next or, if you’ve got all your Music Flow speakers and sources hooked up to the same network, you should be able to listen to the same track in every room at the same time.
Not only does this sound ambitious but it’s also an important component when designing a smart home. Most multi-room audio setups (especially analog) tend to be horribly complicated and often require you to hire carpenters and take (often contrarian) advice from self-professed ‘audiophiles’. Whether the LG Music Flow H7 does a good job of making it easier and does so in conjunction with good performance is something I’ll look at in this review.
Build Quality & Design
Let me address the elephant in the room first; the LG Music Flow H7 costs an exorbitant Rs. 52,990 in India while in the U.S. it costs $380, which roughly translates to about Rs. 23,300. Why does the H7 cost more than double here? That is a question that will weigh heavily on every single aspect of this review because the price immediately shifts the H7 into a category of speakers that it’s ill-prepared to compete against.
So, how is the H7 built? It’s solid but for a speaker that costs above 50k to come to the party with an all plastic build is a big no-no. The front of the H7 is completely covered by a grey plastic mesh grill which hides the speaker’s driver. There is a gap at the bottom, about the width of an index finger, between the grill and the foot that appears to only serve an aesthetic purpose. The top of the speaker is flat and only includes a dial that you can use to power on/off the H7, change the volume and change input mode. You can see which input mode is live with the help of small LED lights set in the top right corner of the speaker grill.
The back of the H7 is similar to the front except for the large hollowed out area in the centre that you can use to pick up the speaker. The bottom has the physical 3.5mm port, power port, ethernet port and buttons to add another Music Flow speaker to the network, and connect to Wi-Fi. All the buttons are well-spaced out and feel solidly built.
Despite my reservations with the H7’s plastic build, I can’t deny that it’s a good looking speaker. The grey and silver colour scheme works for it and so does the subtly angled front and back that, from the top, gives the H7 a diamond like figure.
On its own (with the price-tag a heavy cross to bear), the LG Music Flow H7 comes across as an average speaker that’s not really exceptional at playing any particular type of music. It has no real strengths, even though LG has clearly endowed it with a reasonably powerful bass driver. Unfortunately, the bass lacks punch and sounds muddy with the thump of hip-hop and club tracks dissipating as quickly as it arrives. Strangely, the H7 appears to be a mids oriented speaker which means it handles vocals relatively well, at least in tracks with clean production. Put in a couple more instruments and it turns into a muddy affair, which, on closing my eyes, only helped me visualize a grey, sloppy mess. The highs in songs played on the H7 are shorn of their brightness and sound clipped before their potential.
The best thing I can say about the H7’s audio performance is that it’s very loud and manages respectable clarity even when the volume is turned all the way up.
This is the area that should either make or break the LG Music Flow H7. Setting up a multi-room audio setup is infamous for being a particularly torturous business and LG must be complimented for attempting to marry a plug and play approach to it. So, is LG successful at making the whole process seamless and easy?
The first problem is that it’s almost impossible to do anything with the H7, beyond Bluetooth pairing, without reading the manual. For a Rs. 50,000 speaker, it’s inexplicable that the H7 uses LED lights to tell me status in morse rather than through an easily readable screen. As a result, even though I was completely sober, it took me over 15 minutes to actually connect the H7 to the lab’s wireless network. I first had to download and install the LG Music Flow Player app on my smartphone and with its help get the speaker connected to the network.
I was also able to output music through the H7 from a laptop connected on the same network by installing a separate software for Windows. What the Music Flow software and app does is make the source device into a media server. As a result, both the phone running the app and the laptop running the software acted as media servers.
Now, when you have two servers (or sources of music), connected to the same H7 speaker, problems crop up. I noticed that once the laptop was connected and playing music through the H7, my phone just wouldn’t detect the speaker. Even when I stopped the laptop from streaming music, the H7 didn’t show up on the speakers list on my phone. After continuously refreshing the list (visible in the Music Flow app), the speaker finally showed up but then it would refuse to connect to my phone for an annoyingly long time.
And then, I connected a second speaker, the Music Flow H5, to the same network and the mess just got messier. Instead of confusing you any further, I’ll just let you off with a simple warning: if you’re planning to get the Music Flow speakers to set up a multi-room audio setup, keep in mind that having fewer sources will make things less painful.
When you have the H7 connected to your phone over Wi-Fi, then you can only play locally stored music (tracks on your microSD card or the phone’s internal memory) with the Music Flow app. The app isn’t all that great both in terms of looks and features and offers basic functionality. The H7 also lets you play music using popular streaming services that support Google Cast such as Rdio, Deezer, Pandora, Spotify, Play Music, Tunein etc. only a few of which are available in India. ‘Casting’ as such, should be a relatively seamless affair but it’s not so here. Casting a song from Rdio to the H7 takes a good 30 seconds or so before it begins and even then I witnessed the playback stop automatically for no good reason every 10-15 minutes.
Finally, one of the hallmarks of a multi-room audio setup is that the playback should be seamless; i.e. the music should ‘follow’ you from one speaker to the next as you move through the house. You can only activate this feature on LG’s Music Flow speakers with the help of LG’s R1 Bridge, a separate device that you’ll need to buy. The R1 Bridge costs about Rs. 4,000 in the UK and going by the intelligence rampant in LG’s pricing strategy, I’d expect to cost about Rs. 10,000 when it’s available in India. Without the R1 Bridge, you’ll have to manually select the next speaker in the app when you move from room to room.
Playing music over the H7 using anything other than the tried and tested Bluetooth pairing method is rife with bugs and annoyances. However, the scary truth is that it’s still probably easier to work with than an analog multi-room system (shudder).
If you skipped the entire review and jumped here, and also live in a 1 room apartment, please go away. If, however, you have money to spend and live in a house with more rooms than you know what to do with, then you should consider the Sonos Play:1 instead of the LG Music Flow H7. I’m recommending the Play:1 and not Sonos’ equivalent to the H7, the Play:5, because you’ll have a hard time finding the Play:5 in India. The Play:1 may be less powerful that the H7 but it’s also priced lower at about Rs. 21,000, sounds great, and is capable of fitting into a multi-room audio setup.
There’s simply no way I can recommend the LG Music Flow H7 at its current price and I can only hope that LG comes to its senses and brings the price down.