Ameya DalviDec 08, 2021 17:45:27 IST
A lot of people prefer soundbars to more traditional speaker systems to cut the clutter of cables running around the room. While they undoubtedly improve the TV viewing experience by leaps and bounds, you still miss out on the surround sound effects that 5.1 channel speakers offer. There is a vast library of content with 5.1 channel audio on OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and a standard 2.1 channel soundbar cannot do full justice to it.
Sony looks to bring the best of both worlds with its new HT-S40R 5.1 channel soundbar. It promises a proper 5.1 channel surround sound while minimising the interconnecting wires for a reasonable price. Let’s figure out how it does that, and if it’s worth the asking price.
Sony HT-S40R Soundbar: Design (8/10)
This Sony audio system has quite a few components. Firstly, you have the 90 cm long soundbar that hosts the left, right and centre channels, and there are grooves in the grille for the demarcation. The bar has an all-black body with a metal grille at the front and curved edges that make it look premium. The construction is sturdy, and the bar weighs about two kilogrammes. There are absolutely no buttons or ports on the soundbar, but just a cable that plugs into the subwoofer.
The proprietary cable has three pins that are colour-coded and plug into the respective sockets on the sub. All the input ports and connectors are placed at the back of the subwoofer, while the USB port is located at the front, making it easy to plug in a USB drive. There is a small seven-segment LED display at the front, which is always handy. It displays the input mode as well as volume among other things. The top of the sub has touch controls that are very easy to miss.
While the subwoofer isn’t wireless, you do get a pair of rear speakers that are wireless; well, almost. You also get an amplifier unit in which the rear speakers connect. The amplifier unit as well as the subwoofer need to be plugged into power sockets, and those two communicate with each other wirelessly. There is a Link button at the back of the former which needs to be pressed to get them to talk to each other. Once they do, the red LED turns green. In my case, it worked automatically without having to press the button.
While you cannot term the rear speakers truly wireless, at least you do not have any cables running between them and the bar or the subwoofer, which is a big relief. But you do need a power outlet where you plan to place the rear speakers to power the amp. All the necessary cables are bundled along with a reasonably long HDMI cable. Speaking of length, all the pre-attached cables are long enough even for a decent sized room.
Sony HT-S40R Soundbar: Specifications and Features (8.5/10)
All the popular connectivity options are present on the Sony HT-S40R soundbar; well, on the subwoofer. You get a 3.5 mm Aux input, Optical in, USB and as well as HDMI ARC. Given that this is not an entry-level soundbar, I would have preferred at least another HDMI port with a passthrough option. You also have Bluetooth 5.0 for wirelessly streaming audio using SBC codecs from your phone on tablet. This sound system is compliant with Dolby Digital audio.
It has a total rated output power of 600 Watts RMS. Sony hasn’t been specific about the breakup of power for the bar, subwoofer and surround speakers, nor could I find details about the size of the drivers used in different components of this setup. While this system is sufficiently loud between 40 to 60 percent volume level at most times, don’t get carried away by the 600 Watts RMS number.
A full-function infrared wireless remote control is also bundled in the package along with a pair of AAA batteries to power it. The remote is nice and sleek and gives you access to a lot of functions that include master as well as subwoofer volume control, input selection, playback controls and audio pre-sets.
Sony HT-S40R: Performance (7.5/10)
As always, I tried playing different content types using different inputs on the soundbar. But what’s more important here is the kind of content you play and primarily through the HDMI input. Hence, I will focus primarily on that aspect as this soundbar is meant to be used with HDMI. Audio playback via Bluetooth and USB are acceptable but not spectacular. The soundbar is a bit too bass-heavy for music. Playback from USB is still relatively better of the two with a bit more detail in audio in case you have your ‘legal’ mp3 collection.
For the rest of us, instead of streaming it over Bluetooth, I would suggest you install the streaming service app on your smart TV, if that’s an option, and route the audio to this soundbar over HDMI ARC for best results. The rear speakers add to the experience, however little, even when not playing a 5.1 channel stream including music. Movie trailers on YouTube are enjoyable on this soundbar but sound bass-heavy again. If you want a bit more clarity and less bass, you can do so by trying a different audio pre-set from the remote and lowering the subwoofer volume.
While the quality of other audio streams is palatable, this soundbar is ideally suited for content with 5.1 channel audio. As I mentioned earlier, there is ample content on Netflix and Prime Video with multi-channel audio, and that is what brings the best out of this soundbar. While the Sony HT-S40R still produces ample bass, the tuning gives equal importance to vocals, and dialogues can be clearly heard. The rear speakers do their job just right to give you that immersive, surround sound experience.
Having said that, this is still a midrange soundbar at best. So, keep your expectations in check and do not expect theatre level audio experience. Also, while there is enough clarity in the vocals and ample punch in the audio, it does not reproduce every finer detail in the audio stream to perfection. For instance, in the Lobby scene from The Matrix, you won’t hear every bullet sound or every shell hitting the ground. But the overall experience is thoroughly enjoyable and a lot more immersive than an average soundbar without surround sound.
If the source audio is not properly encoded, you can experience some bloopers. Like in the case of the Red Notice trailer on Netflix, where the dialogues would play from the rear speakers for some reason. This isn’t the soundbar’s fault, but be ready for some unexpected surprises occasionally. When not playing a 5.1 stream, you may even try switching off the rear speakers. In certain cases, it sounds better that way. The soundbar itself has three channels and it transforms into a 3.1 channel setup without the rear speakers. But in such a setup, the front channels have limited separation.
Sony HT-S40R Soundbar: Price and verdict
The Sony HT-S40R soundbar can be purchased for Rs 28,990 with a one-year warranty. For that price, you may not get the best sounding or the most powerful product in the category, but you do get something unique for sure. The output here is reasonably powerful too, and gives you a true surround sound experience when watching content with 5.1 channel audio. Those looking for a good quality 5.1 channel setup with a minimal wire clutter, this is just the right product for you, and I cannot think of any other that offers such features in this budget.
Given that it is priced close to Rs 30,000, you obviously get different types of soundbars in this budget, including those that are compliant with Dolby Atmos. Of course, one cannot expect a 7.1.2 channel variant in this budget, but you do get some good ones with 3.1 and 3.1.2 channel configurations. Couple of names that come to mind are Philips TAPB-603 and Samsung HW-Q600A. Neither has surround speakers, but both simulate a spatial audio effect using multiple speakers on the bar itself. Choose one based on your needs.
Price: Rs 28,990