Sony HT-S40R Soundbar Review: A unique soundbar with surround sound
Not too long ago, 5.1 channel surround speaker systems were quite popular. But one common complaint about them used to be the cables running across the room, especially those connecting the rear speakers to the main unit. I know a lot of people who simply disconnected the rear speakers to minimize the cable clutter. Over a period of time, people started moving to soundbars for convenience. While good soundbars undoubtedly take the TV viewing experience up by several notches as compared to built-in TV speakers, you do miss out on positional audio that surround speakers offer. Further, a vast variety of content on OTT platforms like Netflix and Prime Video is encoded with 5.1 channel audio, making a strong case for surround sound systems. To end this tussle between quality and convenience, Sony has launched its new HT-S40R 5.1 channel soundbar that promises true 5.1 audio while minimizing the cable clutter. Let's take a look at how it does it, and if it actually succeeds in doing so.
You get quite a few components in the bundle, starting with the soundbar itself that hosts the left, right and center channels. The bar has a black body with a metal grille and grooves to mark the three channels. The 3-feet long bar is well built and weighs about 2kg. All the buttons and connectivity ports are located on the subwoofer instead of the soundbar. A proprietary cable that connects the bar to the sub has three color coded pins that plug into the respective sockets on the latter. All the ports and connectors can be found at the back of the subwoofer, except for the USB port that is located at the front, and is easily accessible when required. There is a small 7-segment LED display on the subwoofer too which provides information about the input mode, volume level etc. On top of the display, you get touch controls for playback and other things. The subwoofer isn't wireless, but the rear speakers are - let's just say almost wireless. The rear speakers plug into an amplifier unit, which needs to be plugged into a power socket. But the module talks to the subwoofer wirelessly, and there is no physical cable that connects the front channels with the rear, thus addressing a major pain point. Pressing the Link button at the back of the amp establishes the connection and turns the red LED into green for confirmation. All the necessary cables are bundled along with a HDMI cable. The cables are long enough to place the subwoofer a fair distance away from the soundbar, just in case there is no free power outlet nearby.
Most of the popular audio inputs can be found on the Sony HT-S40R. You get a 3.5mm AUX input, Optical in, USB and last but most importantly, HDMI ARC. Given that this is a midrange soundbar, the company should have provided at least one more HDMI port with a passthrough option to connect an additional HDMI device to your setup. You also get Bluetooth 5.0 for wirelessly streaming audio from your phone or tablet. This Sony soundbar is compliant with Dolby Digital audio. The total rated output stands at 600 Watts RMS. The break-up of output for the bar, subwoofer and surround speakers or the size of drivers used in different channels haven't been specified. Despite a flattering figure of 600W, don't expect this system to shake your window pane or shatter a few glasses with its power. Having said that, it is sufficiently loud and clear at 40 to 60 percent volume for most of the content on popular platforms. You get a fully-functional infrared wireless remote control with this soundbar, and a pair of AAA batteries required to power it are present in the bundle. The remote is well-built and sleek and grants access to all the functions of this sound system like master and subwoofer volume, playback controls, input selection, audio presets and some more.
While there are multiple connectivity options here, you can get the best out of the soundbar through the HDMI input. I did try the other inputs briefly - audio playback through Bluetooth and USB are serviceable but nothing special. Like most soundbars, this one is a bit too bass-heavy for music. Adjusting the bass/subwoofer volume does help, but this is a soundbar meant for playing 5.1 channel content rather than music. The rear speakers get activated even when playing a stereo audio stream like music. They provide a nice extended stereo effect. Standard stereo content on YouTube sounds good too but not significantly better than soundbars that sell for half the cost. A proper 5.1 channel audio source is what sets this sound system apart from the budget soundbars, and there is a huge library of such content on Netflix and Prime Video to explore. The output is pretty good, and while it doesn't transform your home into a full-fledged theater, it is good enough for a mid-sized living room. The bass is punchy and the dialogue clarity is pretty good. The rear speakers provide an immersive positional audio and surround sound experience. However, they cannot reproduce every finer detail in the audio stream perfectly. So, do not expect to hear every bullet sound or clank. When not playing a 5.1 channel content, switching off the rear speakers can at times produce better results, other than saving electricity. Certain audio streams that sound a little weird on the 5.1 setup, sound better on the 3.1 channel soundbar. All said and done, the overall experience with the Sony HT-S40R is more enjoyable than average soundbars without surround sound.
The Sony HT-S40R soundbar is available for purchase for Rs. 28,990 with a one year warranty at offline stores and all popular e-commerce platforms. Since this is a unique soundbar, it is hard to make an 'apples to apples' comparison. Whether you should buy this is entirely dependent on what you need from your soundbar. If you value true 5.1 channel audio with minimal wires, this is probably the only option in this budget, and a good one too. If you are willing to sacrifice the surround speakers for better sound quality, you can get a variety of soundbars at this price-point. One of the better sounding options available here is the Yamaha YAS-209, which also supports DTS:X virtual surround and Alexa voice controls. It is pretty good with music playback too. You also get some models compliant with Dolby Atmos. No, I don't think you would get a 7.1.2 channel setup in this budget but there are certain impressive 3.1.x channel soundbars. Some options that I can think of are Philips TAPB603 and Samsung HW-Q600A. As always, choose one that suits your needs best.