An entry level 5.1 setup with good sound
When you purchase a TV, especially one that is 32-inch or 40-inch in size, chances are that the TV speaker sounds too short, lacks a bus, and lacks the bang needed to enjoy a movie, in addition to watching a TV show. The natural alternative is to invest in a budget soundbar that gives you a better 2.1 experience. Upgrading to a 5.1 setup for the surround sound experience can be an expensive proposition, especially if you want the benefits of a front-end channel setup and satellite speakers like a soundbar. Today, we have the Sony HT-S20R. It’s a 5.1 setup and at first glance, it looks like a little brother of Sony HT-RT3. With a sale price of around Rs 15,000, is this a soundbar to enhance your TV viewing experience?
Glasses at a glance
Total maximum power: 400W
Soundbar weight: 2 kg
Subwoofer weight: 6.9 kg
Audio input: optical-audio input, analog audio input (stereo mini), USB type A, Bluetooth, HDMI ARC.
Soundbar dimensions: 760 x 52 x 86 mm
Dimensions of the subwoofer: 192 x 387 x 342 mm
HDMI input: 0
HDMI output (audio return channel): 1
Construction and design
A traditional 5.1 home theater has 5 separate speakers representing each channel and a subwoofer. With the S20R, we have a three-channel soundbar in front of us that will flush with the bottom of your TV. There are advantages and disadvantages to this design which we will highlight in the performance section but let’s start with the build. The soundbar is very well built. It has a metal mesh grille that covers the front, protecting the drivers. You can see the driver through the grill. At the bottom, it has rubber feet that give it a firm grip when placed on a table. You can also wall-mount the soundbar if you want. One good thing about buying this system in India is that you can call Sony technician to install the system for you, so that you get a perfect setup for your room. No display in the soundbar. The display is in the subwoofer, which we will get a little later. For aesthetic reference, the soundbar doesn’t feel too big for a setup by flushing under a 32-inch or even a 40-inch TV. It may look a bit small compared to a 55-inch TV, but there’s nothing that won’t make it look out of place.
The cable management of the S20R is similar to what we have seen in other Sony Soundbar-Home Theater solutions. The cables are attached to each speaker and the last one goes behind the subwoofer. This helps to simplify the cable connection process as each cable is color coded but the downside is that if one wire is cut, you cannot change it manually.
The satellite speakers at the back of the home theater are small, and their build is ideal for those who want to wall-mount the surrounding speakers. The rear satellite speakers of the S20R have the same design as the front soundbar which covers the drivers with metal mesh grille on the front and a plastic finish, giving it a very minimal look. We set up a home theater in a living room and its aesthetics and design are minimal enough to blend in with the room and home entertainment setup. The rear satellite speakers are quite light, making us think that they may be a bit brittle and may not survive a few drops.
Moving to the subwoofer, this is the heart of the system. All speaker connections come together behind the subwoofer, and that’s where the problem lies. Don’t get me wrong, the wires attached to the back of each speaker are generously long enough to fit more than the average living room size. The point is that audio inputs such as HDMI ARC optical audio, etc. are all behind the subwoofer which means you either have to place the subwoofer under / near your TV which may not be the ideal position, or you have to invest in a really long HDMI or audio cable. . We did the latter because the sub-position under the TV was not working for us. We hope the connection options are behind the soundbar for ease of setup.
The subwoofer has an LED display that will show you information about the input and source and the ability to customize the speaker’s DB levels. It is easy to use and convenient and does not contain the complexity of a dedicated amplifier. Physical controls are above the subwoofer and are touch-sensitive.
Overall, the construction of the home theater is good considering the price. It is short without any jazzy design, which we appreciate.
Set up and connection options
In terms of connectivity, the home theater has optical-audio input, analog audio input (stereo mini) and USB type. It has HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel), however, there is no HDMI input for Pasteur. Setting up a home theater is as easy as dialing Sony’s helpline number and waiting for an engineer to install it for you. Just remember, the speakers around the back should be at ear height and facing you to get the best possible experience from the system. Cable management can be a problem for some, but here the bundle cable length is helpful. There’s only a 3.5mm audio cable in the box so if you need to connect the system via HDMI or optical, be prepared with those cables when you buy the system.
In the case of the remote control, this is the same remote control you get with the Sony HT-RT3. It is made of plastic, feels minimal and ergonomic. It is lightweight, and the buttons are rubberized, making them easy to press. Power and source buttons are at the top which makes them the easiest to reach The remote gives you access to 5 different sound modes – Standard, Movie, Music, Voice and Night. Or you can simply press auto and let the system choose for you. If you do not use Night Mode, we recommend leaving the system in Auto. It does a fine job of representing the content you are using. For a more immersive viewing experience there is a dimmer button that blurs the display in the sub. There are other controls, such as playback and subwoofer controls.
Overall the remote control is functional, easy to use with one hand and has a convenient layout.
To test the performance of the Sony HT-S20R, I have divided it into music, movies and gaming.
I initially played music from YouTube Music on a smartphone and connected to the speaker via Bluetooth. I played the same music from the TV YouTube app and connected the system via HDMI ARC. I played some Poets of the Fall, Charlie Puth, Billy Ilish – Bad Guy, Dance Monkey – Tone and I and many more. One thing to note is that the system can provide good bus. If you’re the one who likes to listen to music from all the speakers, know that the audio comes from the surrounding speakers as well as the front left and right, which gives you quite an overall sound. However, this may not always be the best experience. I played the same music through a pair of Mackie CR5BT studio monitors and the music sounds richer and more detailed than the Sony soundbar. The Studio Monitor, though priced the same as the S20R, doesn’t have all the features and is a 2.0 setup. So if music is preferred, the S20R gets the job done, but it’s not the best at the price.
If you are an audiophile, it is better to invest in a good studio monitor at the same price. However, for the average Joe looking for a multipurpose system, this is a work in progress.
I connected the home theater to a TV via HDMI ARC and watched a bunch of movies / TV shows from Netflix, Hotstar and Prime videos. I’ve seen the same content streaming audio via Bluetooth. Bluetooth audio was sent to the system via the Fire TV stick. One thing is clear, if the source of your content does not have good audio, it will be reflected in the speaker. Also, between Bluetooth and ARC, I recommend using ARC because it provides the best of all content from TV. Watching movies from Netflix and Prime videos, the audio seemed more crisp, and channel separation was better than Bluetooth.
There is something to consider here. A movie dialogue is expected to come from the center channel unless it is told from an angle. There should be sound coming from the front left speaker on the left side of the front, right around for the sound coming from your back, so on and so forth. Now, these features are a part of the Sony HT-S20R home theater with some caution. First, the left and right speakers are very close to the center channel as part of the system design. This has a less dramatic effect on a plane flying across the screen when far away from the front speakers. Second, the front left or right speaker kicks the speaker (left or right) around the back of the corresponding side when it is meant to generate sound. This may compensate for the lack of distance between the left, right and center channels but this is something you will notice if you are a home theater enthusiast. For the rest (those who are feeling the system with me) it has provided a more pronounced presence of speakers around the home theater. It’s not necessarily a pro or con, but something I’ve noticed while watching movies and playing games.
One good thing is that you can control the surround speaker level and sub to get the kind of sound you want. The action sequences come to life and the overall movie performs well with the quiet moments providing the spoken dialogue. A quiet space movie is a good example of a great environment to experience.
When it comes to gaming, I played some games on Xbox One X and PS4 Pro and the experience was a lot of fun especially if you enjoy playing shooter games or action-adventure games like Uncharted or Gears of War where your bullet is flying around you Uncharted 4- A, when you go to the game settings and tell the game that you are playing the audio through a 5.1 home theater setup, the channel separation is more obvious and gives you a much better experience than others. If the game you are playing has the option of choosing Home Theater or 5.1 as an alternative, then definitely go for it as it helps with better channel separation, surround effect and a better overall experience.
Overall, the gaming performance is good with dialogue, nuts and gunfights, but I want front channel separation to be even better.
The last row
If you have a budget of 15 15,000, you may want to get an entry-level soundbar or a home theater. Sony, LG, JBL and many more 2.1 soundbars to choose from When you enter the 5.1 setup, your options are limited and it is difficult to recommend the S20R right here. Older, the Sony HT-RT3 is available for less than ,000 18,000 and comes with some advantages. It supports NFC, lacks S20R. The HT-RT3 has 600W of power compared to the HT-S20R’s 400W. According to Sony’s website, the HT-RT3 box comes with an HDMI cable. In my personal opinion, the HT-RT3 has a better design overall. It is more angular than the HT-S20R. Simply put, the Sony HT-S20R is a baby HT-RT3. If you can increase your budget by only 2-3 thousand, HT-RT3 creates a better value for money offer. The front three-channel bar of the HT-RT3 is 140mm longer than the HT-S20R, so if space is a problem for you, you might want to consider the HT-S20R. It fits well under a 32-inch TV. But if strength, features and performance are important, then you should consider HT-RT3. The kicker here is that the MRP of HT-S20R is Rs 19,990 whereas the MRP of HT-RT3 is Rs 18,990. But the 2’s road costs Rs 14,999 and Rs 17,740 respectively, which gives the S20R a lower road price.