How good is a soundbar without a subwoofer?
Soundbars have become popular in the last few years to compensate for the poor quality of sound output from TV. Today, soundbars pack in quite a punch in terms of sound as well as features. From being a built-in smart assistant, being modular in nature, and even boasting a complete home theater experience, soundbars have become a whole class within themselves today.
Over the past year, we’ve seen many brands launch soundbars without subwoofers, such as the Mi Soundbar (Review), the Bose Soundbar 700 (Review) and more. Today we have a new addition to this section – Sony HT-X8500. The device is compact, comes without a subwoofer and is the first soundbar we’ve tested that boasts of eARC. Priced at Rs 29,900, the Sony HT-X8500 is a worthy competitor, or would you like to see other soundbars in the sub 30k price range? Find out!
What’s in the box
In the box, you will find the soundbar itself with a remote control. You will also get two AAA batteries, HDMI cable and of course power cable One thing to note is that the adapter is external and if your wall socket is further away from the place where you want to place the soundbar, you can strategically think about how you want to hide the power brick. I also want the cable that attaches the power brick to the wall to be a little longer because in our setup the power brick was hanging slightly from the table. The remote control that comes with the system is simple and consistent with what we’ve seen from Sony in the past. The remote has a ‘Vertical Surround’ button and we will discuss this in the next section. Be aware that when you use the ARC to connect the soundbar to the TV, you can control the bar from the comfort of the TV remote.
For connectivity options, the soundbar has an HDMI port for eARC / ARC and an HDMI pass-through port that supports 4K HDR pass. In the same price range, we’ve seen soundbars like the JBL SB450 (Review) with 3 HDMI Pastru ports with 4K HDR Pastru. The Sony HT-X8500 also has an optical port and a Bluetooth 5 connection. Speaking of supported formats, the speaker boasts support for DTS-X and Dolby Atmos which is nice. However, apart from the top firing speaker or the rear speaker, we were curious to see how the object-oriented surround sound works in this bar. This speaker does not have Alexa or Google Assistant support.
Setting up the Sony HT-X8500
Setting up the speaker is as easy as placing it under your TV, connecting it via HDMI, and you can go. But one thing to keep in mind here. If you use a smart TV with HDMI 1.4, you won’t see the “Dolby Atmos” tag in the relevant Netflix content. We’ve seen the Dolby Atmos tag appear on Netflix content when connected to a TV with HDMI 2.0 (HDCP 2.2 support), and this is something to keep in mind when purchasing a soundbar. It will work with your current FHD (HDMI 1.4) TV, and when you upgrade to a 4K TV, you’ll notice a slight difference in audio quality. This is great because it provides proof of your sound setup in the future.
Construction and design
When it comes to soundbar design, it’s only available in one color – black. At the top of the soundbar is a matte textured finish with LED indicators and touch buttons for functions such as power, source, bluetooth and volume control. Touch buttons are quite sensitive and can be controlled with just a light tap. But they are not soft enough to respond to accidental touch. The LED indicators represent Dolby Atoms, DTS-X, Vertical Surround, TV, HDMI and Bluetooth. Once you know what an LED indicator is for, it is easy to identify the currently active source. However, some may prefer a traditional display for source and volume information. When you control the volume, all the LED lights up in order to show the output noise level. All of them are ignited to indicate full volume and then gradually fade from right to left, one by one, signifying volume reduction. This is a small change, but one that eliminates the need for a display in the soundbar. The LEDs are not too bright, so the pitch does not interfere with the experience of using them in a dark room. The top textured matte finish is nice, does not attract fingerprints or dust and gives the soundbar a clean look.
All connections are placed in a cavity on the right, behind the port. It is easy to reach and beautifully arranged. There is another cavity on the left where the power port is. There is also the option to wall mount the soundbar if you wish.
Coming down, it has a metallic finish with rubber feet strategically to prevent vibration. The rubber feet are small and don’t make the soundbar too high, which is nice.
The front of the soundbar is affected by the metal grille and if you put enough light on them you will see that four drivers are giving it power. Two in the middle and one on both sides. To the right and left of the soundbar, there are ducts for your shaft output.
Overall, the soundbar build is extremely sturdy, better than the JBL SB 450 bar, has a clean look and finish and looks minimal in a home theater setup. Just the way we like it.
At almost the same price (give or take a few thousand rupees), you can get a soundbar with subwoofer. So how does Sony HT-X8500 perform? Well, in short, the soundbar has good sound reproduction and channel shifts especially when you use it in a bedroom (12 feet x 15 feet). In a large room, the surrounding effect is lost. Needless to say, out of the box, the virtual surround feature is fake. It amplifies the sound stage of the audio coming from the speakers, but it is nowhere near giving you an experience like Dolby Atmos.
We’ve broken down the performance segment into film, music and gaming performances.
Watch the movie and you will realize that there is a clear reproduction of sound in the soundbar. The dialogue can be heard clearly even if the background score is played. From Bike Chase Sequence on a Mission: It’s impossible to shoot a gun anywhere in the Matrix, and even in a show like modified carbon where there’s gunfire and gunfire all around you, the soundbar does a good job of immersing you. Although the sound is coming directly from in front of you, channel separation is good. Especially when you are watching an action movie like Mission: Impossible. The thud that brings you into action is present but lacking The dialogue is very clear even in the heat of war in a movie like John Wick.
Sony Soundbar’s music performance is what you expect from a Sony speaker. It also depends on the type of music you listen to. So with classic rock, where the bass isn’t necessarily too strong, it sounds clear. Vocals can be distinguished from instruments and height is clear. Electronic music like Daft Punk is clean where you can sound the synthesizer. Heavy metal music lovers will miss the ditch. Loud speakers do not distort the speaker and you can use it as a focal point when you have a party at home. At 70 percent volume, the soundbar sounds really loud and you don’t need to pump it higher. But you can and we went up to 90 percent and the audio didn’t distort. Although it got really loud.
For gaming, we played Marvel’s Spider-Man, God of War and Destruction. Channel breakup works well in all games, and when you turn your character around in the middle of a conversation or battle, the wording on the speaker also changes, which is good. In a game like Doom, the sound of the shotgun is dominated by a subwoofer, but honestly, I didn’t miss it. Of course, when you switch to a soundbar with a sub, you can definitely make the difference, but considering the functionality of the device as a bar alone, it works rather well. Even in the Spider-Man, the gusts of wind and the shaking of the net are well pronounced.
Overall, if you lack space, or for some reason don’t want a subwoofer or want a simple plug-and-play solution and you’re worried that the base is lost, don’t worry. For a medium sized bedroom, this is a good no-nonsense soundbar. However, be aware that in all of the above tests, we have turned on and off the virtual sound mode. It does enhance the sound stage a bit, but it doesn’t come close to giving you a real Dolby Atoms experience.
For base heavy performance in a large living room, you can look at the JBL SB 450 (review).
The remote control bundled with the soundbar is simple and traditional – as we’ve seen with many Sony sound systems. All buttons, including the volume control in the middle, are in two vertical columns. In the remote control, you have the option of input, control for different modes, a mute button. Buttons like voice and DTS dialog help to amplify the voice if you want, while functions like Knight ensure that in action movies the loud blast and gun are not too loud. You can differentiate between switching between different modes and those who do not want to go to settings can use the auto sound options.
The last row
So, here are the always important questions. Should you spend 30K on this soundbar? Well, the answer lies in what you are looking for. If you want a loud base and are looking for an immersive home theater-like experience without compromising on the bus, there are other options to choose from. However, if you are looking for a bar to upgrade the sound of your TV and want to double it as a multimedia speaker, you might want to consider this. It works well for using content like movies, games and even music. It also supports formats like DTS-X and Dolby Atmos However, in addition to increasing the fidelity a bit, don’t expect to hear sounds from around you because the vertical surround effects are deceptive.