There is a lot of interest in soundbars that aren't too expensive, but aren't exactly budget products either. A good soundbar at around the Rs. 30,000 price level will pair well with a decent mid-range or upper-mid-range television, and there are a handful of brands in India that offer exactly this kind of product. Sony is well known for its mid-range soundbars, and its latest product, the Sony HT-S40R 5.1-channel soundbar speaker system, promises a lot for Rs. 29,990.
Although a soundbar at its core, the Sony HT-S40R is unique in that the package also includes a pair of wireless rear speakers and a subwoofer, making for an authentic 5.1-channel home theatre setup. Is this speaker system convenient to use, and is this the best you can buy for less than Rs. 30,000? Find out in this review.
Sony's latest soundbar is better described as a home theatre system, with 5.1-channel output
Sony HT-S40R design and specifications
Soundbars and home theatre speaker systems look best when they are discreet and simple, and the Sony HT-S40R sticks to this brief. All of the components are black in colour, and don't look out of the ordinary for a soundbar speaker system. The sales package includes a three-channel soundbar speaker, a subwoofer, two rear speakers, and an amplifier to power the rear-channel speakers. There's also a remote for the system, batteries to power it, and an HDMI cable to connect the system to your television or AV receiver.
Most soundbar systems I've reviewed have the bar speaker as the master device, with the subwoofer, if any, drawing its signal from there. With the Sony HT-S40R, things are different; the subwoofer is the primary device, which connects to all source devices as well as mains power. There are four options for connectivity on the subwoofer: Digital Optical, HDMI-ARC, and Analog In at the back, as well as USB at the front.
There are also sockets to connect the bar speaker to the subwoofer; the cable is fixed to the bar speaker, which receives its audio signal as well as power from the subwoofer. The bar speaker is entirely plain save for a Sony logo on the left and some stickers showing its features. It has no buttons or controls on it. A simple metal grille covers the speaker drivers.
The top of the subwoofer has touch controls for power, source selection, Bluetooth 5 connectivity (with support for the SBC codec), and volume. There is also a small monochrome text display on the front which displays the power state and active source.
Although Sony calls the rear speakers wireless, this isn't strictly accurate; the rear speakers system as a whole does connect to the subwoofer wirelessly, but the speakers themselves do need to be connected to the amplifier using wires for audio and power. The amplifier also needs its own power outlet.
The left, right, and centre channel speakers of the system are within the bar speaker of the Sony HT-S40R
This means that you don't need to wire the surround speakers to the main setup, but you do of course need to ensure they're suitably positioned for use with the required amplifier. The rear speakers can be placed either on a tabletop, or wall-mounted. The amplifier has sockets for power and to connect the two speakers, and two buttons for power and linking with the subwoofer.
The remote of the Sony HT-S40R isn't very large, but has plenty of buttons to control various aspects of the speaker system. You can set sound modes, adjust the master and subwoofer volume levels separately, and also control playback on connected devices thanks to HDMI-CEC support.
Once connected and set up, I was also able to control the system volume using my TV remote, and the speaker system automatically powered on when the TV was turned on. Oddly, I had to turn off the HT-S40R manually, as turning the TV off didn't take care of this.
Sony HT-S40R performance
The Sony HT-S40R is a mid-range soundbar, and naturally has a feature set that largely fits in with the pricing. While significant wiring is still involved in the setup, the soundbar system does offer proper 5.1-channel sound, and a rated 600W of total sound output. Advanced audio formats such as Dolby Atmos are not supported, but there is support for Dolby Digital Audio on the Sony HT-S40R. Although not quite as loud as the sound output figure suggests, the Sony HT-S40R is capable of high volumes with no audible distortion.
While I did often use the rear speaker system for some movies during my review, I usually had only the bar speaker and subwoofer operational for much of my time with the HT-S40R. I was using HDMI-ARC for connectivity to the TV. I tested this home theatre speaker system with various television shows and movies on Netflix and Apple TV+, including Our Planet, Ted Lasso, The Good Place, and Tom Hanks starrer Greyhound. This allowed me to test native 5.1-channel content as well as see how the system worked as a 3.1-channel audio setup using just the bar speaker and subwoofer.
The subwoofer is the controller of the HT-S40R, with the buttons at the top and a USB port at the front
Although it's a passive unit that receives power from the subwoofer, the bar speaker is the heart of the Sony HT-S40R. Its three dedicated channels capably offer proper left, right, and centre channel output, with the sound tuning geared towards typical television viewing. Voices were crisp and clear; sound effects and soundtracks were clean, subtle, and easy to listen to; and there was a sense of width despite the bar speaker being a few inches shorter than the TV itself.
The HT-S40R expectedly offered a considerably improved listening experience than the Mi TV 5X I was using it with. Although not quite as crisp-sounding or clean as the more expensive Sony HT-G700 soundbar, the HT-S40R did make up for this with its rear speakers.
While there is a lot of native 5.1-channel content on the popular streaming services, only some of it really impacted the viewing experience in the way that surround sound is meant to. With shows such as The Good Place, it barely seemed to matter what I could hear from the rear speakers (although there was a clear sense of separation), but with Greyhound and Our Planet, there was a lot to enjoy in the sound.
With the latter, David Attenborough's gripping narration sounded as good as it gets through the soundbar, while the rear speakers made for some impressive background work, handling the sounds of nature – such as birds chirping and water flowing – particularly well. The speaker system also suitably reproduced the tense and fast-paced feel of much of Greyhound, while rightly giving Tom Hanks' dialogue delivery the centrestage.
When functioning as a more traditional 3.1-channel soundbar and subwoofer system, the surround elements were naturally missing, but this didn't impact most of my listening experiences with the HT-S40R. The rear speakers, while decent, aren't very loud, and the bar speaker and subwoofer understandably did much of the heavy lifting anyway. Ted Lasso, The Good Place, and Our Planet all sounded practically as enjoyable to me. If you do have the room for rear speakers, they do make a fair difference in the sound, but aren't essential for TV shows.
The subwoofer, while being the brains of the setup, does also deliver plenty of power and attack. With the volume turned up, it added plenty of effect through capable and distortion-free low-end rumble, particularly in Greyhound where it made for some enjoyable thump in the action scenes. The volume of the subwoofer is separately adjustable from the overall system volume, so you can turn up or down the attack as per your listening preferences.
I also tried out Bluetooth connectivity. Although the sound was loud, the tuning wasn't quite suited to music.
The Sony HT-S40R isn't state-of-the-art, as you might expect from a soundbar speaker system priced under Rs. 30,000, but it makes up for this with raw performance. It's loud, clean, crisp, and works very well with native 5.1-channel content over HDMI-ARC. Although there's no support for Dolby Atmos or any other advanced audio formats, the HT-S40R handles standard surround sound very well, thanks to its 5.1-channel setup.
That said, there are too many wires, and the rear speakers were a bit tricky for me to position. It isn't ideally tuned for music listening either, but if you can work your way around these hiccups, the HT-S40R offers capable 5.1-channel sound at a good price. There are some decent competing options from brands such as Polk Audio, Bose, JBL, and Samsung, but the Sony is worth considering for its volume capabilities and 5.1-channel output.
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