Top positive review
It was a good upgrade for me but it's not as good as you think! Expensive and is not without flaws
Reviewed in the United States on August 28, 2020
I got this as an upgrade to an older Samsung sound bar HM55 2.1 system. I have a Samsung TV. As a result, there is a convenience of compatibility and flawless operation when you use items of the same brand. However, the problem was the sound wasn't clear. So I was in the market for an upgrade. This item intrigued me based on a review by UrAvgConsumer. He seemed to rave about it and it's new release for Sony. I did have concerns with a Sony speaker working with Samsung TV. I bought it because of the reviews stating clear dialogue and the simulated Dolby Atmos capability. The latter is something that would cost a premium that I didn't want to spend. So it's more expensive than your standard 2.1 sound bar and cheaper than a full blown Dolby Atmos system.
Out of the box, it's a nice speaker, typical Sony quality. Installation was pretty simple and all the required cables, including HDMI and optical were included. As with most people who tend to have problems, the installation is the tricky part to get right if you want to fully utilize the capabilities of of the speaker. To get full capabilities, i.e. Dolby Atmos or DTS, you have to use HDMI only. Furthermore, you have to connect it correctly: TV ARC HDMI to HDMI OUT on the sound bar. This alone allows your speaker and TV to stay in sync. If you have multiple HDMI inputs on your TV, this allows all of those inputs to output sound to the sound bar through the TV. Lastly, this will enable Dolby Digital, DTS, or Dolby Atmos support as all of these are provided only via HDMI data. But there's a CAVEAT. To support these sound formats, your input sources must support these sound formats. For example, my Tivo only supports Dolby Digital, my Samsung only supports Dolby Digital or DTS, my XBOX One supports Dolby Atmos. Keep in mind, for this speaker you're paying a premium for Dolby Atmos. So if you don't have a source to provide this then it's a potential waste of money.
But unfortunately, that's just half of it. Once you are clear on what your sources are capable of, you need to setup the speaker correctly. Overall the manual for this speaker is not great but then again most aren't. You really have to read and understand all the settings to get the most out of your system. Don't get me wrong.. you'll get sound just by hooking it up. But you may not be amazed or think "what's the big deal?" because the sound would be no better than a standard 2.1 soundbar if not configure correctly. I won't go through the details but I recommend you set the Audio to either "Dolby Speaker Virtualizer" or "DTS Virtual:X" and never touch the remote again. These settings are what you're paying the premium for. The speaker has other "modes" like "Immersive AE" or "Cinema" or "Music",etc. These are all 2nd order sound enhancements that, to be frank, didn't seem to make the sound all that better or different. And if you switch to this mode, it completely takes you out of the premium modes of Dolby/DTS, which means you have to go through the multi-level settings on the remote to reset it. Configuring the speaker via the remote is a pain in the a**. It's not intuitive at all. The other thing is the display on the speaker is WAY TO SMALL, even for a person with 20/20 vision. My old Samsung had a really nice big display where you can always see what input or mode you're in.
- The dialogue sound quality is very good. I get very clear sound when there's talking.
- If you have the right content Dolby Atmos (or DTS) simulated surround is pretty cool. BUT it's NOT MIND BLOWING. This is where I feel the review on UrAvgConsumer was misleading. I feel like it depends on the person. Reminds me of those pictures back in the day where it looks like a bunch of dots but if you stare at it long enough you suddenly see a 3D dinosaur. So simulated Dolby/DTS surround is like that... if you sit and listen long enough, all of a sudden your mind/ears start hearing things from around the room. But it's not consistent because I feel your mind is constantly adjusting to not be "tricked". Again, this will ONLY work if you're watching content that has Dolby Atmos supported. You will not be hearing your evening news in magical surround sound with this. I'll just say there were moments of nice surprises where I'm watching a movie and I go "woah".
- You DO NOT need to manually switch between Dolby or DTS via settings if your content supports one or the other on the speaker. The speaker will detect and switch to the correct format based on the HDMI input (you do need to make sure you are setting "bitstream" and not PCM).
- If you want to pump up the volume to get that movie theater booming sound, the speaker will do a decent job shaking your walls. The bass is pretty solid from the sub woofer.
- Sub woofer is wireless and is always on... there's no link issues that I've experienced.
- The volume goes to a 100 and typically I'm around the 40s for normal viewing. I've gone up to mid 50s for some movies.. Beyond that it's too loud. The point is that the system has plenty of power if you like it loud.
- It's expensive for what you get. To be fair, I did not go and test a bunch of different content with Dolby Atmos to get the full experience. Stuff I tried were the usual Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Video, etc. I'm sure there's a movie out there that can blow your mind but that would be the exception in how I'm using the speaker.
- There is some weird issues if one of your TV sources is a Chromecast. This took me 2 weeks to figure out. For me, I have a 1st gen Chromecast plugged in. And as a result my TV would lose sync with the sound bar (maybe this is a Samsung TV issue). I almost returned the sound bar because of this. Imagine re-programming the speaker settings and unplugging the TV/Soundbar every time you wanted to watch TV. So just be aware that your input sources could cause problems.
- When you change channels, there will be a disruption and delay in sound. I think this happens if the sound format is different between channels and the sound bar has to re-detect which sound format it's in(?) This could bother folks but I'm ok with it.
- I think the sound bar works best with a Sony Bravia TV vs. other brands. You definitely lose out on the "eARC" functionality given this is a Sony proprietary feature. There have been minor quirks where I have to reset the sync between the TV and sound bar. It's not often and most of it may be due to my Chromecast. TIP: to reset the system just make sure you unplug both TV and sound bar for a bit and replug. This usually resolves my sync issue.
Is it worth it? I'm not sure. I kept it as I used a bunch of gift cards to bring the cost down. And my main requirement was clearer dialogue vs. my old soundbar, which it does well. Other than that, the Dolby stuff is a nice-to-have but I think it will leave most people unsatisfied. I think for Dolby Atmos, it's either pay for the $1k+ models to get the best experience or stick with standard audio. This speaker attempts to fill the in-between gap and as with all things, you get what you paid for, which is neither here or there for this speaker.