For someone with home theatre ambitions but pockets only deep enough to feed ants, the Sony HT-S400 brings a lot of value and should be a great bargain. It’s not littered with headline-grabbing features nor does it try to oversell the surround sound experience. It’s pocket-friendly and packs enough booming bass to wake the neighbours up.
Sony HT-S400 soundbar review
Sticking to the basics
The HT-S400 is designed like any other soundbar, inconspicuous and painted in a non-engaging colour. Although the shape and design are very similar to Sony’s entire soundbar catalogue, expensive or otherwise. It’s not petite either. The soundbar runs to about 35ins in length and the wireless subwoofer is about the size of an office computer.
There’s also a dinky OLED screen housed behind the speaker grill in the centre. It shows volume, EQ level and sound mode. The Sony HT-S400 has a plasticky body and lightweight construction. Meanwhile, the wireless subwoofer has an adequate build quality for the price.
The short of it is that the Sony HT-S400 is a complete entertainment audio package for the price. The highs and mids are neatly balanced without one overstepping the other. While watching the first episode of the House of the Dragon on Hotstar the action scenes from the jousting scene showcase the clean audio delivery on the Sony HT-S400. The Sound Field mode is a hit or miss because it offers a wider soundstage for the aforementioned scene but may colour the vocals. Although, for action sequences, it definitely feels nicer. During the racing scene in Ready Player One on Netflix, the HT-S400 lacks the definition and finesse that you would find on expensive soundbars or maybe even the ones that come without a wireless subwoofer at this price point. It’s not incoherent but you can’t shake the feeling that the mids and highs could do with a bit more dynamic range.
The old folks who spend their time watching cable will be happy to know that reality TV shows sound clear and straightforward on the HT-S400. Singing and dancing competitions that often have high-pitched music and adjective-yelling judges won’t trouble your worn-out eardrums. There’s a Voice mode as well which enhances speech and vocals and it seems like it's been made for reality TV and YouTube content. It works well without making the vocals abrasive but we rather turn it off for a more lush audio experience.
Indian stand-up shows like India's Laughter Champion greatly benefit from the Voice mode at night time when you don’t want the house band breaking into an energetic melody while you focus on the stand-up material. Most people like my old folks will barely bother with such features but it helps to enjoy content without having the volume at high decibels. Although, for shows like The Sandman where background score and dialogues are often intertwined, you wouldn’t want the Voice mode ruining the atmosphere.
The wireless subwoofer brings impactful bass and definition to the low frequencies. It’s with this wireless subwoofer that the soundbar feels complete and sounds fuller and richer. The action-packed scenes from Ready Player One, House of the Dragons and games on the PlayStation 5 have lush and booming bass. It has a meaty bite in the low range but it’s not detailed and often smears the treble. We kept the bass value at -2 for better balance on this 2.1ch soundbar.
You don’t have to rely on the HDMI ARC connection to control volume. The bundled remote is very nice even though the connection has a millisecond delay between the button press and its subsequent effect on the OLED screen. The lag is further increased if you use your telly’s remote to control the audio via CEC support. If you’re rocking a Sony Bravia telly, then you can access the HT-S400 settings through the Quick Settings menu from the telly’s UI.
The remote control itself is easy to use but I feel non-techy folks may get confused between the placement of the volume buttons and bass buttons. The bass adjustment controls are where you normally would find a volume button on a telly remote and most of the time I would find my loved ones (not tech savvy) pressing the bass button to reduce the volume by mistake.
The Sony HT-S400 hits the sweet spot of being budget-friendly without compromising on sound quality. It’s perfect for regular telly drama and some Netflix binging. This 2.1ch soundbar handles vocals and bass very well and you might even be surprised by its itsy-bitsy soundstage. The Dolby Atmos support is rather lacklustre but for the price, we don’t expect Sony to transport us into James Cameron’s vivid worlds.
The powerful subwoofer and the seamless wireless connectivity are straightforward and plenty good for people who know what they should expect from the HT-S400 i.e capable audio chops for not a lot of dough.
A pocket-friendly home theatre option that gets a lot of things right, especially the price