Sony is the biggest name in the soundbar and home entertainment speaker segment, but most of the Japanese brand’s mainstream options are in the premium price bracket. Buyers with a budget of around Rs. Customers of 25,000 or less usually need to look at options from brands like JBL and Polk Audio, or very affordable products from the likes of Blaupunkt, Zebronics, and the like. Sony’s latest soundbar, the HT-S400, makes a strong presence in the somewhat affordable soundbar space and promises capable performance at a reasonable price.
Price Rs. 21,990, the Sony HT-S400 is a 2.1-channel soundbar that focuses on the essentials, including design, connectivity and ease of setup. With a wireless subwoofer, rated sound output of 330W, and both wired and wireless connectivity options, is this the best reasonably-priced soundbar system out there? Find out in this review.
Sony HT-S400 Design and Features
Although significantly more affordable than the Sony HT-S40R soundbar, the new HT-S400 looks and sounds better, thanks to a beautiful grille on the front and an interesting texture on the body. That said, it’s still sensible and easy to mistake altogether for what a soundbar should look like. The bar speaker’s size suggests it’s best used with a 43-inch television, although I tested it with a 55-inch television for this review.
Of course, the lower price of the Sony HT-S400 is due to the significantly different key features. Unlike the 5.1-channel HT-S40R, this is a 2.1-channel soundbar, with a single two-channel bar speaker and a separate wireless subwoofer. Rated sound output is also slightly lower at 330W, split between 130W subwoofer and 200W bar speakers. The subwoofer weighs 7.3kg and supports wireless connectivity with just a 2.4kg bar speaker, with the latter acting as the master device and handling connectivity with external devices.
The Sony HT-S400’s sales package includes a power cable for the bar speaker and subwoofer, an optical (Toslink) audio cable for wired connectivity, and a small remote (with battery). The bar speaker has a small monochrome OLED display on the front, which displays basic information including audio source and volume level.
The top of the bar speaker has touch-sensitive buttons, which can be used to control power, volume and audio source even without a remote. The back of the speaker has two ports for wired connectivity – HDMI and optical (Toslink) and there is also Bluetooth 5 for wireless connectivity with support for SBC codec.
The Sony HT-S400 soundbar system’s remote is small and convenient, powered by two AAA batteries, and has just a few buttons to control basic features and customizations. This includes key functions such as power, volume and source selection, as well as the ability to adjust the subwoofer volume level to adjust the bass and some selections to optimize the sound for volume or Sony’s sound field mode.
The Sony HT-S400 is very easy to setup. The bar speakers and subwoofer, of course, needed to be connected to separate power sockets, but wireless connectivity meant that there were no wires between the two components themselves. Sony’s proprietary wireless connectivity protocol worked reliably, connecting the bar speakers immediately and maintaining a stable connection when the subwoofer powered up the latter. I used HDMI ARC for connectivity to the TV for my review, with occasional Bluetooth connectivity for listening to music from my smartphone.
Other features on the Sony HT-S400 include HDMI CEC, TV Wireless Connection (which allows for wireless connectivity with Sony Bravia TVs without using Bluetooth), and support for the Dolby Digital audio format. HDMI CEC worked well, and I was able to control the Sony HT-S400 (basic functions like volume) with the Google TV connected to my television’s Chromecast remote, as well as power the soundbar system when using HDMI ARC for connectivity while turning the TV on or off.
Sony HT-S400 performance
The Sony HT-S400 isn’t a particularly complicated or heavily-equipped soundbar system. The 2.1-channel setup means high-resolution audio formats have to be downmixed to stereo for output, and the only difference between the HT-S400 and a typical three-piece stereo speaker system is the actual length of the bar. However, despite its technical shortcomings, the Sony HT-S400 delivers surprisingly straightforward performance that is a significant improvement over most television speakers.
The speaker arrangement means that the Sony HT-S400 is particularly good with music and also works to make movies and television shows sound loud and well. I found the sound clean, the soundstage reasonably spacious, and the sonic signature fairly balanced. The subwoofer wasn’t too powerful for a bar speaker, and the two components worked well together.
Of course, the somewhat rudimentary driver arrangement means that the Sony HT-S400 is unfazed by advanced audio formats, requiring even the basic 5.1-channel encoding that most modern content on streaming services provides. Still, it did a decent job with it regardless of what kind of content I watched. The spaciousness of the sound stage was particularly nice to listen to, especially in films like The Gray Man and The Batman where the background score and sounds made a huge difference to the viewing experience.
What really makes a difference with the Sony HT-S400 is how loud it can get. With a rated output of 330W between the bar speakers and subwoofer, the soundbar system is louder than most televisions – budget or premium – are capable of delivering. With the volume turned up, the HT-S400 soundbar system was able to produce a loud, wide and straightforward sound that worked with all types of content. Voices were sharp, background scores were distinct and clean, and there were no noticeable volume spikes that required frequent adjustments.
Most of the time I tried to keep the Sony HT-S400 system at a relatively high volume level, but there was always room to turn up if necessary. At very high volumes, the sound loses a bit of refinement, but it’s not a volume level you need to go to, often. A 60 percent volume level was sufficient for most content for me, but I pushed it up to 75 percent for certain dialogue-intensive content like Better Call Shawl and Masaba Masaba.
The sound also felt very balanced with the subwoofer being the optimal size and output for a bar speaker. The bass never sounded too aggressive, as is often the case with budget and mid-range soundbars, yet it never sounded blocked or lacking. Only the subwoofer volume can be adjusted using the remote, but I found the default level to be fine for the most part, and I adjusted it occasionally when I needed to keep the volume down and couldn’t hear dialogue. Quite clearly.
The Sony HT-S400 features something the brand calls ‘S-Force Pro Front Surround’, which delivers a virtual surround sound effect with just the front speakers. In my experience this didn’t happen, even from sound field mode there was no significant effect on sound coming from the back or sides. Voice and Night modes (which can be selected via the remote) made the sound more voice-focused and softer, respectively, but not by much.
The 2.1-channel setup meant that the Sony HT-S400 soundbar system performed reasonably well with music, whether from a connected smart TV or via Bluetooth. The loudness, spacious soundstage and balanced sound even at low volume levels was pleasing for a medium-sized room, and the ability to vary the subwoofer volume for a little extra attack and punch was very useful.
The Sony HT-S400 soundbar may be a little under-equipped and lacking in features, but that’s not a bad thing. Where the soundbar shines is in its simplicity of setup and use, loud and balanced sound, and a decent price for what’s on offer. That said, the lack of advanced audio format support and surround sound (real or virtual) are things to keep in mind, as is the fact that this is really a 2.1-channel speaker system designed to act as a soundbar.
Get the Sony HT-S400 if you have a budget of around Rs. 25,000 and want something that adds volume, attack and drive to your home entertainment setup. You can also consider options from brands like Polk Audio and JBL, but Sony’s straightforward approach and focus on core functionality make the HT-S400 worth a look.