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We connected our Sky HD box directly to the Sharp and after listening to a variety of TV programmes the good news is that it fulfils its primary objective, delivering sound that’s richer and fuller than most flatpanel TVs we’ve ever laid ears on.
Playback of a Europa League match on Five with the Sport mode selected reveals crisp and open reproduction of the crowd noises, with the commentators’ voices emerging clearly and prominently from the middle of the bar. It’s a comfortable listen, with just enough natural bass to stop it sounding thin and fatiguing. The dramatic sting that bookends the adverts on Five’s Europa League coverage is loud and powerful too, particularly the booming drums.
Programmes like Question Time and News at Ten, with their heavy speech content, are conveyed with impressive clarity, and the News mode brings extra body to the newsreaders’ vocal tones and pompous theme tunes. The HT-SB400 also does a pleasing job with the wider mix of sounds in dramas like Outcasts, keeping speech intelligible, lending depth to the more dramatic moments and drawing attention to background detail. It’s an admirably crisp, clean sound with no obvious distortion and only occasional suggestions of high-frequency brightness, suggesting the HDSS driver tech is doing a good job.
However, although the built-in bass capabilities of the HT-SB400 are far superior to those of most flatpanel TVs, it can’t quite satisfy the demands of movie soundtracks. There’s some evidence of low-end authority, particularly if you play around with the bass and subwoofer level settings, but not enough. If you’re planning on watching films regularly then we recommend adding a powered sub, which gives low frequency effects extra kick.
There’s also precious little surround presence, which isn’t a big deal but worth mentioning to underline that this is no replacement for a true surround sound system. We also tried the Sharp with music and although it’s clean and detailed, it’s also a little cold – but then this was never conceived as a hi-fi replacement.
The HT-SB400 has been designed with a very specific brief: to play back TV sound with greater power and clarity than typical flatpanel speakers, and on that score it succeeds. Everyday TV viewing is a more rewarding experience thanks to the extra volume, punch and depth on offer. It’s also quietly stylish and the touch-sensitive controls are a fantastic addition.
Of course, it can’t hope to compete with multi-faceted soundbars from the likes of LG and Panasonic - it’s not a home cinema hub and the feature count is too low - plus you need to add a subwoofer to really make it sing with movies, which may deter those after a neat single-box solution. But as a simple sound upgrade without the trimmings then it’s a decent purchase.
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