The HT-XT3 is a soundbase that not only boosts audio from your TV but can also be used as part of Sony’s multiroom music system. That means you can play tunes on the HT-XT3 while simultaneously sending them to other Sony speakers like the SRS-X88 and SRS-X99.
The best part is that the HT-XT3 does all this while sitting surreptitiously under your TV, making it the perfect solution for those who want high-quality sound without clutter. Throw in a lengthy feature list and a lower-than-expected price tag and Sony could be about to claim a spot among the soundbase elite.
Ostensibly the HT-XT3 is a simple black box, but look closely and there’s some lovely stuff going on. First up, it’s clad in a luxurious gloss-black finish with a glass top surface, not only making it sleek and elegant but also providing a sturdy base for your TV. Sony says it supports BRAVIA sets up to 65-inches big, weighing up to 50kg.
You’ll also notice a row of touch-sensitive controls on top (controlling power, volume, input selection and Bluetooth pairing) plus a USB port and NFC touch point on the right-hand side. A crisp, clear text display glows from the front panel, showing a variety of status messages.
Liberate the front grille from its plug fixings and you’ll reveal Sony’s new coaxial speaker drivers. The super tweeter is mounted in front of the midrange driver, which emit sound from a single point source. The gold ring around the tweeters is not only a pretty flourish but also a sign that the HT-XT3 is primed for high-resolution audio.
At 80mm it’s reasonably slim by soundbase standards. Most of its height is due to four chunky feet that lift it off the surface and create a space for the dual subwoofers to move air.
On the back Sony goes beyond the basics with three HDMI inputs and an ARC-compatible input, an optical digital input and a 3.5mm minijack input (which would have been easier to access on the front or side, but we’re nit-picking).
The HDMI ports support HDCP 2.2 and will passthrough 4K and 3D, making the HT-XT3 fully futureproofed. There’s built-in dual-band Wi-Fi but you can connect to the internet using the Ethernet port if you prefer.
It’s compatible with Google Cast, allowing you to stream music directly from compatible Android apps, while Sony’s Song Pal smartphone app lets you stream tracks from PCs and NAS drives on your home network, as well as music stored locally on the phone. You can also access Spotify and Google Play Music.
If you don’t fancy going down the network route, the Bluetooth connection not only lets you stream music but also send audio from the soundbase to a pair of headphones. Sony’s LDAC codec offers three times the bitrate of typical Bluetooth streaming with more efficient coding and sampling rates up to 96kHz, while NFC makes it a cinch to pair Android devices.
The HT-XT3 is a 2.1-channel system with a pair of two-way coaxial speakers and two integrated down-firing subwoofers – all driven by an S-Master HX digital amplifier that musters 350W of power.
There’s on-board decoding for Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio, plus support for high-resolution audio up to 192kHz/24-bit. Your FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, WAV and DSD files are in good hands.
Other audio features include S-Force PRO Front Surround Sound, which aims to widen the listening area for a 5.1-like effect; ClearAudio+, which automatically optimises the sound settings for music playback, DSEE HX, which ‘upscales’ compressed music formats to restore data lost in the compression process and a series of Sound Field modes – Movie, Music, Sports and Game Studio.
Despite its apparent complexity, setting up the HT-XT3 is a piece of cake. The well-stocked rear panel lets you connect lots of external kit, or you can simply connect your TV to the Sony’s optical input or ARC port and let it play whatever you’re watching on the TV.
Wi-Fi setup is similarly simple – just download the Song Pal app onto your phone and follow its excellent setup wizard. The process involves pairing the phone via Bluetooth and entering your Wi-Fi password – the details are then shared with the soundbase. It only took a few minutes to get connected.
Choosing a source is easy. The app’s main screen displays available inputs in a grid of tiles, each one illustrated by an eye-catching graphic – tap one and the Sony jumps straight to it. Hit the Spotify or Google Play Music buttons to switch to the respective apps.
Song Pal is designed with a perfect balance of sophistication and simplicity. It moves between menus with impressive swiftness and didn’t glitch or freeze once during the test. As well as switching inputs, you can use it to adjust volume and muck about with the sound modes more fluidly than you can with the physical remote.
The Song Pal app also acts as the controller for your entire multiroom system, allowing you to send different songs to each speaker or group them together and play the same music through them all. It detects any Sony speakers on the same network and displays them as floating icons that you can drag around. To set up a group, just drag one icon onto another – it confirms your selection and saves the group for future use.
Sony sent me the SRS-X88 with the HT-XT3 and I had no trouble beaming music to both speakers through Song Pal. I streamed a track to the SRS-X88 from my laptop while sending Spotify to the HT-XT3 and it worked perfectly. It didn’t matter which two sources I used, the Sony wasn’t fazed, and the result was the same when I grouped the speakers together.
Song Pal is a terrific multiroom controller, but the physical remote is better for day-to-day operation. It’s a well thought-out zapper, with a menu control pad in the centre and well-signposted volume controls. Each sound mode gets its own button at the top, as well as convenient input and Bluetooth transport controls.
The HT-XT3 boasts its own onscreen menu system via HDMI, which is a real novelty. Hit the blue Home button and you can select a source from the menu or peruse the detailed setup menu. The Options sidebar lets you tweak sound modes during playback, although you can do that with the remote anyway.
When playing a movie, the HT-XT3 generates a big and powerful soundstage with well-balanced bass and bags of detail. Its simple two-speaker arrangement offers a direct presentation, freed from the complications of sound beams or multidirectional drivers, while punchy subwoofers lay a solid low-frequency foundation.
Feel free to play with the Sound Field modes, but for my money the Standard and ClearAudio+ settings produce the best results – Movie overdoes low frequencies while Music underplays them. ClearAudio+ is the ideal ‘set and forget’ mode for anyone who hates fiddling around with audio settings.
You’ll also need to crank up the dedicated subwoofer controls at least half way to achieve the rich bass that movies thrive on, but once tweaked you’re in for a real thrill ride.
I loaded up Pacific Rim on Blu-ray and when the first Kaiju tears up the Golden Gate Bridge during the prologue, the Sony filled my room with huge waves of bass. It makes the monster’s thumping footsteps and bellowing roar sound massive, and surrounds it with an electrifying sonic cocktail of shattering car windows, exploding jets and crunching metal.
The Sony’s tone is crisp and attacking without sounding brash, plus the coaxial driver’s super tweeters inject fine details into every scene. From the electric crackle of a Jaeger being torn apart to background noise in Hong Kong’s bustling Bone Slums, the Sony renders everything with terrific clarity, demonstrating surprising insight for a soundbase.
Thanks to the coaxial driver arrangement, high-frequencies merge cohesively with the full-bodied midrange, making dialogue sound detailed and authoritative even in the midst of a cacophonous action sequence. There’s no dedicated centre speaker but you wouldn’t know it.
Negatives are few and far between. Despite the best efforts of S-Force, the soundstage isn’t particularly expansive, which will disappoint those seeking a surround-like experience, and when you push the subwoofer volume beyond 8 (out of 12) it chuffs and booms like it’s going out of fashion – judicious use is recommended.
Switch to TV and the Sony continues to impress. Live music performances sound big and energetic, while speech is conveyed clearly. It also adds depth to things you don’t expect, like crowd noises and the thud as the Pointless column hits the bottom.
The Sony also does a fine job with music. Naturally I headed straight for my hi-res collection and the Sony lends depth and sparkle to the ethereal electronica of Coldplay’s Midnight, while Daft Punk’s infectious Lose Yourself To Dance sounds remarkably funky, with plenty of attack and detail in the drums and guitars.
You don’t need hi-res material to coax a cracking performance from the Sony though. I didn’t have an LDAC source but MP3s streamed from an iPod using regular Bluetooth sound terrific, likewise tracks streamed from the SoundCloud app via Google Cast.
With its plethora of features, elegant design and entertaining audio performance, the HT-XT3 demands a place on your shopping list.
There’s an extensive range of wireless streaming options, including Google Cast, DLNA, Bluetooth and Spotify Connect, backed up by three futureproofed HDMI inputs and multiroom functionality. It may seem more expensive than your average soundbase, but when you consider the amount of features on board, if anything it’s underpriced.
Equally impressive is its smooth operation through the Song Pal app, but sound quality seals the deal – the HT-XT3’s detailed, room-filling output brings movies and music to life and confirms Sony’s place at the top of the soundbase tree.
Generous features, classy design and sparkling sound make Sony’s HT-XT3 one of the best soundbases money can buy