- Dynamic, enjoyable sound
- Sleek, discreet styling & solid build quality
- Easy to use
- No digital audio inputs
- Occasional sonic flaws
- Review Price: £130.00
- 32W (RMS) total power output
- SRS WOW HD with four presets
- Four subwoofer speakers
- Bass, treble and subwoofer level adjustments
- Wall or TV stand installation
Sharp’s HT-SB250 soundbar is aimed at those who want to add extra punch to movie and TV sound without committing to a space-hogging home cinema system. It sits discreetly below your TV, either attached to the wall or on your TV stand, and belts out 32W (RMS) of audio power from its stereo speakers and built-in subwoofer – a great deal more than most flatpanel TVs. There’s no disc drive and only a smattering of sockets, which makes it more of a TV add-on than a home entertainment hub, but the usefulness of simple soundbars like these shouldn’t be underestimated.
Naturally for a product designed with discretion in mind, the bodywork is sleek and compact. This particular model is best suited to TVs between 32 and 40in, and as such measures 851mm wide and 70mm deep. The black styling is attractive in an understated way and the curved corners are a subtle but significant aesthetic touch.
Head-on, all you can see is the speaker mesh and central control panel, with its bright blue LED display panel showing the selected input and volume when adjusted (it can be dimmed if it’s too distracting). There’s also a row of lights indicating the selected sound mode and a row of buttons below allowing you to adjust volume, sound mode and input.
It’s also worth mentioning that the HT-SB250’s build quality is first rate. The metal mesh and solid casing give it a reassuring weightiness that can only mean good things from a performance point of view.
On the back is a small recess that houses three sockets – a 3.5mm minijack input, stereo phono inputs and the DC power adapter port. The phono inputs are provided primarily for connection to a TV, although there’s no reason why you couldn’t hook up a Blu-ray player directly.
The HT-SB250’s simple purpose means there’s no need for fancy HDMI ports and the like, but some buyers might bemoan the lack of a digital audio input or two, or even a USB port for on-the-fly music playback. Still the two analogue inputs give you a choice of how to control the volume – either hook up your TV’s red/white analogue outputs to the soundbar’s corresponding inputs and use the Sharp’s own volume controls, or connect the TV’s headphone output to the 3.5mm minijack and use your TV’s volume. It’s a simple but effective solution.
The HT-SB250 is a 2.1-channel speaker system, equipped with two full-range front speakers and four neodymium subwoofer speakers. The built-in amplifier supplies 6W to each front speaker, and 5W to each of the subwoofers.
As suggested by the lack of digital inputs, there are no Dolby Digital or DTS decoders on board. There is, however, some sound processing in the form of SRS WOW HD, which offers a range of presets for different types of material. They include Standard, Cinema/Game, Sport and News. Also on board is High Definition Sound Standard, an audio technology designed to limit the distortion caused by speaker vibration.
To fine tune the soundbar’s performance there are other adjustments including bass and treble levels (ranging from -5 up to 5) and subwoofer level settings (ditto).
Installing and operating the HT-SB250 is extremely simple. You get all the hardware you need in the box, including screw-on spikes, foot cushions and wall-mounting brackets. Once in place the front panel controls are self-explanatory and there’s a simple credit-card sized remote for armchair organisation.
Its button arrangement is a little scattershot but everything is well-labelled and it covers all bases. There are dedicated keys for each sound preset, for the subwoofer adjustments and bass/treble controls. There’s even a little cluster of buttons to control Sharp TVs, which might save you flipping between handsets every five minutes.
With the Marantz UD7006 Blu-ray player hooked up to the analogue inputs, the HT-SB250’s sound quality is hugely enjoyable. Crucially, it’s streets ahead of your average flatpanel TV, offering a fuller, deeper and more dynamic sound, and copes fairly well with raucous action scenes at loud volumes.
It does require some tweaking though. Out of the box, the sound is treble heavy with a bright edge to it, but once we’d boosted the subwoofer level and evened out the bass and treble, it started to sound much smoother.
When playing Thor on Blu-ray, the attack on the Frost Giants on Jotunheim is a frenzy of crisp, crunching effects, and there’s a pleasing depth to Thor’s hammer blows. High-frequencies are mostly easy on the ear, although particularly aggressive noises can still sound a little ripe. There’s also an excellent sense of width when you switch over to the SRS WOW Cinema mode, which is no substitute for real surround sound but it opens up the soundstage nicely.
The Sharp is also a dab hand with dialogue. Anthony Hopkins’ scene-setting voiceover is surprisingly rich and authoritative, while the scenery-chewing monologues come through loud and clear, no matter how much dramatic music and action is going on around them.
The HTR-SB250 is a simple soundbar that lacks the sonic finesse to really dazzle, but for the money its performance is very enjoyable – and crucially, its loud and dynamic performance make your TV speakers sound like yoghurt pots on string. The inclusion of separate front speakers and four subwoofers makes all the difference when playing movies, with bass, treble, sub level adjustments and processing modes allowing you to easily tailor the sound to taste. The results aren’t as assured as the pricier Roth Bar1 and its separate subwoofer, but not far behind. It’s stylish, compact and easy to use too, making it a living-room friendly upgrade for anyone who’s fed up with the weedy sound coming out of their TV.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 8