There is great interest in soundbars that are not too expensive, but also not exactly cheap. A good soundbar around the Rs. 30,000 price point goes well with a decent mid or mid-range television, and there are a handful of brands in India offering exactly this type of product. Sony is known for its mid-range sound bars, and its newest product, the Sony HT-S40R 5.1 channel sound bar speaker system, promises a lot for Rs. 29,990.
While it is essentially a soundbar, the Sony HT-S40R is unique in that the package also includes a pair of wireless rear speakers and a subwoofer that create an authentic 5.1-channel home theater setup. Is this speaker system convenient to use and is it the best you can buy for less than Rs? 30,000? Find out in this review.
Design and specifications of the Sony HT-S40R
Soundbars and home theater speaker systems look best when they’re subtle and simple, and the Sony HT-S40R adheres to this premise. All components are colored black and do not look unusual for a soundbar speaker system. The sales package includes a three-channel soundbar loudspeaker, a subwoofer, two rear loudspeakers and an amplifier to supply the rear-channel loudspeakers. There is also a remote control for the system, batteries for power, and an HDMI cable to connect the system to your TV or AV receiver.
Most of the soundbar systems I’ve tested have the bar speaker as the master device, with the subwoofer, if present, drawing its signal from there. Things are different with the Sony HT-S40R; The subwoofer is the primary device that connects to all source devices as well as the mains. The subwoofer offers four connection options: Digital Optical, HDMI-ARC and Analog In on the back and USB on the front.
There are also jacks to connect the bar speaker to the subwoofer; The cable is attached to the bar loudspeaker, which receives its audio signal and power from the subwoofer. The bar speaker is very simple except for a Sony logo on the left and a few stickers showing its functions. It has no buttons or controls. A simple metal grille covers the speaker drivers.
The top of the subwoofer has touch controls for power, source selection, Bluetooth 5 connectivity (with support for the SBC codec) and volume. There is also a small monochrome text display on the front that shows the operating status and the active source.
Although Sony calls the rear speakers wireless, this isn’t exactly correct; The rear speaker system as a whole is wirelessly connected to the subwoofer, but the speakers themselves need to be connected to the amplifier with cables for audio and power. The amplifier also needs its own socket.
This means that you don’t have to wire the surround speakers to the main setup, but of course you need to make sure they are properly positioned for use with the required amplifier. The rear speakers can be mounted either on a tabletop or on the wall. The amplifier has sockets for the power supply and for connecting the two loudspeakers as well as two buttons for the power supply and the connection to the subwoofer.
The Sony HT-S40R’s remote control is not very large, but it has many buttons to control various aspects of the speaker system. You can set sound modes, set the volume of the master and subwoofer separately and, thanks to HDMI-CEC support, also control playback on connected devices.
After connecting and setting up, I was also able to control the system volume with my TV remote control and the speaker system turned on automatically when the TV was switched on. Oddly enough, I had to turn off the HT-S40R manually as turning off the TV didn’t result in it.
Sony HT-S40R performance
The Sony HT-S40R is a mid-range soundbar and of course has a range of functions that largely match the price. While the setup still involves significant wiring, the soundbar system offers decent 5.1-channel sound and is rated at 600W. Advanced audio formats such as Dolby Atmos are not supported, but the Sony HT-S40R does support Dolby Digital audio . Although it is not quite as loud as the sound output suggests, the Sony HT-S40R is able to generate high volumes without audible distortion.
While I often used the rear speaker system for a few movies during my review, I usually only had the bar speaker and subwoofer on for most of the time with the HT-S40R. I used HDMI-ARC to connect to the TV. I’ve tested this home theater speaker system with various TV shows and movies on Netflix and Apple TV + including Our Planet, Ted Lasso, The Good Place, and Tom Hanks Starer Greyhound. This allowed me to test native 5.1 channel content and see how the system worked as a 3.1 channel audio setup using only the bar speaker and subwoofer.
Although it’s a passive unit that gets its power from the subwoofer, the bar speaker is at the heart of the Sony HT-S40R. Its three dedicated channels provide correct left, right and center channel output, with the sound tuning geared towards typical television. Voices were clear and precise; Sound effects and soundtracks were clean, subtle, and easy to hear; and there was a sense of breadth, even though the bar speaker was a couple of inches shorter than the TV itself.
As expected, the HT-S40R provided a significantly improved listening experience than the Mi TV 5X that I used it with. While it doesn’t sound quite as crisp or clean as the more expensive Sony HT-G700 soundbar, the HT-S40R made up for it with its rear speakers.
While there is a lot of native 5.1 channel content on popular streaming services, only part of it has really affected the viewing experience the way surround sound intended. On shows like The Good Place, what I heard from the rear speakers hardly seemed to matter (although there was a clear separation), but on Greyhound and Our Planet there was a lot to enjoy in the sound.
With the latter, David Attenborough’s gripping narrative sounded as good as it gets through the soundbar, while the rear speakers provided impressive background work, which handles nature noises – such as the chirping of birds and running water – particularly well. The speaker system also adequately reproduced the tense and fast-paced feel of much of the Greyhound, while rightly putting the focus on Tom Hanks’ dialogues.
While functioning as a more traditional 3.1 channel soundbar and subwoofer system, the surround elements were obviously missing, but this didn’t affect most of my listening experiences with the HT-S40R. The rear speakers are decent but not very loud, and the bar speaker and subwoofer understandably did much of the heavy lifting anyway. Ted Lasso, The Good Place, and Our Planet all sounded practically the same to me. If you have space for rear speakers, these will make a good difference in sound but are not essential for TV shows.
The subwoofer is the brains of the setup, but it also delivers a lot of power and attack. With the volume cranked up, it added a lot of impact through capable and distortion-free low-end rumble, especially in Greyhound, where it made for some pleasant pounding in the action scenes. The volume of the subwoofer can be regulated separately from the overall system volume, so that you can turn the attack up or down according to your listening preferences.
I also tried the bluetooth connectivity. Although the sound was loud, the mood didn’t quite match the music.
The Sony HT-S40R isn’t on the cutting edge of technology as you’d expect from a sub Rs soundbar speaker system. 30,000, but it makes up for it with raw performance. It’s loud, clean, crisp, and works very well with native 5.1-channel content over HDMI-ARC. Although Dolby Atmos or other advanced audio formats are not supported, the HT-S40R handles standard surround sound very well thanks to its 5.1-channel setup.
That said, there are too many cables and the rear speakers were a little difficult for me to position. It’s not ideally tuned for listening to music either, but if you can work around these issues, the HT-S40R offers capable 5.1-channel sound at a good price. There are some decent competing options from brands like Polk Audio, Bose, JBL, and Samsung, but the Sony is worth considering given its volume capabilities and 5.1 channel output.