Sharp HT-SBW460 review: How low can you go?

Not everyone has room for a multi-speaker surround sound system, which is why soundbars like the Sharp HT-SBW460 exist. It’s a neatly designed soundbar and subwoofer that saves space on your AV rack and is simple to set up yet doesn’t sacrifice features or sound quality.

Indeed, this is one of the cheapest soundbars we’ve tested to have support for Dolby Atmos, which adds height audio channels to the usual centre, stereo and other channels. Not your average budget soundbar.

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What do you get for your money?

The Sharp HT-SBW460 is compact, measuring 950mm wide, 105mm deep and 70mm tall, so it will suit most TVs from 42in upwards.

It comes with a subwoofer in the box, so you’ll need to find room for that as well. The connection between the bar and the sub is wireless, though, so you can position this anywhere you like, as long as it’s near a mains socket.

The soundbar is also supplied with brackets for wall-mounting and a slim but rather plasticky-feeling infrared remote control. This is simple enough to use, but the text labels on the button are so tiny you might struggle to read it if you have anything but perfect vision.

Still, the soundbar itself feels well made and looks smart. A metal grille wraps around the front of the bar, with a bright white LED status display hidden neatly behind it on the right-hand side. If you misplace that tiny remote control, there’s also a series of buttons on the right-hand side for controlling the volume, switching inputs, power and play/pause.

What connections are there and how easy is it to set up?

The Sharp HT-SBW460 might be small but it’s surprisingly well equipped when it comes to physical connectivity. On the rear in a small cubby hole are three HDMI ports – two inputs and one ARC-enabled output, all 4K enabled – plus an optical S/PDIF input, a USB-A port and one analogue 3.5mm AUX input.

You can stream audio to the soundbar over Bluetooth, too, but there’s no form of Wi-Fi streaming and so no support for Spotify Connect and AirPlay 2. That’s not a massive problem, but you’ll have to remember to leave your phone in the same room as the soundbar if you don’t want to interrupt music playback.

Still, this does at least make it super easy to set up the Sharp HT-SBW460. Once you’ve hooked up your HDMI inputs and outputs, and positioned the subwoofer, there’s no further setup required. Although the bar supports a fair few surround-sound standards – including Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital – you don’t need to do anything to enable them. The bar will simply switch into the most appropriate mode automatically, indicating which type of connection it’s using clearly on the LED display.

There’s no DTS support, though; instead, when this type of signal is detected the soundbar switches into PCM audio mode and downmixes the signal to stereo.

How does it sound?

The Sharp HT-SBW460 has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to sound quality. Its best quality is how clear and focused the centre channel sounds. This ensures dialogue is clearly audible and easy to hear, even during the most muffled or mumbled onscreen conversations.

The scale of the sound it’s able to pump out is pretty impressive, too. Turn up the volume and the 120W subwoofer will let loose, digging deep into the lower registers to generate room-shaking levels of bass. There’s loads of clarity in the mids and highs, too, with the HT-SBW460 able to pick out the smallest details in a soundtrack.

When comes to surround sound, the Sharp HT-SBW460 excels once again. Although it supports Dolby Atmos, it has no upward-firing drivers, instead relying on four front-firing drivers: one for each of the left and right channels and a pair for the centre channel.

Despite this limited arrangement, it does a really good job of convincing the brain that audio is coming from up above. And, although there’s not much sense that the audio is surrounding you to the sides and rear, it does a superb job of positioning sound effects to the left and right of the front-loaded soundstage.

The Sharp’s biggest weakness is that it’s terribly unbalanced. Even with the bass turned right down, the subwoofer is overwhelming and boomy, to the point at which I had to turn the volume down to unlistenable levels at some points. The same holds true in all of the soundbar’s various sound modes apart from night mode, which sounds too thin to be enjoyable anyway. And there’s no way to adjust the levels of the individual channels beyond the generic bass and treble levels, so you’re pretty much stuck with too much bass – unless you live in a studio flat or your living room is absolutely huge.

Fortunately, it can be fixed, although not via level adjustments or by moving the sub around the room. I tried the latter technique to no avail. Nothing remedied the problem until I stuffed a couple of microfibre cleaning cloths into the bass reflex port at the rear. With this fix in place, the bass became much more controlled and manageable, even tuneful.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, with the port stuffed, this is one of the best-sounding soundbars I’ve ever heard at this price. It’s musical and very detailed, and there’s plenty of scale. Even the bar’s virtual surround-sound mode, designed to add width to non-surround-sound material, works quite well, adding a sense of space and depth that wasn’t there before.

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Should I buy the Sharp HT-SBW460?

This puts the Sharp HT-SBW460 in a somewhat tricky position. It’s not a bad piece of hardware at all. It has Dolby Atmos and this works surprisingly well; it’s simple to set up; dialogue is presented in such a way that you’ll never struggle to hear onscreen voices ever again; and audio is bursting with a presence and clarity that belies its size and price.

However, out of the box the subwoofer is so boomy and overpowering that it’s simply unlistenable in small to medium-sized rooms at moderate volumes. And while this problem can be tamed with judicious stuffing of the bass reflex port, I’d much rather the sub was tuned correctly in the first place.

If you’re happy with doing a bit of DIY audio, you’ll be rewarded with a system that sounds simply phenomenal for the money. If not, I’d advise you to look elsewhere.


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