As TVs have gotten thinner and thinner, display technology has improved immensely over the past couple of years. My current 4K TV is barely 4-inches at its thickest point, and it’s far from a top of the line model. Unfortunately, having a thin TV means less space for speakers. In short, audio tends to suffer the thinner you get. The best way to combat this is with surround sound system or soundbar. That’s where the 2.1 channel Sony HT-S350 fits into the story. At around $200, this soundbar comes with a wireless sub and promises to up your audio game, but how is it really?
Who’s the Sony HT-S350 soundbar for?
- People in small apartments. If you live in a small apartment, this soundbar has more than enough (340W) to give you the upgrade you need without annoying the neighbors.
- College students. Aside from most likely living in a small space, college students also are mainly concerned with price. At under $200, the Sony HT-S350 soundbar is hands-down a great bang for your buck product.
- Great entry-level soundbar for anyone curious about better TV audio. If you’ve never had a soundbar before and aren’t sure how much use you’ll get out of a soundbar, this is a great way to dip your toes into the world of more immersive home audio.
Setting up the Sony HT-S350
Fair warning, the Sony HT-S350 comes in a giant, awkward box. I feel like it would’ve been easier to ship/handle in two separate boxes for the soundbar and sub, but instead, they come together in a box that’s difficult to store. Thankfully, setting up the soundbar isn’t as tedious as its packaging. Once you get the soundbar and the sub to where you want them to be, then all you have to do is plug the soundbar and sub into an outlet.
Next, connect the soundbar to the TV via the included optical cable or an HDMI cable and voila, you’re done. When you turn on the soundbar it will automatically connect to the wireless sub which is super convenient. As someone who has fussed with the wires going into an out of a receiver more times than I can count, this is one of those moments that really made me feel like I was living in the future. True, it isn’t a feature unique to this Sony HT-S350, but it still gets me every time.
What’s it like to use it?
Using the HT-S350 is fairly straightforward thanks to the included remote. Try not to lose it though because while you can switch between inputs between TV and Bluetooth thanks to the touch-sensitive buttons on top of the soundbar, there’s no way to switch the EQ modes without the remote.
Speaking of EQ modes, you can swap between them based on whatever you’re watching or listening to. In the center of the remote are the volume controls, and I found that the listening modes above the volume way more useful than the modes on the bottom. For example, they’re clearly labeled based on what kind of media you’re listening to. The modes available are cinema, music, auto sound, voice, and night. I found night mode especially useful as it came in handy when watching movies at nighttime. So if you’re watching an action movie, you won’t have to raise the volume for the whispered dialog spoken by the protagonist only to have your ears blown off when there’s an explosion. Instead, the night mode balances them out so you won’t accidentally wake the neighbors or your significant other in the other room.
Underneath the volume controls you’ll find a few more options like the subwoofer volume controls and a mute button, but then there’s also some more vague controls like audio, news, game, sports, and standard. Using them, I wasn’t exactly sure what they did or why they were there. For example, the “News” mode seemed to give extra emphasis to vocals, but for that couldn’t I just press the “Voice” button on the top of the remote? It just seemed a little redundant to me but better have too many features than too little I guess.
The soundbar itself is a decent size, and I was able to fit it nicely on my own personal TV stand as well as the one in the living room with plenty of room to spare. It measures 900mm x 64mm x 88mm and weighs just 2.4kg making it light enough that you can mount it on a wall without too much hassle. The front of the speaker is wrapped in a typical grille protecting the drivers. The top of the soundbar is covered in faux leather that looks pretty nice and sets it apart from the plastic that you’ll usually find at this price point.
While the soundbar is fairly slim, the subwoofer, on the other hand, is massive. It measures 190mm x 382mm x 390mm, but despite its size, I didn’t have a problem finding a spot for it. In my room, it fits snugly underneath my TV stand while in the living room it just sits off to the side of the TV.
As I mentioned, the sub automatically connects to the soundbar wirelessly and I never had any issues with connectivity or stutters. The soundbar can connect directly to your TV via a single HDMI-CEC output or an optical cable. I chose to use the optical cable as its what came included in the box. If you prefer to listen to music or podcasts, you can also switch to Bluetooth mode and, while it obviously isn’t as seamless as connecting to a pair of AirPods, my source device had no problem finding it and streaming audio. The HT-S350 soundbar is rocking Bluetooth 5.0, but unfortunately, it only has the basic SBC codec. So you won’t get any higher quality streaming here but then again, this is meant to be used with your TV. I considered the addition of Bluetooth to be just a nice perk for when I feel like listening to music while cleaning or doing other household chores.
While the Sony HT-S350 soundbar does have Dolby Digital compatibility, that’s basically all it has. So if you’re hoping to get any of the more advanced surround sound codecs for a more immersive experience, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Still, if you’ve never heard or cared about something like Dolby Atmos, then this is a perfect soundbar for you. It isn’t the most technologically advanced, but it will hands-down drastically improve the sound coming from your TV speakers.
How does the Sony HT-S350 sound?
If you look at the graph above, you’ll notice that the sound quality on the HT-S350 is surprisingly neutral. This means that, for the most part, notes in basically all the frequencies above around 200Hz will sound pretty much equally as loud. The big drop off that happens below 200Hz is nothing to worry about, as that’s what the subwoofer (grey) is for. While testing I turned off the sub so as to get the response from just the soundbar, but with the sub turned on it fills out the low ends nicely to the point where my roommate loves turning it on just for the intro of Law & Order because of how much more intense it sounds.
Crime shows aside, this is also good news when listening to music as you can control exactly how much low end you want. I found this useful when listening to music fairly late at night, as I just turned off the sub so as not to annoy the neighbors. It does make songs feel a little empty, and I was missing the thumping kicks throughout the song Haul by Christian Loffler but it’s all there when you turn the sub back on. Mids and highs were also handled nicely.
Listening to Nunca Es Suficiente by Los Angeles Azules and Natalie Lafourcade, the trumpets and her vocals were not competing at all. My only critique would be the cymbal hit that comes in during the chorus at around 1:16 which sounds a little too soft and underemphasized. As I mentioned, the soundbar only supports SBC over Bluetooth as well, so while I wasn’t blown away by the sound, the HT-S350 is still tuned nicely to my liking.
Should you get it?
If you already have a soundbar or a 2.1 channel setup, then the Sony HT-S350 might be more of a horizontal shuffle than an upgrade. However, if you don’t have any speakers connected to your TV and want to step up your sound game for cheap, I have no problem recommending the HT-S350 soundbar. This is one of those products that I can easily talk myself into getting once this review unit goes back, and that rarely happens to me. While you won’t get the best quality over Bluetooth and you also won’t get any game-changing surround sound audio codecs, it’s inexpensive and was an instant improvement to my movie-watching experience.
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