Sharp HT-SBW800 soundbar review: Big sounds for big screens

The Sharp HT-SBW800 soundbar is the flagship model in the company’s range of home theatre products. It supports Dolby Atmos object-based surround sound, using a 5.1.2-channel speaker layout, but aside from that it’s fairly light on features.

The SBW800’s feature set is clearly a conscious decision by Sharp, instead concentrating on performance and squeezing the price rather than having add-ons that only increase the cost. So how does it fare?

Design

  • Soundbar: 1200 x 70 x 105mm; 4kg
  • Subwoofer: 240 x 415 x 240mm; 5.75kg
  • Available in black only

The Sharp HT-SBW800 sports a sleek cabinet and a matte black finish, ensuring it sits under a TV without drawing excessive attention to itself. The overall design is attractive but minimalist in its approach, with a metal wrap-around grille that hides the forward- and upward-firing speakers. In fact the only aesthetic flourish that catches the eye are the silver-coloured side speakers.

The soundbar is well-made and reasonably wide, making it a good choice for screen sizes of 65-inches and larger. At a height of 70mm it shouldn’t block your screen, but there’s also the option to wall mount using provided brackets. Sharp includes a proper display that actually shows useful information like source, volume, sound format and mode, rather than a bewildering array of lights.

The included wireless active subwoofer sits on large rubber feet, creating sufficient space for the downward-firing driver. There’s a bass port at the rear for more low-end effect, and the overall design mirrors that of the soundbar. The two should pair automatically when you first set them up, but if not there’s a pairing button at the rear of the sub.

Connections and control

  • 2x HDMI input; HDMI-eARC output
  • Optical and coaxial digital inputs
  • 3.5mm auxiliary jack; USB port
  • Bluetooth 4.2

The Sharp HT-SBW800 houses its connections in a recessed area at the rear, where you’ll find two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output. They all pass 4K, HDR10 and Dolby Vision (but not HDR10+) high dynamic range formats, and the output supports ARC – allowing audio to be sent back from a compatible TV.

The other connections include coaxial and optical digital inputs, a 3.5mm auxiliary input, and a USB port. You can wirelessly stream music using Bluetooth 4.2, but there’s no Wi-Fi support, which means no Hi-Res Audio, no working with smart assistants, and no multiroom functionality.

There are some basic controls on the top of the soundbar for power, source and volume up/down. There’s no remote app, but Sharp includes a well-designed zapper that’s comfortable to hold, easy to use with one hand, and has all the buttons you’ll need in an intuitively laid-out fashion.

Features

  • Dolby Atmos
  • 5.1.2-channel audio
  • Wireless active subwoofer
  • 570W of Class D digital amplification

The Sharp HT-SBW800 isn’t the most feature-packed soundbar on the market, but the emphasis is on performance rather than frivolous add-ons. The headline feature is Dolby Atmos decoding, which is delivered using upward-firing drivers to create overhead channels, rather than relying on less effective psychoacoustic processing.

In total there are seven speakers and a subwoofer in a 5.1.2-channel layout. The speakers are composed of three facing forwards, two firing upwards, and two at the sides to give the soundstage greater width. There’s no shortage of power in this ‘bar, with a total of 570W of amplification driving the entire system.

Those all-important upward-firing drivers literally bounce sounds off your ceiling to create the overhead effects – so the lower and flatter it is, the better the effect. When combined with other speakers it creates a three-dimensional soundstage, while the included wireless subwoofer adds the low-frequency foundation, going down to a fairly deep 40Hz.

The Sharp can handle any flavour of Dolby and also decodes DTS, but doesn’t support the more immersive DTS:X. In terms of other features, the HT-SBW800 also includes a number of Dolby enhancements and four sound modes: Movie, Music, News and Night.

That’s your lot, so if this soundbar is going to stand up to the competition, it needs to deliver an impressive performance.

Sound quality

Thankfully the Sharp HT-SBW800 does just that, with a powerful and expansive presence creating a wall of sound at the front of the room. The claim of 5.1.2 channels is slightly misleading because there are no surround speakers – the fourth and fifth channels are the side-firers – but the results remain genuinely immersive due to those upward-firing drivers.

Before getting into specifics, a few general observations: the side-firers add plenty of width to what is an already fairly big soundbar, so no matter how large your screen it shouldn’t trouble the HT-SBW800; the same goes for the upward-firing drivers, which create the illusion of overhead channels that add height to the overall sonics.

There’s no shortage of power either, and while Sharp is rather vague on exactly how this amplification has been allocated, this system can go loud without distorting or losing steam. As a result there’s some excellent dynamic range, while the sub retains plenty of grunt, mining the depths and laying a solid bass foundation that gives low-frequency effects added kick.

When you bring all this together, what you get is a soundbar that can do justice to today’s blockbuster soundtracks. Watching the beginning of Mad Max: Fury Road, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack floats disembodied voices across the room, drawing you inside Max’s head. The arrival of the Warboys is accompanied by some deep bass that is effectively integrated, enhancing the audio rather than swamping it.

The climactic fight in John Wick takes place in torrential downpour, and while rain soaks the front of the room – in audio form only, thankfully – the upward-firers prove very effective at creating rolling thunder effects overhead. The dedicated centre channel ensures the dialogue doesn’t get lost in the mix, while the sub gives the gunshots and punches a pleasingly visceral thud.

While the overall performance is good, this system is limited due to the lack of surround channels. As a result the soundstage is very front heavy, with effects localised in the first third of the room. This is an inherent limitation of any soundbar that doesn’t have rear speakers but, unlike some manufacturers, Sharp doesn’t offer an upgrade path to add them later.

This issue is especially obvious with a highly directional soundtrack like that of 1917, where sounds are often steered from speaker to speaker based on a character’s perspective. With no rear speakers, sounds will stubbornly remain at the front of the room, moving from one side to the other without ever going behind you.

Despite the lack of any rear channels, there is a surround sound mode, accessed via a dedicated button on the remote. While it can’t put sounds where there aren’t speakers, this mode applies processing to give the sound a more ‘open’ quality that often sounds rather echoey. There are also dedicated bass and treble controls for fine-tuning the overall performance.

Sharp has included a selection of sound modes, which apply preset equaliser (EQ) settings and do exactly what they say on the tin. The Movie mode adds more bass; Music emphasises two-channel; News prioritises the centre channel; and Night compresses the dynamic range – which is useful for not waking the rest of the family during a late night movie bingeing session.

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