Sony HT-X8500 Soundbar REVIEW
Sony HT-X8500 Soundbar REVIEW
PAT PILCHER has to get his ears tested when he is unexpectedly blown away by the sonic properties of a cheap-as-chips Sony soundbar.
Soundbars. They’re a by-product of the move to flat and increasingly thin TVs. This is because slimmer TVs have less room for speakers, so ironically slim TVs also equals thin audio. Fixing that is the reason behind the rise and rise of soundbars. Using a soundbar to improve the sound of your telly aside, they’re incredibly versatile. They can sit under a TV to bolster audio, wall mounting is usually a doddle, and if they’re Bluetooth capable, they can also do a semi-decent job of playing music from your smart device.
But it almost goes without saying that not all soundbars are created equal. This is the case with Sony’s HT-X8500. While it isn’t exactly a budget option, it delivers the goods sonically.
Given the form factor of a typical soundbar, there’s little in the way of surprises in the design of the HT-X8500. It’s a Long, black, narrow slab that’s designed to fit in with most home décor. On its top, there are both touch sensitive buttons for input, sound, Bluetooth, as well as a set of tiny LEDs that act as indicators for various functions. My personal preference is for a proper display such as that on Samsung’s HW-Q79R (https://witchdoctor.co.nz/index.php/2019/06/samsung-hw-q70r-xy-soundbar-review/), which is far more intuitive to use. Given its sticker price, I’m surprised by its absence. The LEDs might look pretty, but I found myself referring to the manual to work out what it was up to.
LED grizzles aside, getting the HT-X8500 set-up was a doddle. It supports HDMI as well as Bluetooth, which meant I was also able to stream music using Bluetooth on my phone.
The audio delivered from the HT-X8500 is surprisingly full-bodied. Firing up a Dolby Atmos enabled Blu-ray, I prepared to be disappointed. Sony, like most soundbar makers, talk up the immersive Dolby Atmos surround capabilities of their soundbar. In practice, I’ve found that while most soundbars offer a definite step up in the dynamic range of TV audio, none manage to create a sonic environment with a convincing front/back/up/down/left/right sound stage.
At least that was until I tested the HT-X8500.
Playing the Black Panther Blu-ray brought fight scenes to life. Objects were landing behind me, in front of me and flying overhead. Several times I caught myself doing involuntary double-takes to confirm that the audio was really being pumped out of this humble sound device.
Strong mids and treble enhanced dialogue to give depth and greatly enhance clarity. While no separate sub is included, Sony says a bass radiator is built in, and the HT-X8600 managed to crank out a surprising amount of low-end, adding home theatre-like whumps to on-screen explosions. In addition to Atmos and DTX support, there are pre-sets for cinema, sports, game, and news. In practice, I’d have happily traded these for a proper display as they seemed to consist of EQ, delay and phasing tweaks.
Sound-wise, Sony’s HT-X8500 is one of the best soundbars I’ve tested to date. It’s also the first to paint a convincing Dolby Atmos soundstage that offers up actual depth/height as well as left/right channel audio. If it weren’t for the annoying LED status lights, it would’ve scored itself a perfect 10/10.