Sony HT-S20R review: a 5.1-channel soundbar home theater for the masses

Sony has done some course correction in 2020. The company aims to sell more affordably priced audio products to the Indian audience. India, as we are all aware, is a price-sensitive market. Cue in, the Sony HT-S20R. A budget soundbar-based 5.1-channel home theatre system (HTS) meant for the budget TV users. 

So, is the Rs 14,990 HTS worth your money? Well, yes and no, depending on how much you are willing to compromise. 

Sony HT-S20R design and setup

So, here’s the thing about budget HTS’, they look very bland. The HT-S20R is no different. It comes in an L-shaped box that houses the single soundbar, a couple of channel speakers, and a subwoofer. All the individual units are made entirely of plastic. Sony has reduced the size of the soundbar purely to complement 32-inch TV sizes. Unfortunately, you do not get an HDMI cable in the box. Although, you can mount the speakers to the wall if you wish. 

Also read: LG XBoom Go PK3, PK5, and PK7 review: come rain or come shine, I will play!

By the way, talking about HDMI, I used it for the duration of my review with HDMI ARC for music delivery. I could use my OnePlus TV’s remote to even control the volume on the system thanks to ARC. As for the rest of the connections, you get a USB Type-A port for playing music directly from your pen drive. You also have Bluetooth 5.0 connection for streaming music directly from your phone. Finally, you have your trusty 3.5mm out for connecting it to any source of your choice directly. The lack of optical SPDIF is a bit disappointing, though. We could’ve expected better audio quality considering even over Bluetooth you only get support for the SBC codec. No aptX or LDAC support here if you were hoping for it. Anyway, All the ports are on the woofer, which acts as the central node for all the circuitry and connections. 

 

By the way, this is a unbox, plug, and play directly sort of setup. All the wires, including the ones for the soundbar, and the two-channel speakers connect to the woofer. And, the wire is really long which means you can place it anywhere in the house. The ideal setup would be one where the two-channel speakers are behind you to get the best surround sound setup.

The best part about the speaker is that you get a handy remote that lets you change audio settings on the fly. You can also individually control the volume level and the bass levels using this remote. Plus, the subwoofer has a tiny LED display that showcases the audio settings, volume level, and other important information. So, even if you aren’t connected to a TV, you can use this display to figure out the current setting. It comes in pretty handy. 

Sony HT-S20R sound and features

The HT-S20R has a plethora of sound profiles on offer. Modes like Music and Cinema tune the EQ automatically to suit most songs and video content automatically. There’s also a special Night mode that compresses the sound without affecting the fidelity and clarity, as per Sony. Additionally, the Voice mode brings out the clarity in the dialogues properly. 

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So, coming to the sound quality, I found the subwoofer to be very boomy at higher audio levels. So, at the subwoofer’s audio level of 7 or 8, the bass would actually bleed into the other frequencies easily. Otherwise, the soundbar has a nice throw and the instrument separation is good for most audio. The signature tends to favour the bass a lot and therefore the dynamics you come to expect from a speaker setup such as this one is not immediately apparent, unfortunately. I mean, you can enjoy listening to modern Bollywood songs on this speaker but don’t expect it to be good for analytical audiophile-grade songs. You won’t hear the shimmer in the treble or the depth in the vocals. 

Now, when it comes to surround sound, the two-channel speakers on the rear should ideally make it more appealing but it wasn’t the case in my experience. And, there is no way to upscale regular 2 channel content to 5.1 either. Even content that is natively encoded in Dolby audio sounded very average with respect to the surround sound effect. I mean, you can hear the whirr of the helicopter’s wings flying past your ears but it is not very effective.

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Overall, the HT-S20R’s overall sound quality is largely average at best. 

Should you buy the Sony HT-S20R?

Sony’s new attempt to make affordable soundbars that do not break the bank is a valiant effort. And, for the most part of my experience, I found it to be a fully-loaded solution for its asking price of under Rs 15,000. However, the sound quality is average at best and you are getting what you pay for actually. And anyway, options are few and limited in this price range. Therefore, the HT-S20R should actually stand out from its competitors for the sheer quantity of features on offer. For most folks, that’s good enough. 

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?