A fitting platform for movies, TV and music
What is the Sony HT-XT3?Essentially, the Sony HT-XT3 is a sound base product - meaning it’s a set of speakers housed in a box which is then designed to sit beneath your television, instead of in front of it as you would place a soundbar. The HT-XT3 is actually a little more than that, however, as you could easily term this more an all-in-one home theatre system as it has inputs for sources other than the TV, including 4K Ultra HD devices with HDCP 2.2 compatibility and it can even pass-through HDR video. The HT-XT3 is one of three Sony sound bases for 2016, sitting above the entry level HT-XT100 and the HT-XT2 and is the only product in the range with support for High-Resolution Audio. At the time of review (March 2016), the Sony HT-XT3 has a suggested retail price just a penny shy of £450 but if you shop around, you can find it for as little as £350.
Design & ConnectionsHaving handled many a soundbar and soundbase, in our time, we were quite surprised just how heavy the HT-XT3 was, which is a good thing we think, as it pegs the Sony as a solid slab of engineering. In terms of footprint, the XT3 is 75cm wide and around 36cm deep, with a height of just 8.3cm so it won’t lift up your display too much, if that’s a concern. There’s a clear and easy to read display panel on the front providing feedback on input selection, volume and that sort of thing. Just above the display panel are a basic set of touch-sensitive controls for volume and input selection, power and Bluetooth pairing. You can elect to run with or without the black cloth grille, as it’s detachable, but for the sakes of marginal improvements in sound quality against the rather unglamorous appearance without it on, we’d say keep it.
The majority of the physical connections are around the back and include a LAN port and an HDMI out and three HDMI in ports. The HDMI out allows use of the on-screen menus and, if your TV supports it, Audio Return Channel (ARC) functionality. The HDMI out and one of the HDMI inputs are fully HDCP 2.2 compliant, allowing the playback and pass-through of 4K and HDR content. Further to the right are a Toslink (S/PDiF) digital audio in and an all-purpose 3.5mm stereo jack. On the right-hand-side of the unit are an NFC (Near Field Communication) tag for instant Bluetooth pairing and a USB port which can be used for both audio and photo playback.
Remote Control & SongPal appThe HT-XT3 comes with a stylish little remote offering full control of its functionalities and, of course, all the playback and volume options one would expect. It’s nothing especially remarkable but it gets the job done and fits nicely in the hand. The SongPal app – available for iOS and Android – is very user friendly and the navigation is slick. From the home screen, you get direct navigation to various online streaming services and we had it running nicely with TIDAL, BBC iPlayer Radio and Google Play Music but you can choose absolutely any app you have downloaded to your device. Using the app is simply a case of making sure your mobile device is connected to the same network as the HT-XT3 and then choosing your music source from the main screen. There are also some volume and EQ settings available from a context menu top right and all the other settings are accessed from a finger-over menu to the left.
MenusThere’s not much to the menu system or the user interface of the HT-XT3; the home screen is dominated by the input selections. All the settings are accessed from the top of the screen and include options for Software Update, Screen, Audio, Bluetooth, System and Network settings. Ones to watch out for are the 24p output for Network content and the Output Video Resolution preferences but you can leave video untouched just by using the Video Direct option. There’s no such hard and fast rules with the Audio settings but we would recommend disengaging Audio DRC and engaging DSEE HX which is Sony’s technology for making lower quality audio sound better.
Sound QualityThe Sony HT-XT3 produces a pretty beefy sound with plenty of impact, especially with multi-channel movies and TV. In fact, depending on where you are placing it, you might need to tone down the bass control as it can become over-bearing. Our initial tests were with the XT3 positioned in an alcove-like space where the reverberations were a bit too much but the low-end was far more refined when we got it out on to a standard AV unit. The HT-XT3 accepts both DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD audio and there’s no doubt that the better the quality the audio you can feed the Sony, the better it performs. Despite the fact the XT3 is only a 2.1 channel set-up, localisation of effects and general clarity was certainly better with lossless 7.1 and it gives most subwoofer-less soundbars a decent run for their money.
That said, if the extra footprint/clutter of a soundbar isn’t an issue there are plenty in this price class that outperform the HT-XT3 in terms of producing a wider soundstage. There are certain physical obstacles a 75cm wide speaker just can’t overcome and the DSP (Digital Sound Processing) modes aren’t really that impressive. The Movie ‘Sound Field’ really doesn’t hit the mark and over-accentuates the bass and surround channels so we’d recommend sticking with either Music or Standard which provide a much better stereo presentation and work well across all disciplines.
Musically, the Sony HT-XT3 puts in a reasonable shift although we wouldn’t really want it as our primary player but, to be fair, we could say that of virtually any soundbar or soundbase bar the fantastically expensive examples. The HT-XT3 is tuned quite neutrally so it’s no better or worse with any particular genre of music. As per the higher quality lossless formats with movies and TV shows, again the Sony sounds notably better with hi-res audio files than it does compressed mp3 and the like but both the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine HX (DSEE HX) processing and proprietary LDAC Bluetooth streaming are worthy of mention. DSEE HX, in particular, would give the HT-XT3 the edge over a lot of the competition with lossy audio, while LDAC proved extremely robust and, though an unadvertised feature as far as we can see, slightly better range than we normally get.
- Very well built
- Great connectivity
- Competitively priced
- Sounds good with most content
- Quite a narrow sound field
- Bass can over-power
Sony HT-XT3 Soundbase Review
Should I buy the Sony HT-XT3?In its very particular category as a sound base, rather than a soundbar, the Sony HT-XT3 provides a very solid option indeed. The design is nothing special but the build quality is excellent and connectivity options are also impressive. There are 3 HDMI inputs, one of which is HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2 compliant, as is the solitary HDMI out, meaning the HT-XT3 is well equipped for 4K Ultra HD and High Dynamic Range video. Control can be performed by the supplied remote, which is well designed and comfortable to hold, or via Sony’s impressive SongPal app while setup and menus are simple and easy to follow. The Sony HT-XT3 also supports Bluetooth streaming and makes for a very robust speaker for that purpose, courtesy of LDAC technology and DSEE HX processing which makes a fine fist of reconstructing heavily compressed audio. In terms of performance with movies and television, the Sony HT-XT3 is workmanlike, rather than wowing, but feed it a good source and it will fill your room with a convincing sound field. At its current (March 2016) asking price of around £350, the Sony HT-XT3 is definitely worth the money and, therefore, deserving of an AVForums Recommended Award.
What else is there?Sticking in the sound base category, it’s hard to look far beyond the Philips Fidelio XS1 which, for just shy of £400, adds a wireless subwoofer in to the mix which will give you more definition in the low-end. If you can up the budget a further £150, we would advise checking out the Geneva Model Cinema which has a refinement both in design and audio that the others struggle to match.
Ease of use8
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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