What is the Sharp HT-SBW800?
The Sharp HT-SBW800 is the latest soundbar from company that’s probably better known these days for its range of large screen TVs. After changing corporate ownership multiple times in a confusing game of high-stakes Monopoly, Sharp now sits under the Foxconn umbrella along with UMC. The latter previously owned Sharp’s European operations, but were themselves bought by Sharp after Foxconn’s takeover of the Japanese parent. Told you it was confusing.
The upshot of all these corporate shenanigans is that Sharp is now expanding its Home Theatre line-up to include an expanded range of soundbars. The HT-SBW800 is the current flagship, with a 5.1.2-channel layout, 570W of amplification, a wireless active subwoofer and support for Dolby Atmos. The soundbar isn’t loaded with features, because Sharp has taken the sensible approach of concentrating on performance rather than offering multiroom features you’re unlikely to use.
The overall simplicity of the Sharp HT-SBW800 also means it’s competitively priced, and can be picked up for £449 as at the time of writing (May 2020). That’s an attractive price for a soundbar that delivers genuinely immersive audio using upward-firing drivers, rather than resorting to psychoacoustic processing. So let’s see if it delivers the sonic goods…
The Sharp HT-SBW800 uses a sleek and unassuming design, with curved edges and a simple black matte finish. There’s a wrap-around metal grille that hides the forward- and upward-firing drivers, along with grey end-plates where the side-firing silver-coloured drivers are located. The overall build quality is very good, resulting in a product that feels solidly engineered.
The SBW800 is quite wide, making it a great match for bigger TVs with screen sizes of 65 inches and larger. It actually measures 1200 x 105 x 70mm (WxHxD), and weighs in at 4kg. The height of 105mm means if you’re planning to position the soundbar in front of your TV, you’ll need enough clearance to ensure it doesn’t block the screen. There’s also the option of wall-mounting, and Sharp includes brackets and screws for this purpose.
There are some basic controls on the top centre of the soundbar for power, source and volume up/down. There’s also a proper LED display that clearly shows useful information such as the source, volume, audio format and sound mode. It makes a refreshing change, with many soundbars at this price point offering no display at all, or just a confusing selection of coloured LED status indicators.
The included wireless active subwoofer uses a downward-firing driver. It sits on sturdy rubber feet that provide a good degree of support and isolation, and at the rear there’s a bass port for added low-end impact. The sub’s design mirrors the soundbar, and the two should pair automatically when you first set them up. If they don’t, there’s a pairing button at the rear of the sub. The sub measures 240 x 240 x 415mm (WxHxD), and weighs in at 5.75kg.
Connections and Control
The Sharp HT-SBW800 houses its connections in a recessed area at the rear, and here you’ll find two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output with ARC and CEC. That’s not bad for a soundbar at this price point, and all these connections support 4K/60p, 4:4:4, wide colour gamut (BT.2020) and high dynamic range, including HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
Related: What is Dolby Vision?
The inclusion of ARC allows you to send lossy audio back from a compatible TV (including Dolby Atmos from supporting apps), but the SBW800 doesn’t include eARC, so you can’t send lossless audio back from a compatible TV. The Sharp also apparently doesn’t pass HDR10+, although we weren’t able to actually confirm this particular limitation.
Related: What is HDR10+?
Other connections include coaxial and optical digital inputs, a 3.5mm auxiliary input, and a USB port. There’s also Bluetooth 4.2 for wireless music streaming, but no built-in Wi-Fi, which means no high-resolution audio support, no working with smart assistants, and no multiroom audio. However, there is an HDMI cable and 3.5mm audio cable in the box, which is handy.
There’s no remote app, but Sharp does include a well-designed remote control that’s comfortable to hold and easy to use, with all the buttons intuitively laid out. There are centralised navigation, playback and volume controls, and above these are power, source, and Bluetooth buttons, along with dedicated buttons for activating the Surround mode or cycling between the two HDMI inputs. Towards the bottom are bass and treble controls, along with a mute button and one for selecting the different sound modes.
Features and Specs
The Sharp HT-SBW800’s big selling-point is the inclusion of Dolby Atmos decoding. This isn’t unusual at this price, but crucially the soundbar delivers object-based audio using upward-firing drivers to create actual overhead channels – as opposed to the less convincing psychoacoustic processing found on competing soundbars. This is important because the latter approach is rarely convincing, but under the right conditions upward-firing drivers can be highly effective.
Related: What is Dolby Atmos?
The soundbar itself includes no less than seven speakers, although the claim of 5.1.2 channels is slightly misleading. The five main channels are composed of three forward-firing, with two side-firing speakers to create width. There are no surround channels, but the two upward-firing speakers literally bounce sounds off your ceiling to create the overhead effects. The included wireless sub generates low frequencies down to 40Hz, and there’s a total of 570W of built-in amplification to drive the entire system.
The SBW800 can handle any flavour of Dolby, but only decodes regular DTS and doesn’t support immersive DTS:X object-based audio. Whether that’s a big deal really depends on your viewing habits. If you stream most of your content it’s irrelevant because Dolby dominates, but if you have a big Blu-ray disc collection then the lack of DTS:X might be more of an issue. In terms of other features, the Sharp also includes Dolby Surround upmixing and four sound modes.
Related: What is DTS:X?
Setup and Operation
The Sharp HT-SBW800 is easy to setup – simply place the soundbar in front of your TV and choose between stand or wall mounting. Once that's done, it's mainly just a case of connecting the various sources because this is very much a 'plug-and-play' product.
I placed the review sample on a flat surface in front of an LG 77C9, with all the drivers free of obstructions. The subwoofer was placed at the front of the room, and it paired automatically with the main unit, although if necessary it can also be paired manually.
The upward-firing drivers bounce acoustic beams off the ceiling, thus creating the illusion of overhead speakers. For this to work properly, you need a low, flat, and reflective ceiling. If you have a very high, uneven or vaulted ceiling, this kind of technology might not be for you.
Finally, an Ultra HD Blu-ray player and games console were connected to the soundbar using the available HDMI inputs, while all the other sources were connected to the TV, and their audio sent back via HDMI ARC. If your TV doesn’t support ARC, use the optical digital connection.
For testing, I used a Panasonic DP-UB820 4K Blu-ray player and Sony PS4 connected directly to the soundbar, and a Manhattan T3-R Freeview set-top box connected directly to the TV. The TV’s ARC capability with Atmos was tested using the C9’s built-in Netflix and Amazon apps.
The SBW800 is easy to operate, and the soundbar will detect incoming audio signals from whichever input you have selected and decode automatically. For audio signals apart from Dolby Atmos, you can apply the various sound modes mentioned in the previous section.
The first thing you notice about the Sharp HT-SBW800 is that it delivers an expansive soundstage that extends above and to either side of your TV. This added width is clearly deliberate, and makes this soundbar ideal for bigger screen sizes like the 77-inch C9. There’s also plenty of amplification built-in, and while Sharp doesn’t specify how the this power is distributed, the system is able to go loud without sounding strained or distorting.
The width of the main unit means there’s excellent separation between the front left and right speakers, resulting in some precise stereo imaging. This makes the SBW800 a great performer with music, and the drivers retain a clean mid-range and clear treble at the high-end. The subwoofer is also well integrated, resulting in some tight and responsive bass that gives music a well-timed percussive kick.
The inclusion of a dedicated centre speaker also ensures that dialogue remains clear and focused. This makes the Sharp great for watching the news, documentaries, TV shows and sports broadcasts, where the voice-overs and commentaries retain clarity and are anchored to the screen. It also ensures that dialogue in TV dramas and movies is intelligible, no matter how cacophonous the soundtrack.
This soundbar delivers an expansive front soundstage with plenty of width and height
A good example is the climactic battle in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, where the dialogue (such as it is) remains clear despite the destruction and carnage all around. This film also gives the sub a thorough work-out as it handles the low-end effects used to give the film’s battling behemoths greater scale and weight. The sub doesn’t go as low as more capable models, but it delivers some needed bass impact without swamping the rest of soundstage.
Although the setup is fairly basic, the SBW800 manages to effectively decode Dolby Atmos soundtracks, placing effects around the front of the room with a pleasing precision. The disembodied voices at the start of Mad Max: Fury Road float around the front of the room, and hang in three-dimensional space. The sub kicks in and gives the V8 Interceptor a guttural growl, while the pursuing War Boys zoom overhead in their truck thanks to the upward-firing drivers.
These drivers certainly work, bouncing sounds off the ceiling and creating the illusion there are speakers above you. The opening scene of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets includes massive spacecraft breaking through the atmosphere above, and the Sharp manages to deliver the thud of each ship arriving overhead. As one giant destroyer flies overhead the effect is quite impressive, with the subwoofer giving the vehicle an imposing presence.
However, this scene also exposes the system’s limitations. While the overall performance is good, the lack of rear speakers means there’s no surround envelopment. As a result the soundstage is very front heavy, with all the effects being 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.
This lack of surround channels means that any film that relies on directional sound effects loses some of its impact. Gravity is a good example, and when the sound designers move specific effects to the rear of the soundstage, these are essentially lost or remain at the front of the room. The same is true of 1917, where the sound mix makes use of directionality to help sell the illusion of the film happening in a single-take. Sadly, some of that immersion is lost.
The upward-firing drivers work, and the sub is well-integrated, but the soundstage is very front-heavy
Despite the lack of any rear channels, there is a surround sound mode, which is accessed via a dedicated button on the remote. This mode obviously can’t put sounds where there aren’t any speakers, so it’s name is somewhat misleading. It’s really a Dolby Surround upmixing mode that applies processing to redirect certain sounds to the upward-firing drivers, giving non-Atmos soundtracks a higher and more open presentation.
Sharp has included a selection of sound modes, each of which applies preset equaliser settings in a fairly self explanatory fashion. The Movie mode adds more bass to give films greater impact; the Music mode emphasises two-channel delivery; the News mode prioritises the centre channel; and the Night compresses the dynamic range, making it useful for not waking the rest of the house if you’re watching a blockbuster late at night.
- Expansive sound
- Well-integrated sub
- Dolby Atmos
- Sleek design
- Proper display
- Front-heavy delivery
- No expansion options
- No DTS:X
Sharp HT-SBW800 Soundbar Review
Should I buy one?
The Sharp HT-SBW800 delivers a powerful and expansive front soundstage that will perfectly complement a big screen TV. The side-firing drivers provide plenty of width, while the upward-firing drivers ensure the Dolby Atmos creates an immersive wall of sound. This effect is somewhat front-heavy due to the lack of rear speakers, but at least this soundbar doesn’t resort to psychoacoustic trickery to create its sense of immersion.
The overall sound quality is impressive, with a well-integrated subwoofer that delivers some deep bass. So anyone looking to enhance the audio of their TV will be delighted with the SBW800. It’s ’plug-and-play’ nature makes it incredibly easy to setup, there are plenty of connections, a decent remote control, and it even has a proper display, which makes a nice change. The ‘bar and sub are also well-made, and sports a sleek and unassuming design.
The lack of DTS:X support is a disappointment, although less of an issue if you primarily stream, and the lack of any expansion option is a shame. As a result, you can't simply add rear speakers to improve the surround envelopment. Those looking to stream music over Wi-Fi or run a multiroom system will also be disappointed, but in all other respects the Sharp HT-SBW800 is a keenly-priced and very effective Dolby Atmos soundbar package.
What are my alternatives?
There are a large number of Dolby Atmos soundbars available at this price point, some of which even support DTS:X as well as Dolby Atmos. However, these tend to use psychoacoustic processing to create the illusion of immersion, which is never that convincing. If you’re interested in this approach, there’s the Sony HT-ZF9 (£499) and the Panasonic SC-HTB900 (£599). Both add support for DTS:X, but in the case of the Panasonic, it can’t pass Dolby Vision.
If you’re looking for a direct alternative, the Vizio SB36512-F6 soundbar is the obvious choice. It’s slightly more expensive at £599, but this 5.1.2-channel system not only uses a wireless subwoofer, but includes wired rear speakers to produce a greater sense of surround envelopment. The design isn’t for everyone, the display is basically a confusing series of LED indicator lights, and it also lacks DTS:X, but otherwise this is an impressive immersive audio system.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.