Review: Denon DHT-S216 Soundbar Offers Affordable TV Audio Boost
Sound United’s Denon brand is perhaps best known for its excellent upper mid-range home theater audio components, but with the new DHT-S216 $249 budget soundbar, the company is stretching its expertise to bring the value of better sound-fidelity to a wider audience, and as our review discovered the product mostly hits the mark.
The Denon DHT-S216 billed as a full-range soundbar with DTS-Virtual: X 3D psycho-accoustic 3D surround sound, Dolby Digital Decoding and Bluetooth connectivity. It is a one-piece solution without separate subwoofer or surround speakers that presents a sleek, low-profile design. This, or course, is needed to fit below many table-top-placed 43-inch and larger TV screens without blocking a significant portion of the visual. The cabinet styling is somewhat basic with an unobtrusive look, featuring a mat-black plastic cabinet construction and cloth grill wrapping to conceal the internal drivers.
The soundbar houses two downward facing 3-inch subwoofers, two midrange dual drivers and two 1-inch tweeters. These are packed into one long squarish bar having the appreciable heft that often telegraphs good quality construction. We found the sound to be full with nice low depth, clear dialog at high and low volumes, but lacking the power to deliver the loud punch of subwoofer-enhanced systems. For its affordable price tag, it’s an acceptable solution for those on a budget looking to beef up the accoustics of their built-in TV speakers.
That’s not to say the DHT-S216 is a better solution than somewhat more expensive and complete step-up options from Denon and others in soundbar market. For one thing, we found that with some televisions, like a six-year-old lower-midrange LG 1080p LED LCD we used for this review, the setup over HDMI-ARC failed to make a connection, which we chocked up to problems related to television model’s dated and not recently revised firmware implementation. When we switched over to a digital optical audio cable, the sound worked fine, but being an optical TOSLINK connection it lacked some of the operational and sound fidelity features intended for HDMI use.
When we tried the soundbar with a Series 5 TCL 4K Roku TV we enjoyed more satisfactory connectivity results and somewhat better tonal characteristics for certain soundtrack delivered via HDMI.
Soundbar operation also was a little less than intuitive and took some getting used to. This was due primarily to Denon’s use of LED indicator lights to communiticate the input connection source, volume levels and sound modes, instead of a digital readout screen found on many pricier step-up products. This means users have to memorize Denon’s code for the number of lit LEDs to comprehend the soundbar’s status at any moment. We expect some users will quickly tire of this.
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Overall, the sound quality was enjoyable and provided a modest boost over the television’s tinny and hollow internal audio system. The DTS Virtual:X mode significantly expanded the sound stage for a more dynamic room-filling effect, although this was far from what we would expect from a native DTS:X (or Dolby Atmos) object-based 3D surround sound experience found on significantly more advanced and expensive soundbars and home theater audio systems.
The Denon DHT-S216 measures a diminutive 2.36 inches high, 35 inches long and 4.5 inches deep, which is ideal for most LCD TVs over 43-inches with claw-style feet stands, common in many mainstream TV models. The soundbar can be mounted on the wall as well as placed in front of the screen on a credenza or tabletop. Denon provides the necessary mounting gear in the box.
The Denon DHT-S216 offers support for 4K/60 Hz pass-through with HDCP 2.2 content protection support via the HDMI input and HDMI-ARC (audio return channel) output. Via the HDMI-ARC port with CEC support, the soundbar can be operated with the remote control of a TV. The optical digital connection will require using the supplied soundbar remote to control volume, power, modes and other adjustments. Users can wireless connect a smartphone or tablet to the soundbar using Bluetooth to stream your favorite songs of streamed music services. Bluetooth pairing and setup was swift and painless. Unfortunately, Denon does not support any form of Wi-Fi connectivity in this model, and therefore it omits Denon’s excellent HEoS multi-room audio support as well.
The Denon DHT-S216 offers a Pure mode designed to offer the sound the way it was intend by reducing the surround processing, but this defeats making an further adjustments in film, music or night mode. The soundbar offers three additional modes for Film, Night and Music applications, to quickly produce the best tonality and balance for the listening application indentified in the name. In addition to DTS Virtual:X wide sound mode, the Denon DHT-S216 also offers support for the more common Dolby Digital Decoding format.
As mentioned, connection and setup is somewhat intuitive when both the television and the soundbar support the same HDMI formats. In some uses with lower-midrange televisions more than six years old, there might be some hiccups requiring the use of a digital optical cable, instead of HDMI. Connecting via the optical cable will require manually turning off the televisions internal speakers. For HDMI connections, the HDMI-ARC should be selected for audio input to be able to control the sound using the television’s remote control. In HDMI set-ups the soundbar will automatically switch between the sound from the TV and source device connected to the HDMI port.
The supplied remote, or the physical function buttons on the top of the soundbar, can be used to listen to music via Bluetooth from a smartphone, for example, or to switch to sound modes. The remote control is pretty plain vanilla in design and feel.
As mentioned, one on the biggest complaints we have with the DHT-S216 is the lack of a display screen with an LED readout to show the mode and input status of the soundbar. The row of small LED lights on the front of the unit indicates the current status. We found we had to keep going back to the quick-use manual to figure out what the differnt light count meant during our initial orientation.
In music lisenting, the Denon DHT-S216 offers a clean output in all but the highest volume settings, but without a true subwoofer the overal presenation lacked the punch we’d expect, even at the loudest volume levels. Separation of left and right stereo channels was excellent in Music Mode on John Lee Hooker’s Bottle Up and Go. With DTS Virtual:X activated the guitar solo seemed to be coming at us from our left as the clear vocals came from the center left of the soundbar. Overall tonality was somewhat hollow and boxy, however. Vocals from songs like the Eagles’ Victim of Love were in generally clear and understandable, but lacked the same level of bright immediacy we enjoy from Denon’s wireless HEoS speakers, for example.
For television presentations, we found Film Mode, which adds extra emphasis to bass and dialog, worked best, unless we wanted to keep our listening levels more discrete, at which point Night Mode is effective at limiting the overall sound while keeping voices clear and audible. Unfortunately for moving viewing, the dynamics just lack sufficent punch keep us fully immersed in the action. The lack of a separate subwoofer here is evident.
In general, we enjoyed the use of DTS Virtual:X and tended to have it turned on for most listening applications. We found this opened up the sound stage signficantly and made things a bit clearer and immediate. The Pure mode can also be pleasant with some material. This strips out the processing entirely and just sends the sound as recorded to the soundbar drivers without distortion, though we found the overall tone to be boxier than with DTS Virtual:X.
The simple remote also offers controls for bass adjustment, and dialog enhancement. Both control add a slight, though not overpowering boost to their respective properties. We didn’t find the voice adjustment to be appropriate for music listening, tending to crowd out some of the instrumentation to favor the midrange.
Ringing in at $249, we found the Denon DHT-S216 to be a nice relatively inexpensive add-on to a basic television lacking adequate speakers to present clear dialog and the power of key sound effects. However, in this price range it will be going up against new competitors like the Roku Soundbar that provides a range of add-on possibilities aftermarket for a little extra money, including a matching subwoofer and wireless speakers that can serve as rear channels. The Denon DHT-S216 is pretty much, what you see is what you get. It carries out it primary function competently and perhaps best suited for small apartments where volume levels can get to high.
Those looking for a soundbar to do a lot of heavy lifting for music listening might be disappointed here, but folks just looking for something that won’t break the bank to better understand the dialog in a newscast or their favorite TV drama should be well satisfied. The Denon DHT-S216’s various audio modes do add a little audible color to the presentation but whether of not they get a lot of us in real-world listening will depend on your ear, your tastes and dynamics of the room you are listening in. It’s probably best that room be of small to medium dimensions, with lower ceiling heights.
We therefore award the Denon DHT-S216 full-range soundbar three out of five hearts.
The Denon DHT-S216 used for this review was a company loan.
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By Greg Tarr
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