The Sharp HT-SBW800 is the first Dolby Atmos soundbar from a company that’s changed hands more times than a property in Monopoly in recent years. Best known these days for its range of big-screen TVs, Sharp has also released a number of excellent soundbars, with the new SBW800 adding immersive Dolby Atmos to the line-up.
The soundbar itself forms part of Sharp's Home Theatre range, and includes upward-firing speakers for the overhead effects, while a wireless subwoofer handles the bass. The resulting system is designed to produce an expansive wall of sound to perfectly complement the big-screen TVs that Sharp has been pioneering for nearly a decade.
The lack of rear speakers means you can't expect the full surround experience in the way that you get it from the likes of the Vizio 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos Soundbar (opens in new tab), or the Samsung HW-Q90R from our list of the best soundbars (opens in new tab), but those cost more, and the Sharp really impresses with what it has brought to the table.
Sharp HT-SBW800 Dolby Atmos Soundbar Review: Price & Features
The Sharp HT-SBW800 is very well-priced at £449. The inclusion of Dolby Atmos decoding is clearly a big selling-point, and crucially this cutting-edge object-based audio format is achieved using actual overhead channels – as opposed to the less effective psychoacoustic processing found on competing soundbars from Sony and Panasonic.
The soundbar itself boasts no less than seven speakers: three facing forwards, two firing upwards, and two at the sides to give the soundstage greater width. The upward-firing drivers literally bounce sounds off your ceiling to create the overhead effects – so the lower and flatter your c ceiling, the better the results.
The included downward-firing wireless sub generates low frequencies 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 and also decodes DTS, but doesn’t support the more immersive DTS:X. 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’re a fan of Blu-ray discs then the lack of DTS:X might be more of an issue. In terms of other features, the Sharp also includes a number of Dolby sound enhancements and four sound modes.
Sharp HT-SBW800 Dolby Atmos Soundbar Review: Sound Quality
The Sharp HT-SBW800 delivers an enjoyably expansive soundstage that extends above and either side of your TV. The bigger your screen, the more effective the performance feels, although anyone looking to beef up their TV audio is sure to be pleased by this capable soundbar system.
Thanks to the soundbar’s width there’s excellent separation between speakers, and thus some very good stereo imaging. This makes the SBW800 a great performer with music, with the drivers retaining a clean mid-range and clear treble at the high-end. The inclusion of a dedicated centre speaker also ensures that dialogue remains clear – no matter how busy the mix gets.
The subwoofer is nicely integrated, supporting the overall soundstage with layers of bass. This gives gunfire and explosions a seismic thump that makes action scenes more visceral. However, the low-end is also tight and fast with music, giving drums a precise percussive kick.
Dolby Atmos soundtracks are handled well, and effects are placed with precision around the front of the room. The upward-firing drivers certainly work, bouncing sounds off the ceiling and creating the illusion there are speakers above you. However, the effectiveness of this approach does depend on your ceiling – the lower and more reflective it is, the better.
While the overall performance is good, this system is limited due to the lack of actual surround channels. 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 later.
There is a surround-sound mode, which is accessed via a dedicated button on the remote, but this just applies processing to give the audio greater openness. It doesn’t add any genuine rear channel effects, and often makes the sound more echoey. There are also dedicated bass and treble controls for fine-tuning the overall performance.
There are a number of sound modes that apply preset equaliser settings to the audio. These modes are fairly self explanatory: Movie adds more bass; Music emphasises two-channel; News prioritises the centre channel for dialogue; and Night compresses the dynamic range, which is handy for not waking the family during a late-night streaming binge.
Sharp HT-SBW800 Dolby Atmos Soundbar Review: Design & Usability
The Sharp HT-SBW800 is understated but elegant in its design, with curved edges and a simple black matte finish. There’s a metal wrap-around grille, and grey end-plates where the side-firing silver-coloured drivers are located. The overall engineering is very good, and at 4kg the soundbar certainly feels like a product that’s solidly built.
A width of 120cm makes the SBW800 a good match for larger TVs, but at 10.5cm high you’ll need plenty of clearance to place the bar in front of the screen without blocking it. Alternatively there’s the option of wall-mounting, and Sharp includes brackets and screws for this purpose. You’ll also find an HDMI cable and 3.5mm audio cable in the box, which is handy.
The downward-firing subwoofer 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.
There are some basic controls on the top for power, source and volume up/down. There 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 from no display at all or a complex combinations of lights that has you reaching for the manual in frustration.
All the connections are located in a recessed area at the rear, and here you’ll find two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output with ARC and CEC. All these connections support 4K and HDR, including Dolby Vision, and the inclusion of ARC allows you to send audio back from a compatible TV (including Dolby Atmos from supporting apps).
Two inputs is pretty good for this price – the upcoming Sonos Arc (opens in new tab) doesn't include any HDMI inputs at all! – so you not only don't lose an HDMI port from your TV when connecting this, you actually gain an extra one.
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 Wi-Fi, smart assistants or remote app. However, Sharp does include a well-designed remote control that’s comfortable to hold and easy to use, with all the buttons intuitively laid out.
The HT-SBW800 is extremely easy to setup: simply place the soundbar in front of the TV and choose between stand or wall mounting. Just make sure nothing is blocking the upward-firing speakers in the top of the ‘bar. Then locate the sub at the front of the room, while avoiding corners, and remember that although it talks to the soundbar wirelessly, you still need to plug it in for power.
Sharp HT-SBW800 Dolby Atmos Soundbar Review: Verdict
The Sharp HT-SBW800 certainly delivers on its promise of enhancing your big screen experience, with a powerful and expansive sonic performance. The Dolby Atmos ensures the soundstage is suitably immersive, albeit with the caveat that it’s very front heavy.
There’s no real surround presence, and sadly no option to add rear speakers – so if you’re looking for full immersion for a mid-range price, you might be better off with the Vizio 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos Soundbar (opens in new tab) and its wired surrounds.
If you don't care about Dolby Atmos at all, we'd suggest the cheaper Sonos Beam (opens in new tab) as your starting point, and you can add two Sonos One SL speakers as rear speakers for surround when you're ready.
However, people primarily buy a soundbar is to beef up their TV’s audio instantly without running cables all over the lounge, and it that sense the SBW800 is a winner – this delivers fancy 3D audio features that are a noticeable upgrade for movie soundtracks but still keeps things simple.
It’s easy to setup, has plenty of connections, and includes an intuitive remote control. It also boasts an informative display, which is something of a luxury these days. The lack of DTS:X support is a disappointment, although not an issue if you primarily stream, but otherwise this is a cracking soundbar system.