Sony is behind some of the most impressive top-tier Dolby Atmos soundbars out there, but with the HT-SF150, the company is seeking to extend its form at the cheaper end of the soundbar market.
There's little competition worth considering under £100 ($100, AU$200), or even double that, but given that almost all TVs, regardless of size, have lacklustre speakers hidden away in increasingly thinner frames, there's good reason for soundbars offering a more engaging, enjoyable viewing experience to be accessible at all budgets.
The SF150 sets out to be a simple, constructive step up in sound, and while it may not have the most sophisticated delivery, it certainly offers a significant sonic enhancement for little outlay.
Despite its low price point, this feels like a solid, well-built speaker. At 90cm long with a wrap-around grille, elephant-skin vinyl and 6.6cm height, the SF-150 wouldn’t look out of place perched beneath a TV many times its price.
Connections HDMI, optical, USB
Sound formats Dolby Digital, Dolby Dual mono, LPCM 2ch
Bluetooth version 4.2
AirPlay 2 No
Dimensions (hwd) 6.4 x 8.8 x 90cm
Behind the grille are the two wide-spaced speaker pairs that make up this 2.0 sound system, each comprising a tweeter and a mid/bass race-track driver, while the low end is helped by a bass reflex port on the rear.
Inputs are all recessed on the rear left with just enough clearance for the bar to sit flush if wall mounted (the SF-150 has hooks for wall mounting, but fixings aren’t included in the box). The power connection is similarly recessed but on the right side – so, depending on your set-up, you may end up with two visible cable runs instead of one.
A minimal remote control is included, with several buttons doubling up on their functions depending on how long you press them. This can get a bit fiddly, especially when the only confirmation you get that a status change has happened is a series of binary flashes from the three LED indicators in the centre of the bar. For all essential functions – power, input, source, Bluetooth and volume – there are also discreet touch buttons that sit on the top of the unit.
When connected via HDMI ARC, the SF-150 is designed to work with your regular TV remote, but we wouldn't necessarily consign the Sony clicker to a drawer as it's the only way to access certain features and to toggle between the preset Sound Modes.
Alongside HDMI ARC, the SF150 has an optical input (cable included) supporting Dolby Digital, Dolby Dual mono and LPCM 2ch.
There's a USB port and Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity for music playback from an external source, too. It would be nice to have wi-fi or streaming options, but that’s perhaps expecting too much at this level. Indeed, many soundbars costing significantly more are similarly ‘dumb’, though the diminutive Roku Streambar is a rare budget soundbar that also streams. The SF150 offers decent functionality for its price and certainly enough for most users looking for a straightforward upgrade on their TV’s internal speakers.
There's a choice of three preset sound modes – Standard, Cinema and Music – and an Auto option that changes these settings automatically. The auto-detection is pretty accurate, but as there's a notable dynamic disparity between the modes, we find it easier to select the presets manually.
Cinema mode features Sony's S-Force Front Surround technology, which applies processing to give the acoustic impression of a more encompassing sound stage. We find that standard audio modes tend to offer a more enjoyable listening experience, but, while it certainly is no replacement for surround sound, in this instance we'd choose the Cinema mode for almost all TV and film content. Compared with the rather drab Standard, high mids, including dialogue, have more presence, and there is a nice low-mid boost to give a dynamic sense of weight.
There are also settings to enhance dialogue, a night mode to reduce dynamic range and bass, and lastly Dolby Dynamic Range Control, which compresses audio to make the difference between the quietest and loudest sounds less apparent.
An interesting, if possibly not widely used, feature of the SF150 is that it can split multiplex broadcast audio (content that is simulcast in more than one language), allowing users to toggle between one language on the left channel and the other on the right, or even both at the same time.
We are immediately impressed by the improvement from the lifeless sound of our test TV’s built-in speakers. Streaming the opening scene of Unbroken from Netflix with the soundbar in Cinema mode, there's a tangible breadth to the soundstage as the planes fly past and dramatic contrast as we switch between locations within the aircraft.
Each explosion has a threatening weight that few TVs can match, though they could be delivered with greater initial impact. There's plenty of power here, but the punches are a little too softly projected to knock you out of your seat.
In these big, busy moments, dialogue can become lost, even with the enhancement mode activated, and it's fair to say that the delivery is a little muffled. That said, while extra clarity would be welcome, you won’t struggle to make sense of typical TV content.
The Sony can't quite dig up and bring to the fore the finest sonic details, such as the gunner's rattling chair or the creaking of the pilot's leather jacket, and more subtle sounds are better presented at the extremities. But as we switch to Baby Driver, the low-key sonic components that reverberate after each sound effect in the warehouse scene feel nicely separated and well presented, adding to the underlying tension.
It’s probably too much to expect a soundbar costing so little to be both cinematic and musical, and such a feat certainly proves to be out of reach for the Sony. When playing music, we opt for the soundbar’s least processed Standard mode, but even then, the SF150 struggles with timing. Listening to Paul Simon's The Coast, the percussive textures that weave through the track sound cluttered and there is little resonance to the bass drum as the low end grapples with delivering dynamically.
Those looking for a genuinely musically capable soundbar will likely need to increase their budget – to the level of the Sonos Beam, for example – but the SF150's performance is still a decent upgrade on that of most TVs.
Overall, the Sony HT-SF150 gets much more right than it gets wrong, offering an undoubted improvement on the built-in speakers of the vast majority of TVs, particularly in terms of weight and scale.
For this almost ridiculously low price, it wouldn't be fair to expect any soundbar to be an all-round performer, and that the SF150 paints with fairly broad sonic brushstrokes should come as little surprise. Anyone wanting a musical, finely detailed speaker should aim for a more sophisticated model, but for those looking for a quick and easy enhancement to their TV, this budget bar is ideal.
- Sound 4
- Features 4
- Build 5
Read our guide to the best soundbars
Read our Yamaha SR-C20A review
Read our Roku Streambar review
Read our Sonos Beam review