I did a great deal of research prior to buying the Sony HT-CT100 Sound Bar system. I read so much misinformation that I very nearly decided against making this purchase.
Recommend this product?
I am going to furnish a very detailed review of this product, as I feel there is much clarification to be made.
All 'sound bars' are good and bad. No exceptions. They are limited by their design. I've owned many 5.1 and even a 7.1 Onkyo theater system over the years. So I am well qualified to make realistic comparisons.
This Sony system has some immediate good and not-so-good points.
The Sony system is a very simply designed system which is good. That is usually why a Sound Bar is purchased. It is simple to set-up and install. It has a minimalist approach to design and aesthetics. No unsightly wires on the walls. No speakers hanging from every which way. Easy to operate. Easy to use. Easy to enjoy.
But, it is limited. It is a 3.1 system. Already, one can see it is not a true 5.1 system. It is a front surround. Front surrounds really cannot provide the surround theater enhancement of a true 5.1 separate speaker design. So, this system will throw the sound about and give a larger spacious image to the viewer, but a true surround sound is usually not the case. I did notice some very real sense of surround sound on certain movie soundtracks, especially on X-Men.
The quality of the sound is quite good. I read so many reviews complaining the bass output is lack luster and weak. I do not agree. The bass is quite strong and deep. It is well matched to the smaller speakers built into the actual sound bar itself. In fact, I leave the bass at 'zero' boost or cut. It sounds great to me straight out of the box. Too much bass will just 'muddy' the sound. Midrange and voice is very articulate. Highs are clean without being shrill or overbearing, a typical sign of cheap tweeter speakers or a poorly designed full-range driver.
For those who want bass which will rumble the windows, the Sony may not be for you. But let's be serious here. I've dealt with hi-fi all my life. The subwoofer of the Sony is only a 6 1/2 inch driver. It cannot physically move the equivalent air mass of a 12 inch or 15 inch subwoofer. But, a large sub means you then have to deal with a much larger woofer box, which is unsightly and 'in-the-way'. So much for aesthetics! Some larger woofer boxes tend to sound very boomy and annoying. I've owned some. The Sony sub is pleasant, not overbearing. It is smooth, not hollow. Too many times, I've watched potential buyers become attracted to terribly sounding loud obnoxious hollow subs or shrill and distorted highs of a shelf speaker all because of the 'punch-in-the-face' attraction of the aforementioned sound characteristics. Once brought home and owned for a time, those same characteristics become annoying and impossible to eliminate. Give me smooth and clean sound any day.
I'd also like to mention the subwoofer of the Sony features a side-firing driver. So, it should not be located too close to a wall. That can cause harmonic problems and soundwave issues which may defeat the bass output. Placement of speakers, especially the bass driver, can be crucial. It is surprising how a repositioning of the bass driver only a few inches can dramatically increase bass, or kill it.
The Sony subwoofer is easier to place, as it more resembles a 'tower' type design. That is to say, it is taller and slender. It is only about 6 inches wide. But it is fairly deep, more than a foot, which enhances the bass output. It is slightly over 2 feet tall, I think.
The majority of the sound comes from the actual sound bar itself. Sony's sound bar consists of 3 small oval shaped drivers which appear to be full-range types and also appear to be loaded into separate bass-reflex sub-enclosures, I am guessing. The bass-reflex design gives the drivers a fuller midrange and voice output.
The actual sound bar is slimmer than any I've seen. It is approximately a yard wide, but is only 2-3 inches tall and only a couple inches deep. It is very unobtrusive.
The sound bar connects to the subwoofer via a single cable which has a serial type connector at one end. The cable is not too long, which may cause some installation issues.
The subwoofer itself has a digital display at the top which indicates the source of the sound and the sound output such as Dolby Digital, etc.
The sound bar has the infrared sensor, so you need to aim the remote control at the sound bar, which is smart, as the subwoofer can be hidden out-of-sight.
Output power is rated around 250 watts. But, these are real watts, not flimsy 'peak' ratings which are useless and greatly over exagerated.
Compared to other sound bars out there, this Sony system is a give-and-take.
Many others, such as the Philips and Yamaha units are much more expensive (maybe 2-5 times as much), and much larger. Their corresponding sound bars are wider, much taller, much thicker. They are easily seen, not easy to hide, as is the Sony sound bar.
Their corresponding subwoofers are somewhat larger as well, being wider and / or thicker and therefore harder to hide out-of-sight.
Some of the other sound bars also have built-in upconvert DVD players. That can be good or bad. I'd expect good DVD players in the Philips and Yamaha units. On the other hand, a low priced RCA sound bar with built-in DVD player received very poor reviews due to performance and / or non-working status.
Some sound bars feature all-in-one units with no subwoofer. The subwoofer is supposed to be built-into the sound bar. Obviously, this presents its own good and bad points. A decent size bass driver will force the sound bar to be very thick or large. Placing such a sound bar on a wall, midway from the floor and ceiling may cause the bass to be weak or 'peaky' due to sound wave cancellations. Such a sound bar may also shake the TV if placed too close, or rattle the wall and / or rattle itself loose and fall if it was hung in the first place. A lot to consider.
Some sound bars feature wireless subs, such as Boston Acoustics and Vizio. The good is easy placement. The bad is possible interference with other home electronics. Plus, if the sub is too far away from the sound bar, one might be able to hear the direction of the sub. That is because many subs nowadays go well beyond the first and second octave of bass. As the subs reach higher in octaves, so does the potential to output bass which is directional and might detract the listener. So I prefer to keep the sub nearer to the sound bar for the sake of the sound stage. Just because the manufacturer states it is a subwoofer, does not mean it always is so. Sometimes the use of the term 'subwoofer' is stretched. In the case of less expensive theater systems and some sound bars, this can be expected. If the full-range drivers are very small, as is in sound bars, then the so-called subwoofer must accept more of the bass signal to prevent burn-out of the full-range drivers. That means the subwoofer must be designed to receive frequencies well above 40-50 hz and thus the possibility of directional bass creeps upward as does the bass frequency.
The Sony sound bar utilizes digital sound fields to simulate the surround sound. Some sound bars depend on bouncing the sound off walls to 'trick' the ear. Neither system is better. Neither is as good as a true surround sound with separate speakers.
Finally, some sound bars only claim to be 2.1 sound, meaning basically stereo sound with a bass driver. Others claim to be 5.1 systems. There is much to consider when buying a sound bar.
The Sony system features real Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Pro Logic II and DTS decoders. That is very good. When playing back a DVD, one should select either DD or DTS and the Sony system will do its best to present a surround sound effect by decoding the digital surround just as the home theater systems with separate speakers.
By comparison, some sound bars only feature analog left and right inputs, meaning they are limited to just presenting a generic 'virtual' surround sound or perhaps a surround sound with the help of SRS Labs circuitry.
One really great feature of the Sony is the availability of 3 HDMI inputs and one HDMI output. Why? It only took 3 wires for my set-up connections. One HDMI cable from my cable box to the Sony subwoofer. One HDMI cable from my Toshiba up-convert DVD player to the Sony sub. And finally, one HDMI cable from the subwoofer to my plasma TV. With HDMI cables, I attain maximum performance, maximum conductivity of high speed digital signals, maximum video performance for my 1080i TV and all with just 3 wires!
The above set-up means ease-of-use. All I need to do is turn ON my TV, and either the cable box or the DVD player and leave all the switching and volume control to the Sony system. if I select cable, a large easy-to-read 'SAT' is visible from the Sony sub display. If I select DVD, then that is displayed as well. The Sony sub display also tells me if the incoming signal is 2.0 (stereo) or 5.1, and indicates DD or DTS as well.
There is also a HDMI input for a blu-ray disc player, so this system is very versatile.
The subwoofer also features optical digital input for sound if that is the only way one can obtain 5.1 sound. There is even an optical cable included with the manual.
Auxilary input jacks are also available in the back of the subwoofer.
The subwoofer has a built-in cooling fan which is ultra quiet. I cannot hear it at all.
Some reviewers claim the Sony is not loud enough and they complained of the volume control only going up to '45', which is the maximum output.
I currently live in an apartment just over 1000 square feet, and the Sony system already sounded loud at around volume 22. The fact that the Sony limit is 45 may be a good idea. It limits the Sony system output, thus preventing speaker blowouts by the user. There are many out there who can't listen to their music or movies unless they are screaming loud. That is a problem with the listener, not a faulty design by Sony.
One on-line advertisement for this Sony system even listed a brochure which could be downloaded. In this brochure the Sony system was listed as having an automatic set-up system, implying a microphone and test signal output which the system would automatically perform to acheive the best possible surround. There IS NO SUCH ANIMAL with this system. That is a total misprint.
Those who claim the Sony system sounds no better than the built-in speakers of their flat TVs are just plain full of you know what. There is no comparison. I have never heard any LCD or Plasma TV of which the built-in speakers could even approach the loudness, smoothness and fullness of the Sony system, much less the bass output. That claim is so ridiculous I had to laugh after reading.
Some claim the volume is not loud enough and their cable or DVD box plays too low. This could be an indication of user caused problems. Bad cables. Wrong connections. Wrong set-up. Many people do not realize their cable boxes and some DVD players have built-in volume controls of their own. The volume controls may be set to 'variable' rather than 'fixed'. As they operate their system, they may be turning DOWN the volume inadvertently.
The TV picture is excellent. The 3 HDMI inputs and HDMI output is such a chore saver. Many low and middle priced home theater systems and sound bars do not have as many HDMI inputs or output. In such a case, one has to fool with digital coaxial or optical digital audio cables and separate cables for the video. It can be a real pain to set-up. Then the user will have to explain to everyone how to use their system. This Sony system is just so much easier to use, yet retains the highest quality thanks to the HDMI connections.
I bought it on sale for $199. It is a great investment. Sounds fantastic. Looks excellent. And even my better half likes this system. That's probably the best selling point.
After listening to the Sony system for several days, using both hi-def cable box and DVD sources, I'd like to add the following.
When the Sony system is in 'standard' mode, meaning the signal it receives is unaltered, the cable box generally generates only a 2-channel digital sound (2.0), even when the DD (Dolby Digital) indicator is ON. Therefore the sound output of the Sony system is only 2.1 stereo.
This Sony system incorporates several DSP sound modes such as 'movie', 'music', 'sport' and 'game'. When using the same cable box above, but changing the sound mode to 'movie' or 'sport' or 'game', the Dolby Pro-Logic II indicator comes ON, indicating the system is now in the Pro-Logic surround mode. The manual states that this system should also go into Pro-Logic surround mode in the 'music' mode. However, the Sony system does not indicate Pro-Logic. Therefore, the 'movie', 'game' and 'sport' modes are also Pro-Logic II modes with some further alteration of sound as well. You can use these modes to create simulated surround sound from any stereo signal, including CDs, IPODs, etc.
When watching DVDs, I can set the Sony system in 'standard' mode and the system indicates 5.1 surround when the DVD is set to play in Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 surround.
When watching a DVD in 5.1 surround, I do not really like the Sony system set in one of its DSP Pro-Logic modes listed above. In the 'movie' mode, the sound is a bit dull. In the 'music' mode, the sound is shrill and harsh.
I still do not hear any real surround sound to speak of other than an occasional throwing of the sound far left or right when watching a DVD in 5.1 sound. I am going to write Sony and inquire as to what is the best positioning of the sound bar to creat the most noticable surround sound effect. If Sony replies, I will disclose their answer here for all to read.
Reluctantly, I returned the Sony HT-CT100 today, for a refund.
I did so for a couple of reasons.
One, I am somewhat disappointed with the surround sound effect, or, more accurately, the lack of such effects. On rare occasion, with certain DVD movies, I did seem to hear a little bit of surround sound. Unfortunatley, such experiences were few and far between. I experimented with speaker placement to no avail. I emailed Sony, but they wanted me to call them and I wasn't about to use up my cell phone minutes just to hear excuses or maybe have someone tell me I'm doing something wrong with the set-up of the system. I am too experienced in audio equipment to deal with such nonsense.
Most of the time I simply heard a fairly smooth, nice sounding front sound stage. And I really did want more. This could be partly due to the Sony being a 3.1 system. On one hand, if you think about it, many discrete surround sound systems usually have a 3.1 sound stage option, which, when employed, simply negates the rear surround speakers and plays all the sound through the front left, center and right speakers only. And this sound is typically what I heard when listening to this Sony sound bar.
On the other hand, I owned a Ilive sound bar, which I did review, which was only a 2.1 system. Yet, when set in its 3-D mode, provided a sound stage that was much wider than the physical unit itself, and even gave some illusion of sound coming from the sides of my head on occasion. That 3-D effect was much more effective than anything I heard on this Sony sound bar system. Therefore, I have to assume the sound processing in the Sony sound bar is lacking or non-existant.
I've decided to use my refund to order another sound bar which is on-the-way. When it arrives, I will carefully audition the unit and give my review as well. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Another reason which I decided to return the Sony is due to a problem I had with the remote. The remote ceased to work after about 3 days of use. The unit had brand new batteries provided by Sony, which came with the sound system.
Now, in my research, I read of many others complaining of the remote being a problem. Some stated it was due to the included batteries being bad. In any case, I decided not to take a risk and keep the Sony system. If it is the batteries, then I think that is a shoddy practice on the part of such a well respected company as Sony. Honestly, if a pair of Sony batteries are the cause for consumers returning their units, or complaining of them, then Sony should have gotten the message by now and responded appropriately. I see no reason why Sony couldn't offer to have their retailers offer a pair of free AA alkaline batteries with the purchase of their Sony sound bar, just to alleviate any possible problems.
The price of $199 which I paid for the Sony sound bar was a great price, especially for a sound bar system. The sound quality itself was pleasing and well balanced. I'm not in any way suggesting the Sony sound bar is a bad system or a system not worth looking into. I've simply seen a couple of other really tempting sales out there and I decided to take a chance and see if I can buy something that is more to my liking.
If you do buy the Sony sound bar, buy an extra set of AA batteries. From all the reviews I've read as well as my own experience, you will most likely need them right from the start.
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