Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Sharp HT-SB602

Sharp HT-SB602

Sharp’s slimline soundbar offers plenty of features for the price level, but it overdoses on sound processing without delivering on fundamentals

There certainly seems to be plenty for your money on offer from Sharp’s soundbar. The soundbar is sleek, the subwoofer is wireless and usefully narrow, and there’s a good selection of inputs, including HDMI connectivity. Yet the price is remarkably affordable. Is this top value, then, or a case of bells and whistles outweighing the investment on basic sound quality?


The HT-SB602 is wider than most at 137cm, usefully slim at 6cm deep, and low enough at 7.5cm to stay clear from blocking most TV’s infrared receivers. Should that happen, an IR blaster is included to forward your TV commands through to the other side of the bar.

There’s a wall-mounting kit supplied, or if table-mounting Sharp recommends a further 10cm free space on all sides — just for ventilation, rather than for side-firing drivers, since the bar itself has everything mounted on the front. There are six drivers in all, with a 20mm tweeter and a pair of 55mm mid-woofers on each side, and it operates in stereo only (or 2.1 including the subwoofer), despite having Dolby Digital and DTS Surround processing included onboard.

The rest of the bar is mainly blank except for central controls and a blue LED display, which is dimmable but can’t be turned fully off. The soundbar ports to the rear.

Bass duties are handled by a compact subwoofer, which has positional benefits by being so narrow, its front only 13cm wide with the port in the middle. It’s a little over 30cm deep and 40cm high, and the main driver fires from its right side, so the sub is best positioned on the left of your TV with space for that driver to fire.

Connections are well stocked, a little above what has become the norm for most soundbars at this level — inputs for analogue minijack, one optical digital audio, and two HDMI, plus one HDMI output on to your TV. This last is ARC-enabled, so if your TV has this Audio Return Channel and plays nice (ARC remains less than reliable in compatibility terms), the soundbar can receive TV audio back down the HDMI cable. Otherwise you can connect to the optical or analogue inputs for general TV sound and connected devices, switching to HDMI for those sources directly connected through the soundbar, for which you can be more sure that the bar’s Dolby Digital and Surround encoding will kick in (some TVs strip signals down to stereo for their optical output).

There is the additional input of Bluetooth for direct streaming of music, or perhaps receiving audio from TVs or PVRs equipped with Bluetooth sending.


There is another item which comes well stocked — the remote control. It has 41 buttons, including eight to double up your TV remote commands, and another 16 keys which alter the sound in some way. We imagine it will be quite bewildering for most users; more thoughtfully-designed soundbars achieve their results with a bare minimum of keys, and are the better for it.

As for those sound modes — well, being of a relatively purist school at Sound+Image, we would prefer for manufacturers to deliver one good sound mode before they begin experimenting with extravagant digital signal processing, and that’s the flaw for this Sharp soundbar — the basic ‘bypass’ audio mode is not impressive enough a sound to build upon. In particular the treble is spitty, and when we first turned it on to some generic Sunrise programming, every ‘S’ was emerging with ear-distracting sibilance. Midrange was clear enough if a bit nasal on studio-recorded voices, while the bass from the subwoofer was audibly supportive but, as we found when we tried music content, it’s not a tight tuneful bass, but a rather soft delivery. Meanwhile that peaky treble often emphasised background effects and noise unnecessarily.

So, how might we adjust the tone? We could use the bass and treble controls, or the separate subwoofer level controls, or we might try two different ‘3D Audio’ modes, or six other modes — Cinema, Music, Game, Sport, News, or Night. The best result we achieved was by simply dropping the treble setting right down to minus five.

We always praise the inclusion of AV Sync buttons, which can be useful for correcting any video delay from TV processing of the soundbar’s forwarded HDMI inputs. But for audio coming from the TV to the soundbar, sync problems will likely be with delayed audio, and the Sharp’s AV Sync controls can only increase delay, not reduce it, of course.

Cranked up, the Sharp creates quite an output and makes a wide spread of sound from its extended width — it can make action movies sound expansive and powerful at medium to high levels. It presented the street scenes and ominous soundtrack of ‘Gotham’ with quite impressive results streaming a 5.1 signal from Netflix, the bass substantial if not fast, and the effects particularly widespread.

The Bluetooth implementation is good — it has NFC pairing, plus NFC tags you can set up, and once connected there are three Bluetooth transport keys (play/pause, last and next track) on the remote control. But streaming music via Bluetooth (or the analogue input) further revealed the issues with the bar’s sonic presentation. The top frequencies remained fizzy and exaggerated, while the overall thinness was revealed as a hole in the lower midrange on the way to the subwoofer crossover — Leonard Cohen’s vocals went from thinned at the top of his range to having a sudden bass bloom at the bottom, yielding a completely different tone depending on which note he sang. The litmus test of simple radio voices was failed, voices delivered nasally with much of their warmth removed, while music had a thumpy soft bass with its soundstage pulled to extremes. We would not judge this to be a soundbar which can play music well.


We enjoyed some of the Sharp’s performances with big movie soundtracks. But every time we returned to broadcast channels, it was back to spitsville — it’s a bigger sound than any TV speakers will achieve, of course, but for us, quite unlistenable without taking all that treble out. A soundbar needs to be able to deliver day-to-day TV sound just as well as big movie soundtracks, and preferably music too. The Sharp HT-SB602 only did the second of these three well. Jez Ford

Drivers: 2 x 2.5cm sot-dome tweeter, 4 x 57mm midrange 1 x 160mm (subwoofer)
Amplification: 2 x 60W (1% THD), 1 x 120W (1% THD)
Inputs: 1 x analogue minijack, 1 x digital optical, 2 x HDMI, Bluetooth
Output: HDMI with ARC, wireless subwoofer
Dimensions (soundbar, whd): 1386 x 74 x 68mm
Dimensions (subwoofer, whd): 144 x 432 x 306mm
Weight (soundbar): 3.7kg
Weight (subwoofer): 6.1kg