certainly has not done itself any favors over the last ten years or so in improving it's standing amongst the consumer electronics
superpowers, that doesn't mean it's letting grass grow under its feet. Sony still produces lots of competitive products over many categories, and has done a nice job of embracing the lifestyle audio genre that, in many ways, it helped invent many moons ago.
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• Buy the HT-CT350 soundbar from Sony.
Of the two soundbars Sony currently offers, the HC-CT350 is the most expensive ($399.99/MSRP). Sony also offers the HC-CT150 for $100 less. The soundbar category has grown quite a bit recently, and with good reason. They provide a great way to get on the air without the typical receiver, multi-channel setup thing, and for the money, many can approximate a blown out experience with some degree of realism. The HC-CT350's feature set is one of the more common in the category, with a horizontal speaker unit complemented by a subwoofer. However, unlike many, the subwoofer (not the soundbar) contains all of the system's processing, amplification, connectivity, and controls. The system also comes with a remote that can control other Sony "BRAVIA Sync" products via CONTROL FOR HDMI, which is a mutual control function standard used by CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) for HDMI. The soundbar employs two 1.625-inch by 2.875-inch "front" drivers and two 1.625-inch "center" drivers, in a ported enclosure designed to match up with a 40-inch display, measuring 39.25 inches wide by 2.625 inches high by 2.875 inches deep, and weighing five pounds, five ounces. The subwoofer (which contains the remote eye) employs one 5.125-inch downward-firing driver, in a ported enclosure measuring 7.75 inches wide by 17.75 inches high by 16.25 inches deep and weighing a hefty 23 pounds, three ounces. All five speakers are driven by 100 watts of power. The system offers a lot of connectivity, including three HDMI inputs (with an Audio Return Channel output), two stereo inputs, a Digital Media Port (for iPods and Bluetooth devices), two optical S/PDIF inputs, one coaxial S/PDIF input, and AM/FM antenna inputs. The system supports 3D and 1080p HDTV, and decodes Dolby Digital and DTS, and 2.1/5.1-channel PCM audio. Sony also provides a handy bracket for mounting the soundbar to a Sony TV. The fit and finish of the system is very good, with not much of a plasticky feel and a good amount of substance and slickness with its combination of matte and gloss black finishing.
With music material, the HC-CT350 sounded crisp and somewhat punchy, with decent pacing and a lack of brittleness that lent itself to long term listening. The top end sounded better than the mids overall, which created a little shallowness and a "canned" quality on certain tracks that never stuck out too much. The bass had an extension that complemented the top end well, and, while it could have been a little punchier, it provided plenty of volume and filled a good-sized room with ease. The simulated music surround mode was fun, and could be used on the occasional track. On movies and games, the HC-CT350 sounded very good, with a combination of fullness and attack that really added a lot overall for such a small system. Matrix-type surround every now and then can surprise you, with the simulations doing more than enough to fool you into thinking there are speakers all around the room. It's pretty cool. With a system of this type, it's all about that, and nothing more. The purist "it's all fake" whining doesn't help these solutions in the least, and takes away from the whole point of the soundbar: no room, no budget, no need for anything else, just relax and enjoy. The additional modes sounded good and different and fit the bill with certain material. The HDMI pass-through will no doubt come in handy for those not wanting to power up the whole system to watch a program - good idea.
• The HC-CT350 has a cool, slick look and is built solidly.