Scott Wasser is an award-winning newspaper, magazine, and web editor, writer and photographer, and longtime freelancer in the AV industry. He was the editor of Digital TV & Sound magazine and assistant editor of Robb Report's Home Entertainment. Scott's passions in AV tend toward the affordable, and he specializes in soundbars, smart remotes, and other more mainstream IoT-type products, as well as car audio.
Basketball fans will undoubtedly remember Muggsy Bogues, who is one of the NBA's all-time leaders in steals and assists despite being the shortest player in league history. Only 5 feet, 3 inches tall, Bogues played 14 seasons and led his team to the playoffs five times -- even though he was 14 inches shorter than the average NBA player. Given his vertical disadvantage in a game dominated by humongous humans, Muggsy's performance was a delightful surprise every time he stepped onto the court.
I felt the same way about Denon's DHT-S216 soundbar every time I listened to it. Like Muggsy, it always exceeded my expectations, despite its size, specifications, and $249 price tag. A compact, 2.1-channel soundbar with Dolby Digital decoding and impressive DTS Virtual:X simulated surround sound, it contains only a half-dozen smallish speakers, yet filled my 25- by 16-foot room with pleasing audio. Given the size of the room, it's not a stretch to say that the DHT-S216's performance was as unexpected as Muggsy blocking a shot by 7-foot tall Patrick Ewing (which he once did in an NBA game).
I'm no different than most Home Theater Review readers in craving the greatest gadgets and hottest hardware. High tech is hard for me to resist. But the DHT-S216, which doesn't support WiFi, a wireless subwoofer, or satellite speakers, helped me realize that I also can appreciate a simple, affordable component that lacks bells and whistles but otherwise delivers much more than one might expect. Just like Muggsy did.
Merely 35 inches long, 4.7 inches deep, and 2.35 inches high, the DHT-S216 is as unassuming a soundbar as you're going to find. That's not to say it looks or feels cheap; On the contrary, its plastic cabinet feels solid, and its 7.5-pound weight gives it some gravitas. It lacks a removable grille, but the speakers are covered by a durable black cloth that starts just beneath the soundbar's lower edge and wraps up and over the top edge, extending about 2.25 inches beyond it. It provides an elegant look, as do the DHT-S216's gently curved edges and glossy insets that form the acoustic port on each end of the bar.
In other words, Denon's least expensive soundbar doesn't look like it's Denon's least expensive soundbar. It's attractive. And its size should help it fit comfortably on most media cabinets and make it unlikely to block the screen or IR sensor on any table-mounted TV. There are a pair of keyhole slots on the back of the unit for those who prefer to hang it on a wall (a wall-mounting template for the screw holes is provided but the screws are not).
The DHT-S216's stylish cabinet houses three pairs of speakers. The left and right audio channels are handled by two front-facing, 1-inch tweeters and a pair of 1.75-inch by 3.5-inch midrange drivers. Two 3-inch, down-firing woofers deliver the bass. This is a true 2.1 system, so you won't find any dedicated center-channel speakers in its cabinet.
The top of the cabinet features physical buttons for Power, Bluetooth, Volume Up/Down, and Input, all of which are duplicated on a chunky little IR remote that doesn't feel nearly as substantial as the soundbar itself. The rear of the bar has a deep recess in the center that provides ample room for connectors, even if the unit is flush-mounted on a wall. That's the kind of attention to detail you don't always find on inexpensive components.
Gadget geeks may not be able to relate to this, but connecting, configuring, and tweaking A/V components can be annoying -- if not totally troublesome -- for the average consumer. Soundbars were created to address the problem, and they've certainly made it easier for the average person to improve the audio of their TVs. But with cables to connect, controls to configure, and separate subwoofers and wireless satellite speakers to set up and sync, they're still generally not plug-and-play, at least no anymore. WiFi-enabled soundbars add another step to the task list.
Denon's DTH-S216 is about as plug-and-play as modern soundbars get. What some will see as shortcomings -- it won't accommodate a wireless subwoofer or satellite speakers (wired or wireless) and lacks network connectivity for streaming music or facilitating multi-room audio -- I consider "sound" decisions by designers that enabled Denon to deliver a relatively easy and affordable audio upgrade for everyman.
The designers did provide one way to enhance the DHT-S216. If you're into booming bass, any conventional powered subwoofer can be connected to it, thanks to its RCA-type LFE output. I tried it briefly to check out the effect but didn't feel compelled to keep it connected. More about that in the Performance section.
The DHT-S216 contains four other available ports: HDMI 2.0 input, 3.5mm stereo minijack and TOSlink optical inputs, and an HDCP 2.2-compliant HDMI 2.0 output that supports Consumer Electronic Control (CEC) and Audio Return Channel (ARC). Of course, there's also a power cord connector, and there's a USB port that is strictly a service terminal with no support for media playback.
It took no more than five minutes to go from unpacking the DHT-S216 to using it. The process didn't require a glance at the 10-page Quick Start Guide. Denon provides HDMI and optical cables and a pair of batteries for the remote. After connecting the soundbar's HDMI output to my TV's ARC input, the DHT-S216 was ready to use. But first, because ARC doesn't support lossless audio, I also connected my Sony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD disc player to the soundbar's HDMI input to ensured getting the best sound possible from it.
After that, I plugged one end of the 5-foot power cord into the back of the soundbar and the other into an AC surge suppressor. The absence of a current converter block on the power cord made it easy to access an open slot. Because the DHT-S216 and my TV are both CEC-enabled, I was able to turn the soundbar on and off and adjust its volume using the TV remote. That, however, doesn't provide access to all of the soundbar's functions, so I kept its remote handy.
One of the soundbar's features -- and the only way to stream music wirelessly -- is Bluetooth connectivity. The soundbar will support up to eight different Bluetooth devices, and pairing is refreshingly quick and easy, especially the first time. After getting your mobile device ready to pair, you simply press the Bluetooth button on the soundbar or its remote and wait for your device to find the DHT-S216. That took just two seconds on my Samsung Galaxy S10. Connecting additional Bluetooth devices is nearly as quick and easy, taking just a few seconds longer as you press and hold a Bluetooth button until the indicator light starts flashing.
Its lack of myriad features and functions makes the DHT-S216 as easy to use as it is to set up. Simply turn it on, and -- if you're not using CEC -- choose an input. If you're using CEC, turning on the TV also powers up the soundbar and selects the proper input. Once the soundbar is on, you can use its remote to adjust volume and bass and choose from one of three DSP listening modes (Movie, Music, and Night). Choosing Music or Movie lets you enjoy another DSP feature: DTS Virtual:X simulated surround sound with height effects. There's also three levels of Dialogue Enhancement and a Pure mode that turns off DSP completely.
All of these functions are accessed through the 4.75-inch long, 1.75-inch wide IR remote's 12 buttons and two rocker switches. The remote's size and slightly concave back surface helped it nestle comfortably in my palm, where I could easily operate all of the soundbar's functions. The keys aren't backlit, but they're raised and nicely organized, making it easy to quickly learn the layout and use the remote without looking at it. Denon also has a great online owner's manual that details all of the remote's functions and how to use them.
What I found more difficult to use was the soundbar's display, which consists of five tiny, multicolor LED status lights. From my seat 10 feet from the soundbar, the lights were small and dim enough to make them challenging to see. It also took me several days to memorize how the four different colors and various combinations of lit LEDs corresponded to the soundbar's power state, input source and audio format. There are no other displays on the soundbar and no mobile app alternative to the remote.
The highest praise I can give Denon's DHT-S216 is to say its performance playing movies and TV shows never failed to amaze me. I watched two different movies from two different sources specifically for evaluation purposes and hours of other content simply for entertainment. The DHT-S216 exceeded my expectations in both scenarios and created such a realistic and immersive experience with my entertainment choices that I often forgot I wasn't listening to a much larger system.
The simulated surround and height effects created a realism and immersiveness I'd never experienced from a standalone soundbar. The punch packed by its internal subwoofers wasn't room-shaking, but it was always satisfying and also surprised me, given the source. The DHT-S216 also impressed by rendering conversations clearly and intelligibly, usually without activating its dialogue enhancement mode.
Midway's many battle scenes provided a great test for the DHT-S216's woofer and DTS Virtual:X sound processing, I was pleasantly surprised that the Lionsgate production also offered several tough tests for the soundbar's ability to deliver much more subtle sound. It passed with "flying" colors (pun intended).
In the opening scene, for example, Patrick Wilson's character, Naval Intelligence Officer Edwin Layton, has a quiet, two-plus-minute conversation with Toshiro Mifune's Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto that sets up the rest of the movie. The DHT-S216 rendered every word of their conversation clearly, even Mifune's heavily accented English. A few minutes later, pilots Dick Best (Ed Skrein) and Clarence Dickinson (Luke Kleintank) are teasing each other after Skrein's character makes an unnecessarily treacherous landing on an aircraft carrier flight deck. Despite the considerable background noise of aircraft carrier activity, the DHT-S216 makes it easy to hear not only their words, but also their tone.
Of course, it's the mayhem of air warfare that has made Midway one of my go-to demo movies. Despite requiring plenty of heavy lifting to render the movie's air-to-air and air-to-sea/ground battle scenes impactful, the DHT-S216 rose to the occasion. Although not quite as accurate or immersive as a true object-based sound system with discrete surround and height speakers, the Denon's DTS Virtual:X nevertheless made machine gun bullets sound like they were ripping into my sofa, and enabled me to hear fighter planes swooping in to attack and then roaring away overhead.
Where the DHT-S216 came up a bit short was in its rendering of the impact of bombs and ammunition magazines exploding. I didn't feel the explosions but was nevertheless surprised that its two small subwoofers, which pointed down at the glass surface of my BDI media center, sounded as good as they did. Later, however, I connected an old Definitive Technology Prosub 100 and -- Boom! -- the difference could be felt as well as heard. Despite that, I chose to put the sub away because I wanted to experience the DHT-S216 in its native state. Ultimately, I was more than content with its bass output. Nevertheless, Denon deserves kudos for giving owners the option of adding a little more bombast to its entry-level soundbar.
I definitely didn't need an external subwoofer for another favorite demo movie, Jesus Christ Superstar Live Arena Tour, which I chose for two main reasons: the setting and the songs. During an interview about the show, co-creator Andrew Lloyd Webber said he believed his rock opera was ideally suited for an arena such as England's Birmingham NEC Arena, in which a live performance was recorded to make this movie. The DHT-S216 made that apparent by virtually putting me right in the arena with 20,000 or so other fans.
There's no overstating how impressed I was with how the soundbar handled the Blu-ray disc's DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack (decoded by my player and delivered to the soundbar as PCM). The music was rendered impeccably, with great imaging, separation, and tone. Everything from the pained tenor pleas of Tim Minchin's Judas to the rich baritone of Pete Gallagher's Caiaphas sounded spectacular. And the ambience of being in an enclosed arena was conveyed convincingly by the DTS Virtual:X processing. The location of a live-show recording can be very challenging to reproduce, but the only thing reminding me I wasn't in an arena is that I hadn't paid for a ticket.
The DHT-S216 did a comparable job with other music -- if the source was right. Although Denon has made it quick and easy to connect your mobile device via Bluetooth, that wouldn't be my first choice for playing music. It's OK for casual listening, such as while you're on Facebook or Instagram or playing background music at a party.
Music delivered by Bluetooth or the 3.5mm analog input jack didn't sound too bad if I pulled up a chair and listened from 4 or 5 feet directly in front of the soundbar. But from my usual listening position about 10-11 feet away, the soundstage seemed cramped, vocals were thin, and instruments were difficult to distinguish. And it didn't seem to matter much which sound mode I used.
Music took on a totally new life, however, when it was streamed from my Roku Ultra or came from a CD on my Sony UHD player. Especially in Music mode with DTS Virtual:X enabled. Like the Jesus Christ Superstar Live Arena Tour soundtrack, everything I selected sounded great. That was true whether I was listening to the varied vocals and layered mix of Elton John, Pink and Logic from "Bennie and the Jets" off the Revamp album or a selection of tracks from the a remastered (2002) version of The Band: Greatest Hits.
The latter provided a great representation of the DHT-S216's musical capabilities because of The Band's diversity. All five original members contributed significantly to their songs, each playing more than one instrument and four providing lead and backup vocals on various songs. That makes it fun to try to distinguish who was singing and what they were playing, and the Denon soundbar proved a good partner for the game.
On "Stage Fright," for example, it enabled me to feel the emotion in Rick Danko's lead vocals and appreciate the way Garth Hudson's engaging organ solo was able carry the song. Hudson's organ steals the show again in "The Shape I'm In," but the song is a terrific way to appreciate the DHT-S216's expansive soundstage and terrific imaging. You can easily picture all the members supporting Richard Manuel's lead vocals, especially Robbie Robertson on guitar.
Two of the DHT-S216's greatest strengths -- simple setup/operation and good value -- also contribute to its biggest drawbacks: limited expandability and the absence of WiFi. No WiFi means the DHT-S216 can't handle multi-room audio, can't be controlled by a digital voice assistant, and can't handle high-resolution streaming music, such as the Qobuz's great-sounding service. Limited expandability means it can't be paired with satellite speakers for discreet surround sound. Although it will accommodate a wired external subwoofer, a wireless sub would provide more placement flexibility.
Functionally, there was only one thing I'd consider a DHT-S216 drawback: There is a two- to four-second second delay every time a sound mode (including Dialogue Enhancement) is selected. That may not seem like a big deal, but it can be annoying when you're watching a movie and lose a few seconds of conversation while switching to, say, Night Mode or boosting the Dialogue Enhancement. Nevertheless, it's probably not a deal-breaker if everything else about the DHT-S216 sounds appealing to you.
Competition and Comparisons
The biggest challenge writing this review was finding another name-brand soundbar that matches the DHT-S216's price and feature set. Denon's most affordable soundbar is not quite in a class of its own, but it's unique enough that there aren't many direct competitors. It also performs well enough that, given Denon's longstanding reputation for high-quality audio reproduction, the DHT-S216 is easy to recommend if its features and price meet your needs.
If you want to consider alternatives, Yamaha's YAS-109 soundbar comes closest in form, features, and price. Like the DHT-S216, this $240 soundbar is self-contained and designed for simple operation and installation. It also has similar inputs/outputs (including an RCA-type jack for an external subwoofer) and won't accept satellite speakers. It's even the same length and within a half-inch of the DHT-S216 in width and height. But unlike Denon's soundbar, it has WiFi and Amazon Alexa digital voice assistant built in.
Another close competitor is Vizio's SB362An-F6, which like the Denon has DTS Virtual:X and internal subwoofers and lacks WiFi and the ability to add satellites. But this $140 soundbar omits several input/output features you'll find on the more expensive Yamaha and Denon models. The most significant is the absence of any HDMI ports, which means you can't use ARC. It does, however, have a USB port that can be used for playing music from a thumb drive.
That's about it at the moment for soundbars with DTS Virtual:X and built-in subwoofers, although you can find other name-brand models with external satellites that weren't mentioned here to keep this an apples-to-apples comparison.
Soundbars have evolved over the years to be more and do more than they were originally created for. If you're looking for a soundbar that can be controlled by voice, provide true object-oriented surround sound with height effects, and hold hands with wireless speakers located throughout your home, then Denon's DHT-S216 is not for you.
But if you simply need a soundbar that does what that class of A/V gear was originally created to do -- give average consumers a simple and affordable way to substantially enhance their televisions' integrated audio and therefore enhance their TV and movie viewing enjoyment -- then Denon's DHT-S216 comes very close to being the ideal. It performed so well in that regard, in fact, that I was often amazed that the clear, vibrant, room-filling sound was coming from a compact, $249 soundbar that took just minutes to install.
It's hard not to be impressed and even a little amazed when something so unassuming greatly exceeds expectations... just like Muggsy Bogues.
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