The HT-SS360's manual and autosetups are a bit trickier than average, mostly because the receiver lacks an onscreen menu display. The menus instead appear only on the receiver's smallish display. And since only one line of menu text appears at a time, the setup process may be a little confusing for first-time home theater buyers.
Before and after the HT-SS360 manual setup we felt the match up between the satellite speakers and subwoofer was less than ideal; the sub had a big, boomy sound, and the sats made very little bass on their own. In other words, it was easy to tell most of the bass was coming from the subwoofer, way over on the right side of the CNET listening room.
Next, we tackled the HT-SS360's DCAC (Digital Cinema Auto Calibration) system. The DCAC adjusts the volume level of each speaker and the subwoofer, and measures the distance between each speaker and the listening position.
At first we were a little confused as to where to plug-in the (supplied) AUTO CAL microphone. On most receivers the mic jack is located somewhere on the front panel, but the HT-SS360 it's located on the receiver's rear panel. After plugging in the mic it's just a matter of going through a couple of steps on the speaker setup menu. Once the Digital Cinema Auto Calibration is underway a series of test tones sequence through the speakers and subwoofer. All of the measurements are taken from just one mic position. Autosetup takes just a minute to complete, so it's a lot quicker than most systems.
The Digital Cinema Auto Calibration boosted the subwoofer volume again, so it was too loud for us. We went back to the manual setup and turned the sub volume down. It would be nice if Sony included a subwoofer volume adjustment on the remote, as it's common to make tweaks to the sub volume given the program material. Unlike Sony's more expensive DAV-HDX589W (which has a built-in DVD player), the HT-SS360 has bass and treble controls accessible with the remote.
The HT-SS360 is clearly designed to be used with newer, HDMI-friendly devices. The receiver has three HDMI inputs, which is one more than Panasonic's comparable SC-HT56 and should accommodate most home theater setups. On the other hand, there are no analog video inputs at all, so you can't use the HT-SS360 as your main video switching hub if you still have some analog video devices, like the ubiquitous Nintendo Wii.
Of course, you can still use analog video devices with the HT-SS360 if you connect the video cable directly to your TV and the audio cables to the HT-SS360. The HT-SS360 is equipped with three stereo analog audio inputs and three digital audio inputs (two optical and one coaxial.) In addition to standard audio ports, the HT-SS360 also features Sony's proprietary Digital Media Port, which is compatible with a variety of compatible accessories, such as the TDM-NC1 (a Wi-Fi music streamer), the TDM-BT1 (a Bluetooth adapter), and the TDM-IP50 (an iPod/iPhone dock). Even though the HT-SS360 is a relatively inexpensive system, we really would have liked to have seen it come with iPod connectivity without needing to buy an accessory.
Unlike some more expensive full-fledged AV receivers, the HT-SS360 doesn't have onboard decoding for the new high-resolution Blu-ray soundtrack formats, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. While that might have been an issue six months ago, it's less of an issue now that almost all new Blu-ray players have onboard decoding; you don't necessarily need a receiver with onboard decoding. The HT-SS360 does, however, have the standard assortment of Dolby and DTS sound decoding modes, including Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, and DTS.
Like virtually all home theater systems, the HT-SS360 has both AM and FM tuners, and comes with the appropriate antennas. There's no built-in support for satellite radio or HD radio.
From the looks of it you might not expect the HT-SS360 to have what it takes to convey the visceral kicks of a film like "The Wrestler." It did. When Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is in the ring the HT-SS360 had no trouble delivering the physical impact of the wrestlers' full-on body slams or when the men smash into the mat. The crowd's jeers and cheers erupting from the surround speakers put us in the midst of the action.
The HT-SS360 may be a lightweight package, but the sound packs a heavyweight wallop. But the oomph was delivered almost exclusively from the subwoofer; the little satellite speakers make almost no bass on their own. The supersvelte, two-inch-high center speaker weighs less than a pound (14 ounces), but it didn't sound small. Dialogue was nicely balanced.
Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds' acoustic guitars on their "Live at Radio City" concert Blu-ray sounded nice. Again, the subwoofer supplied the foundation for the sound, and the more we listened the more we became aware of the subwoofer. The quality of the HT-SS360's bass was less than optimum--it was thick and murky. When we played CDs, the sub's lack of clarity/definition was even more apparent.
Booker T. Jones' new funk CD, "Potato Hole," had a healthy low-bass kick, but the electric guitars and keyboards grew irritatingly harsh as we turned up the volume. The little speakers sounded awfully little, in stereo; the sound improved when we listened in Dolby Pro Logic II surround. Overall, we preferred the HT-SS360's sound on movies--the speakers and subwoofer's shortcomings were much more apparent on music.