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Sharp HT-SB60 review:

Superlong sound bar packs fittingly wide sound

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The biggest missing connectivity feature is built-in Bluetooth. Bluetooth is the easiest way to wirelessly stream audio from nearly every smartphone and tablet, so it's a shame that the HT-SB60 doesn't support it. You can add Bluetooth with an external adapter, but it's not a particularly elegant solution.

There's also onboard decoding for Dolby and DTS. Those decoders aren't strictly necessary, especially since most TVs dumb down those surround formats to basic stereo, but there are a few rare cases where the HT-SB60 may actually get a true Dolby/DTS signal, so it's nice to have just in case.

Setup: Easily tweakable
The HT-SB60 doesn't require any audio setup, but you can easily fine-tune the sound directly from the remote. No need to advance through onscreen menus, as bass, treble, and subwoofer volume controls are right on the remote, along with various sound modes like Cinema, Music, Game, Night, and Bypass (pure stereo).

We've welcomed the phantom center-channel (dialogue) volume control found on sound bars such as the Sony HT-CT260 and the Vizio S4251w-B4. Unfortunately, that feature is not available on the Sharp HT-SB60.

Wireless pairing with the subwoofer was automatic, but as we started listening we found that the sub's volume was much too loud. After we turned it down to the minimum level (-5), the sub was still a little too loud, but every room is different, and the HT-SB60's subwoofer balance may be perfectly accurate in other rooms.

Sound quality: Big bar, big sound
The first thing we noticed about the HT-SB60's sound was how much bigger it was than other, similarly priced sound bars that we've tested produced, and it wasn't just the HT-SB60's overly generous subwoofer balance. The 54.5-inch-wide sound bar was also a factor; it projects a wider unprocessed stereo image than a typical 40-inch sound bar. That makes a difference, because that more spacious stereo separation is more like what you'd get from a stereo pair of speakers. The quality of the sound, the clarity, and naturalness were also exceptional; the HT-SB60 is in the top tier of sound bars we've heard this year.

Sharp HT-SB60 subwoofer
Sarah Tew/CNET

Few sound bars are up to the demands of playing rock music loud, but the HT-SB60 had no trouble belting out the Rolling Stones' "Some Girls: Live in Texas '78" Blu-ray. There was no strain or harshness, and while the subwoofer won't win any awards for bass definition, it blended well with the sound bar. The HT-SB60 also brought out the best with CDs, including hard rock from The Black Keys, a feat no other sound bar has managed yet. Other music genres were well served by the HT-SB60; it's the best-sounding bar with two-channel music we've heard in its price class, and we credit some of that to the wide stereo spread and full sub/sound bar balance.

While watching "Ratatouille" we experimented with the HT-SB60's 3D sound modes, which projected a massive sound field that filled the entire front wall of the CNET listening room, and came forward out to the sides of the room. The effect was pleasant, but the tonal balance was thinned out to a significant degree. We preferred the sound with the 3D turned off, but some HT-SB60 buyers might like it.

Sharp HT-SB60
Sarah Tew/CNET

The Sharp's 3D processing does a fairly good job of simulating surround sound, but when we compared it with the similarly priced Vizio S4251w-B4 sound bar system, it was no contest. The S4251w-B4 comes with rear-channel speakers that connect to the sub in the back of the room, and that approach clearly delivers superior results. The HT-SB60's 3D sound modes can't do that, and the sound quality of the Vizio's surround is more natural and faithful to the filmmaker's Dolby to DTS surround mix. The HT-SB60's 3D surround is a nice effect, but in no way correlated with the film's actual sound mix, but that's true with all single-speaker sound bar systems.

Back in stereo mode, Anthony Hopkins' voice in "Hitchcock" sounded natural. We also found that when we listened with the HT-SB60 in either of its Cinema or Bypass sound modes, the clarity of the sound and wide-open sound stage made it easy to forget we were listening to a sound bar, and you can't pay a higher compliment to a sound bar than that.

What are the alternatives?
We haven't tested any other sound bars that compare in size to the HT-SB60, and there aren't many available, so if that's what you're looking for, this is one of your only choices.

Still, a jumbo TV doesn't require an extra-long sound bar, and there are some compelling alternatives. As mentioned before, the Vizio S4251w-B4 gives truly immersive surround sound by adding rear speakers to the package for the same price, while also packing built-in Bluetooth and a neat remote. Sony's HT-CT260 is also one of our favorites, plus Sony offers a larger HT-CT660 that might work even better with big TVs.

Conclusion: Outstanding sound, if you've got the space
The Sharp HT-SB60 is an exceptional sound bar, both in size and sound quality, although it's not without its flaws. But if you've got the space and don't care about Bluetooth, you'll be rewarded with some of the best sound quality we've heard from a sound bar -- it's even capable of doing a respectable job with music.

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