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Onkyo SBT-A500 review: Atmos sound bar looks pretty, sounds pretty plain

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The Good The Onkyo SBT-A50 supports Dolby Atmos and has a nice design, including the separate breakout box.

The Bad The Onkyo SBT-A500's sound quality falls far short of what we expect from an expensive sound bar, or even one that costs half this much. The bar's Atmos effects were unconvincing, and there's no surround capability. Few of the streaming features are working at launch.

The Bottom Line The Onkyo SBT-A500 is fully loaded with features, and its attractive design may woo potential buyers, but poorer than expected sound quality kills the deal.

6.4 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Sound 5
  • Value 6

While 4K and HDR hog the TV limelight at the moment, the latest audio "must-have" is atmospheric audio. In 2017 you're going to see a lot of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X as manufacturers try to pitch those atmospheric audio formats -- and the new gear they require -- at the mainstream.

For every excellent Atmos device like the Samsung HW-K950, though, there is unfortunately one of these: the Onkyo SBT-A500 ($299 at Amazon). The best we can say is that this product looks cool, and it has a lot of features. However, with sound quality that isn't anywhere near the level you'd expect at the price, no amount of attractive design and goosed-up extras can make up for it. Ideally this sound bar should drop in price by half before we'd consider recommending it.

The SBT-A500 is available for $999, with UK and Australian pricing and availability yet to be announced.

Design

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Sarah Tew/CNET

On looks alone, the standout part of the Onkyo SBT-A500 is that separate receiver, seen on the lower shelf above. Where most sound bars opt to cram everything into one unit, the Onkyo has wisely broken the inputs and other assorted guts into a separate box.

This has two main advantages: the speaker can be as small as practically possible, and the device can also accommodate more external inputs. The only downside? A box the size of a half-height receiver (17.1 inches wide by 2.75 inches high by 12.8 inches deep) needs to be stored somewhere, which defeats the purpose of a sound bar for a lot of users.

onkyo-sbt-a500-12.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

The speaker itself has a relatively low 2.1-inch profile, which hopefully means it won't block your TV's infrared port, but if does, then the unit is also wall-mountable.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The subwoofer is decently sized at 10 inches square by 13 inches tall. it houses a 6.5-inch driver, which is driven by a 50-watt amplifier.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control is very similar to the ones you would see on Onkyo's full-size receivers. It keeps the button count to a logical minimum, and the layout is sensible.

Features

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Sarah Tew/CNET


Onkyo's SBT-A500 is the first Atmos speaker we've seen for under $1,000, and it certainly packs in the features. These include both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive audio playback and a welcome four HDMI inputs with 4K/60p passthrough.

Streaming music support is one of the best we've encountered, with Chromecast, DTS Play-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth and the forthcoming FireConnect multiroom system. As of the time of testing, however, the unit is still awaiting a firmware update to add Play-Fi, Chromecast and Fireconnect.

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