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Sharp makes some of the biggest TVs in the world, so it's not surprising that the company is applying its plus-size worldview to sound bars.
The Sharp HT-SB60 ($320 street) is a startlingly long sound bar, designed to pair up with TVs 60 inches and up. That length may give it a more balanced look under your own personal Jumbotron, but it also allows the HT-SB60 to produce some fantastic sound quality, surpassing that of smaller sound bars in the same price range. There's also enough space on the back for two HDMI inputs, giving you more flexibility if your TV has a limited input selection.
The HT-SB60's size no doubt contributes to its excellent performance, but it's also its biggest flaw. It's a huge sound bar that just isn't going to nicely integrate into most living-room environments. The other major strike against it is the lack of built-in Bluetooth, so you can't wirelessly stream audio from your mobile devices to the HT-SB60 out of the box.
If you're OK with the HT-SB60's shortcomings, it's a solid value at its current $320 street price, although considerably less so from retailers selling it at the full $500 list price. The Sharp HT-SB60 is one of the best-performing budget sound bars we've tested, but its size and lack of Bluetooth keep it from having wider appeal.
Design: Extremely long and incredibly thin
The HT-SB60 is longer than any other sound bar we've tested, hanging well off the edge of our sizable 43.5-inch TV cabinet. Again, the long, slender sound bar is designed to be paired up with TVs 60 inches and above, and it looked a little silly sitting under our 55-inch Sony XBR-55HX950.
The HT-SB60 may be ultralong, but it's small in every other way, measuring just 2.88 inches high and 2.69 inches deep. It wasn't even close to blocking our TV's remote sensor, like many sound bars do, which is good since it lacks the remote pass-through feature that's found on some competitors.
Size aside, the aesthetics of the system are underwhelming. It has a particularly plasticky look and feel -- even for a sound bar -- and the fake brushed-metal stripe isn't fooling anyone. The small front-panel display has an "alarm clock" vibe that also detracts from its style. The wireless subwoofer also has a generic quality, especially the cheap-feeling wood on the sides.
While the included remote gets some points for its considerable size, it's pretty lousy otherwise. At first glance it looks good -- a big volume rocker! -- except that rocker controls the volume of the TV, not the sound bar. I often found myself instinctively reaching for that rocker to adjust volume, only to realize my mistake when the sound bar wouldn't respond.
The rest of the controls are laid out awkwardly as well, including a mute button that's far from the rest of other volume controls. On the plus side, you do get access to subwoofer-level controls directly from the remote, which is handy for program-by-program tweaks.
Features: Dual HDMI inputs, but no Bluetooth
The HT-SB60 has more inputs than most, with two HDMI, one optical, and an analog minijack. You won't necessarily need the HDMI inputs if you use your TV to switch among devices, but the extra ports are nice in case you have more devices than inputs on your TV. (Although input switching could get a little confusing in that configuration, as you'll be juggling between your TV and sound bar remote.)
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.
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.
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.