Sony HT-X8500 Soundbar Review

With its sleek modern design and powerful audio performance, the Sony HT-X8500 is a versatile soundbar that aims to enhance your home entertainment experience. It is a 2.1-channel soundbar system with built-in dual subwoofers and support for advanced surround sound formats. Part of Sony’s 2019 lineup of premium home theater products, it can now be purchased at a heavily discounted price.

Sony positions the HT-X8500 as a mid-range model below its ultra-high-end offerings but above entry-level models. It looks to appeal to home theater enthusiasts who want an immersive cinematic audio experience without the complexity of a full AV receiver and speaker package. Key strengths Sony is marketing include the vertical surround engine for height effects, Hi-Res audio support, and simple setup.

The HT-X8500 enters a competitive market, facing offerings from other major brands like Samsung, LG, Bose, and Vizio. This review will take an in-depth look at how the HT-X8500 stacks up in terms of design, features, sound quality, ease of use and overall value.

Sony HT-X8500

One of the few affordable standalone soundbars to offer Atmos support, but keep your expectations realistic for a standalone soundbar.
Channels: 2.1
Surround Sound Technology: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
  • Virtualized 7.1.2ch surround with Vertical Sound Engine
  • Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support
  • Decent bass for integrated subwoofers
  • Downmixed surround sound doesn't match true 5.1/7.1 setups

Design and Build

The Sony HT-X8500 sports an attractive, minimalist design that blends seamlessly with modern decor. The main soundbar unit has a rectangular shape measuring just 2.5 inches tall, making it suitably low-profile to fit in front of a wall-mounted TV without obstructing the screen. The soundbar is designed to be placed on a table or mounted to a wall.

The casing has a brushed finish in black that gives it an understated, sophisticated look. The sides are trimmed in a charcoal gray metallic grille that allows the dual subwoofers’ audio to permeate into the room. The top has touch-sensitive controls for power, input selection, volume and playback.

Build quality feels solid thanks to the metal mesh casing. The soundbar weighs almost 7 lbs, giving it some heft. Wall mount brackets are included along with an IR blaster cable for TV integration. Overall construction feels durable enough for long-term use.

While not flashy, the HT-X8500’s clean, minimalist look allows it to blend in with both contemporary and traditional decor. The slim profile doesn’t call much attention from the front, keeping focus on the TV display. Those wanting a more visually striking centerpiece may be disappointed, but the design suits the product’s purpose.

Key Features

The Sony HT-X8500 is equipped with a range of technologies and capabilities to deliver powerful cinematic audio. Key features include:

  • 2.1 channel system with built-in dual subwoofers – Provides bass without needing an external sub. Each subwoofer uses a 16cm driver.
  • Vertical Surround Engine – Sony’s proprietary virtual surround technology aims to create 5.1.2 channel sound with height effects from the dedicated vertically oriented speakers.
  • S-Force PRO Front Surround – Uses advanced processing to create an immersive surround sound field from the front three-channel speaker system.
  • Hi-Res Audio support – Can play high resolution audio files up to 96kHz/24-bit resolution for enhanced clarity and detail.
  • Bluetooth connectivity – Stream music wireless from mobile devices.
  • HDMI eARC/ARC – Single cable connection to TV for simplified setup.

Installation and Setup

Unboxing the HT-X8500 reveals the main soundbar, wireless subwoofer, power cords, HDMI cable, IR blaster, remote control, batteries, a mounting template and the instruction manual. All components are neatly packed with protective wrapping.

For table mounting, the soundbar simply needs to be placed in front of the TV stand on its rubber feet. Wall mounting is easy using the included template, although some parts are sold separately. The subwoofer is compact enough to tuck away in a corner or nearby furniture.

Initial setup is quick and straightforward. After plugging in the devices, connect the soundbar to the TV’s ARC HDMI port. This single cable handles both audio and control signals. Alternatively, an optical cable can be used if the TV lacks HDMI ARC. The subwoofer automatically connects wirelessly to the soundbar.

Using the remote, switch the input to HDMI and select the ARC mode. From the TV menu, enable external speakers. In minutes, audio will seamlessly play from the TV to the soundbar.

Sound Quality

With a rated RMS power of 128W and 150W PMPO, the HT-X8500 delivers potent, room-filling audio that enhances movies, music, and games. The integrated dual subwoofers provide impactful bass that adds a sense of immersion without sounding boomy or distorted even at high volumes. The soundstage is wide and spacious, making effects pan seamlessly around the room.

Dialogue comes through crisp and clear, anchored right below the TV screen. The dedicated center channel ensures vocal clarity for news and sports alongside TV shows and movies. High frequency detail is present without sounding harsh on treble-heavy tracks.

The surround sound performance is impressive for a streamlined 2.1-channel setup. Sony’s vertical surround engine projects height cues like rainfall or aircraft flyovers from above. Explosions and action sequences have a sense of verticality beyond simpler soundbars. The front soundstage avoids sounding confined and closed-in.

The HT-X8500 handles all content genres capably. Cinematic soundtracks sound expansive, revealing subtle ambient details. Concert videos immerse viewers with a live-like soundfield. Gaming audio gains more punch and spatial realism. For music listening, the soundbar reveals nuances and instrument textures well. Its Hi-Res Audio support can satisfy discerning audiophiles.

Advanced Audio Technologies

Sony packs in a few of its proprietary audio enhancement technologies to help the HT-X8500 overcome its 2.1-channel limitations.

Most notable is the Vertical Surround Engine which aims to create 5.1.2 channel effects. It uses focused beam tweeters that point upward, bouncing height cues off the ceiling to simulate overhead speakers. This adds a heightened sense of immersion for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks.

The S-Force PRO Front Surround feature uses digital signal processing to emulate a surround sound experience from just the front speakers. It manipulates phase and timing to make effects sound like they’re coming from behind the listener. This prevents an artificial sucked-in feeling from a solely front-firing system.

These technologies draw out a more enveloping soundstage than typically expected from a streamlined soundbar. While not a full substitute for physical surround speakers, they add welcome dimensionality. Users can toggle them on or off based on content.

Connectivity and Control

The HT-X8500 offers a range of connectivity suited for most modern TVs and media sources. Inputs include HDMI eARC, optical digital audio, USB, and analog aux in. Sony provides all the necessary cables in the box except an HDMI cord for the TV ARC connection.

HDMI eARC is the ideal single-cable setup, carrying both audio and control signals from the TV to soundbar. The HT-X8500 also has an HDMI output to pass through 4K/HDR video to the TV from an external source like a Blu-ray player.

Bluetooth pairing is quick and reliable during testing, maintaining a strong link to mobile devices even when separated into different rooms. The HT-X8500 lacks any multi-room music features, focusing on single-room TV audio.

Included is a simple plastic remote that covers essential controls like power, volume, input selection, and sound modes. The glossy buttons provide decent tactile feedback. The soundbar’s touch controls can also adjust volume and inputs, but lack finer adjustments.

User Experience

The soundbar automatically turns on when it detects audio from the TV, so no need to juggle multiple remotes. Users can choose from several audio effect modes depending on the media: Movie, Music, Voice, Auto Sound, Neural:X (upmixing mode). The modes provide subtle tuning though none make an extreme impact.

One notable omission is built-in voice assistance, or any smart features. Those seeking deeper customization or smart home integration may be disappointed, but the focus on simplicity suits the product’s purpose as an easy audio upgrade. For most buyers, its straightforward operation will be appreciated.

Also Consider

When considering alternatives to the Sony HT-X8500 soundbar, several soundbars might be worth considering:

  1. Sonos Ray: The Sonos Ray is a popular choice for those looking for a compact and inexpensive soundbar for around the same price. It’s less powerful but provides a more up-to-date user experience (read review).
  2. Sony HT-G700: If you’re looking for an upgrade within the Sony family, the HT-G700 might be a good choice. It’s a 3.1 setup, offering better build quality, soundstage, and surround performance compared to the 2.1 HT-X8500. This could be a good step up if you’re looking for a more immersive audio experience​​.
  3. Samsung HW-B650: If you’re looking for a more powerful system with an external subwoofer, the HW-B650 is worth considering, although it lacks Dolby Atmos support (read review).
  4. TCL Alto 8i: Similar to the HT-X8500, the TCL Alto 8i is a 2.1 soundbar that supports Dolby Atmos. While the Sony model generally offers better performance, the TCL Alto 8i could be a cost-effective alternative if you’re looking for something in a similar range but with potentially different features or a lower price point​​.
  5. Polk Audio Signa S3: An affordable option that doesn’t compromise on quality, the Polk Audio Signa S2 is known for its clear dialogue and comes with a wireless subwoofer (read review).

Each of these soundbars has its own set of features and strengths, so the best choice will depend on your specific needs, such as the size of your room, your budget, and the types of features (like smart home integration or specific audio technologies) that are most important to you. Note that in the above list, only the HT-G700 features Atmos support.

Final Verdict

With its blend of powerful audio performance, surround sound effects, and simplicity, the Sony HT-X8500 is an appealing option for upgrading TV and movie listening. It delivers a dramatic improvement over built-in TV speakers with immersive cinematic audio in a compact, discreet product.

The integrated dual subwoofers provide impactful bass while Sony’s Vertical Surround Engine and S-Force PRO technologies heighten the immersion beyond the soundbar’s actual channel count. Hi-Res Audio support satisfies discerning listeners.

While it lacks native voice control or multi-room capabilities, the plug-and-play setup and seamless operation make it easy for home theater newbies. Its clean, minimalist look fits modern decor, avoiding clashes.

Compared to competing models, the HT-X8500 strikes an enticing balance between audio muscle, features, and usability at its price point. It best suits buyers wanting to significantly boost their TV’s sound without getting into smart systems. With powerful performance in a lifestyle-friendly design, the HT-X8500 is an attractive option for premium yet practical home theater enhancement.