Nothing can be more disappointing to home entertainment users than bad sound. With few exceptions (mostly on the high-end and cost side) most TV sets have very poor sound when compared to their screen quality (the Sony A1 TVs with their on-screen speakers is one of the top TVs in this respect). So I was quite happy to try the new Sony HT-X8500 soundbar with my poor sound quality TV.
Out of the box, in terms of design the Sony HT-X8500 soundbar is not too different than other similar devices. It is really designed to lay in front of your TV set or hanging from the way just below it. Feedback is by a series of white LED on top of the soundbar, although I feel those are too far away when watching a program to be that meaningful for me. So I mostly ignore those - and they aren't intrusive or too bright so not a big deal.
Installation is easy but if you have a single HDMI source - plug the source device to the HDMI IN on the soundbar and connect the HDMI OUT to the TV. It is even easier if your source device (or TV) supports OPTICAL OUT so you can plug HDMI directly to the TV and the optical cable to the soundbar.
In any case I wanted two sources to be connected (my Amazon Fire TV and my Android TV-based Freeview recorder). This too worked ok, even though only one HDMI IN is available. For this to work I plugged the Fire TV to the soundbar and the soundbar to the TV HDMI 1 port. I plugged the Freeview recorder to the TV HDMI 2 port. And here comes the magic: because the Sony HT-X8500 supports the HDMI ARC protocol and because my TV uses the HDMI 1 port for ARC, I could easily switch inputs using the TV control and still have the corresponding sound coming out of the soundbar - regardless if the source was connected on either HDMI 1 or HDMI 2.
Another thing that worked well is that I didn't even actually need to use the TV control to switch sources - simply pressing a button (any button) on the Amazon Fire TV or the Freeview recorder would instruct the TV to switch to that source - again thanks to both the TV and the soundbar supporting the HDMI CEC protocol to talk to these sources.
You can also use Bluetooth as a sound source, meaning you can easily start playing music from your smartphone - for a party for example. This is not something I'd use these days anymore as both the Fire TV and the Freeview recorder have Spotify apps anyway.
With this out of the way and happy that switching sources was easy, the next thing would be testing the sound. In this respect I can say I was not disappointed. Immediate reaction was "whoa". The sound just jumped to another level. Playing music from Spotify playlists now sounded like an actual sound system in my lounge. Movies and TV shows have new life. And you can easily adjust the sound to different types - there are buttons for "cinema", "voice", "music" modes that switch the low and high sound to make even better.
With support for 4K HDR, the soundbar can be used with a variety of sources and TV to bring immersive, high quality video with the audio it deserves - it even supports upscaled 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos and DTS-X from its two front speakers so even stereo sources sound really good here. And this is without having a subwoofer. Really impressive technology.
I did find a couple of problems but I am not sure if this is because of the soundbar itself or sources - I guess a lot of HDMI tracing and troubleshooting would be needed to confirm this... A few times the soundbar started a high-pitched noise instead of the source sound - which last only a second each time, and sometimes when I pause the source e.g. Netflix on the Amazon Fire TV, and resume the sound just disappears - I need to pause and resume again for the sound to come back. So as I said, it could be the source or the TV (since this is via the ARC protocol), really hard to say.
Overall the new Sony HT-X8500, available now, is a really impressive device, perfect for those small to medium spaces you have reserved for home entertainment.