Denon DHT-S516H review: Expansive stereo sonics

(Pocket-lint) – The Denon DHT-S516H offers a 2.1-channel speaker layout and support for its proprietary Heos multi-room system. It drops the centre channel found on the more expensive DHT-S716H, but adds a separate wireless subwoofer.

The emphasis is on high-quality components rather than features, although this particular ‘bar works with the likes of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, plus it has an HDMI connection and support for Apple AirPlay 2. It can also use the Heos platform to create a 5.1-channel system.

However it suffers from two of the same limitations as the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bar: specifically it doesn’t come with a remote control, forcing you to use the app, and it only supports lossy audio. The former is annoying, but the latter a surprise given the emphasis on sound quality.

Minimalist styling, mysterious specs 

  • Soundbar: 1018 x 73 x 104mm; 3.1kg
  • Subwoofer: 172 x 311 x 172mm; 6.6kg
  • Available in black only

The Denon DHT-S516H keeps things simple in the looks department, with minimalist black styling and an angled shape that’s wrapped in a fabric grille. The are dark metal end plates, along with rear bass ports, and the overall build quality is excellent. The soundbar is wide enough for today’s larger panel sizes, but low enough that it shouldn’t block the screen. There are optional riser feet if necessary, and the ability to wall-mount using screw holes at the rear. 

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Inside the S516H are two speakers, each of which is composed of bi-amplified mid-woofers and tweeters. The soundbar uses digital amplification and digital signal processing (DSP), but Denon provides no detailed specifications. This lack of specific driver and power information also applies to the rear-ported wireless subwoofer, but whatever the details it’s been designed to do all the heavy lifting at the low-end and is styled to match the soundbar.

Features

  • 2.1-channel audio
  • Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS decoding
  • Heos multi-room
  • Works with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant & Siri
  • Optional rear speakers

Detailed specs aside, the Denon DHT-S516H is a 2.1-channel system, which means there’s no dedicated centre speaker for dialogue. This shouldn’t be an issue, but it makes this soundbar an unashamedly two-channel affair with some decent bass from that separate subwoofer.

The S516H decodes lossy Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS, but if you want lossless decoding you’ll need to go for the pricier S716H. Neither soundbar supports Dolby Atmos or DTS:X object-based audio, but there are pre-set equaliser (EQ) modes for Movie, Music and Night-time listening.

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Denon’s Heos multi-room system allows you to stream music wirelessly to all compatible devices, and is controlled using an effective app (iOS and Android). If you have two Heos speakers, you can even add them to the soundbar as wireless surround channels.

Heos provides access to Spotify, Tidal, TuneIn Internet Radio, SoundCloud, Amazon Music, Napster, Deezer or any locally-stored music file libraries. There’s also high-resolution playback with support for DSD (2.8, 5.6MHz), FLAC, WAV, ALAC (192/24), MP3, WMA and AAC files.

If you’re looking for a soundbar that can pull duties as a smart speaker, the S516H is pleasingly agnostic, and will work with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. In addition, Apple’s AirPlay 2 allows you to stream music from other AirPlay compatible devices, and provides access to Siri.

Connections and controls

  • 2x HDMI; 1x optical; 1x coaxial; 1x USB; 1x 3.5mm; 1x Ethernet
  • Wi-Fi; Bluetooth; AirPlay 2
  • Heos app (iOS/Android)

When it comes to controlling the Denon DHT-S516H it’s a bit of a mixed bag. There’s no included remote and the only display is a light at the bottom centre of the soundbar itself. As a result, you’re forced to use the Heos app as a display and controller.

If you’ve connected the soundbar to your TV via HDMI-ARC, you can at least use the TV zapper for basic control like volume, but there’s still no display feedback. There’s also the option of hands-free control via Alexa or Google to adjust the volume, play, pause or skip to the next track.

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The simplicity of the soundbar makes it a doddle to setup, with your main decision being whether to stand or wall-mount it – and then where to position the subwoofer. In the box Denon includes an IR blaster, along with HDMI, optical digital, 3.5mm analogue, and Ethernet cables.

The connections are located in two recesses at the rear, with the first containing an HDMI input and output with ARC (audio return channel), allowing you to send audio from the TV back to the soundbar. These support 4K, HDR (including Dolby Vision) and HDCP 2.2 to ensure compatibility with current Ultra-HD content.

The second recess sports an optical digital input, a 3.5mm jack, a USB port and an Ethernet connector, although there’s also Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and AirPlay 2. It’s a decent set of connections, and given the lossless limitations should be all you need.

Impressive but decidedly two-channel sound quality

The Denon DHT-S516H might suffer from certain limitations, but it sounds excellent thanks to an expansive front soundstage. While the exact specs remain unknown, the sound quality audibly benefits from some decent speaker design, and there’s excellent stereo imaging. The width allows for precise localisation of both instruments and effects, and despite the lack of a centre speaker any dialogue remains clear and focused.

Denon

The subwoofer integrates well with the soundbar, providing a solid foundation of bass that gives movies and music greater impact. A good example is the opening of The Greatest Showman, where the stomping of feet is enhanced by some deep bass. The S516H does a great job of producing a powerful sonic presence at the front of the room, making its lossy limitations with Dolby and DTS all the more disappointing.

Since the S516H can handle high-resolution audio via Wi-Fi and the Heos multi-room system, it has clearly been designed with music in mind. In that respect it certainly doesn’t disappoint, and listening to Good Luck, Seeker by The Waterboys reveals a detailed sound, with a clean mid-range and a treble that’s free of any congestion. The vocals retain a pleasing clarity, the guitars a driving intensity, and the drums benefit from tight and well-timed bass.

Denon has included a number of presets and unsurprisingly Music works best with music, but also proves very effective when it comes to watching TV. The reason for this is that the preset is free of any processing, producing a well-defined and clear delivery. As a result, the Denon handles the audio of most TV shows with great skill, and when watching The Great British Bake-Off the soundbar delivers the voice-over, music and effects with accuracy and precision.

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Sadly the S516H is less impressive when it comes to more complex soundtracks, where the lack of rear speakers results in a front-heavy soundstage. When watching a film like Le Mans ’66, the racing scenes lose some of their impact, although the sub does a commendable job of adding a guttural roar to the engines. The Movie mode tends to boost the bass, but the Music mode is more balanced and thus better suited to the soundbars’s strengths.

Verdict

The Denon DHT-S516H is an accomplished soundbar, delivering an expansive front presence that benefits from width and depth. The experience is decidedly two-channel in its effect, but the high-quality speakers deliver the goods, while the sub produces some deep bass.

When you consider the price it’s a shame the S516H doesn’t support an immersive audio format like Dolby Atmos, but it doesn’t even support lossless audio – which is a bit disappointing.

The lack of a remote control is also annoying, but at least there’s the option to enjoy high-resolution audio thanks to built-in Wi-Fi and Denon’s excellent Heos multi-room system via the app.

In this regard the S516H is an impressive performer, handling music or your favourite TV shows with skill, and delivering clear dialogue despite the lack of a centre speaker. Overall, this is a well-made ‘bar-and-sub combo, but there are more affordable options available with similar specification.

Also consider

Pocket-lint

Vizio SB36512-F6

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A perfect example of the kind of soundbar you can get for the same price. This particular package offers a highly immersive Dolby Atmos surround system, with a wireless sub, wired rear speakers, and upward-firing drivers for overhead effects. It’s better suited to smaller screen sizes and rooms, but otherwise it’s hard to fault and offers exceptional value for money.

Sharp

Sharp HT-SBW800

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If you’re on a tighter budget, but still like the idea of Dolby Atmos, then this is an ideal option. The performance is somewhat front-heavy due to the lack of rear speakers, but the sub delivers the goods, while the side- and upward-firing drivers ensure a soundstage with enough width and height to enhance your sonic experience. The features are a bit limited, with no built-in Wi-Fi, but at least you get a remote control and an informative display.

Writing by Steve Withers. Editing by Mike Lowe.





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