Sony HT-CT260H Review

Earlier this year the Sony HT-CT260 sound bar was highly acclaimed by CNet, Consumer Reports, PC Magazine, The Wirecutter, and everyone else. Sony didn’t rest on this and updated it with a HDMI input and output while keeping the price at the $250 level. If you want a high quality, high value way to get audio from your TV, smartphone, laptop or any other device the Sony HT-CT260H does it better than anything else I’ve heard for the price.

Sony HT-CT260H Design

Specs
Manufacturer: Sony
Model: HT-CT260H
Outputs: HDMI with ARC
Inputs: HDMI, Optical, 3.5mm Analog
Subwoofer: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
Airplay: Yes
Review Date: October 22, 2013
Price: $239
Company Website

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The requirements for a sound bar keep changing. Once relegated to a bedroom or secondary system they are the primary audio devices for more and more people. Because of this getting audio from anywhere is important. The Sony HT-CT260H does a good job covering the bases here. The major upgrade from the earlier version is a HDMI input and output. With only one input you’ll still likely switch between devices in your TV. Because the Sony has Audio Return Channel (ARC) one its HDMI output you can run one less cable than before.

It also has Bluetooth to make it easy to stream audio from your smartphone, tablet or computer. Virtually every device now has Bluetooth built-in and adding it to a legacy device is simple. Rounding out the connection options are an optical input and a 3.5mm analog input. The only option really lacking is AirPlay, but Bluetooth can fill that role. For whatever device you have you can probably get audio to the HT-CT260H.

Setting It Up

The Sony HT-CT260H is a compact little sound bar measuring just over 4” high and 37” wide. The short stature means it won’t block most IR sensors but if it does, it includes an integrated IR repeater. The stylish look is a nice change from a conventional black box. Wall mounting takes but a second with the keyhole fittings on the rear and cables have enough room for it to lay perfectly flush.

A wireless subwoofer is inside the box and allows the HT-CT260Hs small size without giving up low-frequency response. The subwoofer and sound bar pair automatically. You can place the subwoofer anywhere in the room but placing them close together results in a more cohesive sound. The HT-CT260H still outputs a bit of those lower frequency signals, which helps prevent the subwoofer from sounding out-of-place as it can on other systems.

I tried out the Sony HT-CT260H with the Vizio M401i-A3 and my 32” Sony bedroom TV over HDMI. With both TVs you need to set them to use an external audio system in the settings for ARC over HDMI to work correctly. After I enable this they both work with the HT-CT260H perfectly. The Vizio integrates even better, controlling the volume level of the sound bar with its internal volume control.

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How Does It Sound?

The HT-CT260H is a huge step up over the audio of either of those displays. Watching episodes of Breaking Bad over Netflix, the displays sent the audio over HDMI to the HT-CT260H and everything was much better. Dialogue is clearer and easier to understand. Gunshots resonate far better as the subwoofer provides low-end impact that a TV cannot. The sound stage is much larger from the HT-CT260H than from the TV speakers and makes for a much more enjoyable experience.

Just watching football benefits greatly from adding a sound bar to a TV. The sounds of the stadium is greater and the experience more like being there. The announcers, as inane as their commentary often is, come across much more clearly than before and the impact of a hard hit really causes you to sit up.

Movies also sound better though the HT-CT260H. Kung Fu Panda is far more alive and detailed on the sound bar than through the TV. The individual sounds in fight scenes are more distinct instead of being a jumbled mess. The street shoot-out scene in Heat carries low-end impact that a TV cannot. The automatic gunfire pushes the sub to its limits, and a bit beyond them, but sounds better.

Music does very well through the HT-CT260H as well. The vocals and instruments off Beck’s Sea Change are clear and distinct. The bass from Miles Davis sounds very nice and resonates well in space. Pushing audio over Bluetooth from my iPhone or Nexus 7 works flawlessly and syncs quickly. Sometimes the subwoofer can take a few seconds to sync up, but it never loses the lock after that first sync.

Downsides

That subwoofer sync delay shows the main flaw of the HT-CT260H in that it gets a bit bloated and tubby in the bass. Without the subwoofer the low-end is almost completely absent so it is an essential piece of the system. Listening to those bass notes from Miles Davis you can hear a bit of bloat as the small woofer and port strain to hit the lower octaves. A subwoofer that plays this low without the bloat can easily cost $250 alone so it is the sacrifice made to his this price. It isn’t a big issue, but the only one I can really complain about.

Rock music also fares a bit better than acoustic or jazz does. While Radiohead sounds fantastic, switching to Eric Clapton Unplugged or Norah Jones Feels Like Home left the HT-CT260H sounding a little thin in comparison to Pioneer’s recent sound bar. Move back to Radiohead, Arcade Fire, or even The Rolling Stones and the Sony again takes the lead. It isn’t considerably worse but if you listen to a majority of jazz music you might want to give the Pioneer a listen as well.

With the HT-CT260H I recommend using the Stereo sound mode. Engaging the Movie mode while watching Heat makes the bullets sound flat and dull. Switching over to Stereo makes them come alive and have real weight behind them. Music also has a better soundstage when using stereo mode than the Music mode. Sony likes to add these EQ modes to their sound bar products but I usually find they fall short.

Technical Measurements

I measured the Sony HT-CT260H sound bar using a UMIK-1 calibrated microphone and RoomEQ Wizard software. Five different positions are averaged to reduce room effects using the method described by Brent Butterworth.

There is a bit of a dip around 170 Hz, likely the crossover point of the subwoofer to the sound bar. There is a bit of a roll-off after 1 kHz and a peak up at 6 kHz. Usable bass extends down to 50 Hz but falls off quickly below that. The bass is accentuated a bit but you can adjust the subwoofer down a bit more if this bothers you. The overall frequency response has a large variation of +5dB/-10dB relative to 1 kHz but in practice still sounds OK.

sony ht-ct260h frequency response

Overall A Great Value

Compared to other sound bars selling for up to $400 the Sony HT-CT260H sounded as good as any of them. Certain bars would sound better on certain music tracks, and then sound worse on other music selections. The overall performance of the Sony HT-CT260H was up to that of bars costing 60% more and the value was way ahead. No other bars I tried offered a HDMI input and output or an IR repeater.

If you’re after better sound for your TV and don’t want to spend a lot, the Sony HT-CT260H is the best value in a bar I have seen. It sounds great and is packed full of features. Factor in the stylish looks and nice usability touches and you have a sound bar I can feel good recommending to everyone.

Review Summary
Product: Sony HT-CT260H
Reviewer:
Pros: Great sound, HDMI with ARC, Bluetooth, IR Repeater
Cons: Subwoofer can be a bit bloated, EQ modes sound poor
Summary: The Sony HT-CT260H is a tremendous value for a sound bar. It sounds equal to units costing 60% more while packing more features.
Value: 5/5
Performance: 3.5/5
Overall: 4/5

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  • Mongol

    Really ,how a single speaker without tweeter can reproduce that pictured 10khz-20khz line you have there

    • The method for taking the measurements is linked in that section. It’s the same method that companies like Revel/Harman would use for in-room measurements. What it can’t include in distortion, only frequency response. So certain tones will certainly have higher distortion than using separate drivers.

      However, companies like Zu manage to produce great sound with single, full range drivers and you avoid any issues with crossovers and voicing that might happen.

      • Mongol

        i just bought it,but as suspected no highs ,i hear the sound up to 10khz and the highs are muffled

        • Having listened to almost every competing sound bar in the price range, the Sony is one I still stand behind. It was the favorite of my blind listening panel in the price range.

  • Ben

    Any chance you can compare it to the bigger brother HT-CT660?

  • Matthew Bruce

    I have a full Sony 5.1 surround system/blu ray player set up (Sub, 4 corner speakers & small centre speaker) – Can this sound bar integrate & play with them and play with the rest of my Sony set up??

  • Pete

    Hi
    I’ve just purchased a Sony sound bar with wireless sub whoofer,I’ve connected it up to my play station 4 but cannot get the sound from normal tv (I have an lg tv) ang suggestions
    Pete

    • How is everything connected? Knowing that would help determine what might be going on.

  • No, the Sony HT-CT260H has no ability to add surround speakers at all. If a sound bar doesn’t include surround speakers, very few let you add it on later. The Sonos Playbar is one of the few that does but that is about it.

  • Emre

    Is the best soundfield stereo or just standard?

    • Stereo offers a more neutral response curve I found.

      • Emre

        Thanks for the fast reply!

  • Emre

    “The bass is accentuated a bit but you can adjust the subwoofer down a bit more if this bothers you.”

    But what should be the most balanced SW level? ( default: +2) And are the best settings for the bass and treble level just 0?

    • Bass is far more affected by the room than the treble and midrange. The proper setting really depends on your room and the location of the sub.

  • Nathan

    Is there a difference between the SW-level and the Bass-level?

    • Bass can cover a much larger range than the subwoofer. The subwoofer might run up to 160Hz but bass, in that setting, could be to 500Hz (Sony doesn’t say). So the SW-level is meant to match the subwoofer to the sound bar, as room position can really change the SW level. Bass is meant to boost the overall bass level, from the subwoofer and the bar. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you on this.

  • dapoktan

    this soundbar has had issues pairing w/ my new samsung 65j6300.. i need to reconnect manually every time i turn the tv on through hdmi cec otherwise it keeps switching back and forth between tv speakrs and receiver..

    • HDMI CEC is a huge pain. In the simplest setup (TV + Blu-ray player) it often works right, but with a receiver I never can get it to work correctly. With a sound bar it sometimes works right, and sometimes doesn’t sync. It just seems to not be a good standard for reliable use.

      • dapoktan

        yea.. i dont know why every company labels it their own name.. and i dont know if they change specs beyond the name.. but it worked fine w/ my Bravia (obviously) and also w/ my brand new Vizio.. but the new Samsung is having problems.. annoying really