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Denon DHT-S517 review: A Dolby Atmos soundbar that doesn’t break the bank

(Pocket-lint) – The Denon DHT-S517 caught our eye as an affordable soundbar option for those wanting to experience Dolby Atmos at home.

It’s a fairly unassuming-looking soundbar with a separate wireless subwoofer, and at its price point, it finds itself in a very crowded corner of the market.

However, few offer Dolby Atmos at this price, and that could mean it’s a bit of a winner. We put it to the test to see if that is indeed the case, or if corners were cut elsewhere. Here’s what we learned.

Our quick take

If you’re looking for a simple and affordable solution to improve your TV’s sound, the Denon DHT-S517 is well worth considering.

It’s easy to set up, hassle-free to wall or stand mount and will work with the vast majority of televisions. It also sounds great, with exceptional dialogue presentation and wide staging.

Its standout feature, the Dolby Atmos support, was a little underwhelming in practice – but it does add some height to the soundstage, which is nice to have.

An upgraded subwoofer could really make this system shine, and we’d love to see that in future versions.

As it stands, it’s still a solid pick. And if you’re upgrading from your TV’s built-in speakers, then it’ll likely knock your socks off.

Denon DHT-S517

For

  • Well priced
  • Easy to set up
  • Understated looks
  • Excellent vocal clarity
  • Wide soundstage
Against

  • Lacks smart features
  • Dolby Atmos effect isn’t the most impressive
  • Subwoofer could use more oomph

Design 

  • Dimensions: 1050 x 60 x 95 mm
  • Wireless subwoofer
  • Keyhole wall mounting

At just over a metre in length, this is a fairly sizeable soundbar. However, we tested it with a modest 42-inch TV and didn’t find that it looked silly or out of place. It’s probably best suited to TVs around 50-inches and above, where the dimensions will be more complimentary.

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The ‘bar has a dark grey fabric covering on the front, which extends over about half of the top panel. The rest of the shell is made from sturdy-feeling black plastic, and there are cutouts on the top panel to allow the upward-firing Atmos drivers to do their thing.

There’s a central control panel on the top with five circular buttons. These allow you to control the power, input, Bluetooth and volume. It’s refreshingly simple, which is a theme that extends across most of our experience with this product. There’s nothing complicated about the design or functionality of the DHT-S517, it’s just built to plug in and sound good.

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It’s about 6cm tall, so it’s unlikely to block the screen or infrared receiver on most stand-mounted TVs. There’s no repeater, though, so you might want to measure if you’re considering picking one up. If you’re wall mounting, there are simple keyhole mounts on the rear that should make installation fairly hassle-free.

The subwoofer has the same fabric-fronted aesthetic, only swapping the plastic housing for MDF. It has four rubberised feet to keep it planted in place and sizable porting on the rear. Since it’s wireless, it only needs to be placed near a plug socket, and you can house it wherever you see fit.

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Denon DHT-S517 review photo 12

When turned on, the soundbar has a series of LEDs on the front panel to indicate which mode it’s in, along with displaying volume information. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not always immediately obvious what the soundbar is trying to tell you.

We realise this is a bit nit-picky, but the LED array is also off-centre, and we think it’d look better in the middle or further to one of the sides. It’s likely that the speaker placement prevents this, though, so it’s an understandable decision. The option to turn the LEDs off entirely would have been a nice feature to have, too.

Connectivity and features

  • HDMI ARC and pass-through
  • Optical, 3.5mm mini jack and Bluetooth 5.0
  • Infrared remote

The Denon DHT-S517 foregoes any fancy Wi-Fi-enabled features, instead opting for the classic wired connections along with Bluetooth. That said, there are enough options here that you’ll be unlikely to struggle with hooking up almost any source you could wish for.

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Denon DHT-S517 review photo 9

There’s an HDMI passthrough, along with HDMI eARC support, which means that the vast majority of TVs are covered. You’ll likely want to stick with these connections to get the most from the soundbar.

However, if needed, you can use an optical cable instead – this will still allow Dolby Atmos signals to be decoded, so long as the source is using the more compressed Dolby Digital Plus container. Then, there’s also a 3.5mm mini jack, which will allow you to connect to just about anything.

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Bluetooth 5.0 makes it very easy to stream music from your smartphone, and we found the connection to be pretty solid. However, throughout most of our testing, we chose to stream music through our Chromecast with Google TV to ensure the best fidelity.

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Denon DHT-S517 review photo 15

There’s a small infrared remote included which covers all of the soundbar’s functions. It has a seamless rubberised coating on the top panel, which feels nice, but picks up dust quite quickly – so it can be hard to keep it looking presentable.

The soundbar also supports CEC, so you can control the volume with your TV’s remote, this is very convenient and also keeps things simple for the less tech-savvy family members.

Performance

  • 2x 0.9in tweeters, 2x 3.4in mid-range drivers, 1x 0.9in full-range driver
  • Modes: Music, Movie, Night, Pure, Dialogue Enhancer (3 levels)
  • 5.9-inch forward firing sub with ported cabinet

When it comes to TV and movie viewing, we were immediately struck by the vocal clarity offered by the DHT-S517. The dedicated centre channel does a wonderful job of bringing dialogue to the foreground, and this is supported by three levels of dialogue enhancement, should you still struggle to hear what’s going on. These modes work quite effectively, but we found that the soundbar did an excellent job without the need for enhancement, so we had it turned off most of the time.

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Denon DHT-S517 review photo 6

We could have used some more impact from the subwoofer, though. Watching some aerial battles in Guardians of the Galaxy left us craving some more rumble. That’s not to say there’s no bass, it’s still miles better than anything a TV speaker could produce – but those seeking low-end that you can really feel will want to look elsewhere.

The soundbar has excellent staging and produces a wide soundscape that feels as if it should come from something larger. There’s no real feeling of surround sound, though, and no option to add rear channels if you wanted to upgrade in the future.

It’s a similar story with the Dolby Atmos effect. The upward-firing drivers do make a difference, and sound appears to extend above the TV, but never from above you, as you might hope. It’s kind of like Diet Atmos, it’s not quite the full-fat experience you might be looking for, but it’s still tastier than water.

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Denon DHT-S517 review photo 13

Musical performance is fairly strong, and again the clarity of the vocals is a highlight. There’s some nice stereo imaging, no doubt thanks to the soundbar’s physical width, and this makes the music feel immersive and inviting.

Unfortunately, it’s again the subwoofer that lets the team down. The low frequencies come across as uncontrolled and lacking liveliness. There’s not much that can be done to adjust this, either, the only option is to turn the bass up or down on the remote.

To recap

The Denon DHT-S517 is a capable soundbar that’s wonderfully easy to set up and a pleasure to live with. It might not offer the Atmos experience of your dreams but, at this price, it might come close enough.

Writing by Luke Baker. Editing by Verity Burns.

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