The primary concern for most manufacturers of smaller budget soundbars is usually to improve dialogue clarity while broadening your TV’s soundstage a little and maybe offering a few options for playback from a handheld device.
Compact soundbars are by definition limited in size, meaning that adding some low end to proceedings is typically the preserve of larger, mid-range models. But obviously no-one told Hisense, whose cheap and cheerful HS214 soundbar has a 3-inch down-firing woofer positioned on its underside, adding a welcome touch of bass to this petite, straightforward and affordable TV speaker upgrade.
Hisense has garnered a name for itself as a significant player in the budget TV market and already has a range of companion soundbars available in the USA and Australia. The launch of the Hisense HS214, priced at £79 / $150 / AU$147, marks the company’s first AV product in the UK, soon to be followed in 2022 by the larger HS218 with a separate subwoofer. Surprisingly, it’s not even the company’s most affordable model in the US, with the 2.0 HS205 occupying the entry-level position.
Decent options for improving your TV sound at this price point are few, and those models that tend to succeed do so by keeping things simple. The competent but pared back 2.0 Sony HT-SF150 (£90 / $100 / AU$199), for example, has an impressive cinematic soundstage but slightly recessed vocals, while the diminutive Roku Streambar is a rare model at this price point to sport wi-fi connectivity, though sonically it veers on the basic.
The Hisense HS214 has a classic soundbar aesthetic with a black grained vinyl-look top, metal grille and two ports sitting at either end of the 65cm long chassis. Underneath it sports two front-firing full-range drivers while mounted in the base of the cabinet is a dedicated bass unit. There is no external protection for the downward-firing driver, so caution should be used when unboxing to not poke an unfortunate hole in the cone.
All the TV connection options you’d expect at this end of the market are present, with HDMI ARC, optical and coaxial sockets capable of handling Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus and PCM audio. Meanwhile, for playback from an external device, there’s a USB port (supporting MP3/WAV/WMA/FLAC file types), 3.5mm mini-jack aux and Bluetooth 4.2 for wireless streaming. When playing back from USB, there’s no way to view the index of files, so you’ll need to pre-make a playlist or use the remote to skip blindly between tracks.
Considering its price, the build feels of decent quality, and the HS214, with its low profile, would sit happily beneath both a new high spec TV or an older model. Its small footprint would make it well suited to smaller rooms and screens (up to 55 inches), and if you’re more into wall mounting, there are rigging points at the rear with fixings included in the box, though it’s worth bearing in mind that this will affect the bass performance.
Also included is a small remote with easy access for all the soundbar's functions as there is no app control. Here you’ll find source selection, a global volume and individual level control of the bass, however with only a single blinking LED to give visual feedback, you may find yourself repeatedly and haphazardly toggling buttons. There are also playback controls for listening to music from a device or USB and four sound settings – music, news (for dialogue enhancement), cinema and surround, the last of which can be activated in conjunction with three former modes.
We used the music EQ setting without the surround enhancement for most of our testing. Both cinema and surround use processing to give the impression of width, but this has the effect of over-emphasising high frequencies and creating artefacts.
We give surround mode a try when watching Hector on BBC iPlayer. As the homeless Hector makes his epic Christmas pilgrimage on foot from Glasgow to London, the sound of passing traffic on the motorway starts to phase. While having a broader soundscape is enjoyable, it ultimately distracts too much from the action to be helpful.
Swapping to The Beatles: Get Back on Disney Plus, the addition of the Hisense HS214 to project voices makes the experience much more engaging than watching our Panasonic 48OLED806 TV without a soundbar.
While Peter Jackson’s AI audio technology has extracted the casual banter between John, Paul, George and Ringo, the lack of direct sync between the sound and visuals can sometimes make it difficult to decipher exactly what’s going on. Is a timeless classic being written, did someone just quit the band, or are they just talking about sandwiches?
But the HS214 anchors the vocal, meaning you can sit back and enjoy the unfolding drama without focusing on the subtitles. The enhanced depth that the bass unit brings to the table isn’t superfluous either; there’s a solid sound to the lows and kick that gives the sound a touch more musicality than you would otherwise experience.
Inputs HDMI ARC, optical, coaxial, 3.5mm aux, USB 2.0
Audio Formats Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, 2-channel and multi-channel PCM
Total power 108W Class D amplification
Dimension (hwd) 9.5 x 5.8 x 65 cm
Watching Leonardo DiCaprio grapple with a bear in The Revenant on Blu-ray, that extra bit of heft means each blow and snarl has more impact and danger attached. But there are, of course, limitations to what the HS214 can replicate. In the opening scene of Unbroken, for example, the initial fly-past of the bomber has a restricted dynamic envelope that doesn’t crescendo as convincingly as the Sony HT-SF150 does. And although there’s a nice touch of low end with the Hisense, it doesn’t extend low enough to produce the cinematic rumble we would expect in this bombing raid. Turning up the bass won’t help in this regard either, as there’s a ceiling to how much this tiny woofer can handle.
Throughout this more complicated sound design, dialogue is still audible and more direct than the Sony, but it could have slightly more sparkle to help it cut through. Likewise, there could be more detail to convey more subtle, atmospheric sounds.
We are pleasantly surprised by switching to music, perhaps because even expensive soundbars tend to struggle in this area. The Hisense HS214 isn’t going to replace your hi-fi any time soon, and it plays things very safe so as not to get out of its depth, but for casual listening, it’s a competent performer. Streaming Easy Lover by Philip Bailey and Phil Collins, the opening synth chords don’t have the attack and texture we’re used to hearing. Still, this tiny speaker has a pleasant uncluttered midrange and a decent stereo image.
In the 2021 release of Follow Me Around by Radiohead, there’s an open, straightforward sound to the plaintive voice and acoustic guitar and nice separation from the phased chorus backing vocals. The HS214 has a solid presence, and despite the metallic twang of the strings, there isn't the tinniness we often experience with small speakers.
The Hisense HS214 Soundbar is a simple way to boost your TV's sound with more forthright dialogue and an extended tonal reach. You won’t get the performance of more premium models, but you could easily spend more and end up with less at this end of the soundbar spectrum.
In terms of creating a wide cinematic scale at the same price point, the Sony HT-SF150 outperforms the Hisense, but for a compact, all-round performer the HS214 is a fine budget option.
- Sound 4
- Build 4
- Features 4
Read our review of the Sony HT-SF150
Also consider the Roku Streambar
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