Denon DHT-S217Reviewed at $249.00
Inputs and Features8.8/10
Price / Quality8.8/10
- Compact design
- Easy to use and to setup
- Supports all Dolby formats
- HDMI pass-through
- No surround activity
- Atmos output is very average
- No DTS support
- No WiFi or online features
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Denon may be a name mostly recognized for their AV receivers but their products extend far beyond that. Soundbars is another market where they have a presence even though they don’t have the extensive yearly lineups of Samsung or even LG. And in our today’s Denon DHT-S217 review we are going to be testing one of their latest releases which is supposed to offer a compact and easy to use system.
The company released two new soundbars in 2022, the bigger DHT-S517 which we had been privileged to test some time ago and you can read our review in the link, and the smaller DHT-S217 which we will be looking at today. Competition in this category is fierce with the number of soundbars available making it hard for any particular release to stand above the rest of the crowd so it is interesting to see what Denon has managed to do this time around.
As always we will go over the specs real quick before we start our analysis and from what we see the DHT-S217 is a 2.1 channels, single-unit, Dolby Atmos capable soundbar that aims mostly at simplicity as the amount of extras available are really limited. We do get Bluetooth streaming, basic sound options, HDMI pass-through with Dolby Vision support and the ability to connect a 3rd party subwoofer, and that’s all!
The soundbar is missing a lot of extras that some other brands consider standard like WiFi support, online and USB streaming and even DTS playback. Do these missing features make a huge impact on the overall impression we got for the DHT-S217 or its strengths outweigh these omissions? Keep reading to find out…
Design, Inputs and Features
The soundbar’s design does not stray far from the usual and surely has this Denon look to it. Obviously with its price tag you shouldn’t expect much but Denon made sure the unit is up to their usual standards.
Measuring 35″ x 4.7″ x 2.6″ (890 mm x 120 mm x 67 mm) and with a weight of just 7.94 lb (3.6 Kg) this is a system that can be ideal not only for TV usage but also will fit nicely under a big gaming monitor.
Just keep in mind that if you plan on placing it in from of your TV the soundbar, although it has a low profile design that can fit under most TV models, doesn’t have any IR repeaters, so if your TV’s IR sensor is extremely low then it may obstruct the signal, so you better measure first just to be on the safe side.
Design wise the DHT-S217 looks very similar to the bigger DHT-S517 and surely they tried to have parity between the models in their lineup.
The entire front of the soundbar including half of the top are covered with a fabric cloth grille covering all the drivers while the rest of its body is made out of sturdy black colored plastic.
At the top we find a set of built-in control buttons located exactly at the middle including a power button, input selection, Bluetooth and volume controls. These buttons are physical ones and have good spacing in order not to accidentally press the wrong one in a dark environment.
One thing we always are very critical about when it comes to soundbars design is the kind of functions display they come with. Many manufacturers go for the usual full functions display but there are many low cost soundbars, and some not so low cost, that go a different route and this is to use an array of LED light indicators in order to show what the soundbar is doing. Unfortunately the DHT-S217 uses the same array of LEDs that we saw in the DHT-S517.
Placed exactly at the middle, right above the Denon logo, there are five LEDs in a single row and depending the function of the unit different combinations and colors light up. This is the simplest way of a front display being used and to be honest it’s not a very practical one. Because if you don’t remember the combinations or the colors of the lights you will have to open the manual every single time to see what the unit is doing. Which is a bit frustrating and not so practical to do all the time.
At the back we get a limited number of connectors placed all together in a specially designed inset placed dead center. What we liked in this one is that the power connector is placed with all the rest of the ports making cable management so much easier. There are also special holes in order to wall mount it if you like and with its low weight this could not be any easier.
Overall the DHT-S217 is a sturdy soundbar with a compact and modern design and good quality of materials. It is not the kind of soundbar that will wow you with its presence but it serves its purpose really well.
When you look at the DHT-S217 the first question you will have is how a 2.1 channels soundbar can also be Dolby Atmos capable. The answer is simple. The soundbar does not have up-firing Atmos drivers as many top tier releases have but uses virtual technology to simulate as accurately as possible the overhead activity of Atmos tracks.
The second thing that you may wonder is how it can possibly have 2.1 channels when there is no subwoofer available. And here the answer is that Denon has included two subwoofer drivers in the unit itself. But let’s see everything in more detail.
The front fabric grille is hiding all the drivers for the two main channels. For each of them Denon used a single 1”/25mm round tweeter along with a 3.5” x 1.6”/90mm x 40mm racetrack mid driver. Under the unit we find two 3”/75mm down-firing, round subwoofer drivers in order to help with the low frequencies.
Judging by the drivers available it would more accurate to call the DHT-S217 a 2.2 channels system but it seems that for simplicity reasons Denon opted for the 2.1 channels rating.
The unit is missing a center channel and we are going to test how much of an impact this has on dialogue clarity. Also with no up-firing Atmos woofers it will be interesting to see how the unit will perform in this regard also.
Moving on to the connectivity options available we see that the DHT-S217 comes with all the basics and in fact what we get is very similar to what its bigger brother, the DHT-S517, had available.
The Denon features 2 HDMI ports, one input and one output making this unit able to pass-through the signal something that not many lower tier soundbars offer. We also get an AUX 3.5mm mini jack as well as a Digital Optical input in case you cannot use HDMI. But keep in mind that with these two connections you are not going to get Dolby Atmos audio. There is also a USB port but this is only used for service as music playback is missing altogether. Lastly there is a subwoofer output in case you want to enhance the soundbar’s bass performance, another port that we don’t see very often.
The HDMI output does support both ARC and the newer eARC which means that if you prefer to connect your TV to output sound to the soundbar, instead of using the pass-through option, you can do it and even pass the highest quality of audio formats through it, which is Dolby Atmos through Dolby TrueHD.
Keep in mind that Dolby Atmos can also be passed through the optical port but this is achievable only by using the Dolby Digital Plus container which requires less bandwidth and is very widely used in streaming services nowadays.
As for wireless capabilities the unit uses Bluetooth 5.0 which makes it possible to stream audio from your smartphone to the soundbar. Unfortunately only the SBC codec is supported so Bluetooth is only good for music as anything else will surely present audio sync problems. There is no WiFi available and as the DHT-S517 was also missing it, it comes to no surprise that we don’t get it here either.
In terms of controlling the unit the DHT-S217 is exactly the same as the DHT-S517. This means that control options are rather limited compared to the competition. Above, we mentioned the built-in buttons available that offer some basic functionality but the remote remains the main means of control for this unit.
Design wise the Denon remotes are not all that different between the different models. They may differ a bit in looks and overall design but button layout and overall usage remains the same. The remote is small, comes with very few buttons as it doesn’t have many functions and features to begin with and in general is simple to handle no matter if you are tech savvy or not.
At the top we get the power and mute buttons while under them there are five buttons in order to select desired input including TV, HDMI, Optical, AUX and Bluetooth. In between them we find the Pure mode that allows the Denon soundbar to output the sound source without any further processing, which to be honest it is a rather strange place to have instead of placing it with the other sound modes below.
Two large buttons under them are for controlling the volume as well as the bass while below them we get three buttons for the different sound modes you can select depending the content you watch like movies or music while a Night Mode is also available when you don’t want to bother other people while sleeping. Finally we get three buttons that adjust Denon’s Dialogue Enhancer.
There is also HDMI-CEC functionality. If your TV is connected via HDMI and your TV supports CEC (and it is enabled in the TV settings menu), you can control the volume and mute functions on the Denon from your TV remote without any further setup.
Lastly the DHT-S217 gives you the ability to teach your IR (infrared) remote to control volume, mute and other functions (such as source selection or bass volume) on your soundbar. Detailed instructions on how to do this are included in the manual and they are very easy to follow.
Unfortunately without WiFi the soundbar looses the ability to be controlled through voice commands and also there is no dedicated app that could be used instead. So don’t loose the remote as it’s your only means of controlling it.
Extra Features and Services
Now let’s look at all the features the soundbar comes with and we will start with the audio formats being supported.
The soundbar can decode Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Atmos signals both through the HDMI and Optical ports with the latter only capable of Dolby Atmos through the Dolby Digital Plus codec due to bandwidth limitations.
Unfortunately there is no DTS in any form which is a shame and this surely is a major minus in our books. There are many dirty cheap soundbars nowadays that support both Dolby Digital and DTS and this should be the case here also. So in case you want DTS support there are other options you will have to look into.
The DHT-S217 is a very simple soundbar and as such it comes with only some basic sound modes. You have the option to choose between Movie and Music mode depending on the kind of content you will use it for. But there is also a third one called Night mode which reduces bass and volume dynamics while improving voice intelligibility for low volume listening which can be very handy for late night use.
Lastly, being a Denon soundbar, you will also find a Pure more which outputs the sound without any processing at all. We can see this being useful mostly with music as Music mode tends to alter the output compared to the original recording.
Another familiar feature in Denon soundbars is Denon’s Dialogue Enhancer technology which frankly is another name for Polk Audio’s Voice Adjust technology that was included in all Signa soundbars. And as expected you will find three different levels of adjustment. The Dialogue Enhancer works in exactly the same way, boosting the dialogue in case you feel it is weak compared to the rest of the audio. In our case a Low or Medium setting was more than enough in most cases, on the other hand we found the High setting a bit too aggressive.
In true Denon fashion the DHT-S217 lacks any kind of EQ settings or an auto calibration system and the only adjustments that you can really make is the bass. From the remote you can control how much bass you like easy and fast with the press of a button. If you don’t like to go through various audio settings and calibrations then the Denon is as simple as it gets. The soundbar is extremely easy and you will surely love it if you are the kind of person that hates going through various settings and calibration menus.
In terms of streaming you get only Bluetooth capabilities and nothing else. With the included built-in Bluetooth you can stream audio from any Bluetooth enabled device but the quality is certainly lower than what it would be if you stream music from a streaming service in your TV and through the HDMI connection. So while for casual use it may suffice if you want the best quality possible a wired connection is a must.
Unfortunately, unlike its bigger brother the DHT-S217 does not support USB playback although a USB-A port is present. This is only used for service and updates and nothing more. As such Bluetooth and HDMI remains the only means of streaming music to the unit.
The soundbar is missing WiFi and so there are no online capabilities available. It can offer a purely offline experience. Also keep in mind that the DHT-S217 cannot be expanded with surround speakers so its surround performance is basically non-existent.
What is surprising is that you can connect a 3rd party subwoofer through the available port in order to improve its bass. Although this is not the first time we see this in a soundbar, it is a bit odd to find this in such a low tier unit and it’s a feature you would expect to find in more performance oriented soundbars.
In terms of simplicity and ease of use the DHT-S217 is exactly the same as its bigger brother, the DHT-S517 and this shows how much Denon wants their soundbars to be as simple to use as possible.
The whole process is so easy and fast that even if you have no previous experience you will have no trouble setting this up and be ready in just a few minutes and this has mostly to do with the fact that there are no complex configurations or settings to be made. Everything is kept to the minimum.
First of all you have to connect the soundbar to your TV and you have various options to choose here. You can go either for HDMI pass-through or use the eARC functionality and choose the TV to output its sound to the soundbar. You can also use the optical port or even go with the AUX port if your TV is old and there is no other way of connection.
If you are a casual user that just wants to connect it and use immediately then you will love it. If you are looking for more in-depth calibration options you are not going to find them with this one.
In terms of actual settings there are basically three buttons that you will need to press. Select the audio mode depending on the content, choose one of the three voice adjust settings and calibrate the bass volume. That’s all and it cannot be more straightforward that this one.
You will literally need just a few minutes to unbox the whole thing and have it ready. That’s how easy and simple Denon made this one.
As we mentioned above the unit does not come with real up-firing Atmos drivers. Instead it uses virtual technology to simulate these effects. How good? We will talk about this in a moment. For today’s review we decided to use our copy of Godzilla vs Kong in 4K UHD which comes with a totally blasting Dolby Atmos track.
The unit does not come with surround speakers so all action was very much front oriented. It is not exactly rocket science but any soundbar without rear speakers fails to give you a convincing surround immersion.
What you will hear at the front is surely a cut above what your TV can do. The sound surely feels like it has more volume, more depth and more extension and its virtual technology does help in that but in general this is not the kind of unit that will throw you right in the middle of the action.
Panning effects are distinguishable when these travel from the sides but some effects that originate at the back do sound a bit weird and out of place. The two main channels do their best to fill the space in front of your viewing position and if the soundbar is used in a gaming setup which means that you will be sitting close to the screen the result will surely feel much better.
Dialogue was pretty distinct considering there is no dedicated center channel present but you could still understand the difference with soundbars that use a center one. At least the unit comes with Denon’s Dialogue Enhancer technology which gives you enough flexibility to find the sweet spot that sounds best to your ears, if you feel that dialogue is weak.
Denon is marketing the DHT-S217 as a Dolby Atmos soundbar but how this translates in real life? Well, to be honest Atmos effects were very weak. Don’t expect to get the kind of elevation that height speakers can offer, not even close. Even soundbars with up-firing drivers perform miles better than what we have here.
This doesn’t mean that there is no activity in the overhead layer. You do get some sense of elevation and some Atmos effects do feel like coming higher than ground level but they lack clarity, definition and precision. Also panning Atmos effects lack directionality as the unit lacks the hardware to project them as they should.
In total, while the unit does offer some Atmos sounds, don’t expect to experience what this amazing format can do. The DHT-S217 may be Atmos capable, but cannot do it justice, not even close.
Onto the bass now and here things are a bit better. It seems that the two down-firing subwoofer drivers do help the soundbar produce more strong bass which is surprising for the size and category of such a unit.
The final outcome still lacks considerably compared to soundbars that pack a dedicated subwoofer but for single unit setup the DHT-S217 did remarkably good. Low end activity was solid, with enough power and good clarity. Obviously in very demanding moments the soundbar still fell a bit short but always keep in mind what it has to work with.
Overall with bass we can say that while compared to other units it still misses its mark, for a low cost, compact single unit system it did good enough, even better than some other competing models.
The soundbar may not be able to offer a true cinematic experience that will drop your jaw on the floor but will surely improve upon what your TV can do with more volume, more depth, better extension and deeper bass.
With the DHT-S217 you have two options when it comes to music playback. Either through its Bluetooth connection or through the HDMI port by using the TV or a media player as the source. For this review we opted to use our TV to stream music through HDMI for the best quality possible.
Numerous times in the past we have compared Denon soundbars to some Polk Audio units, specifically the Signa series and we always said that in our opinion the Denon ones have a slight edge due to the inclusion of a Pure mode and this is case here also.
The soundbar comes both with a dedicated Music mode and a Pure mode and for us the latter is the best as without any processing, sound came to our ears much better. We do get that some may like the Music mode but in the case of the DHT-S217 we liked the output without any additional enhancements.
It’s output was good enough but its hardware limitations definitely show here. The performance was lacking in definition and overall resolution but if you don’t pay too much attention you are not going to be bothered by it.
The lack of a center channel do show as the voices lack the clarity a center channel can provide. But even as such the unit managed to produce the voice of the performers with enough energy and emotion.
Bass was a little better than expected and the DHT-S217 tried to produce all the low end sounds admirably. A subwoofer surely would help a lot but considering many single units lack any kind of low end depth and prowess, we can admit that the Denon was slightly better than the competition and in general from what you would expect from such a compact system.
Stereo imaging was just ok and you shouldn’t expect a whole lot more. We tried a few different genres and the unit did good enough across the board. Obviously some very demanding songs did show the various weaknesses of the unit like its lack of clarity in the high end, the limiting extension and the average bass but you have to keep in mind that such a unit is not for demanding use.
Closing we will say that the DHT-S217 faired just as you would expect from such a low cost unit. Its music quality is related to its price and if you don’t have high expectations then you will surely enjoy it.
The Denon DHT-S217 is priced at $249 and this means that it finds itself in a category with fierce competition. With its limited price surely corners had to be cut but if you want to rise above the rest you must excel in some area that others don’t. And this unit’s main downfall is that it tries to be something that it is not. Having the Dolby Atmos certification on it does not help and you may be disappointed if what you get is not what you expected.
This doesn’t make this soundbar bad. It is a simple, good all around soundbar that doesn’t have the edge in any particular area. Its main strength is its simplicity as even a small child will be able to connect it and have it ready in minutes. And in the end this is what this Denon is all about. If you just want a simple plug-and-play unit this one is perfect for you.
On the other hand the unit lacks any kind of surround activity, Dolby Atmos performance is lackluster, there is no DTS which is inexcusable in our books and without WiFi the soundbar lacks any kind of streaming or online functionality. It is really a barebones offline experience. Lastly the inclusion of a LED array instead of a LCD function display is a pain and adds more frustration than practicality.
Closing we will say that the Denon DHT-S217 surely manages to improve upon its predecessor in some areas and certainly has its merits. There is a huge market out there looking for simple to use soundbars and this fall right into this category. So if you are looking for a low cost, compact unit that is simple to install and even easier to use it should definitely be on your list for consideration.
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