For this many hundreds below the R3,000 mark, there's remarkably little to complian about here. Hisense has delivered on a soundbar + subwoofer combo that doesn't do a disservice to the word 'budget'. You'll be more than content with the balanced sound and only slightly put off by the cheap coat it's wearing.
We won’t debate what soundbars are and why you want one. They’ve been around since at least the late 90s and have since become a mainstay in most home cinema set-ups. Their rising popularity has given birth to a wave of far-too-expensive soundbar combos whose only purpose is to service the most rabid audiophiles out there. Most, however, are happy to pick the thing with the fewest zeroes and call it a day.
If fewer zeroes sounds like a good deal, Hisense’s HS2100 soundbar + subwoofer combo will run you roughly R2,700 (if you know where to look), and conjure some decent waves while it’s at it. It might not have the features of something more costly, but it’s got the fundamentals down. It’s repping a subwoofer, 240W of sound and DTS Virtual:X decoding and playback that all make for a soundbar we hated saying goodbye to.
Quicker and easier than falling asleep
Newcomers to the realm of soundbar-subwoofer combos might be intimidated by the set-up, but we found that the HS2100 was about as plug-and-play as it gets All that needed doing was to stick all the cables in the right holes – of which there is a single HDMI (Arc), USB, optical digital audio input and 3.5mm aux at the back of the rectangle of noise. It’s got a two-prong doing the heavy lifting, and it’s mimicked as the subwoofer’s only cable.
The actual set-up involves putting all the cables in the right holes and hitting the on button. The lack of any LED indicators (aside from the volume slider) when pressing the subwoofer’s pairing button means you’ll have to make do with the superlunary voice that bleeds out to let you know everything is hooked up. It’ll be hanging around, too. It’ll keep you in the loop about which preset you’re using. Seeing as we hardly ever left HDMI, we nearly forgot all about it.
After that, it’s all about aligning the HS2100 with your home’s feng shui. We doubt that’ll be too difficult. The HS2100 is about as basic as a soundbar gets, turning up looking like your best idea of a black rectangle that’s here to do one job – spit some loud sounds at you. It helps that it’s smaller, thinner, and lighter than most similar soundbars, allowing it to blend into the background.
It’s covered in all the stuff you’d expect from a sub-R3,000 soundbar – black plastic, a bare-bones collection of ports and a whole lot of black felt. The cheaper build quality and extremely lightweight feel of the 2100 had us questioning whether there’d be a general shakiness as it worked to pump out those loud sounds. It didn’t — at least not until we turned it up to full blast. More on that later.
Mom, I’m scared.
What good is it to anyone if it can’t even pass what we like to call the ‘Mom’ test? If your mother – or someone with a similar disdain towards technology — can’t tell the difference between the two while blindfolded, it’s not worth the effort of taking it out of the box. We found somebody similarly tech-minded to act as our guinea pig and pit the HS2100 against our daily driver; LG’s 2023 CS3.
Purely being able to tell the two apart isn’t helpful to anyone, though. We took it further and had them face off in a proper showdown. Mostly, the HS2100 came out on top. There are still instances where LG’s efforts are king – like retaining quality at lower levels and singling out dialogue – but considering the price, we’re willing to cut the soundbar some slack. Throw the HS2100 at a cheaper TV, however – like we briefly did – and its best qualities blare that much louder.
Resoundingly sound… Sound
All that to say we liked what was coming out of the HS2100’s front end. It’s packing two 60W speakers in each end (that’s what the ‘2’ in 2.1 means), with the subwoofer making up the other 120W on offer here. Don’t let the soundbar’s stature deceive you. Hisense has built something that’s fully capable of convincing you that it’s a larger and more expensive piece of equipment.
That was made immediately apparent after we booted up our movies – The Fellowship of the Ring and that one really cool bit from Harry Potter. For one, it’s loud. Really loud. You can get louder, but this is the best you’re going to get on a budget for a reasonably sized room. It’ll do so without reaching a bat-like frequency though, hitting the highs of The Treason of Isengard with ease, and keeping the detail on the higher end of ‘good enough’. Confine your content to something… less epic and it’ll show off its more subtle strengths, holding onto that clean and balanced sound profile.
It can’t save Tenet from sounding like a four-year-old was in the mixing room, but that’s to be expected. Soundbar it may be, miracle worker it definitely is not. Give it any other job and it’ll take real care to isolate that dialogue and keep it at the forefront, especially if you’ve got the Movie and Surround presets engaged. Speaking of which, there are six EQ presets to choose from; Movie, Music, Night, News, Sports, and Game. You’ll want to pay attention to these when hopping around the place.
We got on just fine with the included DTS Virtual:X and Dolby Digital support to give some sort of surround sound effect, but we’d have liked to see Atmos get a look in. We’d also like a million bucks, but that isn’t going to happen. Hisense mentions a ‘TV Mode’ that’ll mimic your TV’s decoding – even if Atmos is available — but it looks like that’s only reserved for Hisense TV loyalists. We couldn’t get it going, at least.
Like any soundbar + subwoofer combo worth its salt, the subwoofer filled the role of adding that bit of oomph that’d be missing on a singular subwoofer. It’s got nothing on those Mongolian throat singers, but it offered plenty of functionality to elevate those epic scenes and make them epic-er. All while taking up very little room next to your setup. You can’t ask for more than that. Except maybe an LED indicator.
The boy who lived… come to gripe
If you’ve read the headline, you’ll know we misjudged the HS2100’s character prematurely. Its faults turned out to be fewer and farther between than expected, but they’re still there. Fortunately, they’re minor enough to be tucked away in the back of our minds, but it won’t be the case for everyone.
First up is how the soundbar handles low-level volume. Sounds tend to deflate when the volume crosses a certain threshold and lose out on the finer details until the volume gets cranked back up. When there’s a sleeping house to account for, it’s certainly worthy of consideration. Unless you’ve got a pair of decent headphones to pick up the slack, in which case, pump those rookie numbers up.
Our other gripe will likely only affect other tech reviewers, or those difficult neighbours who think blasting Nickelback at midnight is a good idea. It isn’t. It won’t be. Especially if it’s hooked up to the HS2100. That somewhat flimsy plastic build quality that we praised for knocking the price down, lets itself down when the volume reaches its limits. Those innards begin to hum and rattle more than we liked, Nickelback or not. If you’re the type to, uh, stand away from the thing blaring music, we reckon you’ll be just fine.
Oh, and we weren’t the biggest fans of the buttons in their current state. There’s a shabby remote nearby that nearly always made up for its misgivings, but don’t get your hopes up for any dedicated app support.
Hisense HS2100 soundbar + subwoofer verdict
If you’re looking for a soundbar that’ll cost less than R3,000, stop. It’s here. It’s there. Mess about and it won’t be for much longer. Look past the no-frills design and you’ll bring home a soundbar-subwoofer combo with a lot of heart (and sound, thankfully). It’s a concoction of all the best bits of a soundbar — clear sound, and high volumes — whose only fault is the lack of those frills. Want an app, buttonier buttons, and some surround-sound speakers? Expect to pay a few more zeroes at the till.