Sony HT-A3000 Soundbar Review. Sound bar Sony
Sony’s New Fun-Size Soundbar Adds Features, Simplifies Connectivity
Updated September 29, 2022
Sony has carved out something of a unique niche with the HT-A3000 soundbar (available at Amazon for 498.00) —no easy feat in this bracket. It combines the size of the company’s HT-G700 with the upgradability and wireless connectivity of its newer big siblings, the HT-A5000 and A7000, but it lacks their physical inputs and pure wattage. With virtual Dolby Atmos and DTS:X processing included, though, the HT-A3000 is certainly worth a look for a small bedroom, den, or dorm room.
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- About the Sony HT-A3000 Soundbar
- What we like
- What we don’t like
- Should you buy the Sony HT-A3000 soundbar?
- Related content
- Good dialogue clarity
- Satisfying bass without a sub
- Easy upgrade path for subs and surrounds
- Only a good fit for smaller rooms
- Add-ons diminish the value proposition
- The lack of inputs is a big bummer
The HT-A3000 is great for small rooms, and its virtual Atmos processing can sound almost as good as the real thing.
Many of its competitors at around this price offer more in terms of pack-ins, with a lot of them including at least a subwoofer and some of them adding surround speakers. With the A3000, that expandability costs extra. You can connect to your choice of a couple Sony wireless subwoofers (the 400 SA-SW3 or 600 SA-SW5) and wireless surround sound speakers (the SA-RS3S at 350/pair or the SA-RS5 at 550/pair) to create a full 5.1-channel setup. But many of its direct rivals do come up short in terms of online connectivity and support for services like AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, and Chromecast, all of which are onboard here. It also features 360 Reality Audio, if you subscribe to a streaming music service that supports that format.
Although the soundbar doesn’t have up-firing speakers to bounce immersive audio effects off your ceiling, its Sound Field Optimization feature does a pretty good job of creating an enveloping listening experience, assuming you aren’t sitting too far away. Put it all together and the HT-A3000 doesn’t exactly break new ground in terms of bang for the buck, but if you’re tight on space, and especially if you already own a Sony TV, it’s one to consider.
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About the Sony HT-A3000 Soundbar
The A3000 features three oblong drivers for left, right, and center channels, as well as two rectilinear bass drivers and two side-firing ports. It’s slim enough that it will likely fit beneath most TVs without obstruction, but it also has optional IR repeaters (which can be turned on in the setup menus), should it interfere with the signal between your remote control and TV. In addition to the HDMI eARC port, the soundbar only has two other physical connections: a digital optical and a S-Center Output. The latter is for use with higher-end Sony XR TVs (like the Sony X95K) whose screens can be used as center speakers in a surround sound setup. Higher frequencies from the center channel are reproduced by transducers built into the screen, whereas midrange and and lower frequencies will still be handled by the A3000.
Packed in with the A3000 are a mid-sized remote with two AAA cells, literature to help you with the setup process, a power cable, and an HDMI cable to connect the soundbar to your TV. At 60 inches (roughly 1.5 meters), that cable should be long enough to reach the connections on most TVs, especially if you have a Sony TV, whose inputs and outputs are on the same side as the soundbar’s (left, if you’re looking from the front). But with an 85-inch Vizio TV, whose connectivity is on the opposite side, the pack-in HDMI cable wasn’t quite long enough to reach. With a 75-inch Vizio, it was pretty much precisely long enough, but not much longer.
What we like
Good dialogue clarity and full-bodied sound without a sub
This soundbar delivers immersive sound with decent balance between bass, midrange, and treble frequencies, especially in smaller rooms.
If you’re shopping for a soundbar of this size, chances are good that your main objective is getting more sound than your TV speakers can deliver and, perhaps, more importantly, increasing the intelligibility of dialogue from your favorite shows and movies. The HT-A3000 excels in both respects. Its output won’t blow your hair back if your room is much bigger than average, but in a 20’ x 25’ den, I found its output more than sufficient to enjoy the latest episode of Amazon’s The Rings of Power. Without the soundbar on, an 85-inch Vizio TV in that room failed to deliver anything resembling a satisfying listening experience. It took turning the volume of the A3000 to its maximum to make the sound truly satisfying, but it was up to the task.
In a smaller den, roughly 17’ x 19’— likely somewhat closer to the intended room size for this model—it only took a volume setting of around 78% to reach satisfying levels. And in a smaller, 12’ x 15’ bedroom the volume readout rarely got above the upper 60s.
It was in that last room where the A3000 really started to shine, especially with Sound Field processing turned on. It’s curious that Sony leaves this processing off by default, as it opens up the sound of the bar and adds a reasonably convincing immersive effect without changing the quality of the sound too much. For the most part, the balance between bass, midrange, and treble frequencies remains roughly the same, but the sound spreads out and becomes more engaging.
Oddly enough, the only programming material I found that didn’t sound quite right with the Sound Field processing turned on was my favorite recording of thunderstorms, which my wife and I play as we drift off to sleep every night. That could be because the bulk of that recording is, effectively, noise, and the processing is geared more toward music and movies. But for whatever reason, I preferred it with the Sound Field off.
Sitting within about 6 feet of the soundbar with Sound Field engaged and more traditional contenting—from Netflix’s The Sandman to my favorite Björk albums via Spotify Connect—I won’t claim that I heard sound effects coming from behind my head, and certainly not from directly overhead. But the sound nevertheless felt like it was coming from places other than the slim rectilinear box under my TV.
If you don’t have room for a subwoofer or just don’t want one cluttering up your floor, you might like the fact that the HT-A3000 doesn’t absolutely need one to deliver appreciably rich bass. Even watching action films, I never felt like the lack of the very lowest frequencies hurt my viewing experience. With music, the A3000 was able to reproduce the lowest notes on a cello without much effort, and with no audible rattling or rumbling that can often happen when slim plastic boxes attempt to create deep bass. Mind you, it couldn’t render the lowest notes on bass guitar loudly enough to keep up with the rest of the music until I added a sub. But if you’re sitting close to it in a smaller room, the A3000’s bass output is plenty sufficient on its own.
Upgrades are easy
Another nice thing about the HT-A3000 is that you don’t have to decide now whether you want to add a subwoofer… or surround speakers. I listened to the soundbar for a few days on its own before adding the SA-SW3 sub, and I was rather surprised by how many hoops I didn’t have to jump through when pairing it with the system. A day later, I added a pair of SA-RS3S surround speakers, and again, all I really needed to do was plug them into power (with the provided 80-inch power cords), and re-run the unit’s Sound Field Optimization, which plays a series of sounds picked up by a mic built into the soundbar and balances the sound of the system as a whole.
That includes adjusting the level of each speaker to keep the overall sound well-balanced, although you can adjust the loudness of the surround speakers and subwoofer independently if the automated results aren’t to your taste.
The sound processing is impressive
When adding surround speakers or a sub, the sound processing compensates for less-than-ideal placement.
Sound Field Optimization can also compensate for less-than-ideal speaker placement—for example, if you can’t place your surround speakers symmetrically in the room with reference to your main seating position. Just for kicks, I moved the right surround speaker forward about three feet and perched it up on my mantle, about two feet higher than the left surround, just to see how awful it would sound and how well the Sony could compensate. Frankly, it did such a good job that I’m not sure most people would hear the sub-optimal placement.
Sound Field Optimization also improved the sound of the SA-SW3 subwoofer significantly, transforming it from a burping bass box sitting in the corner to a nearly seamless extension of the soundbar itself. And it made a big difference in the A3000’s ability to create a convincing Dolby Atmos effect once the SA-RS3S surround speakers were plugged in.
The A3000 doesn’t include up-firing speakers, but it features three different options for its 360 Spatial Sound Mapping processing. If you want a more active immersive sound experience that favors surround effects over a more balanced and natural sound, Sony Vertical Surround Engine or DTS Virtual:X/Neural:X will probably be a better fit for your preferences. If you value a more neutral sound profile over spatial whiz-bangery, Dolby Speaker Virtualizer is probably more your speed. You’ll have to dig around in the setup menus to find this option, but it’s worth playing with.
Good wireless connectivity
The A3000 unsurprisingly includes Bluetooth connectivity (transmission and reception), but one bonus that I wasn’t expecting was support for AAC (Apple’s compression codec) and LDAC (Sony’s version for high-resolution audio) in addition to the standard SBC. The soundbar also plays well with Amazon Alexa devices, has Chromecast built in, and is compatible with Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2, and Sony’s Music Center app.
What we don’t like
Its lack of inputs can be frustrating
A slight limitation that comes with the Sony HT-A3000 is that there is only one HDMI eARC port.
For all its connectivity and upgradability, though, one curious omission from the A3000 is an HDMI input. Its only HDMI connection is an eARC port, which means that if you have a compatible TV, it will be able to pass high-quality sound from connected devices back to the soundbar. But that also means that you’ll have to use your TV to switch between any external devices. If you only use the apps built into your TV, this isn’t a concern. If you have a gaming console, streaming media player, or disc player of some sort in regular usage, though, the lack of inputs feels constricting.
If this were a 300 soundbar, you could forgive the lack of any additional inputs. But for 700, some flexibility in terms of physical connectivity would be nice. Then again, the pricier Sonos Arc features only an HDMI eARC connection, so it’s hard to complain too much.
Its small size limits its functionality in mid- to large-size rooms
A more significant concern for many, I think, is the fact that the HT-A3000 really wants to reside in a smaller room. That shouldn’t come as a surprise given its relatively narrow 37.5-inch width, but the farther you get away from the soundbar, the less engaging and immersive it sounds. Without the add-on surround speakers, I found that beyond about 6 feet away from the soundbar, the Sound Field started to sound less like surround sound and more like straight stereo. Indeed, sitting at roughly 8 feet away, I could toggle the Sound Field option on and off and not really tell much difference aside from a slight tonal shift. Beyond about 9 feet, even the stereo effect started to fall apart and the sound became essentially monophonic.
Should you buy the Sony HT-A3000 soundbar?
The Sony HT-A3000 is sleek and compact with quality sound to match.
Yes, if you’re tight on space and value wireless over wired connectivity
On its own, the HT-A3000 is a feisty little overachiever that delivers a rich and enveloping listening experience, assuming you’re sitting within its sweet spot, which maxes out at around 6 feet. Dialogue sounds clear and, in a smaller room, it delivers suitable bass regardless of what you’re watching. The Sound Field Optimization makes setup easy, even in less-than-ideal situations.
The interesting contradiction about the Sony soundbar is that it really comes alive with the addition of a subwoofer and wireless surround speakers, but the addition of those accessories tacks 750 onto the price of this small 700 soundbar. All together, the system isn’t quite worth 1,450. If Sony had simply added a wired subwoofer output, giving you the option of adding your own cheap sub to the equation, it would have been a much better value overall. You could spend a lot less and get a lot more. The Vizio M512a-H6, for example, sells for right at 500 and includes a subwoofer, rear speakers, and an additional HDMI input. And it sounds quite good.
Which leaves the A3000 as a more viable option for someone who doesn’t want to fuss with additional speakers, but wants to leave the door open for adding them down the road.
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were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Originally a civil engineer and land surveyor by trade, Dennis has made a career of reviewing audio electronics and home automation since 2002. He lives in Alabama with his wife and their four-legged child Bruno, an 80-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who has never met a lap he wouldn’t try to fill.
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Sony HT-S350 2.1Ch Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer (Dolby Audio,Bluetooth Connectivity, Wireless Connectivity with TV)
₹ 18,990 (incl. of all taxes)
MRP ₹ 24,990 (incl. of all taxes)
Simple to set up and beautiful to look at, this 2.1 channel sound bar features a powerful wireless subwoofer for deeper, richer bass and S-Force PRO Front Surround for a cinematic audio experience.
- 2.1ch Wireless Soundbar
- Wireless subwoofer delivers deeper richer sound
- Bluetooth connectivity for wireless audio streaming
- Connect to your TV over a single cable with HDMI ARC
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Sony HT-S350 Sound Bar
Overview.- The Sony HT-S350 features a 35.5-inch 2-channel sound bar unit with S-Force PRO Front Surround technology and a wireless subwoofer. In addition, the unit offers HDMI ARC, optical, and Bluetooth wireless connectivity, providing a convenient, plug-and-play stereo audio solution. With that said, the package lacks several increasingly common features found on similar competing models, including Wi-Fi, an HDMI video pass-through connection, DTS Virtual:X, and voice control support. Likewise, though overall performance is pretty solid, the device has some balance issues and the unit’s LED indicators make it difficult to keep track of what sound mode is activated. As a simple upgrade from built-in TV speakers, the HT-S350 gets the job done, but there are several more robust options available for a similar price. Worth a Look.
The HT-S350 package includes the sound bar unit itself, a wireless subwoofer, an optical cable, and a standard click-button remote control. The remote is surprisingly well hidden within one of the Styrofoam slabs in the box, though, so users should be mindful not to miss it when unpacking and discarding the box. When it comes to external design, the sound bar features a pretty standard but still pleasing black rectangular form factor with rounded corners and an integrated metal grill mesh concealing the drivers. Touch buttons for power, source, volume, and Bluetooth are included on the top of the unit, and simple LED lights are included on the front panel to indicate settings. A single optical input and an HDMI ARC port are housed on the back. Meanwhile, the wireless subwoofer features a computer tower-style form factor with a 6.30-inch front-facing woofer. Here’s a full rundown of key specs per Sony:
- MAIN UNIT SIZE – BODY ONLY (W X H X D). 35 1/2” x 2 5/8” x 3 1/2” [900 mm x 64 mm x 88 mm ]
- MAIN UNIT WEIGHT – 5 lb 4 7/10 oz [2.4 kg]
- SUBWOOFER SIZE (W X H X D). 7 1/2” x 15 1/8” x 15 3/8” [190mm x 382mm x 390mm]
- SUBWOOFER WEIGHT. 17 lb 3 1/5 oz [7.8kg]
- AMPLIFIER TYPE. Digital Amplifier, S-Master
- AMPLIFIER CHANNELS. 2.1 ch
- POWER OUTPUT (TOTAL). 320W
- SUBWOOFER TYPE. Wireless
- INPUT AND OUTPUT TERMINALS. USB type A (only for update)
- BLUETOOTH VERSION. 5.0
- HDMI. 1 (ARC)
- Bravia SYNC. Yes
- HDMI CEC. Yes
- OPTICAL INPUT. 1
- AUDIO FORMATS. Dolby Digital, Dolby Dual mono, LPCM 2ch
- BLUETOOTH (RECEIVER). SBC
- SOUND MODE. Auto Sound, Cinema, Music, Game, News, Sports, Standard
- SOUND EFFECT. Night Mode, Voice Mode
- VIRTUAL SURROUND TECHNOLOGY. S-Force PRO
After unpacking the device and plugging in the sound bar and subwoofer, setup really couldn’t be more simple. The sub and sound bar unit automatically pair with each other when turned on. From there, wired playback is as easy as connecting an HDMI or Optical cable to a TV’s corresponding port. If using HDMI, the ARC setting must be turned on in the display as well.
And… that’s basically it. With that said, since the sound bar only supports Dolby Digital and PCM, users will have to make sure that output for any DTS sources is set to PCM. Otherwise, audio will not come through.
When it comes to audio settings, the unit includes a variety of different sound modes designed to better suit certain types of content, including Auto Sound, Cinema, Music, Game, News, Sports, and Standard. Likewise, a Night Mode can be toggled for quiet listening and Voice Mode can be activated to make dialogue easier to hear.
In general, I preferred to listen to movies and TV shows using the Cinema mode which engages the system’s S-Force PRO Front Surround virtualization tech. Meanwhile, as one might expect, music playback came through best while using the Music mode. For most content, the default subwoofer level was also sufficient, though the device does give users 12 levels of adjustment.
Unfortunately, however, it’s rather difficult to see what volume the sound bar or subwoofer is being set to, as the simple flashing LED indicator lights don’t offer much detail. And though the LEDs also flash to signify different mode choices, it’s hard to keep track of what these flashes are supposed to specifically indicate. Accidental button presses happen from time to time, and I often found myself unsure what mode the sound bar was in. As it stands, a more detailed row of indicator lights or a text LED would have been much more helpful.
To test out the HT-S350’s home theater performance, I watched and sampled a variety of Blu-ray discs and streaming titles, including movies and shows like Hellboy, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Wonder Woman, The Matrix, The Boys, Shameless, Cobra Kai, The Mighty Gemstones, Riverdale, and The Good Place.
As a whole, I found playback to be quite solid, though there were a few issues that held back overall performance in certain instances.
Using the Cinema mode, stereo imaging was actually surprisingly wide with a nice sense of space to the left and right that seemed to extend much further out than the unit itself. Likewise, dynamics were also strong for a 2-channel model of this size, and the subwoofer produced some decent oomph.
Music soared nicely as bullets whizzed by in the No Man’s Land scene from Wonder Woman, and explosions carried a hefty kick during action sequences in The Matrix. With that said, the sound bar did suffer from some intermittent balance issues, causing more aggressive effects to overpower other elements of certain tracks.
Dialogue, in particular, often sounded too low and a tad muddy, causing certain lines to get lost in the shuffle in movies like Hellboy. Don’t get me wrong, the sound bar still provided solid playback for most content, but the balance between delicate and bombastic effects just wasn’t as nuanced and cohesive as it has been on some other competing systems I’ve tested. The lack of a dedicated center channel might be partly to blame for this drawback.
In general, the HT-S350’s S-Force PRO Front Surround tech and subwoofer did a great job of bringing ample heft to movies, especially for a 2-channel sound bar, but this kick was frequently at the expense of more finely-tuned texture.
Finally, outside of movies and TV shows, music playback via Bluetooth from my smartphone was quite solid. Tracks from artists like Radiohead, Norah Jones, Billie Eilish, Pink Floyd, The National, and Nicki Minaj all came through with pleasing range, nice stereo separation, and decent bass. With that said, vocals could sound a little bright and the sound bar’s relatively small size did limit the system’s sense of space in Music mode.
- Solid stereo imaging and virtual surround expansion
- Wireless subwoofer for dedicated bass
- Dolby Digital and PCM playback
- HDMI ARC and Bluetooth connectivity
- Dialogue gets overpowered by effects
- No video pass-through
- Difficult to confirm settings and volume with LED indicators
- No Wi-Fi
- Doesn’t offer DTS decoding
- Similarly priced options from other companies offer more features
As a straightforward, plug-and-play upgrade to a user’s built-in TV speakers, the Sony HT-S350 offers solid 2.1-channel movie and music performance. The virtual surround sound tech does a decent job of expanding the soundfield and the subwoofer offers some welcomed kick in action sequences.
With that said, the system can sound a little unbalanced, with slightly muddy dialogue reproduction that can get overpowered by more aggressive effects. Likewise, the unit lacks a lot of features found on competing models like Wi-Fi, video pass-through, voice control, and DTS support. And though it gets the job done, the LED indicator makes it hard to determine what volume the unit is set at or what mode is being activated.
Overall audio performance is fairly solid, but at a current price of 278, the HT-S350 is just a bit too expensive to fully recommend against similarly priced options with more features from companies like VIZIO and Yamaha.
Sony HT-ST7 review: A stunning sound bar but not quite for audiophiles
The Sony HT-ST7 is a visually stunning and sound bar with a fine feature set, but it doesn’t sound as good as you’d expect at its sky-high price.
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on @cnetmoskovciak.
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Sound bars have a reputation for being a cheap and convenient home audio option that may not wow you with their sound, but hit that critical level of “good enough.”
The Sony HT-ST7 is the most stylish sound bar we’ve seen, with a brushed metal cabinet and solid build quality. It sports three HDMI inputs, plus Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, allowing the sound bar to receive full surround-sound signals. And there’s also built-in Bluetooth and NFC pairing, for simple instant-gratification listening.
The HT-ST7’s sound has its merits, but overall it doesn’t live up to its lofty price tag. AirPlay is a surprising omission at this price, especially given its superior sound quality. And there’s no doubt that separate speakers are a better investment if you’re serious about sound.
The Bottom Line
The Sony HT-ST7 is a visually stunning sound bar with a fine feature set, but it doesn’t sound as good as you’d expect at its sky-high price.
Sony’s new HT-ST7 (1,300) wants nothing to do with good enough. It’s marketed as a high-end, performance-driven system that offers serious sound quality for those who still want the simplicity of a sound bar. Visually the HT-ST7 is a stunner, with brushed metal details and a heft that clearly differentiates it from plasticky budget bars. It’s also packed with features, including three HDMI inputs, built-in Bluetooth, and NFC pairing.- although curiously AirPlay support is missing, despite AirPlay’s superior sonic fidelity.
As much as the HT-ST7 has the attitude of a true luxury sound bar system, I found it didn’t quite have the performance. It excels at creating a wide soundstage for movies, sounding much larger than the width of the sound bar, but couldn’t quite match the level of visceral power of the competing, cheaper systems we pitted it against. And while it’s a decent performer with music, it still wasn’t impressive enough to warrant the price.
If you’ve got deep s and have been disappointed by most sound bars’ lack of aesthetic flair, there’s no denying Sony has set a new standard with the HT-ST7’s style. But even if you’re willing to pay big bucks for a sound bar that sonically trumps its rivals, the HT-ST7 doesn’t quite qualify.
Design: Sleek, heavy, metal The Sony HT-ST7 looks and feels like a serious piece of equipment. The metal, angled cabinet gives it a refined, slightly futuristic look, spoiled only by the plastic back, which would typically not be seen anyway. It felt like a solid piece of metal in the hand, and weighs in at 17.41 lbs. It’s also anything but petite, at 42.63 inches wide, 5.13 inches tall, and 5.13 inches deep.
The 5-inch height means there’s a good chance it will block your TV’s remote sensor, which is why Sony includes IR-repeating functionality, as the company does in its entry-level HT-CT260. However, instead of the built-in IR repeated included in the HT-CT260, the HT-ST7 has separate, physical IR blasters that you connect to the bar. The separate IR blasters definitely allow more precise placement, but they also create more wire clutter. A built-in repeater, combined with the option to add separate IR blasters if needed, would be a better solution, especially at this price.
Behind the speaker grille, the HT-ST7 features a front-panel display that gives you useful feedback when adjusting the volume and selecting inputs. The display remains lit by default, but you can change the settings so it only illuminates while in use. The speaker grille itself is also removable, letting you expose the drivers for a more in-your-face style. There are nine total drivers (seven 2.56-inch woofers and two 0.79-inch tweeters) driven by seven discrete amplifiers. The low end is handled by the 100-watt wireless subwoofer, which sports a 7-inch driver and a passive radiator.
The included remote has a striking design as well. It has an unusual sticklike shape, with triangular rocker buttons that are set off by indents and the volume buttons marked by plus and minus nubs. Slide the bottom down to reveal more controls, including one to adjust the subwoofer level. Despite the unorthodox shape, the remote is better than most included with sound bars. If you like to make a lot of on-the-fly adjustments, however, note that the buttons under the slide-down panel are particularly small.
Features: 3 HDMI inputs, plus Bluetooth and NFC Most modern sound bars go light on connectivity options, expecting you to connect all your devices directly to your TV via HDMI, then connect your TV’s optical audio output to your sound bar. Our take is that’s usually a Smart bet. leading to less remote fumbling and overall simpler setup.
One unfortunate downside is that many TVs “dumb down” incoming audio signals to plain old stereo, theoretically robbing you of a true surround-sound signal and some of the extra bits high-resolution soundtracks (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio) provide. That’s why the HT-ST7 features three HDMI inputs plus Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA decoding, so you can connect your devices directly and get your audio signal undiluted. Considering the HT-ST7 actually has seven discrete channels, there could be some gains from using the full multichannel soundtracks.
On the other end of the fidelity spectrum, the HT-ST7 has built-in Bluetooth with the cool capability of pairing via NFC. Bluetooth is great because it’s compatible with nearly every smartphone and tablet, letting you wirelessly stream audio from any app on your mobile device. Upping the convenience factor even further is the HT-ST7’s Bluetooth standby functionality, letting you wake up the sound bar simply by connecting via Bluetooth. And NFC makes the initial pairing process even easier on supporting devices, letting you simply place your device on the HT-ST7’s angled edges to pair. Altogether, it makes the HT-ST7 great for casual, instant-gratification listening, although there’s some audio fidelity lost with Bluetooth compression.
That loss of audio quality, especially on a performance-oriented sound bar, is what makes the HT-ST7’s lack of AirPlay so puzzling. AirPlay doesn’t suffer from the same loss of audio fidelity when wireless streaming, although it’s not as compatible with as many devices. Perhaps that’s putting too much emphasis on sound quality when most users will be streaming compressed audio from Spotify, Pandora, or their own MP3 collections in the first place, but for 1,300 the lack of AirPlay feels like an omission if you own iOS devices.
Rounding out the connectivity options are three digital inputs (two optical, one coaxial) and an analog audio input.
Setup: Simple, with room to tweak We had the HT-ST7 up and running in no time, with setup relegated mostly to placing both the sound bar and the subwoofer. Unlike most sound bar systems, the HT-ST7 requires you to plug a small wireless transceiver module into receptacles in the sound bar and subwoofer, but it takes less than a minute. Although you can technically place the subwoofer anywhere in the room, it generally sounds best within a few feet of the sound bar.
Once you have it set up, you can toggle through several sound modes: Movie, Music, Football, and STD. Movie did a particularly good job of generating a wide soundstage that filled the front wall of the CNET listening room. Music sounded a little less spacious with CDs and concert videos, and STD was essentially stereo. However, STD produced the most natural, least processed and hollow sound, which means you typically have to pick between a wider, more “processed” sound versus a narrower but more natural sound.
The HT-ST7 has a few more adjustment options. The Voice button on the remote boosts movie dialogue in three steps, while the 12-step subwoofer volume control makes it easy to fine-tune movies and music bass levels. The three-step Sub Tone adjustment seems to add weight and oomph to the bass, although it’s hard to pinpoint exactly the sonic changes it’s making. Despite all these tweaking opportunities, it’s surprising that the HT-ST7 lacks simple bass and treble controls, which would have been nice for adjusting tonal balance of the system.
Sound quality: Impressive cinema sound, not-so-much with music Right from the start, the HT-ST7 proved itself with unusually impressive sound for movies. The sound is very un-sound-bar-like, and with the lights turned down it’s easy to forget that you’re not listening to a larger system. That might be credited to the fact that the HT-ST7 is one of the very few sound bars that decodes true multichannel Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio soundtracks.
Still, the HT-ST7’s sound bar-subwoofer blend was only fair, so the sound balance was leaner than we’d like. As we played Blu-rays and CDs we became increasingly aware of the HT-ST7’s overemphasized treble detail. It was more annoying in some movies than others.
Listening to “Stoker,” which has an especially good sound mix, the HT-ST7 did a superb job of putting the viewer inside the film. For example, the scene where the niece moves from the kitchen into a large room where a party is taking place was especially effective. Even though the HT-ST7 doesn’t have true surround speakers (like the Vizio S4251w-B4 ), it makes you feel like you’re in that bigger space. The conversations and laughter of many guests in the large room were nicely separated, and that level of soundstage specificity is rare from sound bar systems.
Peter Gabriel’s excellent “New Blood: Live in London” concert Blu-ray was more revealing of the weaknesses in the HT-ST7’s sound. First, the sibilants of Gabriel’s vocals were emphasized to a larger degree than what we heard with Harman Kardon’s SB 16 sound bar system. The HT-ST7’s sound also had a hollow-ish quality in Movie and Music sound modes and that sort of processing artifact was less apparent with the SB 16. Using the HT-ST7’s STD mode eliminated the hollow effect, but reduced the soundstage to the width of the sound bar.
The hollow quality was also evident with “Black Hawk Down” on Blu-ray, where we pitted the HT-ST7 against the JBL Cinema SB400 (550). The HT-ST7’s subwoofer was no match for the SB400’s sub when we cued up the helicopter crash scene, with the SB400’s visceral, room-shaking powers far exceeding the HT-ST7’s. On the other hand, the HT-ST7 trounced the SB400 in soundstage width and depth, doing a better job of filling the room with sound. Turning up the volume a little more, we found the SB400 maintained a clearer sound, with the HT-ST7 sounding best at low to moderate volume levels.
Sound bars typically suffer with stereo music, but part of Sony’s pitch for the HT-ST7 was that it would satisfy music lovers too. Listening to a few CDs, played in STD mode, the HT-ST7 sounded fine, but not quite up to the standards we were expecting for the price. Belle Sebastian’s “The Boy With the Arab Strap” sounded crisp and very immediate, but the sound with acoustic jazz CDs was too thin and bright. Queens of the Stone Age and other hard rockers’ music sounded undernourished and lean over the HT-ST7. Pumping up the sub volume and Sub Tone helped a bit, but here again the JBL SB400’s gutsier sound carried the day. The HT-ST7 certainly doesn’t sound anemic like many sound bars with music, but the blend between the subwoofer and sound bar really kept it from standing out.
What are the alternatives? In terms of style and cost, the Sony’s HT-ST7 feels similar to Sonos’ Playbar (700), which ends up in a similar price range when you include the Sonos Sub (also 700). In terms of features, they’re actually quite different, with Sonos including its excellent streaming music system, while the HT-ST7 relies on Bluetooth. We didn’t have the Sonos Playbar system on hand for a direct comparison, but based on our previous review, we’d have to give the nod to the HT-ST7’s less-processed sound.
Perhaps the most interesting sound bar on the horizon for audiophiles is Pioneer’s upcoming SP-SB23W (400). It’s much less expensive, but the system is designed by Andrew Jones, the engineer behind the outstanding SP-PK52FS (630) budget speakers. If you were intrigued by the notion of a sound bar that performs well with music, it’s worth waiting to see how the SP-SB23W sounds.
In the meantime, JBL’s Cinema SB400 (550) may be the most audiophile-friendly sound bar that’s currently available. It surprised us in our direct comparisons with the HT-ST7, giving better performance at a fraction of the cost. CNET’s full review is coming soon, but it’s on target to become our new reference system for sound bar audio quality, replacing the Harman Kardon SB 16.
And perhaps no sound bar in recent memory calls out for a comparison to a traditional stereo speaker system more than the HT-ST7. For 1,300, you can put together an awfully nice 2.0 or 2.1 speaker system that will undeniably trump the HT-ST7 and any other sound bar we’ve heard. There’s no doubt that Sony’s HT-ST7 is a sleek, convenient sound system, but at this price range, it’s not tough to find good-looking speakers and a great AV receiver that will perform much better.
Conclusion: An elegant sound bar, but keep your expectations in check With the HT-ST7, Sony is trying to carve out space for a true high-end sound bar in a market that’s dominated by budget systems. The HT-ST7 gets that about half right; the build quality and design feel first-class, with a feature set that’s almost there, minus AirPlay. But the sound quality doesn’t feel commensurate with the price tag, especially if you’re planning on listening to a lot of music or love to feel the impact of a dynamic action movie.