A $1,300 soundbar doesn’t have a lot room for compromises. You may spend a fraction of that on a wonderfully competent Vizio soundbar, and even premium choices just like the Sonos Arc price tons of much less. There’ll at all times be folks that balk on the notion of spending a lot cash and never placing it towards a conventional encompass sound system — and that’s very true (and a good argument) if you attain this worth stage. So when designing its newest flagship 7.1.2-channel Dolby Atmos soundbar, the HT-A7000, Sony knew it couldn’t settle and needed to throw in all the kitchen sink to justify the steep funding.
And that’s precisely what the corporate tried to do. The HT-A7000, which begins transport in September, embraces avid gamers with two HDMI 2.1 passthrough inputs able to 8K, 4K at 120Hz, and Dolby Imaginative and prescient HDR. There are nonetheless only a few soundbars in the marketplace which are so nicely optimized for next-gen consoles just like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Sequence X / S. You may plug each Sony and Microsoft’s consoles into the HT-A7000 and luxuriate in their full visible constancy — with one unlucky exception that I’ll clarify later. In case your TV cruelly solely has a single HDMI 2.1 / eARC port, Sony’s new soundbar offers you an additional one. That’s one thing the Arc or lower-priced soundbars can’t do.
Sony has additionally stuffed this soundbar with virtually each solution to stream music you may probably need. Bluetooth and a 3.5mm aux port actually aren’t going to chop it for this a lot scratch, so that you additionally get Chromecast, AirPlay 2, Spotify Join, plus the choice to combine the HT-A7000 along with your Google House or Amazon Alexa methods. You may pair a set of Bluetooth headphones to the soundbar and pay attention that solution to keep away from disturbing anybody. There’s a USB port if you wish to plug in a drive that incorporates your FLAC assortment or no matter native audio you are feeling like enjoying. The soundbar additionally helps just about each residence theater audio codec beneath the solar, together with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.
The HT-A7000 is about as future-proofed and loaded with tech as soundbars come. It’s not meant for residence theater lovers who need to rigorously think about and piece collectively each particular person element of their ideally suited encompass system. That is for the type of individual already splurging on a Sony A90J OLED with sufficient disposable revenue so as to add Sony’s top-tier soundbar to their cart. However to actually, actually get essentially the most from the HT-A7000, you’ll additionally finally need the elective set of wi-fi rear audio system ($349.99) and standalone subwoofer ($399.99 for 200W or $699.99 for 300W). All in, the bundle of merchandise I reviewed would price $2,349.97 earlier than tax. That’s about the identical as shopping for a kind of high-end Sony OLED TVs I discussed.
So whereas testing the HT-A7000, I’ve gone about it in two completely different configurations: I’ve used the soundbar by itself a lot since some patrons will simply cease there. However I’ve additionally put the kitted out, exorbitantly priced system by means of its paces.
HT-A7000 by itself
When arrange by itself, the HT-A7000 is a 7.1.2 soundbar. That breaks down into 5 front-facing audio system plus two beam tweeters (7), a built-in subwoofer (1), and the pair of upward-firing Atmos audio system (2). For comparability, the Sonos Arc is a 5.0.2 speaker (and turns into 5.1.2 for those who add a Sub to the equation).
It definitely appears to be like the a part of a premium soundbar, although I’ll allow you to determine whether or not the glass prime floor and mixture of textures and supplies are befitting of the worth. On prime are capacitive contact buttons for energy, enter, quantity, Bluetooth, and so forth. And behind the HT-A7000’s entrance grill is a small show that reveals what enter it’s enjoying from (HDMI 1, 2, or TV) and reveals the quantity or sound mode if you’re making changes. While you’re watching one thing by means of one of many two passthrough HDMI ports, you may hit the distant’s “show” button for a abstract in your TV display that particulars the present audio sign and whether or not the vertical audio system are energetic. When the soundbar is outputting TV audio, you’ll see these particulars on the tiny entrance show.
Round again is the arsenal of ports: two HDMI in, one HDMI out, inputs for analog and optical audio, a USB type-A port, and energy. Apart from the bundled distant management and HDMI cable, Sony additionally consists of brackets and screws for the HT-A7000 within the field if you wish to wall-mount it. I can’t actually discover any faults with the distant: it’s very Sony, however at the very least there are particular person buttons for each HDMI inputs and all of the sound modes you’ll use most frequently.
Organising the soundbar was fairly easy due to Sony’s on-screen directions. I plugged within the units I wished to run by means of the soundbar, plugged it into my LG CX’s eARC port, and I used to be good to go. By way of sound efficiency, the HT-A7000 ranks up there with the perfect Atmos soundbars. I felt it my responsibility to shell out the $20 to lease F9 and expertise massive Hollywood blockbuster motion, and I wasn’t disillusioned. Automobile chases and motion sequences are enthralling when popping out of this 7.1.2 bar, and it does handle to supply a definite feeling of sweeping encompass results.
I additionally spent a while watching Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Stay at Radio Metropolis — a Blu-ray I’ve seen used as a demo at audio briefings greater than as soon as. Each acoustic guitars got here by means of with heat, terrific element, and simply the correct of jangle. The vocals stayed crisp and distinct within the middle channel all through each music. Sony’s S-Drive Professional Encompass and Vertical Encompass Engine applied sciences do a great job of dispersing sound across the room if you’re watching something that has a encompass combine.
The immersion issue grew extra spectacular after I watched Atmos content material from Netflix or by means of my Films Anyplace library. Sony has a “sound area optimization” course of that helps the soundbar tune itself to your room. It performs a couple of loud noises that assist the machine detect how distant the partitions to its left and proper are (like Sonos’ TruePlay tuning system), and it detects ceiling distance as nicely. (You may manually enter these numbers for those who’ve measured for your self and need to be certain that they’re good.) With extra drivers at its disposal, the Sony outperformed my Sonos Arc — although not by as almost as a lot as I anticipated contemplating the $500 worth hole. The impact of the peak channels was very related in each audio system. Sony consists of completely different sound modes like auto, commonplace, cinema, and others like “voice” that emphasize dialogue or “night time,” which limits the boominess if you’re watching at night time.
Surprisingly there’s no preset audio mode for gaming. Besides, the HT-A7000 kicked out highly effective audio after I was enjoying Ratchet and Clank: Rift Aside on PS5, with no noticeable audio and video sync points. Switching over to my Xbox Sequence X, the story was the identical. Passthrough largely labored flawlessly, with the soundbar accurately detected completely different audio codecs being despatched from video games and streaming apps on the sport console.
However then I spotted one thing was off.
See, one space the place the HT-A7000 falters with gaming is a well-known one for Sony: variable refresh price. At the moment, the soundbar is incapable of passthrough for each VRR and ALLM (auto low latency mode). That’s a major draw back for homeowners of the Xbox Sequence X or Sequence S; each consoles can use VRR to assist smoothen out any dips in body price as you play. Microsoft Flight Simulator felt noticeably extra uneven when performed by means of the soundbar with out VRR. Sony instructed me that it recommends Xbox homeowners plug immediately into an HDMI 2.1 port on their TV. The PS5 nonetheless doesn’t provide assist for VRR, so if that’s your chosen console, you’re probably not dropping out on a lot proper now. Both method, you’ll have to ensure you apply the perfect settings for gaming to no matter HDMI port the HT-A7000 is working into, for the reason that lack of ALLM passthrough will hold your TV from making these modifications robotically.
The omission of VRR and ALLM passthrough is sufficient to stop the HT-A7000 from being the good soundbar for next-gen gaming that I hoped it is likely to be, which is unlucky. It’s an excellent match for PS5 for the time being, however dropping VRR on Xbox is tough to swallow for this sort of cash.
With the elective subwoofer and rear surrounds
As succesful because the HT-A7000 is by its lonesome, extra audio system are at all times higher in the case of residence theater. Including within the wi-fi soundbar and rear surrounds was painless; the soundbar robotically detects them and begins feeding audio to them instantly. (The soundbar’s distant management has buttons for the add-ons, too.) All of the virtualization tech on the earth nonetheless can’t compete with discrete audio system positioned behind you, and I acquired essentially the most enjoyment out of Sony’s new system with the added gear.
I want the rear surrounds had up-firing Atmos drivers, just like the rears that include Vizio’s Elevate bar do, however nope. They’re simply conventional stereo audio system. Sony’s 300W subwoofer can push out some actually growling, reverberating bass. It’s frankly an excessive amount of for my Brooklyn condo, however for those who’re not vulnerable to annoying the neighbors, it’s a thrill to unleash.
The absolutely fleshed system is a pleasure for films and TV reveals, however it additionally makes a noticeable distinction for 360 Actuality Audio and Dolby Atmos music, which is all the fad recently. You may actually sense the distinctive placement and particulars when listening on a correct encompass system. Apple Music’s spatial audio feels much less gimmicky on this context than it does when listening by means of headphones. Different options of the HT-A7000 like Chromecast and AirPlay 2 have labored simply fantastic, although take into account they’re solely there for audio playback on this machine and never video.
Sony’s HT-A7000 is an excellent, highly effective soundbar, however it comes at a hefty premium that lots of people won’t ever critically think about when choices just like the Sonos Arc and Vizio Elevate provide wonderful efficiency for significantly much less. I can’t assist however assume that Sony ought to have included both the rear audio system or subwoofer within the field with this one. Having to tack every part on individually makes the entire proposition a fair harder promote as you cross the $2,000 mark.
The extent of future-proofing right here is spectacular. However since my LG CX has 4 HDMI 2.1 ports, I already had every part I wanted with my Arc, Xbox Sequence X, and PS5. The passthrough side of the HT-A7000 isn’t a giant promoting level for me, although it does work as marketed — apart from the VRR state of affairs. If that asterisk weren’t current, I’d really feel extra comfy labeling the HT-A7000 as worthy of the worth for many who can swing it and desire a easy path to chic residence theater audio. For those who’re not an Xbox gamer, possibly it’s nonetheless worthy of that title. This can be a soundbar that really does every part. But it surely comes at such a premium that something lower than perfection is a cause for pause and intently inspecting different choices.
Pictures by Chris Welch / The Verge