Sony HT-ST5000 Dolby Atmos Soundbar Review
It sounds fantastic but is it immersive enough?
What is the Sony HT-ST5000?The Sony HT-ST5000 is the latest soundbar from the Japanese manufacturer, which not only supports high-resolution audio but also immersive audio in the form of Dolby Atmos. Thanks to upward-firing drivers and their S-Force PRO front surround technology, Sony promises a full 7.1.2 channel experience from a single soundbar. There's also a wireless subwoofer to add greater low-end impact, along with three HDMI inputs and an HDMI output that all support 4K, HDR and HDCP 2.2. If that wasn't enough there's also Chromecast built-in and the Sony even works with Google Home. That's an impressive set features, although such state-of-the-art performance doesn't come cheap and as a result the ST5000 has a price of £1,499 as at the time of writing (August 2017). So let's see how the Sony HT-ST5000 performs, not only in terms of overall sound quality but also in terms of its immersive capabilities.
SoundbarThe ST5000 certainly has the elegant looks and classy design that we'd expect from Sony, with a simple rectangular shape and an attractive black brushed metal finish. There's a removable front grille made of black fabric and behind that you'll find seven drivers – one at each end and five in the middle. The drivers at each end and the one directly in the middle have centrally mounted tweeters to create a coaxial speaker unit, whilst the remaining four drivers concentrate on the mid-range. The gold trim on the tweeters is used by Sony to designate high-resolution audio support. At either end of the soundbar there are upward-firing drivers mounted in the top behind metal grilles. These bounce sounds off the ceiling to create the overhead effects in Dolby Atmos soundtracks.To the right of the central drivers there is a display that provides basic information such as input source, volume and whether the soundbar is receiving a Dolby Atmos signal. The display is large and easy to read, even with the grille in place. At the top right of the soundbar towards the rear of the chassis, you'll find some basic controls for power, input selection, Bluetooth, Music Services and volume up and down. Whilst on the right hand edge of the soundbar there's a USB port behind a small removable cover, although all the other connections are found at the rear. The soundbar can be positioned beneath your TV but there are also keyholes at the rear if you would rather wall mount. The main soundbar itself is quite large, measuring 1180 x 80 x 145mm (WxHxD) and it weighs in at 8.2kg.
The design is simple but attractive whilst the build quality and finish are excellent
SubwooferThe HT-ST5000 comes with an active wireless subwoofer included and it has a surprisingly stylish design that matches the soundbar with a matte black finish on the top and a black fabric grille around three sides. The MDF construction is very solid and the lower section, which provides support, is made of metal. As a result the subwoofer's dimension are also fairly large, measuring 248 x 403 x 426mm (WxHxD) and it weighs a hefty 14.1kg.The subwoofer has built-in amplification and uses a forward-firing driver and a large downward-firing passive radiator which is why there is a metal stand at the bottom, to create space for the radiator to work. The two combined provide a substantial amount of low frequency energy and the subwoofer will automatically connect to the soundbar wirelessly. Although you will still need to plug the subwoofer into a wall socket to power the built-in amplification.
There's a decent set of connections for a soundbar and an effective remote included
Connections & ControlThe connections are at the rear of the soundbar and are composed of a mixture of sideways and rearwards facing inputs. The sideways facing connectors include an HDMI input and an HDMI output that also supports ARC (Audio Return Channel), along an optical digital input and an analogue input that uses a 3.5mm jack. The rearwards facing connectors include two more HDMI inputs along with an Ethernet port, although the ST5000 also includes built-in WiFi (2.4GHz/5GHz – 11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth (A2DP, AVRCP, LDAC, AAC and SBC) and NFC (Near Field Communication). All the HDMI inputs and the output support 4K, HDR and HDCP 2.2.The included remote control is a black plastic full-sized number that feels both substantial and comfortable in your hand. That makes a nice change, as all too often soundbars get lumbered with tiny remotes that can easily be lost down the back of the sofa. The ST5000's remote uses a similar design to all of Sony's current controllers and is sensibly laid out with navigation controls in the middle, setup buttons above and volume and playback buttons below. It includes all the buttons you'll need and is intuitive to use and very effective.
There's plenty of features built-in but support for Dolby Atmos immersive audio is the headliner
Features & SpecsThe headline feature is obviously the support for Dolby Atmos and Sony claim that the HT-ST5000 can deliver a 7.1.2 channel experience. However since it doesn't actually have any side or rear speakers, we'll see how genuinely immersive Sony's S-Force PRO front surround technology is in testing. The other major feature on the ST5000 is the support for high-resolution audio, along with a number of additional sound enhancements. These include the S-Master HX digital amplifier that is designed to reduce distortion, the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) HX which can upscale lower resolution and compressed audio and Clear Audio+ which is designed to optimise the audio whether you're listening to music, watching TV or playing games.
MORE: A Guide to Dolby AtmosSince the ST5000 has Bluetooth and NFC, so you can easily connect wireless devices, and the built-in WiFi means you can access music services like Spotify directly using Spotify Connect and control it using the Spotify app. There's also Chromecast built-in which means you can cast music, podcasts and radio from over one hundred audio apps, including Google Play Music and more from your smartphone, tablet or laptop. The ST5000 also supports multiroom functionality thanks to the Sony Music Center app, which allows you to group and control selected Sony products, then stream from your favourite music service or from your TV via HDMI, optical or analogue to any room of the house. Finally the ST5000 works with Google Home, which means you can voice control the soundbar using simple commands to play music from popular music services by artist, song, genre, album, playlist, mood or activity.
Setup is both flexible and straightforward, making it easy to get the best from the ST5000
SetupThe HT-ST5000 might be a soundbar but it includes a full on-screen menu system that you can access and navigate via the remote control. Although there's no setup microphone or auto-EQ system, setting up the Sony is very straightforward. All you need to do is decide where to position the soundbar and subwoofer (they should pair automatically), remembering that you'll need two electrical sockets. You can position the soundbar either on a stand or wall mounted beneath the TV, just make sure nothing is blocking the speaker drivers including the ones that fire upward. We generally found that being sat about 2 to 3m from the soundbar got the best results. The more reflective the surfaces in your lounge the better the sense of immersion, so if you have curtains or soft furnishings at the sides of the room then they will absorb sounds and limit that sense of envelopment. A flat and low ceiling is ideal for bouncing sounds but if you have a high, vaulted or curved ceiling then you will probably find that this approach to overhead effects isn't ideal. We would recommend positioning the subwoofer at the front of the room on either side of the soundbar but avoid putting it in a corner.The actual setup process is fairly straightforward and involves connecting all your devices, you can have a maximum of three sources connected directly to the ST5000 via HDMI but you also have the option of using ARC (Audio Return Channel) to send audio from devices connected to your TV. However you must connect any Dolby Atmos source directly to the soundbar to get the full lossless experience. You will also need to connect the ST5000 to your WiFi network in order to access other devices in your home, as well as use Chromecast and Spotify. You can also pair any Bluetooth devices you have to the Sony, as well as make use of the optical digital input (a cable is included), the USB port and the 3.5mm analogue jack. Once you have connected everything then you just need to set the distances to the soundbar and subwoofer and also the ceiling height (that's the distance from the soundbar's upward firing drivers to the ceiling). You can use a tape measure but we find a laser measure is easiest. Then you just need to set the levels using the test tones but for the best results you'll need an SPL (Sound Pressure Level) meter but these days you can pick one up as a free app.
Sony HT-ST5000 Video Review
PerformanceThe Sony HT-ST5000 impressed right off the bat, with an open and detailed front soundstage that resulted in an enjoyable experience, regardless of whether you were catching up on your favourite TV show, watching a movie or listening to music. The sense of clarity and stereo separation was excellent with music and Sony's attention to audio detail, along with their experience at building drivers and amplifiers, results in an impressive performance in this area. There are plenty of ways to listen to music on the ST5000 and you certainly won't be disappointed if that's what you decide to do.
When fed a high quality audio source the Sony was able to deliver a wide sound field into which instruments were placed with surprising precision. Listening to Kate Bush's Before the Dawn there was a genuine sense of openness to this live recording but all the small subtle details remained intact. The ST5000 handled both the mid-range and higher frequencies extremely well, whilst the subwoofer delivered plenty of low-end support. If you switched to something a bit more aggressive like Placebo's Without You I'm Nothing, the Sony's soundbar and subwoofer combination didn't falter, retaining the impact of the songs.
The ST5000's ability to deliver an extremely musical performance carried over when it came to watching TV and the configuration of the drivers meant that the audio remained anchored to the screen. Thanks to the excellent mid-range, dialogue was clear and focused, whilst the superior high frequency response combined with the low-end grunt of the subwoofer allowed the soundbar to deliver music and effects with gusto. There was a pleasing sense of width to the front soundstage and you could use the upward-firing drivers to give the audio an even greater sense of openness. The same was true with movies, where dialogue was prioritised on the screen, music and effects were spread across the front wall and up to the ceiling and the subwoofer gave low-end effects real impact. It's worth pointing out that the ST5000 currently doesn't support DTS in any form, although we have heard that Sony plan to add DTS support, including DTS:X, via a firmware update later in the year.
MORE: What is DTS:X?It would seem that Dolby Atmos is currently winning the immersive audio war when it comes to available soundtracks and devices that support the format, especially where soundbars are concerned. Naturally Dolby Atmos support is the big selling point of the ST5000 and here the performance was slightly mixed. We have a Dolby Atmos demo disc that includes a sequence that is just the sound of a helicopter moving around overhead. The ST5000 actually handled this test quite well, with the sound of the helicopter clearly emanating from above. How effective this will be will depend on your ceiling but in our lounge it's low, flat and reflective which makes it ideal.
However those overhead effects are very much weighted towards the front of the soundstage because there are no rear overhead channels. The same is true for any surround effects because despite Sony's claims of a 7.1.2 experience that just isn't the case. Our lounge is fairly reflective but despite this the sense of immersion was limited. The front soundstage certainly had greater width and height, which is good, but you never experienced any real sounds from the sides or rear of the listening position. This was made obvious when playing a 7.1.2 test, where the front three channels, the subwoofer and the two overhead channels were quite distinct but the side and rear channels just emanated from the front.
However despite this limitation, the ST5000 was still able to deliver an enjoyable Dolby Atmos experience. When watching an amped-up soundtrack like Mad Max: Fury Road the soundbar delivered plenty of effects at the front and above, replicating them with a degree of precision and creating a sense of immersion, even if it wasn't comparable to a proper 7.1.2 setup. The subwoofer proved to be something of a star as well, delivering plenty of deep bass that made the engines really growl. The same was true of Pacific Rim and at times you really felt like a Kaiju was going to smash through the front wall. However the ST5000 also handled more subtle soundtracks like Passengers very well, recreating the sense of emptiness onboard the Avalon as Chris Pratt wanders around on his own. The musical numbers in La La Land also sounded great, perhaps benefiting the most from the ST5000's musical performance and limited capabilities with Dolby Atmos.
This soundbar delivers impressive audio whether its TV, movies or music
- Great sound with TV, movies and music
- Dolby Atmos support
- Excellent hi-res audio performance
- Multiroom sound capabilities
- Powerful subwoofer
- Attractive design and well-made
- Good set of connections
- Effective remote control
- Immersive audio very front heavy
- Overhead effects depend on ceiling
- No DTS support
- Quite expensive
Sony HT-ST5000 Dolby Atmos Soundbar Review
Should I buy one?There are a number of Dolby Atmos capable soundbars now available, so the Sony HT-ST5000 has entered a fairly competitive market, but it certainly gets your attention with an attractive design and a high level of build quality that also extends to the subwoofer. There are plenty of connections, a decent remote control and setup is fairly straightforward, although there's no auto EQ or setup microphone. Aside from Dolby Atmos, the ST5000 also supports high-resolution audio, Chromecast, Spotify, Bluetooth and multiroom functionality. At present there is no support for DTS but apparently Sony plan to add DTS, including DTS:X, via a firmware update later in the year.
The performance was generally very good and the ST5000 proved extremely adept at handling music, with a wide front soundstage, good stereo separation and well-integrated bass. The same was true with TV programmes where the excellent mid range-delivered clear vocals, whilst music and effects were also handled effectively, although with movies there was no real sense of a surround presence. As a result this did limit the performance when it came to Dolby Atmos and despite Sony's claims of 7.1.2-channel capabilities, the ST5000 paled when compared to a genuine immersive audio setup with actual surround speakers. However it was able to deliver an enjoyable Dolby Atmos experience with greater width and height and some nice overhead effects – just don't expect a full immersive object-based experience.
The Sony HT-ST5000 is a very capable Dolby Atmos soundbar and certainly comes recommended but at £1,499 it is expensive and it simply doesn't do enough to distinguish itself from the competition.
What are my alternatives?In terms of the competition, we have recently reviewed the Samsung HW-K850 and the LG SJ9 soundbars, both of which deliver a similar front-heavy version of Dolby Atmos with overhead effects but no real surround presence. However the Samsung and LG soundbars can be bought for £899 and £799 respectively, which makes the Sony very expensive in comparison. None of them support DTS:X but the Samsung and LG soundbars do at least support 5.1 DTS, which is more than the Sony currently does. If the reports of a DTS:X upgrade to the ST5000 prove to be true then it would give the Sony the edge and help justify its price but as things stand it's at a disadvantage.
If you want DTS:X support on a soundbar right now then you're only option is the Yamaha YSP-5600 but it's very big, very expensive, only has one HDCP 2.2 input and can't pass HDR, which limits its usefulness. Although it doesn't currently support DTS:X, our favourite Dolby Atmos soundbar is the Samsung HW-K950 which has a wireless subwoofer and wireless surround speakers with built-in upward-firing drivers that allows it to deliver a genuine 5.1.4-channel experience. It's well made, sounds great and can be picked up for £1,299, making it the Dolby Atmos soundbar to beat at the moment.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,499.00
Ease of use8
Value for Money7
Our Review Ethos
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