Sony HT-G700 Soundbar Review

Accomplished but not really immersive

SRP: £450.00

What is the Sony HT-G700?

The Sony HT-G700 is the latest soundbar from the company and, like the earlier Sony HT-ZF9, it supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X but delivers these object-based audio formats using a 3.1-channel layout with a wireless subwoofer. Sony claims it can produce a virtual 7.1.2 surround sound experience, thanks to its proprietary Vertical Surround Engine.

In terms of other features there’s 4K/60p and HDR passthrough, eARC and Bluetooth, but unlike the HT-ZF9 there’s no Wi-Fi, Chromecast or Hi-Res Audio support. The HT-G700 costs £450 as at the time of writing (October 2020), which is cheaper than much of the competition, but can Sony’s psychoacoustic trickery produce a genuinely immersive sonic experience?

Design

The Sony HT-G700 keeps things simple in the design department, with a minimalist matte black finish. The chassis is constructed of hardened plastic with a solid mesh grille at the front, covering the three forward-firing speakers: front left, front right and centre. There’s a display between the left and centre speakers, which is easy to read, even from a distance.

The soundbar itself is fairly compact at just 980mm wide, making it a good match for 55- and 65-inch panel sizes, and at only 64mm high it shouldn’t block the screen either. There are also IR passthrough transmitters in case it blocks your TV’s IR receivers. The build quality is pretty good, and the HT-G700 weighs in at 3.1kg, which is actually heavier than the HT-ZF9.

Sony HT-G700
Sony HT-G700 soundbar and subwoofer

The wireless active bass-reflex subwoofer is ported and uses a forward-firing 16cm driver. The soundbar and sub should pair automatically, although, if necessary, this can also be performed manually. The sub itself measures 192 x 387 x 406mm (WxHxD), and weighs in at 7.5kg.

The combined system has a claimed power output of 400W, with 100W built into the subwoofer and the remaining 300W spread equally across the three forward-firing speakers. Each of these speakers is composed of an oval 45 x 100mm full-range driver, and the cabinet is sealed.

Connections and Control

The Sony HT-G700 houses its physical connections in a recessed area at the rear, but as with some of the company’s other soundbars the space is set at an unnecessary angle, making attaching chunky HDMI cables quite tricky.

There’s an HDMI input and an HDMI output that supports eARC (enhanced audio return channel), and both connections support 4K/60p, HDCP 2.2, HDMI-CEC/BRAVIA Sync, and high dynamic range passthrough – HDR10, hybrid log-gamma (HLG) and Dolby Vision, but no HDR10+.

Sony HT-G700
Sony HT-G700 connections

In terms of other physical connections, all you get is an optical digital audio input (Sony includes an optical cable in the box), and a USB type A port for firmware updates. As far as wireless connections are concerned, there’s only Bluetooth 5.0, but the soundbar can connect wirelessly with compatible Sony TVs.

 

The HDMI connections support eARC, and can pass Dolby Vision but not HDR10+

There are a few simple, touch sensitive controls on the soundbar itself, at the top and towards the centre rear. These controls include power, input, Bluetooth, and volume up/down, but the chances are you'll never use them because the HT-G700 comes with a pretty decent remote.

Sony HT-G700
Touch-sensitive controls

It's certainly an improvement on the credit card-sized zappers you get with similarly priced soundbars. The HT-G700’s controller fits comfortably in the hand and is fairly intuitive in terms of its layout, with a big volume control towards the centre.

At the top there’s the power and input buttons, plus a key for displaying the current sound mode setting. There are also direct keys for selecting the Immersive AE, Auto Sound, Standard, Cinema and Music sound modes.

Sony HT-G700
Remote control

Towards the bottom is the mute button, display dimmer, and a control for setting the subwoofer level. Finally, there are buttons for accessing and navigating the menu system, along with keys for the Voice and Night modes.

Features

The Sony HT-G700’s headline feature is its ability to decode the two main immersive audio formats: Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. This is fairly unusual at this price point, and sometimes even soundbars that are considerably more expensive don’t include decoding for one or both object-based audio formats.

As well as Atmos and DTS:X there's also support for most other formats, including Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Dual Mono, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS 96/24, DTS-HD High Res, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS Virtual:X and LPCM; plus AAC and SBC via Bluetooth.

Sony HT-G700
Speaker layout

The HT-G700 includes Sony's proprietary Vertical Surround Engine, which uses sophisticated digital processing and psychoacoustics to deliver a virtual immersive audio experience from a 3.1-channel system. There’s also S-Force Pro, which is designed to match the height of your TV, and make sounds appear to emanate from the screen.

The soundbar can also upscale non-object-based audio using the Immersive AE (Audio Enhancement) feature, as well as offer a number of other sound modes: Auto Sound, which changes the mode based on the audio signal; Cinema; Music; Standard; Night, which optimises the sound at low volume levels; and Voice, which accentuates dialogue.

Setup and Operation

The Sony HT-G700 is fairly easy to install: you simply place the soundbar in front of your TV, either on a stand or wall mounting using screw holes at the rear and a provided template. You then place the subwoofer in a convenient place at the front of the room, to the right or left of the TV. Don’t forget you’ll need to plug both the soundbar and the sub into power sockets.

Once installed, all you need to do is connect you sources. If your TV supports eARC then the easiest approach is connect your sources to the TV and send the audio back losslessly via eARC. If your TV doesn't support eARC and you have a lossless source, you'll need to use the HDMI input on the soundbar. If your TV doesn't support ARC at all, you'll need to use the included optical cable. Finally you can pair any Bluetooth devices using the dedicated button.

The HT-G700 has a fairly detailed setup menu, but unlike the HT-ZF9 there’s no onscreen display. As such you have to do everything through the display on the front of soundbar, which isn’t ideal and can get a bit confusing. The menu options are Speaker, Audio, HDMI, BT, System, Reset and Update, and you navigate through them using the up/down and enter buttons on the remote.

Sony HT-G700
Sony's proprietary Vertical Surround Engine

In addition to selecting the Immersive AE, Auto Sound, Cinema, Music, Standard, Night, and Voice modes directly on the remote, you can also choose different sound effects in the menu. There are four options: Sound Mode; Dolby Speaker Virtualiser; DTS Virtual:X and No Effect. Selecting any one option disables the others.

Dolby Speaker Virtualiser uses Dolby’s proprietary technology to create an immersive effect for stereo or 5.1 Dolby surround signals – but not Atmos. DTS Virtual X essentially does the same for DTS soundtracks apart from DTS:X. Sound Mode On engages Sony’s Immersive AE, which can then be applied to either audio format.

 

Setup is relatively simple, but the menu system is unnecessarily complicated

When the latter option is engaged, you can use the ‘Auto Sound Mode’ button on the remote control, which analyses the incoming audio signal and selects the most appropriate processing from the otherwise user-selectable options of Standard, Music and Cinema. In addition, if you’ve selected the Dolby or DTS modes and press one of these remote buttons, it instantly turns off your previous choice and goes back to Sound Mode On.

To be honest it’s not the most intuitive approach to selecting sound modes and immersive processing, especially as there are direct buttons for Sony’s various modes on the remote, but choosing the Dolby or DTS processing requires going into the menus. As a result, I suspect most users will end up simply choosing Sony’s processing and sound modes by default.

Performance

The Sony HT-G700 is an accomplished soundbar that delivers an excellent all-round performance, thanks to decent speakers, some powerful amplification and a well-integrated subwoofer. Whether you're watching TV, catching up on the latest blockbuster or listening to music, this bar and sub combo will deliver clear dialogue, well-defined effects and deep bass.

When it comes to music this soundbar’s inherent sonic qualities really stand out, with plenty of clarity, detail and an uncluttered midrange. The higher frequencies are also nicely reproduced, and the bass is tight and solid. The only negative factor is the width of the soundbar, which limits the amount of stereo separation, and thus the imaging.

Sony HT-G700
Close-up of soundbar

Of course the big selling-point of the HT-G700 is its ability to decode Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, so a lot depends on the ability of the Vertical Surround Engine to create a sense of height and depth using 3.1 channels. Thankfully, Sony's virtual surround processing does work to a degree, creating a greater sense of immersion and adding three-dimensional depth to the soundstage.

However, this psychoacoustic approach will never fully replace a soundbar that bounces sounds off ceilings and walls to generate overhead and side channels. This approach will sound more convincing and immersive, but its effectiveness depends on the room and ceiling, so the HT-G700 might be a better choice in smaller rooms or those with less-than-ideal layouts.

 

The overall sonic performance is impressive, but the sense of genuine immersion is limited

The Sony automatically detects a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X soundtrack, allowing it to encode the object-based source. The use of digital signal processing in order to create a virtual 7.1.2 experience from a 3.1-channel system might sound crazy, but the effect does actually work to a degree, creating a greater sense of dimensionality and presence.

The opening of Mad Max: Fury Road is a good example, where the disembodied voices in Max’s head seem to float in the space around the screen. During the chase scenes the soundstage felt expanded and the effects moved further out to the left and right, while there was also a greater sense of height to the action. The sub also did its part, giving the collisions added weight.

Sony HT-G700
Sony HT-G700 lifestyle setup

Switching to Fast & Furious 8 and the DTS:X soundtrack delivers all the vehicular mayhem with skill, whether it's car crashes, nuclear subs or The Rock kicking away torpedoes. However, as good as the HT-G700 sounded, the psychoacoustic processing never really sounds like a genuine immersive audio setup.

Of course, how effective the processing seems will largely depend on whether you have any point of reference. The psychoacoustic trickery certainly works very well with most soundtracks, but as soon as you switch to a very directional mix like 1917the effect is less convincing. Put on some test tones, and the illusion falls apart, with all the sounds emanating from the front of the room.

On the plus side, the eARC connection worked very well, allowing lossy Dolby Atmos soundtracks from streaming services like Netflix, Apple TV+ and Disney+ to be sent from the TV back to the soundbar. The same applied to lossless Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks being sent back via eARC from a Blu-ray player attached to the TV.

Verdict

Pros

  • Dolby Atmos & DTS:X
  • Virtual surround processing
  • Accomplished with music
  • Well-integrated subwoofer
  • Stylish and discreet

Cons

  • No sense of genuine immersion
  • Confusing menu system
  • No Wi-Fi

Sony HT-G700 Soundbar Review

Should I buy one?

The Sony HT-G700 is an accomplished soundbar, and it delivers an excellent 3.1-channel performance thanks to decent speakers, powerful amplification and a well-integrated subwoofer. Sony's support of both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X is unusual at this price point, and this compact but well-put-together soundbar boasts plenty of useful features like eARC and a decent remote.

The HT-G700 sounds very good with music and movies, but while the psychoacoustic processing does add a more pronounced feeling of space to the soundstage, it never really creates a genuine sense of immersion. The lack of Wi-Fi is a shame, and menu system is a bit confusing, but otherwise this compact soundbar is ideal for smaller rooms or those where reflected sounds won't work.

What are my alternatives?

The obvious alternative is Sony’s HT-ZF9, which is around £200 more but adds Wi-Fi, Chromecast and Hi-Res Audio support. In most other respects this excellent soundbar is very similar, offering a 3.1-channel speaker layout with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support thanks to psychoacoustic DSP processing. There's also eARC, and like the HT-G700 it can pass Dolby Vision but not HDR10+.

The Panasonic SC-HTB900 is another option that’s worth considering. This attractively-designed soundbar also uses a 3.1-channel layout, combined with psychoacoustic processing to support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. There’s Wi-Fi, Chromecast, a remote app, and the ability to work with Google Assistant. However there’s no eARC, nor can it pass HDR10+ and Dolby Vision.

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
.
8

Ease of use

.
.
.
7

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Features

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
9

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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