Sony’s first Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar is a beast. 1180mm wide and partnered with a wireless sub, it boasts an engineering heritage that’s more stereophile than TV audio and has a finish commensurate with its wallet-wincing price tag.
At first glance it may look like an over-dressed 2.1 package, but Sony describes the HT-ST5000 as a 7.1.2 proposition. The feature spec is certainly expansive. In addition to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding, there’s High-Res Audio support, Chromecast Built-in, dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
The downside, of course, is that you'll play dearly for the pleasure. At $1500 (£1500, around $2436AUS) the soundbar is certainly expensive, but for the money you're getting a very capable piece of equipment.
High fidelity design
The build quality of the HT-ST5000 is fabulous. The bar comes with a fabric grille, but looks better uncovered; the drivers are as pretty as a picture.
Left and right are two matching coaxial speakers with gold-rimmed, high frequency tweeters, while a coaxial driver with mid-range cones handle the centre channel. This slight difference translates to a minor timbre mismatch, although it isn't apparent when listening live to multichannel mixes.
Evidence of its Dolby Atmos credentials can be found up top. Behind fixed metal grilles are two upfiring Dolby-enabled speakers for Atmos and height-orientated audio.
Unlike lesser bars, the HT-ST5000 offers full AV receiver versatility. There are four HDMIs (three inputs, plus one ARC output). All are HDCP 2.2 ready for your various 4K sources (UHD player, Xbox One X, Amazon Fire 4K) but need to be configured before being paired. Select Enhanced over Standard, in order to support 4K 60p and 4:4:4 (or incrementally lower) video settings.
There are a number of additional display options, all of which are best left in Auto mode. Located right-side on the bar is a covered USB port, for handy local file playback.
There’s also an optical digital audio input and stereo minijack. An Ethernet LAN port enables wired networking, but there’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the latter with NFC pairing and Sony’s proprietary LDAC headroom extension.
A clear display window reveals input selection and volume. A selection of on-body controls are also provided for those of us that don’t like the stubby IR remote control.
The soundbar is easy to drive. There’s a tiled interface which lists all the input options, plus any connected home network devices. There nothing here which should alienate non-techies.
The partnering subwoofer, which sits on a stylised plinth, is better looking than most LFE boom boxes. A forward facing grille is topped with a stylish matte lid. There are drivers front facing and downward firing. The sub connects to the ‘bar automatically during set up, with an LED confirming the link is active.
In full flight, the ST-HT5000 sounds immense. It creates a wide, high soundstage, and spatial placement is excellent; the opening narration from Mad Max Fury Road (Blu-ray), with its familiar 'Where are you?' whispers, is atmospherically drawn. A specified power output of 800W indicates the system isn’t short of slam or dynamics, and it certainly hits hard. When the War Boys rev their engines, the gutty roar will vibrate your popcorn.
The HT-ST5000 isn’t just about muscle though. There’s musical refinement here too. Christy Baron 'Aint no sunshine', LPCM 96kHz 24-bit, reveals just how naturalistic the soundbar's vocal performance can be. Rounded and rich, the presentation is almost three dimensional.
Don’t come to the HT-ST5000 expecting pronounced Atmos overhead steerage though. The bar may well feature a barrage of drivers, but it doesn’t convincingly create an encompassing audio canopy.
There’s the inkling of a sprinkling, notable during the rain-soaked climax of John Wick (Blu-ray), but it’s far from a full-on Atmos shower. The listening experience isn’t comparable to an AV receiver with speakers in a 5.1.2 configuration.
Ultimately, much will depend on your room and your seating distance from the bar itself. Around 1.5m worked best for me. Further back, the soundstage comes across as more stereophonic than Atmos-pheric.
One aspect of this two-piece that really impresses is bass response. Sony’s previous soundbar solutions have probably been too polite for their own good. But the HT-ST5000 can sound properly seismic. Those dragon grumbles in Game of Thrones (5.1, Sky Q) have deep, frightening heft. The wireless subwoofer murmurs from 31.5Hz, and has copious energy at 50Hz. The soundbar itself crosses over at 100Hz.
In addition to Dolby Atmos encoded software, the system does a fine job height-scaling regular multichannel audio. The Dolby Surround mode can be quite brilliant when it comes to identifying spatial elements in a 5.1 mix that it can distribute up high. This works particularly well with live events and concert material. There’s a greatly enhanced sense of ambiance.
The soundbar is also a competent streamer. DLNA compliant, it immediately recognised our NAS devices and Twonky server. Audio file support covers all the usual lossy formats, as well as 24-bit 96kHz FLAC and DSD. A High-Res vinyl rip of Rust in Peace by Megadeth rips along, but the bar also has the precision to handle classical works too. Marianne Thorsen’s Mozart Violin Concerto in D Major, a High-Res Audio download from 2L, has entrancing depth.
Have more MP3s than you’d like? Sony’s DSEE HX processor goes some way to restoring the fidelity in compressed audio too.
Sony’s debut Dolby Atmos soundbar is a no-compromise solution for audiophiles looking to mix refined music with immersive movie audio. It’s fabulously well finished and presents a soundstage that’s wide and high. The provision of Chromecast built-in is a nice bonus.
A Dolby Atmos decoder in itself is no guarantee of over-head audio effects, and this Sony system isn’t as immersive as a conventional AV receiver with multiple speakers.
The HT-ST5000 may be expensive, but it justifies its price tag with knock-out good looks and a superior performance. Sony’s first Dolby Atmos soundbar is gloriously over-engineered, and offers an audio performance that’s rich and exciting. It more than warrants its flagship status. If you want a top flight sound system that doesn’t take over your room, then the HT-ST5000 has few equals.
- Check out our guide to the best soundbars for our other top picks