Sony HT-ST5000 review: A powerful Atmos soundbar
Atmos soundbars have been around since Yamaha released the YAS-706 back in 2015 and, since then, the market for products featuring Dolby’s object-based surround-sound tech has really taken off. Initially the sole preserve of the insanely wealthy home theatre buff, there’s now a healthy choice of gear available at more attainable prices. The Sony HT-ST5000 sits in the middle of the price scale, aiming to appeal to audiophiles as well as home cinema nuts.
Sony HT-ST5000 review: What you need to know
As with most soundbars of its ilk, the Sony HT-ST5000 is a bit of a beast. It’s so wide, in fact, that if your TV is smaller than 49in, it’ll stick out awkwardly at the sides. It’s just low-profile enough – at 80mm in height – not to impinge on your view of your TV if it’s sitting on an AV unit, though.
The HT-ST5000 might deliver Atmos sound, but you don’t get rear speakers in the box as you do with some rivals. All you get is the soundbar, an infrared remote control and a rather beefy wireless subwoofer.
Sony HT-ST5000 review: Price and competition
The Sony HT-ST5000 is not cheap. In fact, at £1,499, it’s £200 more expensive than our current favourite Atmos speaker – the Samsung HW-K950, a speaker setup that comes with a pair of rear speakers and wireless subwoofer for the full surround-sound effect.
Next, you have the Samsung HW-K850, an Atmos soundbar that omits the rear speakers for a cut in price and the LG SJ9, which is a similar setup. In this light, the Sony HT-ST5000 looks rather light on features.
Sony HT-ST5000 review: Connectivity, features and usability
One thing you can’t accuse this soundbar of, though, is a lack of connections. Flip it over and you’ll find more inputs and outputs than on most soundbars. There are three HDMI inputs and one ARC-enabled HDMI output, all of which support full 4K passthrough.
There’s also a USB port on the right-hand side of the bar for playback of files from flash storage or portable hard disks, and there are optical and coaxial S/PDIF digital inputs, too, as well as an analogue 3.5mm input.
As for wireless, there’s an equally impressive array of connectivity options. There’s Bluetooth here, naturally, but unusually there’s also support for Sony’s high-quality LDAC codec, which delivers audio at bitrates of up to 990Kbits/sec. That’s far in excess of the bit rate that bog-standard Bluetooth or even AptX HD is capable of, and the good news is that anyone with an Android O or Sony Xperia smartphone should be able to use it.
You can stream files via Spotify Connect, too, there’s support for both Google Cast (although audio only) and Google Home and, if you’re that way inclined, music can be streamed to the soundbar from network storage via DLNA or from locally stored files with the accompanying Sony Music Center app.
It’s also possible to pair your phone super quickly with the soundbar via NFC. The bar even has a Bluetooth transmit facility, so you can use it to relay audio to your wireless headphones if you’re listening late at night.
The only significant thing missing from the HT-ST5000’s wireless feature set is Apple AirPlay support but, given the wide array of other connections available, Apple devotees should be able to find a way to connect their devices.
As for audio-file and surround-sound standard support, that’s equally impressive. Atmos takes centre stage, of course, and despite initially launching without it, Sony has now also added DTS:X support, so it will play whatever premium movie soundtrack you care to throw at it.
And despite the seeming complexity, the Sony HT-ST5000 is pretty easy to use. The supplied remote isn’t the easiest on the eye. The size of a rather chunky cereal bar, it’s littered with buttons large and small, and there’s a kaleidoscope of differently coloured buttons scattered across it.
However, everything is clearly labelled and the white-on-black OLED display on the front of the bar is both easy to read and sensibly laid out. For more complex settings, meanwhile, the HT-ST5000 displays a series of menus on your TV screen.
Sony HT-ST5000 review: Sound quality
Prise off the fabric grille at the front and the full extent of the HT-ST5000’s driver array is laid bare. Three 63mm full-range coaxial drivers are arrayed across the front of the soundbar with another four further regular 63mm drivers flanking the middle driver to reinforce the centre channel and there’s a pair of upwards-facing drivers at either end to bounce sound waves off your ceiling.
The wireless subwoofer is huge, featuring a downwards-facing driver and dimensions of 403mm in height and 248mm in width. Total amplification across both soundbar and sub runs to an impressive-looking 800W.
It took a while to figure out how to get Atmos working correctly with my Xbox One X – weirdly, you have to disable HDMI audio and set the option to “Speaker” instead of “HDMI + Speaker” – and there’s also no indication on the display as to whether the speaker is processing Atmos or not, which is annoying.
But, once you’ve done that and adjusted the settings to “fit” the soundbar to your room, it reproduces Atmos soundtracks with positional precision and a sense of space that’s truly impressive to behold. The official Dolby Atmos test disc, designed specifically to showcase what such systems have to offer, clearly demonstrates that this is a hugely capable system: in the helicopter demo, for example, you can clearly hear the chopper move from left to right across your room, and the sound does appear to come from above the TV.
Moving to my collection of Atmos-enabled Blu-ray discs and the HT-ST5000 performs just as impressively. Soundtracks are reproduced with a huge sense of scale, impact and power and there’s tremendous depth and space, good instrument separation and sound-staging, plus a sweet treble that makes listening to music pure pleasure. The bass from that big subwoofer is especially impressive, delivering low notes and explosions with more control and weight than the Samsung HW-K950.
Perhaps what’s most impressive about this soundbar, though, is the level of control you have over the sound. When you first set up the Sony, you specify where the soundbar and subwoofer are located within the room relative to your seating position, and set your room’s ceiling height so Atmos works optimally. And it’s also possible to tweak the levels of the sub and the upward- and forward-firing drivers until you get things just right.
What you don’t get with the Sony HT-ST5000 is audio that extends behind you and to the sides as it does with Samsung HW-K950. When you’re spending £1,500 on a home-theatre soundbar, that’s disappointing.
Sony HT-ST5000 review: Verdict
And that’s the one big criticism I have of the Sony HT-ST5000. While it sounds magnificent and is rammed with connectivity options, the fact that it doesn’t include rear speakers in the box is a bit of a kick in the teeth, especially when it costs £1,500.
So, while it sounds wonderful and delivers Atmos convincingly (within its limitations), if you’re going to spend this much on a soundbar I’d counsel you to consider the Samsung HW-K950 instead. It delivers a far more immersive movie-watching experience, even if its subwoofer isn’t quite as meaty.