Sony’s Flagship Dolby Atmos Soundbar Is the Best of the Best — for a Price

Sony’s Flagship Dolby Atmos Soundbar Is the Best of the Best — for a Price
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Soundbars run the gamut. There are some made especially for gaming, others for small spaces, a few that can be built out over time, and several for those on a budget. The Sony HT-A7000 is the soundbar for someone who won’t settle for anything but the best, so long as they don’t have to go and actually install ceiling speakers.

The HT-A7000 replaces the ST-5000 as Sony’s flagship soundbar. It’s a 7.1.2 channel system and can either work as a single Dolby Atmos soundbar or be built out with rears and subwoofers. It supports most of the fancy new formats and digital assistants, as well as Sony’s sound optimisation tech. This is one futureproofed gadget. It’s also an eye-watering $US1,300 ($1,758) in a time when you can get a perfectly decent Dolby Atmos soundbar for less than $US1,000 ($1,352). After several weeks of testing, I’m not so sure how many people will find the expense worth it — even if it does sound absolutely incredible.

Sony HT-A7000

WHAT IS IT?

Sony's new flagship soundbar

PRICE

$US1,300 ($1,758) for the soundbar; rears and subwoofer cost extra

LIKE

Sounds amazing. One of the best Atmos soundbars with simulated height. Has all the bells and whistles. Extremely future-proof and buildable over time.

NO LIKE

Oh my god it's so expensive. Too big.

A Powerful, Futureproof Soundbar

The phrase “bells and whistles” has never been so accurate as when describing the A7000. There are two up-firing speakers, two beam tweeters, five front speakers, and a built-in dual subwoofer. The soundbar supports Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format, along with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It packs in Sony’s Vertical Surround Engine, which the company claims lends a more “realistic, multi-dimensional sound” to other formats, as well as Sony’s S-Force Pro Front Surround, which makes it so you can better hear sound coming at you from both sides. There’s barely any 8K content yet, but no matter: The A7000 supports 8K and 4K at 120p passthrough. It terms of connectivity, it has Bluetooth, AirPlay 2, wifi, Spotify Connect, and Chromecast built in. Digital assistants like Google Assistant and Alexa are also supported. There are two HDMI input ports and one output, as well as eARC/ARC support.

This is typical of what you’d expect to see on a soundbar that costs this much and is the company’s flagship. Nonetheless, it’s an impressive mix of specs and features. The only thing that’s really missing is the ability to futz with EQ. That might irk folks who like tweaking settings, but if that’s not really your jam, it’s not something you’ll miss too much. Despite the price, the nice thing is you won’t have to replace it anytime soon.

Design-wise, what can we say? It’s a big soundbar. It’s blocky with a grille up front. The top is a glossy glass, with touch controls on the right side. Both ends of the soundbar have a fabric top, which house the up-firing speakers. It measures 51.25 inches long with a height of 3.25 inches and depth of 5.6 inches. It weighs 9 kg. It doesn’t really fit on the stand for my 55-inch TV; the ends jut out over the edge. It’s also not the best for low-profile TVs, as it’ll block off the bottom 1-2 inches. A note: if you have pets, the glass top is a hair and dust magnet. Thankfully, it’s a material that’s easy to clean.

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Setup is simple. After you’ve hooked up everything to the TV, you can press the Home button on the accompanying remote control. That’ll take you to a menu where you can connect the soundbar to wifi, as well as tune the soundbar to your room via “sound field optimisation.” It’s a lot like Sonos’ TruPlay, in that it plays a series of sounds in various directions. The main difference is you don’t have to wave your iPhone around the room. There’s also a snazzy 360 Reality Audio demo, where you can really hear what Sony’s trying to do with its proprietary spatial audio format. You might as well since right now, only a handful of services, including Deezer, Tidal, and Amazon Music HD, support it.

If you choose to shell out for optional rears and subwoofer, those are also incredibly easy to set up. Sony sent me the $US350 ($473) SARS3S rears and the $US700 ($947) SASW5, which is a 300W sub. (There’s also the cheaper, slightly smaller SASW3, which is 200W for $US400 ($541).) They connect wirelessly so all you have to do is plug them in and wait for the green light to pop up. The rears are compact and fit easily on my nightstands in my bedroom setup. The subwoofer is on the bigger side, but not so big that it’s a hard-to-place eyesore.

It's a remote... for you to add to the pile of remotes in your basket. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) It’s a remote… for you to add to the pile of remotes in your basket. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

The one thing I couldn’t test was a feature that allows the A7000 to directly connect to a Sony Bravia TV. This is an LG OLED household, baby. However, Sony says if you do have a compatible Bravia TV, it can act as an extra centre channel.

Impressive at Simulating Height

The A7000 isn’t messing around. Usually, I’ve been underwhelmed by soundbars that claim to simulate height in Dolby Atmos content. I felt that way with Sony’s HT-G700, which is a great budget Atmos soundbar but not that great at recreating height. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the A7000.

The effect with the soundbar alone is impressive, but it’s admittedly better with the optional rears and subwoofer. I like to test height simulation with the Star Wars films, as there’s no shortage of scenes with spaceships buzzing overhead. And yup, there were multiple instances of either the Millennium Falcon or X-Wings swooshing toward the viewer that I actually felt was coming from above. The same was true for the opening minutes of The Midnight Sky on Netflix, where rescue helicopters fly back and forth overhead. The glass bridge exploding in Squid Game was also incredibly clear and crisp, and I found myself cringing at the sound (also the emotional trauma).

This subwoofer costs an extra $US700 ($947). (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) This subwoofer costs an extra $US700 ($947). (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

The A7000 also does a great job with sounds coming from your left and right, especially if you toggle on the Immersive AE setting. Dialogue and voices also sound clear. Overall, it’s an excellent soundbar for movies and TV — especially those with a lot of busy action scenes. Given the soundbar’s size, it also easily fills larger rooms. My bedroom is on the smaller side, but I had no problem hearing several episodes of the In the Dark podcast while cleaning in a different room. It’s a tad overkill for my particular living space, however, so you might want to take that into consideration if you don’t plan to put this in a bigger area.

Songs recorded in Dolby Atmos sound, as you might expect, incredible on the A7000. I went through Apple Music’s Spatial Audio playlist and it really highlights how good Sony is when it comes to music. Basses thumped, vocals were clean, and the mids never sounded too muddy. I listened to Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” for the billionth time, but it admittedly sounded fresh on the A7000. The whole spatial audio thing is also way more noticeable on a setup like this, especially if you have the subs and rears. Music not recorded in Atmos also sounds incredible. I played DNAKM’s “Slanted” on YouTube and it was the definition of a chill lofi beats to study and relax to. It was, reader, a total vibe.

The optional pair of rears will set you back an extra $US350 ($473). (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) The optional pair of rears will set you back an extra $US350 ($473). (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

Pricier Than the Competition

I’m not going to mince words: The setup I tested is a whopping $US2,350 ($3,178). Does it sound absolutely incredible? Yes. Is it one of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars I’ve ever tested? Also yes. Is it that much better than the competition that it’s worth forking over all this money? Hmm.

I enjoyed the hell out of Vizio’s Elevate soundbar system. That costs $US1,000 ($1,352), is a 5.1.4 system, the ends of the soundbar rotate upward when you listen to Atmos content, and it comes with two rears that also have up-firing speakers. It’s not quite as good at recreating height as the A7000, but it’s still pretty dang excellent when it comes to simulated height. Also, you’re getting a sub, two rears, and a soundbar for less than Sony’s single soundbar.

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

If you’re on a budget or in a cramped space, the A7000 isn’t the soundbar for you. The Sonos Beam 2 or Arc might be good options if you want a buildable Atmos system, or you could just opt for one of Vizio’s many budget and mid-range options. Sony’s $US600 ($811) HT-G700 is also a good compromise if all you really want is an Atmos soundbar and a sub — even if the simulated height claims fall a little short. Sony also has the slightly cheaper HT-A5000, which has nearly identical specs to the A7000 but is $US400 ($541) cheaper. (It also pairs with the same optional subwoofers and rears.)

But if you want the best of the best of the best and don’t mind paying for an excellent home audio system, get this one. It’s an excellent soundbar that won’t need to be replaced for a good long while. Sometimes, we’re allowed to splurge a bit on things that bring us joy — especially if they’re futureproofed. One thing that might take the sting out of the price is that this is a buildable, modular system. You could just get the soundbar, and over time add the subwoofer and rears as you see fit. You don’t have to go ham — but it sure will sound amazing if you do.