Sony HT-A5000 review: Good-looking, powerful and superbly detailed


Sony HT-A5000 review - main image

The Sony HT-A5000 packs a punch and can be upgraded to a potent full surround-sound package but is up against some serious competition

Pros Powerful and detailed soundAttractive single-bar designSupports a wide range of audio formatsCons Bass can lack subtletyMale vocals can muffleOptional rear and bass speakers are expensive

Sony’s latest trilogy of soundbars treads classic flagship, mid-range and entry-level territory, with the all-singing, all-dancing 500W, 7.1.2-channel HT-A7000 at the top; the 250W 3.1-channel HT-A3000 at the bottom; and the HT-A5000 we’re looking at here in the middle.

The HT-A5000’s middle-ground positioning sees it equipped with a 450W 5.1.2-channel configuration, attached to a price that, by a stroke of good fortune, was slashed by £200 to £700 while this review was being written. A price which, crucially as it turns out, means it now undercuts mid-range stars such as the Sonos Arc and Harman Kardon Citation Multibeam 1100.

Image of Sony HT-A5000 premium 5.1.2 channel Dolby Atmos® Soundbar

Sony HT-A5000

£699.00 Buy now

Sony HT-A5000 review: What you need to know

As with all of Sony’s current HT series models, the HT-A5000 ships as a single bar, with no external speakers. It can, however, be upgraded with separate wireless subwoofer and rear speakers.

Most users, though, will probably end up sticking with just the HT-A5000. So it’s good to find Sony equipping this mid-range model with a true 5.1.2-channel speaker configuration that includes two up-firing channels to support the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based audio formats now available with most streaming services and Blu-ray discs.

There’s a healthy 450W of power behind the HT-A5000’s drivers, and that power can be brought to bear on an impressively wide range of sources. These include an HDMI passthrough which, unusually, includes support for 4K/120Hz gaming images and Dolby Vision HDR, while Bluetooth and Wi-Fi provide wireless support for Hi-Res audio files as well as Sony’s 360 Spatial Sound and 360 Reality Audio formats.

Sony HT-A5000 review - up-firing speakers

Sony HT-A5000 review: Price and competition

When I started working on the HT-A5000 it cost £899. By the time I’d finished, its price had been slashed to £699. While this price cut still leaves it in mid-range territory, it crucially puts a bit of clear blue pricing water between it and superstar rivals such as the Sonos Arc, Harman Kardon Citation Multibeam 1100 and Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3.

In fact, the price cut is enough to actually transform the HT-A5000 all the way from feeling expensive to feeling like it’s pretty good value. Until you start thinking about adding Sony’s now even more expensive-looking extra components, that is. The subwoofer options are the £699 300W SA-SW5 and the £449 200W SA-SW3, while the rear options are the front-facing-only £449 RS3S, and the £699 RS5S, which add up-firing drivers.

Sony HT-A5000 review: Design and features

The HT-A5000 looks quite different to Sony’s step-up HT-A7000 sibling – and I slightly prefer the cheaper model’s appearance, even if it’s not quite as premium. Its matte, mildly textured finish feels more consistent and organic than the glass-topped design of the A7000, and the large rectangular grilles that cover the up-firing drivers look more industrial and pronounced than those of the A7000. In a good way.

The A5000 is smaller than the A7000, too: 1,210 x 140 x 67mm (WDH) versus 1,300 x 142 x 80mm. This means it has less of an impact on the aesthetics of your room and accompanying TV.

Its basic shape is essentially just another stretched rectangle, but rounded corners soften its appearance. The way the grille that covers the soundbar’s front extends slightly into the soundbar’s top and side edges works well, too. While the A5000 will sit on the same piece of furniture as the TV it’s partnered with in most living rooms, Sony does provide a wall mount in the box which, DIY haters will be pleased to hear, is arguably the easiest one to install I’ve ever seen.

We’ve covered the A5000’s speaker configuration and power already, but it’s worth adding that most of the drivers use Sony’s X-Balance, racetrack-shaped speaker design to achieve more distortion-free volume from their small size, while the power to them is delivered by nine of Sony’s S class digital amplifiers. The optional extra speakers available for the A5000, meanwhile, are all styled and tuned to partner Sony’s soundbar range as effectively and harmoniously as possible.

Sony HT-A5000 review - rear logos

The A5000’s sound format support is extensive. Files playable from USB include DSD, Wav, Flac, ALAC (M4a and .mov), AIFF, HE-AAC, AAC, mp3, Monkey Audio, WMA and Ogg Vorbis files, with AAC, SBC and LDAC support via Bluetooth. Plus there’s multi-channel support for both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X – the latter of which isn’t a given on mid-range soundbars.

The A5000 carries a few proprietary Sony processing enhancements, too. The brand’s DSEE Extreme technology, for instance, aims to reintroduce the sound range of compressed digital audio tracks, while a Vertical Surround Engine aims to create a more obvious three-dimensional sound space. This Sony psycho-acoustic system is joined by third-party Dolby Speaker Virtualiser and DTS Neural:X options.

A 360 Spatial Audio option is there for upmixing low-channel sources into something that can take advantage of the soundbar’s full channel count, while, finally, tracks available in Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format are now available on the A5000 from Tidal, Amazon Music HD, Deezer and Nugs.

Sony HT-A5000 review: Connections and control

The Sony HT-A5000’s connections are tucked inside a cramped bay cut out of the soundbar’s rear, and include an HDMI out, an HDMI input, a USB-A port, an optical audio input, and an ’S-Center Out’ port that enables compatible Sony TVs to use their own speakers to enhance the soundbar’s performance.

It’s a pity – if not a surprise on a mid-range soundbar – that there’s no second HDMI input, but the HDMI port that’s there does score points over most rivals by supporting 4K/120Hz gaming feeds, as well as the Auto HDR Tone Mapping and Auto Genre Picture Mode features designed exclusively for the PlayStation 5 console. Sony promises that support for variable refresh rates and auto low latency mode switching will also be added to the A5000 via a firmware update, but can’t yet confirm when that update might arrive.

The HDMI passthrough supports the HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision high dynamic range formats, but not the HDR10+ format introduced as an alternative to Dolby Vision. The A5000’s HDMI out, as you would expect of a mid-range soundbar these days, supports the eARC system for receiving lossless Dolby Atmos or DTS:X soundtracks from compatible TVs.

Sony HT-A5000 review - remote control

The A5000 carries Bluetooth and Wi-Fi audio streaming, including Airplay 2, Chromecast and Spotify Connect compatibility, as well as multi-room support via Amazon Alexa, Apple Homekit and Google Home. What’s more, since the Bluetooth support is two-way, you can broadcast the soundbar’s sound to Bluetooth headphones.

The A5000 ships with a remote control that’s a bit plasticky but organises all the buttons you most need fairly prominently and logically, with clear labelling. There’s also a row of cute touch-response buttons on the soundbar’s top edge and you can track input selection, sound format, volume and so on via the basic but effective LED readout on the A5000’s front edge. If all of this button-pressing stuff is too old school for you, you can use any Google Assistant (with Chromecast built-in) or Amazon Alexa devices you have in your home to tell your A5000 what to do just by talking to it.

Unusually for today’s soundbar world, the A5000 makes quite extensive use of on-TV menus, while also providing some features and control from the Sony Music Center App for Apple and Android phones. While it’s good to see Sony providing so many control options, it can be a bit confusing, at least initially, that some features are only available exclusively via the onscreen menus or the phone app.

Image of Sony HT-A5000 premium 5.1.2 channel Dolby Atmos® Soundbar

Sony HT-A5000

£699.00 Buy now

Sony HT-A5000 review: Sound quality

Sony’s proud history of getting lots of sound out of very compact speaker designs serves it well once more with the A5000. Particularly, on this occasion, when it comes to the sort of sound mix minutiae essential to bringing good film soundtracks to life.

The exceptional sensitivity of its drivers lets you hear even the softest, faintest details, while also ensuring that even dense mixes usually avoid sounding muddy and condensed. Just as importantly, the outstanding detailing is delivered with impeccable balance and weighting, so that, for instance, background ambient sound effects aren’t confusingly elevated in the mix, bass doesn’t typically overwhelm trebles, and trebles don’t sound too bright.

The A5000’s impressive staging, meanwhile, means that its flair for detail holds up across a startlingly far-flung soundstage. A mixture of specific placement effects and space-creating ambience spreads right across your room – even if that room’s pretty big – while the up-firing drivers deliver one of the most effective senses of height with Dolby Atmos soundtracks that I’ve heard from a mid-range soundbar.

Sony HT-A5000 review - side profile

I should clarify that I’m not saying that the A5000 delivers sounds that appear to be coming from above your head, as would be the case with a full, separates Dolby Atmos speaker installation. The up-firing drivers don’t cast their sound significantly forward. But there’s definitely a floor-to-ceiling, side-to-side wall of sound into which effects are placed with impressive precision. Even when it comes to sound effects associated with objects that exist far above the onscreen action.

As well as helping to deliver such a large but cohesive and detailed sound stage, the A5000’s impressive power also propels the sound from the front-facing drivers toward your seating position with serious venom. If someone gets punched, you feel the crunch. If a bomb goes off, you feel it in your gut. If a dinosaur lumbers towards you, it really sounds like it’s headed your way. Impact sounds are well-timed, too, and never get drowned out by other dense soundtrack elements. In fact, the A5000’s ability to keep escalating its sound to keep up with a surging action scene is very impressive for such a compact single-bar solution.

Bass is, for the most part, also hard to reconcile with the A5000’s size. It drops deeper than you’d normally associate with a soundbar that isn’t equipped (as standard) with an external subwoofer, and it delivers its rumbles with enough power to never leave low frequencies sounding under-represented. Just as importantly, though, bass doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the soundstage.

While the A5000 usually sounds fantastic with films, there are limitations to its achievements. The most obvious (and forgivable) one of these is the lack of any sense of sound coming from behind your seating position. You’ll need to add a set of Sony’s optional rears to achieve that. Another issue is that while bass is always strong and present, when the pressure really ramps up it can start to sound a little raw and unrefined compared with the pristine feel of the rest of the mix.

Sony HT-A5000 review - low-end detail

Next, while the A5000 usually responds to and projects punchy impact sounds well, some that have a particularly wide dynamic range can make you wince just a little more than they should due to some slight compression in their treble registers.

Finally, deep voices can sound a touch soupy at times (though not usually enough to rob them of context), and while a provided Sound Field Effect option is welcome for the extra scale and heft it adds to film soundtracks, it can occasionally push a little too far, to the point where things start to sound a little forced and unnatural.

This being a Sony soundbar, the A5000 isn’t only interested in film and TV soundtracks. It also takes music very seriously, from the range of sound formats and sources it covers through to, happily, its performance.

There are two main options available to you when listening to music on the A5000: Sound Field Effect on and Sound Field Effect off. Both actually sound good in their different ways, though ultimately SFE off is probably the safest – or, at least, most consistent – option. Switch SFE on with stereo music and the soundbar will remix/repurpose the sound to take more advantage of the soundbar’s channel count and capabilities. As you would expect, this creates a much larger sound stage than you get in pure stereo mode, filling the front of your room and expanding a track’s dynamic range.

Sony HT-A5000 review - soundbar controls

These sorts of sound expansion processors always run the risk of starting to sound unnatural and unmusical, but for the most part the A5000’s SFE system does a compelling job. Especially in the way it cleverly polishes away the more abrasive edges of stereo tracks that would be the most likely to sound harsh and forced as a result of the SFE upmixing process.

The expanded sound works particularly well with songs that are mixed with a spacious, ambient, bass-heavy sound, giving them an almost Dolby Atmos-like sense of scale and immersion. The SFE effect can reduce the clarity and detailing of some dense tracks, though – especially as some bass sounds can start to merge into each other, making them sound less well-timed and therefore overly noticeable in the mix than they should be.

Because of this, unless you’re prepared to revisit the SFE mode on almost a song-by-song basis, you might find that for regular rather than party listening you’re better leaving the SFE off. The resulting stereo staging is smaller, but vocals, especially female vocals, sound clearer and purer, bass is handled more responsively, and you get back to the sort of outstanding detailing that was so noticeable with movie playback.

While I didn’t test the A5000 with its optional extra rear and subwoofer speakers, my suspicion given their price and Sony’s typical audio capabilities would be that they would greatly enhance the A5000’s performance, resolving most if not all of the slight limitations described in this review. As noted earlier, though, adding even the cheapest upgrade options takes the A5000 into a whole other pricing stratosphere.

Image of Sony HT-A5000 premium 5.1.2 channel Dolby Atmos® Soundbar

Sony HT-A5000

£699.00 Buy now

Sony HT-A5000 review: Verdict

The Sony A5000 is a good-looking, powerful and superbly detailed soundbar that also offers a much more serious upgrade path with its optional rear and subwoofer speakers than many of its peers.

At its original £899 price it found itself butting heads with some serious competition from the likes of Sonos, B&W and Harman Kardon. Happily, the £699 it costs now makes it much better value – though even here bass-loving home cinema fans might still have their heads turned by Samsung’s £749 HW-Q800B, which adds an included meaty external subwoofer to an already powerful Dolby Atmos-loving main soundbar.

The A5000 sounds better with music than the Samsung Q800B, though, as well as offering a better specified HDMI passthrough for gamers. Overall, while it might not reach new performance heights, the Sony HT-A5000 is still a strong all-rounder that’s particularly worthwhile if you own a recent Sony TV and/or you think you might be able to afford the optional extra speakers at some point down the line.

Original Article