Sony HT-A7000 soundbar review: Superior sound for the 8K set
The flagship Sony HT-A7000 soundbar makes Dolby Atmos audio sing, either by itself or with wireless expansion speakers.
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There are soundbars you buy simply to improve upon the stereo sound coming from your TV. From there, dozens upon dozens of step-up options increase the extent of surround-sound channels, wireless connectivity, output wattage, and so forth. There’s a final tier, however, that stretches the limits of the product category, offering a home theater sound system within a single, sizable unit. The Sony HT-A7000 soundbar fits into this last category, letting you trade the receivers, amplifiers, satellite speakers, etc., that used to stack up under and around the TV for a self-contained showpiece.
With its top- and side-firing speakers, this new Sony flagship is ready to delight home viewers searching for a 7.1.2 system that won’t take up the entire room. Support for all the latest object-based, immersive audio formats—Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio, etc.—makes movies and music pop within a larger spatial context. The HT-A7000’s internal digital signal processing (DSP) also upconverts any audio to make full use of its speaker array. It also offers app control, voice control, and a multitude of wireless connectivity, including Bluetooth and WiFi. Sony also makes wireless subwoofers and rear speakers that seamlessly connect to the soundbar, and bring overall investment to more than $2,000. But whether you expand it or not, the Sony HT-A7000 stands out in the highest echelon of soundbars.
The Sony HT-A7000 soundbar’s design
From the outside, the Sony HT-A7000 soundbar conveys sleek minimalism, with a metal grill covering the front of the 51-inch wide, 19-pound soundbar. Fabric covers the side- and top-firing speakers on either end and there’s a glossy finish on top where there are six touch-sensitive controls that get you through the basic functions, including power, volume, Bluetooth pairing, and input selection. Finally, a small, blue LED display peeks out of the front grill to indicate volume levels, selected input, surround sound mode, and so on.
But the most impressive aspects of Sony’s design lie within, where the virtual 7.1.2 soundbar’s 11 powered speaker channels deliver 500W of total output across five front-facing speakers, two up-firing speakers, two “beam” tweeters on the sides, and an internal dual-channel subwoofer. The rectangular shape of X-Balanced Speaker Units makes that subbass punchier, vocals clearer, and distortion lower, according to Sony’s claims.
Audio/video connections are tucked away in an indent on the back of the soundbar. These include two HDMI 2.1 passthrough inputs that support 8K video at 60Hz, 4K at 120Hz, and Dolby Vision HDR, which makes the HT-A7000 a suitable gaming soundbar for the latest-generation consoles like the Xbox Series X and Playstation 5. It should be noted, however, that the HT-A7000 does not yet support VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) or ALLM (Auto Low-Latency Mode), two HDMI 2.1 game-centric features. Sony promises a firmware update in Spring 2022 that hopefully will add both.
There are also analog and digital optical audio inputs, HDMI eARC TV output, and an S-Center output for integrating compatible TVs (such as some Sony BRAVIA models) as an additional center channel of the overall audio mix. There are wall-mounting sockets around the back but wall-mounting hardware (brackets, screws, etc.) is sold separately.
Getting started with the Sony HT-A7000 soundbar
The HT-A7000 comes with a remote control, power cable, and an HDMI cable—enough to get you up and running by connecting the soundbar’s HDMI out to your TV’s HDMI eARC/ARC input. The two HDMI inputs incorporate your streaming media box, game console, Blu-ray player, or other components.
Once everything was set up, my Samsung Smart TV remote could turn on the HT-A7000 and TV, plus control the soundbar’s volume. However, unlike other home theater system remotes, the HT-A7000 remote would not conversely turn on the Samsung TV, making a one-remote situation untenable.
For the best immersive audio results, a soundbar’s top-firing speakers and side-firing beam tweeters need to reflect off of a ceiling and walls that are neither too close nor too far. However, Sony tells HT-A7000 users not to worry about that too much, because upon setting up, it takes you through a series of tones, from which the built-in microphone and DSP measure the reflections off of your room’s surfaces to optimize the unit’s surround sound mix for your space.
After it powers up, the HT-A7000 enters an onscreen user interface, where you can select from the video inputs—TV, HDMI 1, and HDMI 2—or from a litany of audio inputs—including USB, analog, Spotify, Chromecast, AirPlay 2, Bluetooth, Amazon Alexa, and Sony 360 Reality Audio. The remote control also has shortcut buttons for the video inputs, USB, Bluetooth, and the most recently used streaming music service. Chromecast, AirPlay 2, and the USB port are only for playing audio, not video. With compatible Sony BRAVIA TVs (for example, the XR A90J), the HT-A7000 integrates all its controls and onscreen user interface into the TV for smoother control.
Key features of the Sony HT-A7000 soundbar
The virtual 7.1.2-channel HT-A7000 works with all the major Dolby and DTS surround-sound formats, including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, as well as the growing Sony 360 Reality Audio format. However, built-in DSP, which Sony calls the Vertical Surround Engine, converts any audio material to utilize the full 7.1.2 channels, making any piece of music or video take advantage of the soundbar’s top-firing speakers and side beam tweeters. The remote control’s Immersive AE (Audio Enhancement) button turns on this function. Even on material that’s already formatted for all the channels, such as Dolby Atmos movies and music, Immersive AE still adds a boost of overhead spaciousness to the soundstage. I liked using the Immersive AE function on almost all the music and videos I played, with the exception of some live talk shows where the audience’s laughter and applause were too high in the mix.
Connection and compatibility options
Sony makes it easy to enjoy the HT-A7000 in practically any way you prefer, with a wide variety of connection and compatibility options available. In addition to the two HDMI ports, plus digital and analog audio inputs, you can also connect with a bevy of wireless technologies. Most of those options, as well as the USB port, are for audio only, and USB playback works with almost every popular compressed, uncompressed, and lossless audio file format, with the notable exception of Apple’s ALAC.
For wireless music, you can playback high-resolution audio stored on a computer over Wi-Fi by connecting the HT-A7000 to your home network. The simple Song Music Center app (available for iOS and Android) lets you play high-resolution audio stored on a mobile device, as well as provides soundbar controls. Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast support are also built in. I used Chromecast to play music over the HT-A7000 from various Chromecast apps such as Amazon Music and the soundbar treats all the various wireless music with the same Immersive AE effects as everything else, plus shows album art and onscreen controls when the TV is connected. However, Chromecast doesn’t work that well on my Android phone—the sound frequently hangs—so it was better to connect the phone over Bluetooth 5.0. The soundbar’s Bluetooth connection (featuring SBC, AAC, and the higher-resolution LDAC codec, which I used) sounds excellent and performs wonderfully—just as good as it did playing the same source through the analog audio input.
With a little bit of patience during setup, you can also use voice control for the HT-A7000 over Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant on mobile devices. First, make sure Alexa or Google Assistant is installed on your mobile device and that it’s connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the soundbar. Then connect Alexa/Google Assistant to the soundbar through the Sony Music Center app. Once through setup, you can use voice commands such as next/previous song and volume control.
The Sony HT-A7000’s sound
The Sony HT-A7000 is the flagship Sony soundbar and I wanted to test it on its own before hooking up optional components. Because the HT-A7000 handles the flaming-hot Dolby Atmos surround-sound format, I threw a lot of Atmos-encoded movies and music at it, while also using it for normal TV and music, most of which was not made for Atmos or Sony 360 Reality Audio.
Once you know how to play Atmos-encoded material successfully, you can take advantage of a rapidly growing body of work—particularly for movies and TV, but also now for music as well. The Atmos movies I watched included the new Dune, Army of Thieves, Uncut Gems, Finch, and No Time to Die. For Atmos music, I dove into Tidal HiFi Plus’s New Arrivals playlist, which plugs new tracks from popular artists such as Post Malone/The Weeknd, Terrace Martin, Lorde, Sigrid, Kid Cudi, and even new tracks from old favorites like Diana Ross, Abba, U2, and Robert Plant/Alison Krauss.
Even with non-Atmos media, the HT-A7000’s Immersive AE effect makes excellent use of the top-and side-firing drivers to create an enveloping soundstage than they would be when listening to lesser-equipped soundbars or the best bookshelf speakers. The HT-A7000 creates a large sweet spot that I estimate as a spherical space with a radius of 3 to 4 feet, where listeners can enjoy close to the optimal listening experience.
With the Atmos format (or the less common Sony 360 Reality Audio) the HT-A7000 really shines. It was a treat to watch big-budget movies that clearly put attention into Atmos sound mixing. In Dune, the rotary dirge of the dragonfly-like ornithopters, the paranormal voices during Paul Atreides’ hallucinations, and the desert-shaking movements of the sandworms took on a multidimensional realism as sounds scattered over, around, and through the room.
During Finch, it was the Atmos spaciousness that heightened the tension in moments like the tornado scene, when objects and debris are swirling around and steel cables break under the stress. Of course, the latest James Bond romp No Time To Die has plenty of bullets, explosions, aircraft, tire-screeching car chases, overhead glass breaking, and water deluges to exploit the Atmos capabilities as well.
The soundbar’s side channels expertly send signals around the sides of a moderately sized living room. The top channels for overhead effects are also successful, but not as immersive as with a fully outfitted Atmos cinema or home theater, where the speakers are actually overhead. But the HT-A7000 is far more enjoyable than watching movies with TV speakers, stereo speakers, or soundbars without top- and side-firing speakers. As another bonus, quiet movie dialog that is often hard to discern when using stereo speakers is much clearer when the sound mix is spread out to a multichannel format like Atmos.
With its 500W of total output power, the HT-A7000 handles music beautifully, whether on its own or in a movie. Evocative soundtracks like Hans Zimmer’s otherworldly Dune score or Daniel Lopatin’s synthesizer opus for Uncut Gems benefit from the Atmos soundstage, as notes hang in the air, oscillating between points of space. It was also interesting to hear the different approaches to Atmos mixing from the Tidal playlist. Some tracks played with the immersive format—sending vocals, percussion hits, and other sounds zipping around in space—while other songs took a very straightforward approach to converting stereo material in a basic way that adds more spatial depth.
In terms of audio quality, Sony endows the HT-A7000 with a well-balanced, clear, and detailed sound that accurately portrays the whole range of frequencies. Turning the Immersive AE effect on seems to add some excitement to the top-end frequencies, but I didn’t mind the boost. The soundbar has a built-in subwoofer that does a decent job with bass, but not as much bass (or overall power) as the much larger and more expensive Sennheiser AMBEO, which could definitely be considered one of the best soundbars if you have the space and $2,499 budget for it. The AMBEO also has better projecting top-firing speakers, making it in my opinion the créme de la créme of standalone, self-contained soundbars for Atmos material. However, when you expand the HT-A7000 with a subwoofer and rear speakers, the combined system has a larger immersive soundstage and much more bass than the AMBEO.
Expanding the setup
While the Sony HT-A7000 on its own checks all the boxes for a home theater and music-listening soundbar, there’s no question that adding the Sony SA-SW5 wireless subwoofer and the Sony SA-RS3S wireless rear speakers enhanced the overall experience. All the benefits of Atmos, other types of surround sound, and the Immersive AE effect were amplified with the rear speakers. Even when listening to standard stereo music, I preferred turning on the Immersive AE setting, which adds the soundbar’s top speakers and SA-RS3S rear speakers to the mix.
Without an SA-SW5 (300W) or SA-SW3 (200W) subwoofer, the HT-A7000’s bass from its built-in subwoofer is merely functional—an improvement over TV speakers for representing the basic low-end profile of music and movie soundtracks. But for serious music lovers and cinephiles who want to hear the lowest of frequencies and, just as importantly, feel the rumble of the onscreen action and of crowd-rocking tunes, the added subwoofer—which reaches down to 28Hz—performs admirably.
I tested the SA-SW5—a solid black block measuring 19 by 19 by 14.5 inches and weighing a chunky 37 pounds to accommodate a 7.1-inch woofer. Its main cabinet is elevated off the floor and, rather than having a front or rear bass reflex port, it is an omnidirectional design that is supposed to spread the sound wider. Regardless of technological claims, its bass sounds smooth, rich, and absolutely massive when you crank it up. While watching Army of Thieves—the bank-heist prequel to Army of the Dead—I let the subwoofer’s volume really rip and, sure enough, for the first time in eight years of living in my condo, the neighbors came a-knockin’.
If you also want to conjure up a visit, combining the HT-A7000 with either the Sony SA-SW5 or Sony SA-SW3 wireless subwoofers and/or the Sony SA-RS3S wireless rear speakers is easy. Just plug in and position the speakers, power them on, and their indicator lights will flash green until the soundbar automatically recognizes them. Then you can re-run the room configuration process with the additional speakers connected. The soundbar’s remote has dedicated volume buttons for both the rear speakers and the subwoofer, so you can find the right mix for your taste.
So, who should buy the Sony HT-A7000 soundbar?
On its own, the Sony HT-A7000 soundbar outputs a very spacious soundstage for immersive surround-sound formats and converted audio, with wide-reaching side speakers and effective top channels. It’s powerful enough to saturate most living rooms and media spaces with immersive audio and has a bass response from its built-in subwoofer that improves upon TV speakers and many other standalone soundbars. In comparison, the more expensive Sennheiser AMBEO has deeper bass, more powerful output, and a more expansive 3D soundstage.
Users who must have the absolute pinnacle of an Atmos experience in a single (although huge) unit should consider the AMBEO. Although a standalone Sony HT-A7000 gets you most of the way to the AMBEO at significant savings in cost, adding a Sony subwoofer and rear speakers to the soundbar gives you theatrical-style bass rumble and more depth to the soundstage at a total investment similar to the AMBEO—give or take depending on the subwoofer model. For those who have the available space, budget, and appreciation for enormous, well-formed bass and a comprehensive, surround soundstage, however, I definitely recommend expanding the system with the SA-RS3S rear speakers and one of the compatible Sony subwoofers. Such a configuration is a highly impressive system with a simple, wireless setup and a small-to-moderate footprint.