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First Look: A stunning sound bar but not quite for audiophiles

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First Look: A stunning sound bar but not quite for audiophiles

3:43 /

The Sony HT-ST7 is a visually stunning and well-featured sound bar, but it doesn't sound as good as you'd expect at its sky-high price.

Hey, I'm Matthew Moskovciak from CNET, and today, we're taking a look at the Sony HT-ST7. This is a premium-priced sound bar system that's selling for $1300. That's a lot of money for a sound bar, but you feel like you're getting your money's worth with the design. It looks and feels like a serious piece of equipment with a brushed metal cabinet and a hefty 17-pound weight. It's also a sizable unit at over 42 inches long and over 5 inches high and that height means it might end up blocking your TV's remote sensor if you place it on the tabletop. Luckily, Sony has included the ability to add IR blasters to the back which is a nice work around to the problem, although you do end up with more wire clutter. Hidden behind the speaker grille is a front-panel display that gives you useful feedback when adjusting the volume and selecting inputs. The speaker grille itself is also removable, letting you expose the drivers for a more in-your-face style. There are nine total drivers driven by seven discrete amplifiers, and the low end is handled by a 100-watt wireless subwoofer, which sports a 7-inch driver and a passive radiator. The included remote is a little unusual. It has a sticklike shape with angled triangular buttons that are pretty easy to navigate by feel. Slide the bottom down and you get even more controls, including the ability to tweak the subwoofer level right on the remote. Around the back of the bar are the ports, most importantly three HDMI inputs. While most sound bars rely on your TV to switch between devices, Sony gives you the option to connect your devices directly to the sound bar, which means it can receive full high-resolution soundtracks like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. The HT-ST7 also has built-in bluetooth with the ability to pair with NFC. Upping the convenience factor even further is the Sony's Bluetooth standby functionality, letting you wake up the sound bar simply by connecting via Bluetooth. Altogether, it makes the HT-ST7 great for casual, instant-gratification listening, although some audio fidelity is lost with Bluetooth compression. It is surprising that Sony doesn't include AirPlay on the system which doesn't suffer the same loss of audio fidelity. For this much money, it feels like you should get both. The big question with the sound bar this expensive is how it performs. And while the HT-ST7 does some things remarkably well, the sound quality wasn't as impressive as you'd want on the $1300 system. We had resident audiophile, Steve Guttenberg, give the system a listen and he was most impressed with the sense of space that Sony could create. Especially with movies, it can sound much bigger than the sound bar itself with soundstage accuracy that isn't common on sound bars. On the other hand, the Sony doesn't have quite the same powerful impact as some other systems, with both the less expensive Harman Kardon SB 16 and the JBL SB400 delivering a more visual experience. And on music, it sounded thinner than you'd expect, especially given the price. It's not that the Sony sounds bad, but overall, it doesn't sound dramatically better than less expensive solutions. So, altogether, there's no denying that Sony has set a new standard with the HT-ST7's style. So, it's worth considering if you've been searching for a great looking sound bar with good sound quality and are willing to pay for it. But if you're more concerned with sound quality or value, the HT-ST7 just doesn't offer enough performance to justify its sky-high price. I'm Matthew Moskovciak and this is the Sony HT-ST7.

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