Sony HT-NT5 review: Sony finally nails the sub-$1k sound bar

With a recent firmware update came the ability to add wireless rear-channel speakers, and while the app offers the same capability it doesn't currently work. For best results we followed the onscreen prompts. Sony supplied a pair of ZR7 as rears but this is probably overkill and you could save $200 by using the ZR5 instead.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

It didn't take very long to hear that the Sony HT-NT5 was an exceptional sound system. There are no setup or calibration requirements, but you can adjust the subwoofer's volume directly from the remote.

Performance

Starting our listening tests streaming files from Tidal, the HT-NT5's poise and refinement was immediately obvious. That's never a given for sound bars because most are designed to excel with home theater, but the HT-NT5 cruised through rock, jazz and classical music.

We next played the opening track from Philip Glass' "Koyaanisqatsi" soundtrack album, that starts with ultra-deep bass organ passages, and a male chorus chanting "Koyaan-isqatsi" over and over again, and the HT-NT5 never faltered or distorted. This track is a revealing test for even full-size 5.1 channel systems. The sub never once lost its composure, and while Radiohead's "A Moon Shaped Pool" was a tad bright with the volume turned up, the HT-NT5 sounded fine at low to moderate volume levels. All in all this svelte bar proved itself to be an above average sounding performer for music.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Its home theater moxie came to the fore as we watched the action scenes in "American Sniper." The heavy-duty street warfare had tremendous impact, dynamics and power; the dialogue was clear; and the soundstage was wide and deep. It was at at this point that we switched over to the similarly-priced Definitive Technology W Studio Micro sound bar/wireless subwoofer system, and they were close. Both were very powerful as we switched back and forth, but the HT-NT5 projected a wider, more spacious soundstage, and dialogue was a little clearer.

We turned up the heat with Eminem's "Live in New York City" DVD and the HT-NT5's subwoofer fully energized the CNET listening room. The sound bar's upward firing drivers produced a big sound, but only up to a point. We heard some strain when we turned up the volume really loud, at more reasonable listening levels Eminem's music shined. The W Studio Micro's sub kicked harder, and played a bit louder without strain than the HT-NT5. At more moderate volume levels the W Studio Micro never matched the HT-NT5's clarity with Eminem's music.

Returning to streaming music we played the "Hamilton" Broadway album, and while those big Broadway voices sounded awfully nice with both bars, again the HT-NT5 sounded clearer overall.

While adding rears proved to be a painful process, once installed they instantly transformed the freeway chase scene from "Deadpool." The scene had real depth from front to back and greater immersion as a result. One thing to note is that music will also play in surround (with matrixing from the front channels) and so you need to disable the rears with the aforementioned onscreen icon to prevent this.

Conclusion

The Sony HT-NT5 really delivers the goods for a system in the upper midrange price category. Yes, we nitpicked various aspects of its sound, but when you add it all up the HT-NT5 is one of the better sound bars out there.

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