Eighteen months ago, Yamaha introduced the first Dolby Atmos sound bar to the world. That remarkable contraption zapped sound effects from around and above you, with no room full of speakers required! Despite its undeniable innovation, the YSP-5600 did have its issues -- namely it was just too big and it was expensive.
Today Atmos bars are available to fit many wallets -- especially those wallets bulging with notes. Like the Yamaha, the Atmos-capable Sony HT-ST5000 is at the upper end of the scale, but it offers sound quality the Yamaha isn't capable of, in part due to the large subwoofer.
The HT-ST5000 follows in the footsteps of the excellent, open-sounding HT-NT5, showing a tight performance with music and movies. It offers 4K compatibility and also Wi-Fi music for easy streaming around your house, in addition to "Chomecast built-in" and Google Home integration. It's a very classy package, if you can justify the price.
The Sony HT-ST5000 is on sale for $1,499 or £1,500, with Australian availability to be announced -- though you could expect it to be around AU$3,000.
Exposed tweeters give a unique look
All sound bars kind of look the same, but the Sony's mounted, coaxial tweeters help elevate the speaker from the other black rectangles out there. The 'bar is 46.5 inches wide, which means it will look best with TVs between 46 inches and 50. It's relatively tall at 3.25 inches -- with no IR repeater if it happens to block your remote sensor -- and very deep at 5.6 inches.
The sound bar has five 2.6-inch drivers across the front of the unit, three of which feature a coaxial soft dome tweeter suspended above them. In the top of the bar are two more upward-firing drivers. It comes with a metal grille if you prefer to protect the rather naked tweeters, though on the sample we received, the grille didn't fit properly. It's quite possible it warped during transit.
Meanwhile, the large wireless subwoofer consists of a 7.13-inch woofer that drives a passive radiator, and like the 'bar, the sub feels reassuringly weighty.
The onscreen menu is fairly straightforward with a list of inputs as well as a limited settings menu, including links to streaming services.
The remote is a shrunk-down version of the clicker that comes with the company's televisions. It's brightly colored where it counts, and it's pleasant to use.
Ins, outs and apps -- and Dolby Atmos
The Sony HT-ST5000 is a purported 7.1.2 sound bar -- three fronts, two overheads and simulated surround sound which offers compatibility with Dolby Atmos. though not DTS:X. For whatever reason, none of the "atmospheric" sound bars we've seen so far support the rival DTS:X technology, so if you have discs encoded in that format, Sony's own STR-DN1080 receiver and a set of compatible speakers is a better bet.
The Sony has three HDMI inputs which offer compatibility with 4K HDR content. It also includes an optical input and a 3.5mm analog port. For streaming music, the system comes with Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth.
Sony has been a close partner of Google's for many years, having debuted the first Google TV in 2010. It makes sense that this speaker also supports Google's excellent "Chromecast built-in" multiroom system. Popular apps include Spotify, Pandora, Google Music, YouTube and Tidal. Users can also use Sony's Music Center app for streaming music in bit-rates up to 24-bit/192kHz. One of the benefits of Chromecast is that you can control it with the Google Home smart speaker. Ask the Home's Assistant to "play The Cure on the Sony sound bar", for example, and the HT-ST5000 will start playing the band from your favored music service (which can include Spotify or Google Play Music).
Tweaking the sound
Considering its high price, we were disappointed that the Sony HT-ST5000 didn't come with a calibration microphone or feature auto setup. To optimize its sound quality, you need to go to the onscreen setup menus and manually enter the distance between the main listening position and the sound bar as well as your ceiling's height, and then adjust the speakers volume levels. The routine is fairly straightforward, however, and we completed it in just a few minutes.
When we started listening to the HT-ST5000 with movies, we had selected the "Standard" setting in the Sound Effect menu, and were underwhelmed with this sound bar's imaging. Most of the sound was confined to the width of the sound bar. To correct that, all we had to do was select the "Movie" Sound Effect, and then the image blossomed; its width, depth and height occupied the front wall of the CNET listening room. We liked that it's so easy to adjust the HT-ST5000's subwoofer's volume directly from the remote control.
How it sounds
The Sony website claims the HT-ST5000's "Dolby Atmos delivers breathtaking realism with 360-degree surround sound, accurately positioning sound within your environment so that the 7.1.2 speaker channels completely envelop you in sound -- even from above." We wouldn't go that far. True 360-degree surround would completely fill your listening room with surround sound, but the HT-ST5000 didn't quite achieve that. It produced a large soundstage, but with impressive height and depth only across the front wall of our listening room.
The HT-ST5000's subwoofer certainly held up its part by supplying a healthy dose of visceral impact for the "Transformers: Age of Extinction" Blu-ray's epic action scenes. When the giant Decepticon craft magnetically hoists cars and trucks up into the sky, the HT-ST5000 relished every metal-crunching morsel. Power delivery was first-rate, and the HT-ST5000's massive sonic image loomed larger than what we heard from the LG SJ9 sound bar. The LG was good enough, but it just couldn't keep up with the HT-ST5000's home-theater brawn. The SJ9's subwoofer's bass was big, but it sounded muddy and thick next to the HT-ST5000's higher-definition sub.
The lack of separate wireless surround speakers hurt the the HT-ST5000, as the Samsung HW-K950 was able to generate a more immersive, room-filling experience.
The HT-ST5000's clarity helped set it apart from the other sound bars when we played "The Revenant" Blu-ray. Dialogue was natural sounding, and the scenes in the 1820s American wilderness had tremendous depth and detail. The savagery of the bear attack scene was especially terrifying, thanks to the HT-ST5000's unflinching fidelity.
Then we played some tunes, and again the HT-ST5000 didn't disappoint. Its combination of clarity and generous bass support from the subwoofer clicked with all music genres.
Should you buy it?
The Sony HT-ST5000 may be expensive, but its up-to-date features set and excellent sound quality help make it worthwhile. As good as the Sony is though, at this level it's difficult to ignore the presence of the Samsung HW-K950. This competitive sound bar is not only cheaper than the Sony but is capable of better immersion thanks to its dedicated up-firing rears.