Sony HT-A5000Reviewed at $799.00
Inputs and Features8.8/10
Price / Quality8.8/10
- Great sound for both movies and music
- Modular design
- Plenty of online features
- Easy to setup
- No surround performance without rear speakers
- Can become expensive with the optional kits
- Some settings are not very obvious to find
- No VRR or ALLM
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It has been a while since we last tested a Sony soundbar and this was at a time when the Japanese manufacturer released their latest 2021 soundbar lineup. Back then we tried out both their flagship unit, the Sony HT-A7000 as well as their brand new hybrid system the Sony HT-A9. So today in our Sony HT-A5000 review we will be focusing on the smaller soundbar they have and see if this can hold its own compared to the other two.
The HT-A5000 has a lot in common with its flagship brother but obviously in order to offer a smaller and cheaper solution certain corners had to be cut. The soundbar is a single unit design, as was the HT-A7000, but in a side by side comparison some differences were immediately obvious while some others needed a bit more digging in order to show up.
But let’s see real quick what the HT-A5000 is all about. What we have here is a 5.1.2 channels, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X capable unit with 450 watts of total power. As for extras it comes fully packed with Chromecast, Airplay 2, USB and Bluetooth playback, WiFi functionality, voice control support, it can be expanded with the optional subwoofers and surround speakers kits and lastly comes with HDMI 2.1 ports meaning it can pass-through 4K@120Hz with HDR and Dolby Vision.
If the HT-A7000 was too much for your budget with its $1,300 price tag the HT-A5000 may be a great alternative for you. It costs almost $500 less and while it may be more limited in terms of pure audio output, it comes will almost all the features Sony’s flagship has. But does its audio performance comes close to Sony’s claims? Let’s find out…
Design, Inputs and Features
The HT-A5000 may be slightly smaller than the HT-A7000 but it is still a big soundbar and if you consider the fact that it comes with side firing channels this means that you need ample of space that will not obstruct the sides of the unit. The unit measures 47 3/4 inch x 2 3/4 inch x 5 5/8 inch (1210 x 67 x 140mm) and weights of 13 lb 8 oz (6.1 kg) which means that it needs careful handling when setting it up.
The soundbar has exactly the same modular design as the A7000 as you get the basic unit and you can decide after if you want to add any of the two available subwoofers or two different sets of surround speakers. This way you can tailor the system to fit your space and your needs exactly which is a major advantage of these Sony units.
Design wise the HT-A5000 looks similar to the A7000 but is not entirely the same. Both of them have the same omnidirectional block design with simple looks, straight lines and round corners but this one doesn’t have this luxury look we have seen in some other premium releases.
The entire front side is covered by a metal grille that cannot be taken off while most of the top side is covered by what seems to be black matte plastic instead of the HT-A7000’s glass plate. And to be honest we like it better this way as the A7000 was a major fingerprint magnet. Yes, it looked more premium but there is no point if you are afraid to touch it.
Once again there is a full functions display available that Sony placed between the center and right channels. It may not be as big as the one we saw in our Klipsch Cinema 1200 review but it’s far better than those LED light indicator displays that some brands are using. With a full display it’s much easier to read what the soundbar is doing and gives you visual clues of various settings and inputs.
The back of the soundbar houses all the connections in two special insets with the power connector being isolated in the left inset while everything else is grouped in the right one. Also due to the size and weight of the unit the special brackets for wall mounting are holding the soundbar from the bottom instead of the back for better stability.
One thing we definitely need to mention is that the HT-A5000 comes with two IR repeaters at the back, so in case it obstructs your TV’s IR sensor fear not, as the unit can pass the remote’s signals to your TV even if there is no direct line of sight.
This is exactly the same as we saw in the flagship A7000 and it seems that Sony is one of the few manufacturers that still include IR repeaters in their units. To be honest we think this to be an extremely useful feature as many TVs do not have any clearance under the panel, like the Sony A90J or the new Sony A95K, and you would have to rely on other means for keeping your TV above the soundbar.
Overall we are pretty happy with the A5000. It feels sturdy, uses good quality of materials and has this Sony feel that many of their products have. It may not have the more premium feel of Sony’s flagship but it still has a lovely looking design even if not all that impressive. The IR repeaters is a major plus and this certainly puts this one ahead of many other competitors in the same price category.
Next we will be looking under the hood of the A5000. The soundbar does have certain similarities with its bigger brother but also some changes that comes with the smaller design of this one. The A5000 features a 5.1.2 channels setup so let’s analyze how all these channels are placed.
For each of the three main front channels Sony have used a single 46 mm × 54 mm (1 13/16 in × 2 1/4 in) cone type driver which is exactly the same as the ones used for the two up-firing Atmos ones.
The unit also features two 16mm (21/32 in) soft dome tweeters that work with the soundbar’s Beam technology in order to expand the sound further than the physical limits of the unit itself.
Lastly in order to boost the low end performance Sony added two 45 mm × 108 mm (1 13/16 in × 4 3/8 in) cone type subwoofer drivers which are placed on both sides of the center channel.
As with most Sony products the up-firing speakers, built-in subwoofer and front speaker blocks feature X-Balanced Speaker Units. The unique rectangular shape of these speakers maximizes the diaphragm area for more punchy bass. It also reduces driver excursion while maintaining sound pressure, resulting in less distortion and greater vocal clarity.
In essence the real difference here between the A5000 and the A7000 is that Sony’s flagship features two additional front channels that are placed in close proximity to the main right and main left ones. These are absent here. The rest of the configuration seems to be exactly the same.
The HT-A5000 comes with a S-Master HX digital amplifier which uses less energy to produce the same signal. The increase in energy efficiency eliminates the need for a large heat sink and large power supply found in conventional designs.
The whole system is rated at 450 watts of output power with a (50W x 9) configuration.
A problem we constantly face, even with premium soundbars, is the extremely low number of HDMI ports which results in users having to rely on 3rd party accessories to connect all their equipment together. And the HT-A5000 falls in the same category and while it can be used in pass-through mode its single HDMI input does not allow it to be a hub for connecting all your sources.
The unit, except from the single HDMI input and HDMI output, comes with one digital optical input, an S-Center output and a USB Type-A for connecting external storage for media playback.
Since you will be wondering the S-Center output can be used only with selected Sony Bravia TVs that have the BRAVIA Acoustic Center Sync mode and allows for the TV to be used as the center channel of your setup. This way you can have the HT-A5000 work along with your Bravia TV in order to get a more fulfilling experience.
As for its HDMI ports it is great to see soundbars finally start utilizing the new HDMI 2.1. As a result the HT-A5000 can pass most signals up to 4K@120Hz with HDR and Dolby Vision. Also the HDMI output of the HT-A5000 comes with eARC functionality which means you can pass audio from the TV to the soundbar itself and playback even the highest resolution of audio formats like Dolby Atmos that comes from a Dolby TrueHD core.
But while the unit seems to be able to pass 4K@120Hz signal what is missing is both VRR and ALLM support so you cannot say that these are true HDMI 2.1 ports. Unfortunately this is a grey area and many manufacturers are not very clear on what the available ports can or cannot do. So if you are a gamer and VRR and ALLM are really important to you you will have to find an alternative way of connecting your gaming devices.
Such a highly priced soundbar could not be without wireless capabilities and as such the unit supports WiFi and also Bluetooth 5.0.
Overall the HT-A5000 offers the standard in terms of connectivity. A single HDMI input surely does not cut it and you will have to either use the multiple HDMI ports of your TV or use some short of HDMI hub for that purpose. Also missing VRR and ALLM but on the other hand having support for 4K@120Hz is a bit of a puzzling decision from Sony.
Next we will be looking at the ways you can control the soundbar which are pretty much the same as the ones we saw in the A7000. As per usual the soundbar has some built-in buttons that Sony has placed at the top right side, just to the left of the right up-firing driver. There are six touch sensitive buttons and from left to right we find a power button, input selection, Bluetooth, Music Service and volume controls.
Using touch sensitive buttons surely give the unit a more premium feel but trying to find them in a dark environment can be a frustrating procedure. Also touch sensitive buttons can become less responsive over time so it has its pros and cons going for such a design decision.
The included remote is a rather simple one and is similar in design with the one that is included in the HT-A7000. The only change in this one is the slightly different buttons layout due to some different functionality between the two units.
Buttons wise it has plenty to go around but everything feels nicely spaced and grouped. Unfortunately there is no backlight available and this certainly will add some frustration when trying to press the correct button in the dark.
The soundbar supports HDMI-CEC which means that if you connect the unit to the TV with a HDMI cable you can use the TV’s remote to handle some basic controls like volume. This may not give you the complete range of supported functions but it may help in certain situations.
Sony is calling this the Bravia Sync functionality. If you have a Bravia TV that supports this then you can interlock the TV and soundbar together which allows for even further integration between the two.
Such a high priced soundbar couldn’t be without voice control and as such the unit works with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Keep in mind that while the soundbar itself does have built-in microphones, in order to use voice control you will need an external voice control device to work with.
In reality voice control is not built-in into the soundbar and that’s why Sony says that it can work with it but not out of the box. A curious omission honestly but one that we have seen in some other soundbars also.
Lastly the HT-A5000 comes with app support and the one that you can use is the Sony Music Center app which can act as a remote and grands you the ability to control many of the system’s settings and functions. It’s a nice app that we had tried before with the A7000 and since it is free to download we recommend you give it a try.
Extra Features and Services
The HT-A5000 may be a cheaper version of the A7000 with slightly lower capabilities but in terms of extra features we find most of what was included in Sony’s flagship. There are a few changes and we will make sure to point them out.
But we will start from the obvious and this is no other than the supported audio formats and Sony has literally included everything in this one. As such we find Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital plus, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS, DTS:X and LPCM, up to 7.1 channels, support which pretty much is everything you should expect.
In general we have seen that Sony doesn’t like to add a lot of sound modes. Even the flagship A7000 had only a few of them and the A5000 is even simpler here. You have two choices with one being the basic output that is more suited for music stereo playback while the other is activated by enabling the Sound Field Effect option that puts the soundbar’s virtual tech at play.
But Sony didn’t include only one kind of virtual tech but multiple ones with different strengths and weaknesses each. The unit comes with Vertical Surround Engine, Dolby Speaker Virtual, Dolby Surround and Neural:X virtual technologies and each one gives different characteristics to the sound output and overall spatial enhancement.
The Vertical Surround Engine is Sony’s virtual surround technology and with it the soundbar can position sound in vertical space – so you can experience 3D audio without the need for in-ceiling or height speakers. Vertical Surround Engine lends a more realistic, multi-dimensional sound to all kinds of audio content you feed it.
And since the soundbar does not feature any rear speakers by default, we also get S-Force PRO Front Surround. Using the front speakers only, Sony’s unique digital sound field processing technology virtually reproduces the surround sound field, with audio coming at you from both sides.
There are also a couple of special modes with Night mode for late night viewings and also a Voice mode if you feel that the dialogue is not very clear. We did try both of these and indeed you can hear the difference and can be useful in specific situations.
The HT-A5000 also comes with DSEE Extreme technology. Using Edge-AI (Artificial Intelligence), DSEE Extreme upscales compressed digital music files in real time. Dynamically recognizing instrumentation, musical genres, and individual elements of each song, such as vocals or interludes, it restores the high-range sound lost in compression for a richer, more complete listening experience.
Such a system could not be without some short of streaming capabilities and the HT-A5000 really have a lot going for it. First of all let’s talk about its Bluetooth capabilities. With it you can stream any kind of audio from your mobile device to the unit itself. You can also transmit audio from the unit to a compatible Bluetooth speaker or headphones. Bluetooth supports not only the standard SBC codec but also AAC and LDAC.
But you are not only limited to local streaming as there is Chromecast, Airplay 2 and Spotify Connect support giving you immense capabilities with online music. With Airplay 2 you can stream music from any Apple device with the use of third party streaming services. If you are an Apple guy then you will surely find this one handy.
And since we talked about music the soundbar supports High Resolution Audio that can be streamed either online or through the included USB port. Audio files that are supported include MP3, AAC, FLAC, AIFF and ALAC among others.
It seems that for the 2021 models Sony decided to go for a single unit design and make them modular in order to add by yourself whatever you deem necessary. As such with the HT-A5000 you have the option to choose between two subwoofers with the Sony SA-SW3 or Sony SA-SW5 being the two available. From the two we certainly suggest the SW5 but even the SW3 will add some necessary punch to the basic output.
Except for the sub you can also opt for either the SA-RS3S or the SA-RS5 rear speakers kits in order to improve the unit’s surround performance. Here we would strongly suggest to go for the RS5, if your budget allows for it of course, as it is much better than the RS3S.
The RS5 are omnidirectional rear speakers and include two rear channels along with an up-firing Atmos channel each. On the other hand the RS3S comes with a single channel and no Atmos one.
Just to keep everything into perspective, if you decide to add both a subwoofer and a rear speakers kit, with the RS3S you are going to have a 7.2.2 channels system while with the RS5 kit you will have a 9.2.4 setup that will definitely show in terms of immersion and 3D sound reproduction.
Connecting the sound was very easy and with its multiple connectivity options things are as straightforward as they get.
For our testing we decided to connect our source to the soundbar itself and connect the output to our test TV since it’s HDMI ports allow for full 4K signal pass-through. Alternatively you can either use the eARC functionality in order to pass the audio from the TV to the soundbar itself or if your devices lack any HDMI ports there is also the Digital Optical input for that reason.
When all physical connections are made and you power the soundbar for the first time you have to go through a series of settings including the Sound Field Optimization feature which is basically the soundbar’s auto calibration system using the on-board microphones. It is relatively fast to finish and you don’t have to do anything, only keep silent until it finishes calibration. After that it will ask you to connect to a local network, if you want and then you are set to go.
From the Home menu you have the option to select a specific input, listen to music from one of the available options or enter the settings menu. Obviously the next step includes adjusting the different channels if the predefined ones are not to your satisfaction and also choose the appropriate virtual tech that will be used when the Sound Field Effect is turned on.
Obviously there are many simpler soundbars out there but also some others that offer far more in terms of audio settings. We believe that the HT-A5000 strikes a nice balance between the two. Neither too much that can overwhelm the casual user nor too little that will leave disappointed those that seek a bit more flexibility with their system.
The movie of choice for this review was Midway in 4K UHD as its Dolby Atmos mix is exactly what we need in order to test the full capabilities of this unit.
The HT-A5000 is a slightly less capable HT-A7000 so we were curious to see how this would translate with some real world content. And indeed from the first moments into the film you could sense the similarities between the two Sony soundbars while there were some minor but surely notable differences.
We will start from what we heard at the front. The HT-A5000 is a very impressive unit as the entire front sound wall felt very satisfying. The two main channels did most of the heavy lifting obviously but certain panning effects were very impressive and with the combination of the beam tweeters this was even more notable as the soundbar added more sideways extension, far beyond the physical limits of the main unit itself.
Dialog was satisfying enough with good clarity even during busy scenes and this was due to the inclusion of the dedicated center channel that kept all voices nicely isolated at the center with no overlapping over the other channels.
As far as the unit’s Atmos performance this was again very similar to the HT-A7000. As with many Atmos capable soundbars there was some noticeable extension to the overhead layer with sounds emitting above our TV. Sound elevation in no way can match what you will hear in a true Dolby Atmos system with height or ceiling speakers but if you can find the sweet viewing spot the bouncing overhead sounds will reach your ears noticeably above what a conventional system would do.
Very similar performance we got from the unit in the lower end part of the frequency spectrum also. As the A5000 features the exact same subwoofer drivers as its bigger brother the bass was really satisfying for a single soundbar system. Again, for a film like Midway we would love to have a subwoofer connected but if you are not a bass freak then the HT-A5000 will most probably satisfy you with its output.
If there was something really lacking in the whole performance that was definitely the surround action. If you don’t get any of the two rear speakers kits then all sound will be fixed at the front. The included virtual tech do help a little as we could sense audio emitting closer to us and even towards our sides but even these could not push the audio behind us. If you really need a more cinematic experience you should get one of the rear speakers kit, there is no other way around it.
The HT-A5000 also felt a bit weaker when it comes to max volume output and we could push the unit to its upper limits even though we never stayed at these levels for most of our movie testing session. On the other hand the A7000 had surely more juice and you will not be able to max it out so easily.
Overall we liked what we heard. In comparison to its bigger brother the HT-A5000 had a slightly more conservative front stage, a bit less expansion on all axis and slightly less punch. The differences are not huge and this stems from the fact that many of the components of the HT-A7000 are found in the HT-A5000 also.
So comparing the price of the two units and their performance differences we could say that if you want the absolute best in audio reproduction and quality then the A7000 is the unquestionable winner but when you compare value for money the HT-A5000 is the better choice here.
For our music testing we opted to use the included USB and stream a few selected FLAC files through it. Now, since the HT-A5000 lacks any dedicated music mode, in contrast to our movies testing where we used the Sound Field Effect option, the standard mode with Sound Field Effect turned off was the way to go.
Keep in mind that the soundbar also supports Sony’s 360 Reality Audio which can be used with certain online streaming services and take advantage of this advanced feature it comes with.
Now from what we heard the Sony did really good if you take into account the kind of system this is. The output had good clarity and enough detail even through its limited output. Sound again felt more expansive although not on the same level as when we tested its movies capabilities. Vocals had good resolution and energy and even the higher frequencies were nicely handled and never bothered us or created any ear fatigue.
On the other side of the frequency spectrum the soundbar fared really good and much better than many single unit soundbars. The inclusion of the two subwoofer drivers really help and although its bass output cannot match that of a dedicated subwoofer it will be good enough for less demanding users. Also even with more bass intensive performances the bass of the HT-A5000 was stable with good clarity and never skipped a bit or felt like trying to catch the tempo.
Throwing various genres on the unit with completely different characteristics really showed us what the soundbar can do really good and where it is lacking a bit. It is not a system that will give you a HiFi experience. It lacks the necessary hardware to do so, so while we didn’t notice any major inconsistences it was certainly not at a level that can make your jaw fall on the floor.
Soundbars have come a long way from when they initially appeared and their performance has vastly improved. But due to their size certain compromises will never allow them to reach the quality levels of a true HiFi system and this obviously is to be expected. But the HT-A5000 is real proof that a soundbar can provide a really great experience considering its limitations, and in the end this is what matters the most.
When testing the Sony HT-A5000 we heard many of the same audio qualities its bigger brother had, even if there were some differences between the two. And this shows how good work Sony did in this smaller unit. But as everything is related to the price asked, did the A5000 managed to impress us?
On the one hand the basic unit has a lot going for it with an exceptionally good front sound stage with some very nice sideways and overhead extension. The unit was very easy to setup and we had it ready in a few minutes while its modular design offers you the chance to shape it in any way you want with two subwoofers and two rear speaker kits available for you to choose from. Lastly there are so many online features available that surely are more than what the average person will ever use.
On the other hand the price of $800 for a single unit soundbar may be too much. Its modular design is both a blessing and a curse as adding a subwoofer and a rear speakers kit to the main unit can take the price to around $1,900 in total which is more than what most would be willing to give for a soundbar. On the other hand without the rear speakers sound output was mostly fixed at the front. Also a few advanced settings were not so obvious which can be hard for the casual user to find while the omission of VRR and ALLM from the HDMI ports will surely disappoint if you are a gamer.
Our impression of the HT-A5000 is not far off from the one we had with the A7000. It is a very good soundbar with plenty of features and performance to play around. It is just that its downsides do not let it be a really great one. Competition is fierce in this price range but if you can find it in a good price then it surely deserves your attention.