(Pocket-lint) - The Sony ST5000 soundbar might be a lighter way to get yourself a Dolby Atmos compatible sound system than installing a full-on room setup, but as soundbars go, it delivers plenty of heft.
It's a statement in itself, unashamedly bold and making no attempts to blend into the background. In that there's a lot to love, but does you get more thanks to this all-in-one approach? Well actually, yes, you do...
Big, blocky, but rather brilliant
- Soundbar: 1180 x 80 x 145mm; 8kg
- Wall mountable design
- Removable front grille
- Subwoofer: 248 x 403 x 426mm; 14.1kg
As we've alluded, the Sony HT-ST5000 isn't a shy and retiring soundbar. With a removable grille, you're left looking at the exquisite finish of the cones and the details of Sony's coaxial speakers, with the tweeter sitting in front of the woofers in the centre and to the extreme left and right ends of the soundbar. Those with kids will want to keep the grille in place to keep fingers off these lovely details.
The soundbar is joined by a wireless subwoofer that's larger than average. Its front is mesh, while the top plate gets a black metal finish, which is very industrial looking and matches the serious looks of the bar, resulting in a solid lump of sub.
The overall effect is that this isn't a soundbar that will soak away into your décor. It's not designed to blend in, it's a statement of audio intent: it becomes your décor. You just have to make sure you have a serious enough TV to go with it.
The ST5000 is a mini AV receiver
- 3x HDMI inputs
- Has its own menu system
- Ethernet, optical and USB connections
Soundbars sit in a funny place. In the good old days, running any sort of audio feed from your TV to a soundbar would bring the gift of better sound. Things are now much more complicated, with many more devices and sources vying for the attention of your eyes and ears.
That's the advantage that AV receivers have always offered: myriad connections means plenty of flexibility, not to mention the uplift in audio prowess. For the humble soundbar in the modern era, there's something of a wilderness opening up, because it's easy to offer a connection, but probably not all the connections a modern setup needs.
For many, the solution is to connect everything to the TV and use the audio return channel (ARC) to bring the sound back to the soundbar. That's an option you have with the ST5000 - as long as your TV has ARC (audio return channel), which most modern TVs will, but some older or budget models won't - but the ST5000 is also fitted with three HDMI inputs.
All these inputs support 4K HDR pass-through, so it's equipped for anything you might want to connect to it - Xbox One X, Ultra HD Blu-ray player, Amazon Fire TV, Sky Q or any other set-top box. It also supports Dolby Vision pass-through thanks a recent update. All the connections sit on the rear of the soundbar, with a respectable sized cut-out to accommodate some of the plugs.
If we've one criticism from a design point of view, it's that only the optical, HDMI out and one HDMI input sit well hidden. If you want to use the second or third HDMI these face rearwards on the back so don't get hidden as well. This is also where you'll find the Ethernet connection.
Design aside, the ST5000 solves the problem of not having enough connections. If you've run out of connections on your TV or prefer to route everything though the soundbar and just run the one cable up to your TV, then you're well covered here. For an Atmos soundbar we think this flexibility is a little more attractive, as you might want to be connecting something like your Ultra HD Blu-ray player separately to the TV and the soundbar.
The Sony ST5000 doesn't just offer these connections, it gives you something of a user interface (UI) too. Hit the home button on the remote - which is also pretty good quality compared to some home cinema devices - and you'll have a page open on the TV that displays the connections and setup for your soundbar.
You can use this UI to switch inputs, although the remote lets you skip through the inputs too. This is a little slow to happen, as the input starts flashing and then requires a second press of the controller to get moving. It's also a little irksome that you can't rename the inputs - it's HDMI 1, HDMI 2 or HDMI 3. That's fine for the geek who sets it all up, but when your mother pops over and wants to play Star Wars Battlefront on your Xbox, it becomes a process of trial and error to find an input that works.
Note - there's only an optical cable in the box and to take advantage of the higher quality sound formats this soundbar offers, you will need an HDMI cable connection.
A complete music solution
- Spotify Connect support
- Chromecast support
- Dedicated music service button
Before we talk about the quality - which is great by the way - we'll just give mention of additional services that the ST5000 supports. We mentioned the network connection that this soundbar offers (both wired Ethernet and wireless Wi-Fi) and that opens the door to a wider range of music options.
This is both a Spotify Connect and Chromecast Audio compatible device, meaning that once you've got it connected to your home network you'll be able to have it seamlessly play your Spotify music, or a range of other services through the Chromecast option - such as TuneIn Radio or the BBC iPlayer Radio app.
Spotify is likely to be high on people's lists, meaning you can control Spotify playback on the ST5000 directly from your phone, tablet or computer. Spotify Connect is great in this regard and you also get a display on your TV to show what you're playing, as well as the LCD display on the front of the soundbar showing Spotify; switch to Google Play Music and you get very much the same.
In these terms you couldn't really wish for a simpler way to stream your music. If streaming isn't your thing, there's also support for good ol' Bluetooth, with LDAC (Sony's Hi-Res wireless format), while there's also support for networked music you might have on a server, or via a USB connection.
There's a dedicated button on the remote that's just labelled "music service". It's a little generic sounding, but it gives you a route to return instantly to a last music service you were streaming from and resume playback. That avoids the need to initiate music from your phone, while the remote also offers playback controls - play/pause and skip - which is really useful in closing the circle and making this a great music system.
There's also support for Sony's multi-room system, for which you'll need the Sony Music Centre app. This app will also give you easy access to some of the soundbar's settings without having to dive into the menu through the soundbar itself.
Dolby Atmos sound quality and performance
- 7.1.2 channel system, 800W
- Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio
- Hi-Res Audio compatible
Much of the interest in the Sony ST5000 will likely be the compatibility it offers for more advanced sound formats. There are lots of soundbars out there, but not so many that offer Dolby Atmos support and the ability to ping audio overhead and behind you for a wider soundstage. The ST5000 launched with this Dolby support and subsequently added DTS:X support, including DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS Digital Surround (and Dolby Vision pass-through, as mentioned).
That makes the ST5000 one of the best-equipped soundbars currently out there when it comes to audio formats, providing the support for a full range of your Blu-ray discs. It's Dolby that's making the most noise about the advancement of sound through Atmos, and with the format finding support in services like Netflix, there's future outside of optical discs too.
The one disadvantage that we've found with the ST5000 is that it doesn't tell you what it's playing. The display on the front sticks to telling you the input number rather than letting you know you're listening to Dolby Atmos - something that the LG SJ9 we recently reviewed does offer. You can at least opt to have it turn off, though.
While lacking that visual cue is irksome, there's no lack of performance. With 7.1.2 channels, split between the five centre drivers (one coaxial) and the left and right coaxial drivers, the subwoofer and two upfiring speakers. It's the last which aims to add the height that Dolby Atmos is known for, with the ability to place and track an audio object in three-dimensional space.
With soundbars, however, you don't get the fully immersive audio bubble that a full Atmos setup with rear channels will offer - this isn't a 30-something cinema sound setup, after all. In that sense, the immersion offered by the Samsung HW-K950, with two rear upfiring speakers is better than this Sony, because it has greater audio reach.
However, there's power and clarity in the ST5000 that's impressive. While you don't get that fully immersive experience, the Sony will bring lift to audio objects. Firing up Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them on Ultra HD Blu-ray, there's sweeping immersion, detail and clarity, which, while never fully pulling you into complete immersion, does have width and height that will envelop you, and performance that has a frisson of excitement about it.
Sitting fairly close to the soundbar aids the immersion, but there are also controls to set the ceiling height for the room to better enhance the experience. There's no auto-tuning option as you might get on some AV receivers and arguably, at this price, there perhaps should be. Turning to Max Max: Fury Road - which is something of an Atmos cliché - there's great definition and width, a swirling hemisphere of whispering in the opening scene, but those chasing wild boys never really enter the picture over your head, which exceeds the reach of this system's sound stage.
Not all your television time is going to be spent absorbing Atmos, however, and when watching stereo or other surround formats, the performance doesn't let up. There is width in the system for regular 5.1 soundtracks, with a range of sound settings on the ST5000 to enhance or set things to your preference.
This encompasses a range of sound modes - standard, movie, music, 3D surround - which all tinker with things, as well as Sony's ClearAudio+ which can add a little more life to your regular TV. There are also settings to cut out some of the bass for nighttime viewing, via a press of the button on the remote. We like 3D surround option because it virtualises the sound stage to make regular TV sound better and more involving.
The bass from the woofer is nice and crisp, with power that will see your floor vibrating. It can be independently adjusted on the remote if you feel it's too much or too little for what you're watching. Connection is automatic, but we found it struggling and sometimes dropping out, so opted for the manual secure connection option which seemed to resolve the problem. When you're diving into music, this woofer will bring some serious bass power, while the force it adds to explosions and on-screen action can only make you smile.
Overall, the Sony ST5000 is a tour de force. It's a wonderful sounding addition to your TV and while it won't deliver the full embrace of Dolby Atmos, it will bring you performance, detail and subtleties across your TV, gaming and music, which makes it a pleasure to listen to.
While many seek out a soundbar for its subtle boosting of TV audio, the Sony HT-ST5000 steps well beyond subtle. Its physical size gives it serious looks which are backed up by serious sound performance, but all that comes at a serious price.
There's only so far that the ST5000's Atmos performance can reach, however, given to the lack of rear channels, but in terms of the overall package offered there's a lot more to be excited about. There's not only excellent audio performance with support for a range of high-quality formats like DTS-HD Master Audio or LDAC, but the range of connectivity makes this a bigger package than most other soundbars can offer.
Features like Spotify Connect and Chromecast Audio support make this Sony about all-round entertainment and convenience. That said, it's hard to ignore that those features are easily added to another soundbar through a £30 Chromecast. For all that this Sony soundbar does, it's therefore still an expensive option: you can buy an Atmos receiver and speakers for the same or less, and Samsung's offering with rear channels is some £400 less, too, which delivers greater Atmos immersion.
Overall the Sony ST5000 is a big, bold and rather beautiful statement piece, which would make up a tidy and far-reaching addition to your front room.
Alternatives to consider
Samsung was one of the first on the scene with an Atmos soundbar and it's one of the few that comes with wireless rear channels in the mix. That gives this £1000 soundbar an advantage over some, because it can deliver great immersion to your audio from all sides, as long as you sit in the middle of that sound bubble. It offers plenty of connectivity, but there's no DTS support.
Read the full review: Samsung HW-K950
LG's flagship soundbar brings Atoms support in a compact package and at a price that beats many rivals. There are some losses for that price, however, with little connectivity on the device itself. Like the Sony, there's no rear channels, so it's not quite as immersive as the offering from Samsung. There's plenty of performance, however, but doesn't offer a package that's as complete as the Sony.
Read the full review: LG SJ9