The Sony HT-AX7 speaker system looks like no other. In fact, when I first set my eyes on it I thought it looked more like a concept design still in development.
It's not exactly a soundbar, although it does create an immersive sphere of sound with onscreen action, and it's unlike any of the best Bluetooth speakers I've seen. Whatever you think of its looks though, the HT-AX7 is a remarkable speaker system that creates immersive sound from its unconventional form for sure.
I was lucky enough to hear the Sony HT-AX7 in action, both indoors and out, during a brief demo at a recent Sony Europe press event held in London.
Although I've yet to experience the HT-AX7 at home and carry out a complete review, here are my first impressions based on my first time experience with the company's newest Bluetooth speaker system.
What is the Sony HT-AX7?
The latest addition to Sony's Bluetooth speaker line up, the HT-AX7 works in the same way as pairing one of the best wireless headphones or best Bluetooth speakers to a playback device like the best laptops, best tablets or best phones.
Rather unkindly dubbed the "Magic Bucket" by some, Sony's HT-AX7 takes a strikingly different approach in the looks department with its latest Bluetooth multi-speaker system. It has a central main unit with controls, plus two detachable rechargeable speakers sat on top that can be placed nearby to create room-filling sound.
The central control unit and docking station for the detachable speakers plays stereo sound from your connected device and beams sound to the nearby remote speakers. It's not surround sound as such, but a sophisticated Sony algorithm up mixes the stereo Bluetooth audio to create an immersive surround-like experience and cleverly creates room-filling positional effects using the HT-AX7's speakers.
Sony HT-AX7 hands-on: Price and availability
The Sony HT-AX7 is priced at $499 / £499 / (approx. AU$750 based on exchange rates at the time of writing). It's expected go on sale in August, but at the time of writing Sony was yet to indicate the official on sale date. It's available in light gray as pictured.
Sony HT-AX7 hands-on: Design
The Sony HT-AX7 didn't look the way I expected when I was first introduced to the company's new portable theater system. And in terms of first impressions, I doubted that the fairly compact and lightweight-looking design would be able achieve the immersive 360 degree sound that Sony claimed. Looks can be deceiving though, right?
The main pill-shaped body of the HT-AX7 is more solid than it looks, and nicely made too. Durability feels good, although despite getting to experience some demo time listening to it outdoors, there's no mention of it being water resistant.
Although Sony was yet to release a full list of specifications at the time of writing, the HT-AX7 did feel reassuringly solid. The two detachable, place anywhere speakers felt robust enough to withstand the wear and tear as owners move them to different positions around the home.
The HT-AX7 comes in light gray. Sony says that the neutral coloring of the speaker body is covered in a fabric material that's made from 100% recycled PET bottles and incorporates recycled plastics.
Sony HT-AX7 hands-on: Sound quality
The Sony HT-AX7 is essentially a Bluetooth speaker carrying stereo audio signals only. There's no Sony 360 Reality Audio or Dolby Atmos content support, but Sony says the 360 Spatial Sound Mapping technology creates multiple phantom speakers at the front, rear, and overhead. And from what I heard during the two main demos with several long excerpts of movie, music and sports content, it's very effective indeed.
The first demo took place on the terrace of a smart London hotel suite with the street below us filled with heavy traffic. Sat on a couch in the open-air of the sun drenched terrace, the detachable speakers were placed about 3 feet away either side of my shoulders as I sat watching a recording of a Coldplay gig.
As expertly described by the Sony representative conducting the demo, I was wrapped in a sphere of sound coming from the front and speakers to the side of me. As the performance unfolded, I could clearly hear crowd noise from the live event to the left, right, and behind me, placing me at the heart of the performance despite the noise from one of London's busiest roads just below me. Despite the audio being stereo only, I really did get a sense of listening in surround sound.
Moving inside, the sphere of sound the HT-AX7 conjured up was just as impressive. It had an uncanny knack for placing action effects from No Time To Die with convincing accuracy and barely any perceivable latency, despite the HT-AX7 needing to do all up mixing from a stereo audio signal to create the immersive processing.
Just to emphasize the Sony's low latency strengths, a short expert of a tennis match expertly demonstrated the sound of the ball hitting the racket at the exact same time as it appeared on the tablet demo screen.
With no on-screen visuals to distract, the music demo was less impressive. Although it did manage to fill a large hotel suite with sound, I'd say the Sony's HT-AX7 is better suited to audio content when watching a screen rather than used as music speaker setup.
Sony HT-AX7 hands-on: Outlook
Despite the somewhat odd looking design, the HT-AX7 turned out to deliver a far more spectacular immersive experience than I initially imagined. Although the demo was extremely effective with the main speaker placed on the coffee table about 3 feet in front of me while viewing a tablet screen on my lap, this might feel like an awkward arrangement if you're the kind of person who enjoys watching TV on a handheld screen while sitting up in bed.
Based on my brief experience with it, though, I can already see a use for the HT-AX7 with the portable projector system I tried for my outdoor movie night, as well as an effective way to boost the sound from other portable display devices around the home while sat on the sofa.
Although it felt more successful when viewing onscreen content rather than music listening, I'll be able to go into more detail about that when I get to try it out in my own surroundings. Look out for my full Sony HT-AX7 review coming shortly.