Sony today (Apr. 20) announced a fleet of four new soundbars and two A/V receivers aimed especially at pumping up 4K TV viewing, when they go on sale in May and July. Each has multiple HDMI inputs; both receivers and three of the four soundbars support at least one input with the HDCP copyright-protection standard that's needed to play most 4K content.
Based on specs such as 10 HDMI inputs and up to 165 watts for each of seven audio channels, Sony's new $500 and $600 receivers should be sonic powerhouses. But the quality I heard from the HT-STN, a $1,500, 7.1-channel soundbar made a strong case for ditching the A/V box and roomful of speakers.
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With seven amps and nine speakers, the HT-ST9 is meant for the audio purists who wouldn't have been able to utter the word "soundbar" in the past. "High-end users are moving from receivers to soundbars," Aaron Levine of Sony's home audio division told me. Although he added that the receiver business is "not declining as much as might be expected."
Levine obviously chose carefully the material he used to show off the HT-ST9 soundbar in a sneak peek (or listen) last week — and it worked. I was sucked into a clip from the Brad Pitt WWII action flick, Fury — even though it wasn't a terribly interesting battle scene. Though the HT-ST9 includes a hefty wireless subwoofer, it didn't deliver the overpowering thump that subs often do. Instead I heard voices and the clanking of the gear on the tanks in high detail.
The soundbar also impressed me with a high-res recording of an Eric Clapton-B.B. King guitar duet of the song Come Rain or Shine. I heard the strings clearly resonating and the slight scratchiness at the base of Clapton's voice. Speaking of scratch, $1,500 certainly is plenty; however a soundbar replaces not only the receiver but seven satellite speakers.
Other niceties on most of the gear include Bluetooth, both for sending audio to the receiver and for beaming audio to Bluetooth headphones for quiet listening. Most devices feature Google cast, for sending audio wirelessly from an Android or iOS phone or tablet or from a PC or Mac.
Here are the key features and prices for all the new devices:
HT-ST9: wireless subwoofer, 800 watts, 7.1-channel surround sound, three HDMI inputs, HDCP 2.2, available July, $1,500.
HT-NT3: wireless subwoofer, 450 watts, 2.1-channel stereo sound, three HDMI inputs, HDCP 2.2, available July, $700.
HT-CT780: wireless subwoofer, 330 watts. 2.1-channel stereo, three HDMI inputs, HDCP 2.2, available May, $450.
HT-CT380: wireless subwoofer, 300 watts, 2.1-channel stereo, three HDMI inputs, available May, $350.
STR-DN1060: 7.2-channels, 165 watts per channel, 10 high-definition inputs, HDCP 2.2, available May, $600.
STR-DN860: 7.2-channels, 150 watts per channel, 10 high-definition inputs, one with HDCP 2.2, available May, $500.