Soundbars — which were once just a simple, inexpensive way to improve your TV's sound — are making a serious play to replace full-featured home-theater systems. With HDMI and advanced audio and video settings, Sony's $1,500 HT-ST5000 is a prime example of this trend.
The HT-ST5000 also includes Atmos surround-sound processing, which adds height to the mix, making the audio experience even more encompassing. The HT-ST5000 proves you can have streamlined setup and near-audiophile sound — if you can afford it.
The sleek HT-ST5000 looks as good as it sounds. The width of the 46.5 x 3.2 x 5.7-inch soundbar makes it a good fit for 55-inch or larger TVs. The soundbar's size allows ample room for the nine drivers, including three tweeter/woofer combination speakers and two upward-firing units on top for the height element of the soundtrack.
The 9.8 x 15.9 x 16.8-inch wireless subwoofer is a beast, too, especially compared to the slimmer wireless subwoofers that come with many soundbars, but the precise low end it delivers is worth the space it takes up.
The soundbar includes one HDMI output and three HDMI inputs for various video sources. You can also connect wireless via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, as well as with an analog 3.5mm cord or digital optical audio.
You'll find buttons for power, inputs and volume slightly hidden on the back of the unit. The remote is a better choice for controlling the unit, and it includes plenty of buttons, such as ones for sound field, subwoofer volume and home for bringing up the on-screen menu.
The HT-ST5000 is one of the best-performing soundbars you'll find. The drivers and subwoofer work together to produce crisp, clear and resonant audio that fills the room, no matter what you're listening to.
When I watched the opening scene of Baby Driver in 7.1 Atmos, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's song "Bellbottoms" filled the room, punctuated with shotgun blasts, squealing tires and the rumble of revving engines as Baby tore through the streets. The subwoofer produced a tactile vibration in the floor but didn't sound muddy. The three center drivers made dialog easy to hear, even Will and Joyce's frightened whispers during Stranger Things Season 2.
The HT-ST5000 is one of the best-performing soundbars you'll find.
The HT-ST5000 also handles two-channel music with aplomb. On St. Vincent's Los Ageless, Annie Clark's vocals were clear, while the distorted guitar sounded crisp. It also produced the song's deep bass without losing detail. Miles Davis' trumpet on
Cannonball Adderley's jazz classic "Autumn Leaves" sounded full and realistic, and the picked acoustic guitars on Big Star's "Thirteen" were sharp.
The unit can get very loud, enough for even large rooms, and thanks to the finely tuned volume settings — ranging from 0 to 50 — you can find precisely the right listening level for your ears.
The three center drivers made dialog easy to hear, even Will and Joyce's frightened whispers during Stranger Things Season 2.
Despite all the bells and whistles, the HT-ST5000 remains fairly easy to set up: Connect the HDMI out to your TV and add at least one video source to it, and it's ready to go. It performs best, though, if you're willing to wade into the on-screen menus to adjust it to your specific room.
In the setup menu, you'll find a variety of video and audio settings. For example, you can input the distance you're sitting from the speaker, as well as how high your ceiling is. The height setting is key to getting the best Atmos effect. You can also individually adjust the levels of the front, height and subwoofer to further refine the sound the way you like it. The unit lacks automated room correction, however, a feature common on audio-video receivers.
The HT-ST5000 includes several sound modes — such as Movie, Music and 3D Surround — so you can select the ones that matches what you're watching or listening to. Or you can go with ClearAudio+, which selects the mode it thinks best fits the audio source.
If you're looking to improve the quality of your home theater sound, but you want to keep it simple, Sony's HT-ST5000 delivers great sound and most of the features you'd find in a system made up of separate pieces. The one drawback is you can't connect rear speakers for a full surround-sound experience — something that's possible with some other soundbars. But with its height speakers for Atmos, you may not miss that.
The price is sure to make many people think twice, but you're likely to pay at least that much to get the same sound quality from a separate receiver; subwoofer; and front, center, surround and height speakers. And with a soundbar, you don't have to deal with all the wires.