Review: Sony HT-ST5000 Dolby Atmos Soundbar Offers Wide Sound Stage
Sony’s HT-ST5000 Dolby Atmos soundbar was quite a surprise. For only a 2-piece system, this attractively styled unit delivered big sound with a widely dispersed soundstage and clear dialog.
What’s more, this $1,498 system, reproduces music as well or better than some entry home theater in a box systems, offering bright wide musicality, rear and overhead effects in high ranges and a mid-range that is less boxy sounding than some competitors in this class.
What stands out in this soundbar is the Dolby Atmos capability, which emits sound that at times seems to come from above the picture to give images a more lifelike quality.
This is no substitute for a high-performing surround sound system with a 7.1.2 or 7.1.4 speaker array, but for those who lack the budget, space or interior design to accommodate a full home theater system, the HT-ST5000 is a worthy substitute.
Read more of our review of the Sony HT-ST5000 Dolby Atmos soundbar after the jump:
For a Sony soundbar, the HT-ST5000 really packs in the features. In addition to Atmos, this unit adds built-in Chromecast to stream favorite music services through a mobile device app.
It also includes a workable amount of HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2 source inputs to accept signals from most Blu-ray, Ultra HD Blu-ray, DVD-Video discs. High-Res Audio files are accommodated over the USB input. Unfortunately, the sound bar will not accommodate multichannel DVD-Audio or SACD tracks through the HDMI inputs although the USB input will accept some DSD high-res audio files.
The design of the HT-ST5000 is stylish, svelte and attractive. Sony includes a removable front fabric grille in black, matching up with the matte metal bar enclosure. Sony allows you to remove the grille to see the seven front-facing drives. A pair of gold-rimmed, tweeters sit on the left and right ends of the bar. Toward the center of the face plate are four mid-range speakers with another tweeter placed dead center between them. On the top left and right ends of the sound bar is a pair of up-firing height channel speakers that bring the overhead effects from Dolby Atmos movie soundtracks to the listener by reflecting sound off of the ceiling.
The front face plate also includes a white LED digital readout display that signals what mode was selected, standby status, selected input, etc.
The HT-ST5000 is low enough to fit easily under most tabletop-mounted 55-, 65-inch and larger flat-panel TVs. For our review, the unit fit perfectly under a 2017 Samsung QD-65Q7F 4K Ultra HD QLED TV.
For those in need of a wall-mounted placement, the soundbar is equipped with rear-placed keyholes for quick and easy installation below a mounted TV screen.
The wireless subwoofer matches up well, also offering a matte-black metal cabinet and matching cloth grille. The substantial enclosure gives the sub the right amount of heft for vibration-damping and houses a forward-facing driver and a large downward-facing passive radiator. This creates an impressively deep rich bass for music reproduction and a shelf-rattling bottom for low-frequency sound effects.
The subwoofer’s wireless connection to the soundbar is easy to setup thanks to a multi-colored LED indicator that stays solid red when a connection is made, and the sub is working. The pairing processes is more or less automatic after setup, but the graphical interface easily guides the user through the manual set-up steps with on-screen instructions when required.
The HT-ST5000 offers a remote control that has separate volume adjustments for the soundbar and the subwoofer. As remotes go, this is nothing out of the ordinary. Sony includes all of the sound bar’s feature controls at the user’s fingertips, and it integrates nicely with the on-screen guide.
As mentioned, Sony provides an ample array of connections including three HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2 inputs to pass through the latest 4K Ultra HD video with high dynamic range (HDR) signals to the HDMI audio return channel (ARC) output to the television.
Sony also includes an optical digital audio port, stereo minijack input, and an ethernet port. Built-in wireless connectivity includes dual-band Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth with Sony’s LDAC high-bandwidth capability. A USB port is placed on the right end of the bar to accept music file formats from portable storage devices.
The graphical user interface offers a selection of titled images showing each of the system’s nine source inputs including TV, HDMI 1, 2 and 3, Bluetooth audio, analog, USB, home network and music service list. The music service list includes selections for Spotify and Chromecast Built-in.
Another tile in the top right corner of the home screen provides setup menu options. The sound bar doesn’t offer an auto-calibration system, but it does enable making adjustments for distance, level and ceiling height.
For compressed music listening, the HT-ST5000 includes Sony’s DSEE HX processor and a Dynamic range compression (DRC) control. It also includes an assortment of audio presets that can be applied to all various types of content for the most appropriate enhancement effect.
The Sony HT-ST5000 is a very good, all-around entertainment system. For a sound bar it has a surprisingly wide, disperse sound, which can be effective at creating an immersive surround sound effect, most from high-end frequencies, but midrange notes and voices sound somewhat more directionally delivered from the driver array.
The Dolby Atmos system offers an even wider, more disperse sound from soundtracks like the Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Power Rangers, and the subwoofer provides clean deep bass that fills out the bottom end. The sound offers nice height dimensions but never quite delivers the direct overhead effects, which make object-based audio presentations stand out.
A Dolby Atmos sampler disc produced by Dolby made it a little easier to hear some of these overhead spatial details, but this was still weaker than the experience played through dedicated Dolby Atmos home theater speaker setups. It also didn’t do much with rear-channel simulation, giving four-piece Dolby Atmos sound bars like the Samsung HW-K950 an edge in total surround sound for movie presentations.
Still, the overall aural experience was impressively wide and immersive for a two-channel sound bar. We were very impressed by how well the HT-ST5000 presented musical parts of Blu-ray and DVD movie soundtracks, which seemed to separate tonal qualities from the boxier-sounding overdubbed narration in the 4K Ultra HD version of Planet Earth 2.
In fact, music reproduction, in general, was impressively clear, well-defined and dimensional for a sound bar of this size. The CD version of Michael Oldfield’s beautiful 2009 stereo mix of Tubular Bells was clear and disperse with the bright high-end notes seemingly ringing in from the left and right of the listener. The subwoofer filled in the deep bottom notes nicely, letting us feel as well as hear the piece’s deep bass parts.
The multichannel 5.1-channel mix from the PureAudio Blu-ray version of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was rich, bright and vibrant, although we didn’t get the same encompassing effect that is produced from a full 5.1-speaker setup. Sadly, the sound bar couldn’t play the multichannel DSD tracks from the SACD of Elton John’s Captain Fantastic.
Older music recorded with older studio gear, like Dion and the Belmont’s Run Around Sue, had a nice full sound that helped to modernize the result of the early sixties recording technology. However, the harsher vocal peaks revealed some distortion that was not surprisingly absent coming from considerably more substantial B&W CDM series tower speakers.
The Sony HT-ST5000 is a great sounding audio system in a compact, attractively styled package. Set up and use is both easy and flexible, and the sound is both sophisticated and dynamic, adapting nicely to either music and or movie soundtracks. The unit performs better with higher resolution or well-produced CD audio sources than older legacy material. But movies and television shows sound fabulous, especially when content can put the well-matched subwoofer through its paces.
Where the sound bar has trouble is in delivering well-defined overhead effects from the Dolby Atmos circuitry. The system can use such soundtracks to present a wider sound stage with good height, but rarely were we fooled into thinking distinct sounds were coming at us from behind or above us. This is where the HT-ST5000 falls behind competing Dolby Atmos sound bars, like with wireless rear channel height speakers.
For music, the HT-ST5000 offers nice wide sound with a well-defined top end that is not overly shrill. In fact, the music handling abilities help validate the relatively high price tag for a 2-piece soundbar package. Vocals are clear, though more directional with a slightly hollow quality, but this is typical of all sound bars dealing with confined space and small drivers.
The appearance is elegant and sophisticated, and ease of use is among the best in the category.
We therefore award the Sony HT-ST5000 two-piece Dolby Atmos sound bar four out of five hearts.
The Sony HT-ST5000 sound bar used for this review was a company loan.
By Greg Tarr
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