It’s plain physics, really. With TVs getting sleeker and slimmer with every passing year, the biggest casualty is audio—slim TVs no longer have the space for bigger, more powerful drivers that do the picture-quality justice. Soundbars are the first port of call for many, and while you can grab a decent soundbar for under ₹20,000, there’s the premium tier of soundbars that push the envelope, offering home-theatre-like cinematic audio from a single unit without running cables all over your entertainment room. At ₹1,49,990 before add-ons like a pair of rear speakers or a subwoofer, Sony’s top-of-the-line HT-A7000 soundbar is as premium as it gets, and it sounds every bit as expensive as it is.
Nothing, not even the sticker shock, prepares you for just how massive the HT-A7000 is, out of the box. The soundbar is a shade over 4ft long and just under 9kg, which means it’s not something you can easily lug around from room to room or casually place under a “small” 55-inch TV—for what it’s worth, it looked right at home under a 75-inch TV. Not one for cramped spaces, that much is clear. The sizeable chassis affords the HT-A7000 two up-firing speakers, two beam tweeters, five front-facing drivers and a built-in dual subwoofer…all in the single unit! It’s a clean and well-built look, with a metal grille barely concealing the front-firing drivers, while the upward-firing speakers sit beneath a fabric mesh. A glass panel that runs along most of the top offers touch controls, but it’s prone to attract fingerprints, dust and scratches, so it’s best operated via the handy remote. A simple LED display on the front indicates volume level or selected input, while all the connectivity options—three future-proofed HDMI 2.1 (4K/120Hz) ports, Bluetooth 5.0/Wi-Fi, one optical input and a 3.5mm jack—are neatly housed at the back.
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Now, while you can purchase the soundbar separately and follow it up later with the optional wireless accessories— either one of the large SW5/SW3 sub-woofers or the relatively discreet RS3S rear surround speakers—these are absolute must-haves if you are looking to get the best experience from the HT-A7000. And Sony has some great bundle pricing to tempt you to pick up all three at one go (see below).
They add a lot of punch and spatiality to the audio, while adding substantially to the already high price tag of the soundbar itself. The good bit is that the whole system is easy to set up, mostly just a matter of connecting the power cord and the bundled HDMI cable into the eARC HDMI port of your smart TV and connecting two of your inputs directly to the soundbar. Connecting the wireless sub-woofer or the rear speakers is a one-button pairing affair, and the soundbar runs a calibration tool to automatically adapt the sound to your room size.
In terms of supported audio formats, Sony has shipped the whole alphabet soup with the soundbar, including Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, LPCM, wireless hi-res audio and Sony 360 Reality Audio (available only via a demo, since compatible content isn’t available on streaming audio services in India). The Atmos-enabled 7.1.2 setup uses a combination of accurately placed drivers which bounce sound off the walls and the ceiling to enhance the height and width of the perceived soundstage.
In general, the Atmos experience on most of the soundbars we have tried has stopped short of fooling your brain into thinking there’s a set of dedicated speakers attached to the ceiling. At best, you get an increased height perception from the audio. The HT-A7000, then, is a testament to how good the technology has gotten—watching the docking scene from Interstellar or the initial sequences in Gravity, the dramatic sound effects are impressively rendered spatially, peppering the ceiling and sides of the room with the occasional spots of sonic engineering brilliance that had us do a double-take to check for the presence of a speaker…where there was none. It’s still some way away from the Holy Grail—actual home-theatre-style multi-speaker setups—but there’s no question that it dramatically enhances the viewing experience.
Couple the soundbar with the subwoofer and the rear speakers, and you get the benefit of the added thump and a more realistic left-to-right channel separation, plus that very visceral sense of the cars whizzing by you that only a dedicated set of rear speakers can provide. If you are a movie buff who has been watching your favourite movies on a large TV with in-built audio, be prepared to rediscover your collection with this soundbar. Music and gaming performance benefit just as well.
The only nitpick one can see, aside from the premium pricing for the soundbar and the subwoofer/rear speakers, is that the soundbar is yet to receive support for variable refresh rate (VRR) and auto low latency mode (ALLM), both of which are supported on the HDMI 2.1 port.
It almost feels inadequate to describe the Sony HT-A7000 as “just a soundbar”, in that the word doesn’t truly describe its many talents. This is a formidable one-box system with exceptional sound and all the AV standard support you would expect at this price, and if you can afford it and its companions, Sony HT-A7000 is the immersive soundbar to beat. You should, however, go into the purchase with reasonably tempered expectations on the virtual surround sound ambitions, and you will walk away surprised every now and then.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets at @2shar.
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