I want to love the new Sony HT-AX7, but this one thing massively puts me off

Sony HT AX7
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

This week the team at What Hi-Fi?, specifically our staff writer extraordinaire, Harry McKerrell, had the opportunity to check out the Sony HT-AX7.

At first glance, I can safely confirm I nearly jumped out of my seat with excitement when I saw the package and started reading his hands-on.

To catch readers up, the HT-AX7 is a compact surround sound speaker system that combines a dinky, soundbar-shaped central speaker with two detachable disc-shaped satellite speakers.

The idea is that, when paired with Sony’s 360 Spatial Sound Mapping, which optimises the speakers' settings depending on where they are placed, you can use it to create a quick and easy portable sound system on the fly.

Is any of this new? For the most part no. There aren’t currently any featured in our best soundbar guide, but the idea of using wireless satellite speakers to create quick surround sound systems has been around for quite a while.

What separates it from the likes of the JBL Bar 1300, which has a similar system and which we listened to briefly at CES 2023, is the Sony HT-AX7’s dinky dimensions, and at first glance, reasonable price tag.

Most soundbars with satellite speakers are fairly expensive; that JBL, for example, has a £1300 / $1700 / AU$2000 RRP, double the HT-AX7’s  £550 / $500 / €550 (Australian prices pending) price.

I also want to flag how refreshing it is that Sony has made efforts to design it sustainably. Though it doesn’t meet external sustainability standards, as the stellar cradle-to-cradle Bang and Olufsen targets with some of its products, Sony has confirmed the HT-AX7 is built of a material made from 100 per cent recycled PET bottles, and incorporates recycled plastics.

But, going through the specification and perks, there was one key point that stopped me in my tracks: the fact it is limited to Bluetooth connectivity only. Yes, you read that right. There is no wi-fi connectivity and the unit is completely cable-free outside of its charge port. 

We reached out to Sony to find out why this is – after all, we have documented in the past the issues with Bluetooth for serious listening, which include the fact that it's fairly lossy and if you use it to connect multiple speakers it can suffer from latency. The reply we got from Sony was fairly simple.

Specifically, Sony’s representative explained to us:

“It’s a theatre system for your portable device. That’s not to say it won’t work with a TV (it would work if you really wanted to) but that’s not what it’s for. It's for your smartphone, tablet, laptop [...] We would like to avoid people comparing it with a soundbar if possible, as that implies it should be used for TVs.”

If you think of the HT-AX7 as a portable wireless speaker that makes sense. Jump over to our best portable speaker guide and you will see that many of the battery-powered units are Bluetooth only.

Still, I can’t help but feel Sony has missed a trick here by not giving it at least an HDMI input for the central speaker – for a couple of reasons.

First because, look at it. If that’s not the spitting image of a soundbar I don’t know what is. It’s hard to believe most buyers won’t look at it that way. I can see oodles of non-techie buyers looking at the HT-AX7 as a soundbar and buying it only to realise there’s no direct, simple way to connect it to their TV the moment they get it home.

This is especially true given the fact surround sound makes the most sense in a home environment. Would you actually lug the HT-AX7 to watch movies on your tablet in your local park, or any other outdoor space for that matter?

Second, if it did have just a single HDMI to connect to your TV, it would hit a woefully underserved segment of the soundbar market. This year, I and the wider team at What Hi-Fi? have made no secret of our desire to see more small, good sound tech hit the market. 

While there are plenty of soundbars around that nail the first part of that wish, there aren’t many, especially at Sony’s price, that manage the second. This is why many people in small apartments or with dinky, UK-sized living rooms, end up using good, but not great basic soundbars. It's a major reason I see the Sonos Ray in so many living rooms in my day-to-day life. 

If Sony had loaded the HT-AX7 with proper connectivity for home use, it could have been a unique, awesome option for this segment of the market. This is especially true given how positive Harry was of his experience using it during Sony’s press demo.

And that’s why, while I’m excited to see how the unit performs when we get it in for full testing, I can’t help but feel Sony may have missed a trick with the HT-AX7.


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Alastair Stevenson
Editor in Chief

Alastair is What Hi-Fi?’s editor in chief. He has well over a decade’s experience as a journalist working in both B2C and B2B press. During this time he’s covered everything from the launch of the first Amazon Echo to government cyber security policy. Prior to joining What Hi-Fi? he served as Trusted Reviews’ editor-in-chief. Outside of tech, he has a Masters from King’s College London in Ethics and the Philosophy of Religion, is an enthusiastic, but untalented, guitar player and runs a webcomic in his spare time.