With less pressure and expectation placed upon them, middle children are often those most likely to succeed and outshine their siblings as the brightest of the bunch.
Occasionally we find the same to be true in AV, with cheaper models delivering a better value performance than pricier products, but typically it's the flagship that reigns supreme with the best features, build and tech that a brand has to offer. Which can sometimes make it difficult for cheaper, mid-range models, such as Sony’s HT-A5000 Dolby Atmos soundbar, to stand out.
The Sony HT-A5000 launches at £899 / $998 / AU$1299 and is the middle model of the brand’s premium A range with 5.1.2 channels of Dolby Atmos/DTS:X sound in a single soundbar with HDMI 2.1 passthrough.
Above it sits the What Hi-Fi? Award-winning HT-A7000 priced at £1199 / $1300 / AU$1699 offering 7.1.2 channels and an additional HDMI input, while below it is the HT-A3000 costing £599 / $699 / AU$999 with 3.1 channels and no passthrough connectivity.
Despite all the A soundbars sporting dedicated dual low-frequency drivers, Sony has a choice of two subs that can be added to the range, the 300W SA-SW5 priced at £699 / $700 / AU$899, and the 200W SA-SW3 costing £449 / $400 / AU$599. There are also two surround speaker models to choose from for the A5000, the SA-RS3S speakers costing £449 / $350 / AU$649 with front-facing drivers, and the SA-RS5, £699 / $600 / AU$849, which also have upward-firing drivers.
It should come as no surprise that the price point of the A5000 is comparable to that of the Sonos Arc, which casts a long shadow in the Dolby Atmos soundbar market. Priced at £899 / $899 / AU$1499, the 5.0.2 Arc can also be expanded through the addition of a pair of One SL speakers (£358 / $358 / AU$538) and a Sub Gen 3 (£699 / $699 / AU$999) or a Sub Mini (£429 / $429 / AU$699).
Physically the HT-A5000 resembles a slightly plainer, smaller HT-A7000 – best suited, according to Sony, to pair with 65-inch TVs and exhibiting the brand’s austere but cohesive ‘omnidirectional block’ design.
Across the front and covering the two upward drivers are black metal mesh grilles, while the rest of the body is a uniform black matte plastic, unlike the A7000, which has a glossy glass topper.
Inside, it houses two up-firing speakers to reflect overhead sounds off the ceiling, three full-range front speakers, two front-facing woofers and two side-firing beam tweeters to expand the width of the soundbar’s soundstage. All the drivers used in the A range, except the beam tweeters, have Sony’s X-balanced design, which uses a non-circular shape to maximise surface area for increased sound output. In total, the A5000 can deliver 450 watts of power from nine amp channels.
The soundbar’s top panel features basic capacitive playback buttons, and a chunky little retro remote is also included with visual feedback from a small, front-facing scrolling text display. There’s also wireless control of some functions using Sony’s serviceable Music Center app.
If these weren’t enough ways to manage your HT-A5000, it offers an onscreen set-up menu displayed on your TV, accessed via the remote’s Home button. This is where you will be guided through Sony’s Sound Field Optimisation, a process that uses built-in microphones to measure the height and width of a room (as well as determine the position of the optional sub and rear speakers). We love a bit of tech symbiosis, and if you have a Sony Bravia TV, things are taken a step further with the settings fully integrated into the TV's menu.
However, there is a drawback, which is that the Sony HT-A5000 doesn’t offer the same functional control across its three main interfaces – remote, app, and onscreen set-up.
For example, the A5000’s Sound Field mode, which uses psychoacoustic techniques to enhance the width and height of the soundstage whether you’re watching immersive content or not, has three options for use: Sony’s Vertical Surround Engine (VSE), Dolby’s Speaker Virtualiser and DTS Virtual: X. Though they all broadly do the same thing, they each sound quite different and, if you choose to use leave soundfield mode on the majority of the time, it will have a considerable impact on your experience. But these choices are only accessible in the onscreen menu and can’t be toggled while listening to content.
Connections eARC, 1x HDMI 2.1, optical, USB,
HDMI passthrough 4K/120 HDR, 8K; VRR and ALLM via firmware update TBC
Sound format support Dolby Atmos/ Dolby AudioTM/ DTS:X/ DTS-HD/ PCM
Bluetooth? Yes, Bluetooth 5
AirPlay 2? Yes
Voice control Google Assistant, Alexa
Dimensions (hwd) 6.7 x 121 x 14cm
Meanwhile, exclusively on the Sony Music Center app and remote, you’ll find some more general sound settings, such as night and voice modes, as well as three options for the volume level for the inbuilt sub. Individual volume control of the front, height and side channels (not the sub) can be accessed – but only via the onscreen menu if you opt for manual calibration.
Unfortunately, besides these few sound profiles, there are no other tone control settings for the HT-A5000, which is a little disappointing for a product at this price, especially since the HT-A7000, which also lacks a dedicated EQ, at least has a cinema and music mode.
One area where the A5000 certainly isn’t lacking is connectivity, with options to wirelessly stream to it via Bluetooth 5.0 (AAC, SBC, LDAC), AirPlay 2, Chromecast and Spotify Connect. Bluetooth is offered with both receive and transmit functionality, meaning you can also use the A5000 with wireless headphones for private listening. Meanwhile, Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit and Google Home are all supported for multi-room integration.
Physical connections are also on the generous side for a bar of this size with eARC/HDMI out, an optical audio input, USB type-A, and an analogue output for Sony’s Acoustic Center Sync, which lets a compatible Bravia TV become part of the soundbar’s centre channel when the two are connected using the supplied cable.
Gamers and those whose HDMI ports are on the sparse side will be pleased to know there is an additional HDMI 2.1 passthrough socket capable of handling 8K@60Hz, 4K@120Hz, and Dolby Vision HDR. Eventually, VRR and ALLM support will also be added via a future firmware upgrade.
As we’d expect from Sony, the HT-A5000 offers wide-ranging audio format support with Dolby Atmos (in both the Digital+ and TrueHD formats), DTS:X, LPCM, wireless hi-res audio and Sony 360 Reality Audio – the brand’s object-based spatial technology with compatible content available from Tidal, Amazon Music HD, Nugs and Deezer.
We start testing with Blade Runner 2049 in Dolby Atmos on Blu-ray. Despite its woofer credentials, there’s a touch of distortion and chuffing caused by some of the deep opening sub-bass in the score, even when the subwoofer volume is at its minimum. As the synthy soundtrack builds, though, the layers are rich and well presented, growing in scale to a suitably epic room-filling sound with a firm grip on the grunting bass as K lands in his Spinner.
Overall in this film, we find that the height effects of overhead aircraft aren’t particularly well projected out toward the viewer, particularly when compared with the HT-A7000, which in our listening room presents Atmos effects with more precision and impact.
The dynamic drop down to the subsequent scene gives the Sony HT-A5000 to show off its ability to dig out detail, and it does this well, with the close reflections of the kitchen and the boiling pot on the stove giving a real sense of the space. Similarly, the sound of the later baseline test reveals the claustrophobic size of the room and the separation between the voices of the interrogator and K.
Vocally, while the centre channel is forthright, the A5000 has a touch of boxiness that hinders its performance when compared to the Sonos Arc with its sparkling treble but less impressive low end. This can make action-heavy films such as The Batman a touch difficult to follow without activating voice mode, which, while being tasteful in its deployment of high frequencies, still isn’t ideal.
But when it comes to sound effects and score, particularly the intricate mix found in the Penguin's car chase sequence, the HT-A5000 impresses with a broad soundstage that’s packed with substance and not just synthetic-sounding psychoacoustics. Transients have a strong leading edge, and there’s plenty of well-deployed power at play.
We try streaming Downtown by Macklemore And Friends, and the Sony HT-A5000 puts in a competent, rhythmically astute performance with the descending bassline neatly rendered. With music, the A5000 lacks a touch of liveliness, compared to the A7000, which allows more of the decaying envelope of each instrument to be heard.
The Sony HT-A5000 has a lot to offer, with a powerful broad soundstage, robust low-end and excellent connectivity. However, its slightly boxy voices and underwhelming height drivers leave it lagging in direct comparison with the class-leading Sonos Arc.
As a single-box sound solution, the A5000 is still more impressive than many of its competitors. But for several brands, including Sonos, this is where they pitch their flagship products, and as such, the competition is incredibly fierce if you don’t bring your A-game.
- Sound 4
- Features 5
- Build 5
Read our Sonos Arc review
Also consider the B&W Panorama 3
Read our Samsung HW-Q800A review
Our pick of the best soundbars: budget to premium