It has been a long wait. Since the idea of a Dolby Atmos soundbar was first floated a couple of years ago, we’ve been waiting for a really good one to come along.
Yamaha, Philips and Samsung have all made decent attempts, but none of them particularly grabbed our attention. However, it looks like our wait is over.
Sony’s HT-ST5000 is fantastic – pairing a real sense of height with a sophisticated sound quality. If you’ve been looking for a fuss-free way to get Dolby Atmos into your home, this is the best we’ve seen so far.
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The HT-ST5000 takes up less space than some of its rivals. It’s a good few centimetres smaller in each direction than the Yamaha YSP-5600, for example – but at 118cm wide, still fairly hefty.
Also included with the bar is a subwoofer, sitting in a housing about the size of a bowling pin. Along the front of the soundbar are seven 65mm drivers, three of which (the centre, front right and front left ones) have tweeters mounted in the middle.
On the top are two upfiring drivers that, in theory, make this soundbar capable of conveying height realistically.
It also has a display which tells you what input you’re using or control the volume without visual feedback from the television; but for more detailed adjustments you’ll need to have it plugged into your TV via the HDMI output.
MORE: Yamaha YSP-5600 review
Thankfully Sony has kept adjustments simple and setting up and using this Dolby Atmos soundbar is relatively straightforward.
In the ‘Setup’ screen are adjustments (in metres) for ceiling height, your distance from the soundbar and subwoofer, and altering the balance between the front, upfiring or subwoofer drivers.
Once you’ve calibrated that you’re unlikely to need to go back into the soundbar’s settings – mostly staying in the home menu for changing between inputs.
Alongside its HDMI output are three HDCP 2.2-compatible inputs that support 4K and HDR passthrough, an optical input, a 3.5mm jack and a USB port.
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You can also stream music to it wirelessly, by connecting the soundbar to the internet via wi-fi, through the ethernet port or Bluetooth 4.1 connection.
For those wanting to use their phone to help stream music, Spotify Connect is also built into the HT-ST5000, as is Google Chromecast for Tidal or Google Play Music users.
There’s even a dedicated ‘Music Service’ button on the remote, which can automatically resume Spotify playback if you've been listening out and about on your smartphone.
Sony’s “DSEE HX” audio mode is also present, and you can toggle on or off to upscale your music to “near high-resolution quality” (the HT-ST5000 supports a maximum sample rate of 24-bit/96kHz).
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We try it out with both Spotify and Tidal streams, and it adds a little more detail to the clash of cymbals and the patter of drums. If you already have a library of hi-res music this may not be of much interest, but it’s worth trying out.
There are also a variety of sound modes, including Music, Game Studio (both of which disable Dolby Atmos for a more precise sound stage), Movie and Standard.
These can be switched through automatically using the ClearAudio+ button on the remote, but we find that changing the settings isn’t as necessary as it is on other Dolby Atmos soundbars like the Philips Fidelio Skyquake.
Just one slight niggle though, we’d rather the remote was designed a little better. Switching between inputs requires repeatedly hitting the ‘Input up’ or ‘Input down’ button, which isn’t as convenient as having dedicated buttons for each connection.
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We play Star Trek Beyond, which has a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, and there’s a distinct sense of space and movement provided by this soundbar’s drivers, both in front of you and above you. Rather than having audio sound like it’s coming from above the television the HT-ST5000 pushes it overhead, so the woosh of spaceships becomes part of a more immersive soundstage.
Changing to a non-Dolby Atmos movie, Deadpool, the HT-ST5000 is eager to show you how well it handles its dynamics.
When the "Merc with a Mouth" takes on a team of bad guys on a motorway, the rapid changes between large-scale car crashes, and the mundane, straight-to-camera jokes, are sophisticatedly managed – never making you feel like you’re losing out on scale or emotion.
There’s no need to shy away from pushing this soundbar to its sonic limits either. We can turn the volume up loud and not experience any harshness in the treble or any strain on its dynamism.
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You’ll immediately find your head bobbing along with whatever you play through this soundbar; the integration between the treble, midrange and bass (both from the bar and the subwoofer) is tight, giving the HT-ST5000 a great sense of timing and rhythm.
In the low end, the bass is earthy and textured, capturing the growling depths of Lorde’s Royals without a hiccup, and during fight scenes it has a decent punch to it. By hi-fi standards, it’s a little tubby at the bottom of the frequency range, but it’s not something to impact your enjoyment.
In comparison to the outstanding (but non-Atmos) Dali Kubik One, the HT-ST5000 could have a little more clarity in its midrange. When Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead are talking in the hanger of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, there’s a slight drop in detail to their echoing dialogue.
MORE: Dali Kubik One review
But having a Dolby Atmos soundbar (and subwoofer) match the sound of a stereo product on all counts is a hefty task, and on almost all fronts the HT-ST5000 performs excellently – and it’s not something you’re likely to notice unless you’re often swapping between expensive soundbars.
It may be expensive, but the Sony is a superb-sounding product, packed full of features, and the first Dolby Atmos soundbar that we’d have no hesitation in recommending.
See all our Sony reviews