Sony SRS-RA5000 wireless speaker review: A promising idea falls short

Sony SRS-RA5000 wireless speaker review: A promising idea falls short

When I first heard Sony’s 360 Reality Audio technology at CES 2019, I was quite impressed with its implementation on headphones. The company was also demonstrating 360RA on a specially designed speaker, but the line to get into the demo booth was long, and my time at that point was very short, so I missed hearing what it could do from a speaker in a room.

About a year later, I wrote a full review of 360RA on headphones with a detailed explanation of the technology. More recently, I wrote an update on Sony’s plans for and demos of the technology at virtual CES 2021. But I still hadn’t experienced the technology from a speaker—until now.

Sony just introduced two 360 Reality Audio speakers—the SRS-RA5000 ($699.99) and the smaller SRS-RA3000 ($299.99). The company sent me an RA5000, and after listening to a variety of content, I have to say it’s quite underwhelming.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best Bluetooth speakers, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.

Features

To reiterate the basic idea, Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is an object-based, immersive-audio system, not unlike Dolby Atmos or DTS:X in principle, though its intended application is music rather than soundtracks. Content creators mix audio tracks using immersive-audio tools, placing instruments anywhere within a virtual 3D space. The final mix is encoded in MPEG-H, an audio codec that supports immersive audio.

sony srs ra5000 soundfield Sony

This illustration of the soundfield is somewhat misleading; sound waves certainly do not bend as seen here, though I suppose you could interpret the graphic as sound waves from the top drivers reflecting from the ceiling.

Music mixed and encoded as 360 Reality Audio is delivered via streaming providers. Currently, three providers offer 360RA titles for headphones and the new Sony speakers—Tidal, Deezer, and Nugs—while Amazon Music HD will start offering 360RA tracks for the Sony speakers starting on April 6, 2021, using Alexa Cast. Of course, each of these providers charges a subscription fee to access their catalog, though they also offer a free trial to check them out. As of this writing, there are a total of about 4,000 new and classic tracks that have been mixed or remixed in the 360RA format and generally delivered at a bit rate of around 1.5Mbps or less, depending on the provider.

The SRS-RA5000 looks like an overgrown three-head electric shaver, standing 13 inches tall by roughly nine inches across and weighing in at a hefty 10.8 pounds. The slightly hourglass-shaped sides are covered with heavy-duty grille cloth.

sony srs ra5000 top Sony

The top of the speaker holds three drivers that fire upward.

Three drivers on top of the speaker fire upward, while three more drivers behind the grille cloth fire sideways at an angle of 120 degrees from each other, generating an omnidirectional soundfield. Each of these six drivers measures 1.8 inches in diameter, and they are enclosed in a sealed chamber. A single downfiring woofer measures 2.75 inches in diameter and sits in a ported chamber. Each driver has 30 watts of power behind it, but I could not find any frequency-response specs, and Sony did not provide them after repeated requests.

One important feature is called Immersive Audio Enhancement (I, which processes 2-channel stereo tracks and renders them in the omnidirectional soundfield. This is intended to simulate the effect of 360 Reality Audio with non-encoded files.

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