Sony RA5000 speaker review: extravagant sound at an unreasonable price

Sony’s new SRS-RA5000 is a $700 single-unit speaker, full of drivers, built-in handy features like Spotify Connect and Chromecast, and can create immersive 360-degree audio. It is expected to be released now, but the RA5000 dates back to CES 2019. Here, Sony showcased the latest 360 Reality Audio format prototype speakers. So it was in the hopper for a while. The same goes for the smaller, cheaper RA3000, which Sony demonstrated at CES 2020 a year later. Now both products have evolved into consumer products, and little has changed. Verge Score 7.5 out of 10 Good Powerful stereo sound 360-degree audio creates a wider soundscape Multiple music playback methods Bad for individual speakers Expensive for individual speakers No need for a large external power supply AirPlay 2 No 13-inch tall RA5000 Much bigger. Than any smart speaker. And yes, from above it looks absolutely like a large electric shaver thanks to the three round speaker grilles. If this is all white, you can confuse it with a futuristic humidifier or air purifier. However, Sony has recently stuck to a mix of black and rose gold, the signature look of many headphones and earbuds. I keep digging into the contrast this creates and the sides of the speaker are covered with a knitted fabric that hides the inside. There are touch-sensitive buttons on the left and right. There is a calibration function to get the volume and adjust the play/pause on the right, the left processing power, the mode selection (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or aux input) and the sound of any room with the RA5000. Denies the similarity of electric shavers. The interior layout is divided into: There are three upstream speakers, three outer speakers in the center of the side of the speaker, and a single subwoofer at the bottom. On the back is a 3.5mm input and a small NFC icon, which can hold your Android phone for quick pairing. The power cord is connected under the speaker, and the RA5000 comes with a large horn external power supply. This is something you didn’t expect when you consider how big the product is already. Sony’s cool speakers are wireless, but never portable, as you always have to plug them into a power source. The setup process is… There are so many. Sony’s mobile app guides you through various steps, including adding the RA5000 to the Google Home app, connecting to a Wi-Fi network, connecting to Amazon’s Alexa platform, and more. The speaker had a lot of trouble connecting to my home Wi-Fi at first, but with a little patience it eventually worked. Like Sony’s standard, the app isn’t very stylish or pretty, but it gets the job done. The RA5000 has touch-sensitive capacitive control. The RA5000 offers tremendous flexibility in how you play your music. You can pair your device to the speaker via Bluetooth. There are AAC and SBC codecs, but no LDAC. If you listen to music over Wi-Fi, you can get a lot better quality. There is built-in Chromecast support for audio casting, and the RA5000 can also be added to a group of speakers using Google Home or Amazon Alexa. I loved Sony completing the streaming options with AirPlay 2, but I had no luck. The speaker hardware includes a microphone, but this is only used for calibration. You’ll have to rely on other devices to play music with your voice on the RA5000, but it’s compatible with both Alexa and Assistant, so you can do it wirelessly with an inexpensive smart speaker or mobile phone. In conventional stereo mode, these speakers deliver powerful performance, but you can expect more bass for their size. (If you want to increase the bass, there is an EQ option in the Sony app.) It easily covered my living room and bedroom with sound. The up-firing driver provides a very complete presence. On average listening, I didn’t push the volume beyond the 60% range. If you’re in an apartment, climb even higher and you’ll probably have a very annoying neighbor. However, despite the loud and harsh sound, you cannot mistake the RA5000 for a decent set of stereo speakers. It sounds like one enclosure. It dwarfs most other smart speakers. And that leads us to an excellent trick called 360-degree audio. Sony’s 360 Reality Audio uses object-based spatial audio to create captivating soundscapes. The pitch is that you can feel “realistic as if you were at a live concert or with an artist recording in the studio.” When you close your eyes and listen to 360 Reality Audio, the RA5000 certainly sounds bigger and wider than the physical space. This is a noticeable change in normal stereo. But does it put me in the realm of amazing music coming from all directions? No really. As you move through the 360 ​​tracks, you can see that not all content really utilizes the range. It’s unclear how involved and invested most artists really have for these 360 ​​mixes, so I’m skeptical of the argument that this is how you listen to the song. Jazz sounds fantastic. Instruments really benefit from sticking out of the walls and ceiling. Concert recordings such as Oasis, performed by Liam Gallagher, hit “Champagne Supernova” with an enthusiastic singing crowd, and they have an impressive breadth that feels different from normal stereo sound. When playing true 360 ​​Reality Audio music, the LED on the bottom of the speaker lights up green. The speaker supports music via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or Aux input. Currently, only a handful of music streaming services including Tidal, Deezer and Nugs.net support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio. Amazon Music HD will also be able to play 360 audio on the RA5000 starting April 6. These apps can send 3D audio directly to the speaker. However, among the services that provide 360 ​​Reality Audio, the adoption of musicians and record labels has a long way to go. In Tidal’s “Top Tracks” section, there were no songs containing 360 Reality Audio, and no Top Albums. It really says a lot. The Navigation tab has a dedicated section for easy navigation through playlists and albums that support 360-degree audio. Most of it is old, but Haim’s Women in Music Pt. There is also III. There are even hits like Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar”. The unusual appearance is suitable for a novel 360-degree sound. To compensate for the lack of mixed content for the 360, Sony includes a “Immersive Audio Enhancement” setting that wants to reproduce the same effect for two-channel music tracks. This algorithm-based approach rarely works well. Turning this on adds artificial reverb and a clear layer of ambience to everything you play, and you lose the precision of the sound stage found in true 360 ​​Reality Audio content. Finding a direct “competitor” for the RA5000 for a striking price of $700 is complicated. There is a HomePod-shaped device in Sony’s promotional video, but the Apple speaker is less than half the price and is now history. The $500 Sonos Five is my favorite single unit speaker, but it sticks to stereo audio. If so, there are high-end, high-end audio alternatives like Bowers & Wilkins’ $900 Formation Wedge speakers, but again, they are aimed at an audiophile level stereo experience. Sony’s speakers can outperform the $200 Amazon Echo Studio and sound a lot louder, but that’s exactly what I’m looking for given the huge price gap. So the question I have left is this: Who is this speaker for? Sounds great and can satisfy any medium-sized room, and 360 Reality Audio is a fun party trick. However, the required price is difficult to overcome. Many people serious about audio gear will pay for a nice pair of stereo bookshelf speakers faster than dropping $700 on this single device. I think Sony is trying to make the RA5000 the jack of all the deals that lead to immersive sound and convenient streaming options. But I feel like this speaker is trying to do too much. This is especially the case when the value of the headline feature is not proven and often inconsistent. Photograph by Chris Welch / The Verge

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