Sony’s latest SRS-RA5000 is a single-digit speaker full of drivers, possesses valuable features such as Spotify Connect and Chromecast in-built, and can produce immersive 360-degree audio. It costs $700.
The RAS5000 dates back to CES 2019, where Sony showcased it as a prototype for its new 360 Reality Audio format, and it’s already currently in the market. Even the smaller RA3000 that Sony demonstrated at CES 2020 is also available in the market. And they don’t look different and have evolved into a consumer product.
The Sony SRS-RA5000 looks sleek and sophisticated, with a black-clothed front and three copper grilles at the top. It measures 9.38 x 13 x 8.8 inches (W x H x D); that is, it takes a reasonable amount of space on a table.
Due to the speaker’s size and the need for a constant power source, most people find it challenging to look for the right place to put the speaker. They might want to put it at a corner on the table to get a room-filling sound or place it at the center of the to get spatial audio.
But it’s more advisable to place it against the wall because the back of the wall offers the audio something to reflect off of, which will make the sound well-detailed than when it is placed at the center of the room.
Regarding the stand, it possesses three little legs below each of the three corners while the power cord connects below the speaker. There’s the NFC pairing spot and the auxiliary audio in a 3.5mm jack at the back of the speaker. The deficiency of ports seems quite surprising, but it’s because Sony wants it to be used as a Wi-Fi speaker.
The speaker’s buttons are placed close to the top at the left side of the speaker, which is used to switch the audio source from either Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and 3.5cm.
Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is known to be an object-based, immersive-audio system, not like DTS:X or Dolby Atmos fundamentally, but its intended application is music instead of soundtracks. Content creators usually mix audio tracks with immersive audio tools, putting the instrument anywhere in a virtual 3D space. In contrast, the final mix is encoded in MPEG-H, which is an audio codec that supports immersive audio. Music mixed and encoded as 360 Reality Audio is delivered through the streaming providers.
Presently, three providers (Tidal, Nugs, and Deezer) provide 360RA titles for headphones and the latest Sony speakers. While Amazon Music HD recently started providing 360RA tracks for the Sony speakers via Alexa cast. To access these providers’ catalogs, you have to pay a subscription fee, but they give free trials to check them out.
About 4,000 new and classic tracks have been mixed or remixed in the 360RA format. And they are generally produced at a low rate of about 1.5Mbps or lesser, depending on the kind of provider.
It looks like a big three-head electric shaver, standing 13 inches tall by about 9 inches across and weighing 10.8 pounds. The slightly hourglass-shaped sides are wrapped with a heavy-duty grille cloth.
The three drivers at the top of the speaker shoot upward, while three extra drivers behind the grille cloth shoot sideways at an angle of 120° from each other, creating an omnidirectional soundfield. These six drivers measure 1.8 inches in diameter, and they are all in a sealed chamber. One down-firing woofer measures 2.75 inches in diameter and stays in a ported chamber. All the drivers possess 30 watts of power behind it.
The immersive Audio Enhancement feature processes 2-channel stereo tracks and delivers them in the omnidirectional soundfield. This is to simulate 360 Reality Audio effects with non-encoded files.
Calibration is another exciting feature. If you start this function, the speaker plays a short series of tones and a built-in microphone that collects the room’s reflection. The collected information is therefore used to optimize the speaker’s performance for the acoustic surroundings. The RA-5000 supports Bluetooth 4.2 using the AVRCP and A2DP profiles alongside the SBC and AAP codecs. Sadly, it doesn’t support Apple’s AirPlay.
Fortunately, the speaker can connect directly to your Wi-Fi network and access streaming services using Chromecast or Alexa Cast. The RA5000 can be included to a speaker group in the Google Home App or a Multi-Room Audio setup, or in the Alexa app for entire-home audio. Also, it’s compatible with Google Assistant or Alexa voice commands to properly connected devices; its microphone isn’t accustomed to accepting voice commands directly.
The performance is slightly polarizing. With some songs that have been well-tuned in Sony 360 Reality Audio, it’s fantastic, but for most music, we discovered that its room-filling, floor-shaking bass subdued the sibilant highs and echo-y mids.
Sometimes the soundstage feels monstrous, feels as if you’re listening to a live concert, but it also has similar problems you experience when sitting far away in a concert. For example, the audio is missing details.
During the headphone testing playlist, some songs sounded quite distant, having a bloated bass. Some song’s vocals were nearly indistinguishable.
The deficiency in clarity was partially made up for with the sense of presence it offers your music. You might feel like you’re in a concert sitting near lots of speakers. Incredibly, a small speaker can produce that type of sound in various directions. Still, with Master Quality tracks from Tidal perform, it approaches the same clarity that can be noticed in a pair of open-back headphones.
This is probably due to the closeness of the drivers inside the chassis and what Sony did to prevent distortion and reverberation. Having several speakers inside that little container can be disastrous unless you discover a way to isolate the drivers. But I don’t think that’s possible.
While comparing the RA5000 to other wireless speakers like the Sonos One or Amazon Echo (2020), there’s a big difference in clarity. Well, the RA5000 provides concert-like sound, while the Sonos One and Echo have more clarity at the expense of a bigger soundstage.
Sure, the Echo and Sonos One may not have the presence of the RA5000, but their direct, unidirectional sound is relatively softer and more pleasant for more extended periods of listening.
|Speaker Type||Home Audio|
|Audio Codec||SBC, AAC|
Sony’s RA5000 is an aspiring inclusion to the 3D music lexicon, providing inspiring punch, possessing a conversation-starting design, and support for high-resolution audio. But it is still a work-in-progress software, irregular performance, and a small supply of SonyRA tracks to enjoy makes the $700 price point too challenging to accept.