Review on Sony SRS-RA5000 2021
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The Review on Sony SRS-RA5000 2021
Pros Decent audio when all immersive effects are turned off Cons Expensive Distortions on deep bass Immersive audio and 360 Reality Audio modes sound bad
Sony’s SRS-RA5000 wireless speaker aims to deliver a truly immersive listening experience, transforming pure stereo sound into “room-filling ambient sound” and even playing 360 Reality Audio tracks mixed (or remixed) using Sony algorithms and – technology, so you are surrounded by sound. Sony thinks this effect, powered by multiple drivers in a large and bulky speaker, is worth $699.99. It could be, if the immersive audio didn’t sound so strange – and if the few 360 Reality Audio tracks didn’t sound mind-bogglingly bad. Stereo sound sounds decent through the speaker, with clear highs and powerful bass depth, but it can distort at higher volumes. Ultimately, the SRS-RA5000 is not alive up to its promise of powerful, listener-enveloping audio, and it definitely doesn’t justify its high price. An intriguing design
The SRS-RA5000 looks a bit like a very large electric razor, with its three large, round top grilles atop a black plastic housing. It’s pretty hefty at nearly 11 pounds and about 13.0 by 9.4 by 8.9 inches (HWD).
Three 1.8-inch drivers direct audio upwards and at an angle through the top surface of the speaker. Three more 1.8-inch drivers face horizontally outwards from behind the enveloping black grille cloth. Inside, a downward-firing 2.9 subwoofer delivers the bass. R
The intended front of the speaker has the Sony logo along the top edge. The two opposing panels contain power, input and sound mode/calibration/ buttons on the left and playback and volume buttons on the right. The included power supply plugs into the bottom of the speaker, where a sound mode LED indicator lights up a color to tell you whether it’s playing 360 Reality Audio, immersive audio, or neither. A 3.5mm auxiliary input is located on the rear corner of the speaker enclosure (no cable supplied), along with an open port for efficient airflow when the drivers are pumping. This back panel also acts as an NFC pairing zone. Set up SRS-RA5000 and Wi-Fi
Once you place the speaker somewhere, it calibrates itself by playing a series of sounds and measuring how they bounce off surfaces in the room. The process is quick and can be repeated as needed (usually when moving the speaker or moving other large objects in the room).
360 Reality Audio requires a WiFi connection. Once the speaker is on your home network, this technology allows you to stream tracks from services that support it. A work list of those services is available in the Sony Music Center app; during testing, the list was limited to Amazon Music, Nugs.Net, and Tidal. Of course, even on compatible services, you’ll need to play specific 360 Reality Audio tracks for the experience. Sony SRS-R5000
The installation process with the Sony Music Center app is a bit of a headache. The easiest thing we accomplished was manually pairing the speaker via Bluetooth, outside of the app. After that, it took several attempts to connect the speaker to our Wi-Fi network using the app. And after that, setting up the various services through the app was extra work. Getting it to work with Amazon Music HD was particularly tricky, with handshakes between the Sony, Alexa and Amazon Music apps not all working right away.
The app has Spotify streaming built into the menu, and the speaker itself is Google Cast compatible. You can control the SRS-RA5000 with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant using a smart speaker or your phone, but it doesn’t offer a voice assistant directly.
One thing should be underlined here: 360 Reality Audio is only available on a limited number of streaming services, and you generally have to pay for the premium version of each. So after promos and free trials expire, you can easily expect an extra $20 in monthly subscriptions. T
The SRS-RA5000 is compatible with Bluetooth 5.0 and supports SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. It does not have a built-in battery for mobile use. SRS-RA5000 Audio Performance
We tested the speaker’s basic stereo audio capabilities over Bluetooth and switched to Wi-Fi to test 360 Reality Audio separately. In stereo, the SRS-RA5000 doesn’t impress on tracks with intense sub-bass content, such as The Knife’s “Silent Shout”. The speaker drivers distorted heavily on this track at medium to high volumes. That’s a pretty bad sign, especially for a speaker of this size and price.
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Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with much less bass in the mix, gives us a better idea of the speaker’s overall sound signature. The good news is that we didn’t notice any distortion. The bad news is that this, and pretty much every other song we played, only sounded good in stereo, with immersive audio turned off. Even then, the SRS-RA5000 doesn’t sound like a $700 speaker. It offers decent bass depth, clear highs, and a solid balance between the two, but it doesn’t reach a level of quality that would justify its price. Sony SRS-R5000
Enable the immersive audio button in the app makes the song downright bad. The balance of the mix is destroyed, the vocals sound nasal and the bass is muffled or shaky, depending on the moment. This goes for immersive audio on every track we’ve tried it on: it just sounds tinny and bizarre across the board. 360 Reality Audio
When we switched to 360 Reality Audio, the Amazon HD Music app was waiting for a playlist: 22 songs, the “Best of 360 Reality Audio.” I saw Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” on the list, and since I know this recording well, I started to get a sense of how 360 Reality Audio changes the experience. I pressed play with an open mind wanting 360 Reality Audio to somehow make sense, and I was disappointed. The song just sounded wrong, so I recalibrated the speaker. That didn’t work, so I moved the speaker and recalibrated it. No success.
I have to be blunt here, especially when Marvin Gaye’s holy catalog has been cut: 360 Reality Audio just sounds awful. Unnatural reverberation is added to the lead vocals and the backing vocals are amplified so that they sound even louder than the lead. Elements of the mix that should play a supporting role stand out to grab your attention. If you’ve ever heard a stereo mix with only one working speaker so you’re only getting part of the audio, that’s starting to approach what 360 Reality Audio sounds like.
To give it a fair shot, I tried some other tracks. The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Take Five” fared slightly better – live music is more likely to have a believable 360-degree atmosphere than meticulously panned, overdubbed studio tracks. But even this song is drenched in reverberation compared to the original. David Bowie’s “Space Oddity (2019 Mix)” also gets some extra reverberation, and the delay in the countdown to the song’s takeoff is exploited to such a ridiculous extent that the effect overtakes the mix. Sony SRS-R5000
In addition, the sound can sound very different depending on where you stand. This way you get more lead vocals in front of the speaker, but you hear more backing vocals behind it. The speaker is supposed to create a 360-degree, room-filling experience, but it ends up just make some songs inaudible from certain parts of the room. I’ve never been more grateful for the existence of my stereo system, because shortly after finishing this review I can go back and listen to the real stereo mixes and wash these bizarre remixes out of my ears. Maybe modern music recorded and mixed from scratch with 360 Reality Audio in mind sounds better, but right now it just isn’t a high quality audio experience.
Beyond the clunky effects, there’s nothing 360-degree, three-dimensional, or immersive about this – sound just bounces off surfaces because drivers are aimed at it. It works to some degree, but the effect makes more sense for movies and generally doesn’t work for music. We’ve heard this before in the Amazon Echo Studio, but that’s a $200 speaker that’s partially aimed at use next to TVs and comes equipped with a lot more features than the SRS-R500, so it can be much more easily forgiven what its acoustic tinkering could do to music. It’s also an effect common to soundbars, but again, those are usually intended for use with TV and movie content that can be more easily enhanced with spatial audio. 360 unreality
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