The Sony SRS-RA5000 is everything the Apple HomePod has to offer: It is a feature-rich speaker with built-in calibration tools that adapt to any room and connects to most devices via Bluetooth, 3.5 mm auxiliary device or WiFi can. and fill this room with music.
It does this with the help of half a dozen drivers, three on each side of the speaker, a woofer for oversized bass response, and three tweeters on top. The latter enables the SRS-RA5000 to be one of the first qualified speakers to play music in Sony 360 Reality Audio format, which can sound even more immersive than traditional stereo audio.
The catch, of course, is that all of these new technologies don’t come cheap: Sony is pricing the speaker at $ 700 (£ 500, AU $ 870) – twice what Apple did for the HomePod and more than three times as much as the one Amazon Echo Studio with built-in Alexa.
For the Sony SRS-RA5000 to find a home among music lovers, it must justify its high price with incredible performance and convenience, while also proving that Sony’s 360 Reality Audio can compete with other spatial audio formats such as Dolby Atmos. This is how the Sony SRS-RA5000 feels after being at our house for a few days.
Price and release date
The Sony SRS-RA5000 was unveiled during Sony’s CES 2021 virtual event along with the lower-priced Sony SRS-RA3000. The speakers were released together in March 2021, but won’t be complete until Sony 360 Reality Audio launches on Amazon in April.
In terms of price, see $ 700 (£ 500, AU $ 870) for the Sony RA5000 and $ 300 (£ 300, AU $ 449) for the RA3000. That’s expensive for bluetooth speakers, but these are some of the first Sony 360 Reality Audio speakers that help justify the premium sticker price tag.
Whatever you think of the sound performance, the Sony SRS-RA5000 looks like a million dollars: with a black clad front and three copper grilles on top, the speaker looks like a piece of modern art and is 9.38x13x in size 8.8 inches (W x H x D) It takes up enough space on a table.
However, because the speaker is slightly larger and requires a constant source of power, it can be difficult to find a place for the speaker. Would you like it to be placed in the center of the room for the best space for spatial audio? Or should you stay in the corner on a table for room-filling sound?
In theory, both work just as well. In the end, we put the speaker in both places and found that it sounds a little better in the center of the room.
To stand up, the RA5000 has three small legs at each of the three corners, while the power cord is connected under the loudspeaker. On the back you will find both the additional audio in the 3.5 mm socket and the NFC pairing spot, but nothing else. The lack of ports might seem a bit confusing, but that’s because Sony wants you to use this primarily as a Wi-Fi speaker, for reasons we’ll get to in a minute.
The controls for the loudspeaker are located on the top left on the left side of the loudspeaker. You have to use this if you want to change the audio source between Bluetooth, 3.5 mm and Wi-Fi.
Why is Sony Wi-Fi pushing this speaker so hard? The answer is that this way you can listen to Sony 360 Reality Audio music. Unfortunately, Bluetooth doesn’t have enough bandwidth to push the data-intensive format through the funnel, nor can it pass through a 3.5mm audio jack. That means this speaker needs to be connected to the internet for the music to sound its best.
Connecting via bluetooth is easy enough. All you need to do is set the speaker’s source to bluetooth and connect through your phone. However, to play over WiFi you have to use the Sony Music Center app which … is problematic at times.
For example, every time we used the app, we were told to connect the speaker to the Google Home app so we could access it. After doing it after setup, the app asked us again when we would next use the Music Center app … and then again after that. The same thing happened for Sony 360 Reality Audio that we set up through Tidal.
The good news is that the Sony RA5000 is pretty well connected once it’s set up. It’s easy to use apps like Amazon Prime Music, and you can even pair the speaker with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa speakers for hands-free control. Additionally, you can add the RA5000 to groups through the Google Home and Amazon Alexa apps to create a setup that is almost Sonos-like.
It is also worth mentioning the automatic room calibration function, which has been used to adapt the sound of the speaker to our room. It’s something we’ve seen on other speakers and high-end sound bars, but it’s rare that you see it on a wireless speaker, and it’s a fantastic feature.
The Sony SRS-RA5000 is the culmination of years of work by Sony’s audio engineers working on the 360 Reality Audio platform. We first heard a demo of the prototype at CES over three years ago, and Sony has come a long way since then.
Nevertheless, the performance – so far – is a bit polarizing. It’s certainly filling the room with floor-shaking bass and echo-like mids, but it lacks a bit of clarity. The soundstage can feel monstrous at times, almost like listening to a live show, but it also suffers from the same problems that sitting far away at a concert has – namely, lack of audio detail.
When listening to our headphone testing playlist, some songs had a distant sound with bloated bass. The Queens of the Stone Age way of doing it had a very distinct guitar line with lukewarm vocals and a booming bass. Eminem’s Walk on Water was missing some key nuances – like Eminem’s breathing between verses – and the singing was sometimes almost imperceptible. Even the instantly recognizable theme from Star Wars is missing important parts – like the carillon – that you really need to hear to recognize it.
This lack of clarity is partly offset by the sense of presence the RA5000 gives to your music. It can feel like you’re actually in the audience of a concert sitting near a stack of speakers. It’s pretty impressive that a speaker this size can output this type of sound in so many different directions – and yet, even with Master Quality tracks from Tidal, it achieves the same clarity you would find on an open-back pair of headphones .
Compare the Sony SRS-RA5000 to some of our other favorite wireless speakers like the new Amazon Echo (2020) or the Sonos One and there’s a massive difference in clarity. While the RA5000 delivers that stadium-like sound, the Echo and Sonos One are more direct and offer much more clarity at the expense of a larger soundstage. The Echo and Sonos One may not have a Sony RA5000, but we’ve found that their direct, unidirectional sound is a bit quieter and tastier for extended listening times.
Of course, we only had a few days with it at the time. Our thoughts and feelings may change as we spend more time on them – and Amazon is putting Sony 360 Reality Audio content on its Amazon Music HD service on April 6th.
With easy-to-use features and crystal clear sound quality, the Sony RA5000 has to prove it’s worth it to get a high price point.
So far it has not proven that.
Since we received such an early test unit, there’s a very good chance Sony is still ironing out the issues with the Music Center app and its EQ settings. These can and most likely will change in the months ahead. Sony 360 Reality Audio music on the Amazon Music HD app has also only just launched in the past few days, making it easier to take full advantage of the technology.
We’re counting on Sony’s 360 Reality Audio technology to succeed because, honestly, spatial audio in a unibody WiFi speaker sounds futuristic. It’s something we’ve seen with sound bars in the past few years, and now Wi-Fi speakers are suffering from their own growing pains as they work on bringing spatial audio into a smaller, more compact form factor.
One day we will arrive in this future … but due to the time we’ve spent with it so far, we’re just not sure if the Sony RA5000 is still there.
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