Sony Launches Premium Soundbar with HDMI, NFC and Bluetooth

Style, connections and performance

Yesterday Sony held a small press gathering at a boutique hotel in New York’s Chelsea district to unveil an addition to the company’s home audio/video family. The product, the HT-ST7 soundbar is designed to appeal to appeal to consumers with premium tastes, both in design and audio performance.

Sony is calling it a 7.1 soundbar, and is designed to deliver a better home theater experience from one unit (two if you count the subwoofer). The HT-ST7 includes seven midrange drivers (plus two tweeters) driven by seven discrete amplifiers for a total of 450 Watts of power. That’s combined with an included 100 Watt subwoofer, which connects wirelessly to the soundbar. The sub includes two drivers, a standard front-firing woofer and a down-facing passive radiator. The dual-driver configuration is responsible for the powerful bass we heard during a demonstration, which I’ll get to in a little bit.

The main driver, designed by Sony’s ES audio team, are similar to the drivers found in the company’s flagship 84-inch 4K TV, in that they share the same magnetic fluid technology, though these drivers were designed specifically for this soundbar. The drivers and amps are housed in an aluminum chassis, giving the product an overall elegant look.

Some of the sound tuning of the system was provided by Academy Award winning sound engineer Paul Ottoson, who worked on films as Zero Dark Thirty, Hurt Locker and Spiderman 2.

Connections is another area where this system excels. I’ve complained in product reviews before that few soundbars, even some of the most expensive ones, don’t include any HDMI connections. Instead users need to hook them to their TV via a digital optical cable, if they’re lucky, or analog cables, if they’re not. The problem with that is that most TVs down-convert surround sound audio into two channel.

The Sony HT-ST7, on the other hand, includes three HDMI inputs, three digital audio inputs (two optical, one coax) and a set of stereo analog inputs. Users can either connect all their components to the TV, and then run the HDMI port with ARC (audio return channel) back to the soundbar, or hook the components to the soundbar and run an HDMI cable to the TV.

The system even includes an IR pass-through for your remote control, and along with that, the HT-ST7 will auto-sense when the TV is turned on or off, and power up or down accordingly, so you don’t need to use the soundbar’s remote.

The system includes onboard decoders for both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.

Like many soundbars today, this one includes Bluetooth for smartphone and tablet connectivity. It also is one of the first (maybe the first) to include NFC (near field communication), which is included on some Android-based devices.

About the only feature this system doesn’t have is Apple’s AirPlay. That would have been a nice addition, but it’s rare to find on a soundbar, even at this price.

In a reception room we were given music and movie demos. Playing Little Lion by Mumford and Sons, the system produced excellent detail and a nice sense of space. Next, a battle scene from The Amazing Spiderman (in DTS 7.1) was rendered with surprising three-dimensionality and plenty of deep bass from the subwoofer.

The big test came a little later. Press attendees were treated to an early screening of the upcoming Matt Damon/Jodie Foster movie Elysium in a 40 seat theater. Instead of using the theater’s built-in sound system, Sony ran the soundtrack through the HT-ST7. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t heard it, but that soundbar (which looked tiny under the 200+ inch so screen) was able to fill that entire room. The sub, which Sony crosses over at 180Hz was doing a lot of work (the movie is packed with explosives), and was working a little too hard for that very large room, but the soundbar itself delivered excellent dialog and overall sound details. Clearly it’s more than enough for the average living room.

Being a premium soundbar, it comes with a premium price of $1,299. More pictures of the soundbar can be seen here.

Also check out:
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Review: Sonos Playbar
Is the Home Theater Receiver Dead?

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