Being at the forefront of your industry is key to success in any tech-driven business. When it comes to audio, Sony’s reputation has been built largely on its ability to innovate. And, sometimes, even do so at an affordable price.
The world of portable or wireless speakers is one that Sony has dabbled in. But, they’ve made one of their biggest strides in an unknown direction by embracing a new type of audio experience.
360 Reality Audio is a new file format that has been developed to change the way we listen to audio sources on various devices. This format is by no means solid, and it has been around for a while. Yet, I’ve seen no major releases by manufacturers that make use of this technology, until now.
Enter the Sony SRS RA5000…
Sony’s first Reality-Audio speaker, which is one of the first major releases in this field. If not the very first.
For around $800, the RA5000 promises high-end sound immersion in a way you’ve never been able to achieve before with a single speaker system. More so, it offers easy usability and the build quality and durability we’ve come to expect from an established brand like Sony.
So, I decided to find out if the RA5000 is worth that kind of money in my in-depth Sony SRS-RA5000 Review.
Design and Build Quality
The RA5000 manages to not look like anything I’ve ever come across. But, there is a beautiful mixing of form and function that accounts for this hourglass design.
To achieve what can only be described as the “fountain of sound” effect, Sony’s designers ended up with something strangely resembling a tailor’s bust. It does make the RA5000 one of the best-looking speakers out there.
The majority of the outside surface is covered in a very nice-looking charcoal-grey mesh. This means the speaker will not be a fingerprint magnet, unlike most plastic-covered speakers.
In true Sony fashion…
They’ve stuck to a familiar color scheme with the RA5000. In contrast to the black, there is Rose gold on the three top driver covers. The same goes for the three on the bottom.
These are angled so that they can act as feet and ventilation for all that air that’s going to be moving around. Like I said, a good marriage between form and function.
Something else you’ll notice…
When looking at the bottom is the power cable port that powers. It can swivel a full 360 degrees. This means the cable is less like to get twisted up, and it makes the speaker easier to maneuver when plugged in.
If you turn the speaker around, you’ll see that it is ported. This gives the subwoofer a little bit of extra breathing space to get that low-end filled up.
Controls and Functionality
On the left face of the RA5000, you will find three simple controls. There is a power button, a circle and arrow symbol indicating source selection, and a musical note that is the calibration button. There are small LED indicators on the top of each so that you are aware of what is happening in real-time.
On the right face, you’ll find three buttons for play, pause, and volume up/down. There is a 3.5mm auxiliary jack and an NFC one-touch pairing point. Simply tap your NFC-enabled device on that little block, and you should be all paired up.
There is one downside…
This is in regards to the functionality in a potential social situation that I feel needs mentioning. As a wired speaker, it’s meant to be (ideally) placed in the center of a room. That presents a bit of a problem.
Unless you happen to have a power outlet in the center of the room, you’ll have to run the cable across the floor. That presents a tripping and damage hazard.
If you weren’t planning on placing it in the center of any room but one the side on a table, for example, don’t worry. You will still get great sound quality since the RA5000 can calibrate itself to account for its position in the room. Making it one of the most versatile speakers you can buy.
When you hold down the musical note button, the RA 5000 will send out waves of audio in all directions. Using the information from the feedback, it receives the speaker tunes itself for optimum audio delivery from that position.
As a result, this is one of the best automatic sound optimization speakers on the market. Furthermore, this feature means you can place it anywhere and always get great sound.
Sony’s Music Center App
Using the Music Center App, you can control the speaker’s playback functions. The calibration function is also available via the app. Using WiFi, you can link up all your favorite music streaming services like Spotify, Tidal, or Deezer.
Via the app, you can connect the RA5000 to the voice assistant of your choice. Then you can control the speaker using only voice commands. Grouping the speaker in this way to your Alexa or your Google home setup turns it into a multi-room speaker.
There is also a very easy-to-use 5-band EQ that has a few presets along with the ability to create and save custom profiles. There is also a setting for Auto Volume Control and independent control for the up-firing speaker that can be set to soft, medium, or loud.
As I’ve mentioned, the RA5000 owes its shape to the fact that it is meant to be a 360-degree fountain of audio.
An untraditional approach…
Instead of sending the audio towards you in the traditional “wall of sound” sense, the RA5000 makes use of angles to bounce the audio. Then, re-bounce it to create a 360-degree experience.
To achieve what Sony calls an “Ambient Room Filling Sound,” the RA5000 makes use of three upward-firing 46mm drivers. Around what I describe as the RA5000’s “waistline” are three more 46mm drivers firing outward. Near the bottom, you’ll find a 70mm downward-firing subwoofer.
It is worth noting that the RA5000 has no competitors in the 360-degree audio field. Therefore, I’ll be doing a comparison to another speaker in the normal stereo sense first.
As a normal speaker…
Without any of the enhancements and using just the EQ function via the app, the RA5000 has a very warm and deep-sounding low-end. It has the signature bass-forward sound Sony has become known for. But it does not overpower the mids or cause muddiness.
The highs and mids are plenty clear with lots of depth when you push the volume to 75% or more. Thanks to great build quality, you don’t experience distortion in any frequency range. And, the sounds don’t become muddled together.
As a normal speaker, the RA5000 will stack up against most of its rivals. But, to justify spending $800 on this thing, you’ll need to fire up the 360-degree reality audio and get immersed.
360 Reality Audio
You can find one or two files on YouTube that can be viewed as a sort of 360-degree reality audio. However, you’ll need to subscribe to a streaming service that supports 360-degree reality audio to get the full experience.
At the moment, there is Tidal, Nugs.net, Deezer, and Amazon Music HD. Sony is nice enough to include a 90-day free trial for Tidal.
Something else important to note. While some old songs have been remastered for this new format, they won’t sound as good as new material that was recorded for the format.
Lots of potential…
When you fire up the RA5000, you’ll be amazed by what this thing can do with sound. I listened to a large-sounding epic piece with some orchestral elements get replaced by a large bass synth and a pounding drum machine. Guess what happened?
I found myself not only pointing left and right but above and behind us, trying to pinpoint the source direction of a sound. Without question, this is one of, if not THE most immersive sounding speakers on the market.
Additionally, I tried using the app to emulate 360 audio from a source like Spotify, and an audio file from a phone via the 3.5mm jack. In both cases, the RA5000 added a new dimension and depth that enhanced the listening experience.
What makes the speaker special?
In some ways, you can’t tell the direction of any one sound, and I assume that’s sort of the point. In terms of delivering a truly 360-degree experience, I have to say well done, Sony. This really is something new.
Sony SRS-RA5000 Review – Pros and Cons
- Well built.
- Looks great.
- Sounds great.
- 360-degree reality audio.
- Voice assistant compatible.
- 3.5mm jack.
- NFC compatible.
- Good controls.
- Very expensive.
- A wireless version would be more practical.
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Sony SRS-RA5000 Review – Conclusion
The RA5000 truly is something new and, for the moment, very unique. There’s nothing that looks like it, works like it, or even comes close to sounding anything like this strange fountain of sound. It is one of the best 360 degrees sound speakers, but it comes at a steep price.
If you’re willing to pay the premium price, the RA5000 will give you an entirely new way of listening to music from a speaker. But, you’ll also get the added benefit of having a pretty good and awesome-looking regular speaker as well.
But, please, Sony, make a version that can function wirelessly as well; that would be awesome!
Until next time, happy listening.