The last Sony wireless speaker I reviewed for GeekDad was the Sony XB72 EXTRA BASS. The Sony SRS-RA5000 I am writing about today could not be any more different. It goes for a minimalist look instead of bombast, with more drivers and support for immersive, 360-degree audio. And with a $699.99 price tag, the SRS-RA5000 is also double the price of the XB72 EXTRA BASS.
First Impression and Setup
I have to hand it to Sony, the SRS-RA5000 makes a great first impression. This is no plastic box, it’s a sculpted piece of modern art—a rounded, triangular, 13-inch tall cylinder with black cloth sides and a trio of copper speaker grills arranged on top. Three sculpted feet are the same metallic copper. It’s a pretty stunning, modern, and minimalist design.
You have to look hard for the controls. There are raised, touch-enabled buttons along two upper sides for music playback, power, source, and sound calibration. The back has a small bass port and a 3.5mm Aux input. Where’s the power? Sony put the power jack beneath the speaker (the adapter has a 90-degree connector) to minimize the visual impact of a power cable.
However, there is no battery. This isn’t really meant to be a portable speaker. And the other end of the power cable is connected to a substantial power brick. It’s comparable in size to the bricks shipped with many gaming laptops.
Setup at its most basic—streaming with Bluetooth—is easy. But you probably don’t want Bluetooth. You’ll want to connect the speaker to your Wi-Fi network in order to take advantage of the advanced capabilities like 360 Reality Audio, Hi-Res Audio, multi-room audio, and Alexa or Google Assistant voice control.
That means jumping through some hoops using Google Home to configure the speaker. It has Chromecast capability built-in, but if you’re an iPhone user you’ll be disappointed to learn there is no Apple AirPlay support. To utilize the speaker’s Wi-Fi capabilities, I had to plug a streamer into the AUX input port. That means another wire to detract from the speaker’s clean aesthetic, although at least it’s connected at the back so it can be hidden. During testing, I used an Amazon Echo Dot and the Andover Audio Songbird streamer I reviewed a few months back.
I should mention that once you have the speaker in place, the push of a button will initiate the sound calibration function. After a sequence of loud beeps and pings, the audio is optimized based on room characteristics.
360 Reality Audio
The headline feature for this speaker—and the reason behind its unusual seven-driver configuration—is the ability to play 360 Reality Audio. These are audio tracks that have been mastered so that instruments and vocals are placed within a 360-degree space surrounding the listening point. They’re meant to replicate the experience of live music in an auditorium, with a far wider soundstage instead of simply being in 2-channel stereo.
If you’ve bought headphones any time in the past few years, there’s a good chance they may incorporate a virtual surround feature that works in a similar fashion. The feature is a lot less common in wireless speakers.
The SRS-RA5000 is configured to make the most of this effect. It’s equipped with a downward-firing subwoofer, three drivers that push sound up, and three more that push it out to the sides.
To listen to 360 Reality Audio tracks, I used Amazon Music HD (they are also available on Deezer and Tidal). There aren’t a huge number of tracks available as yet, and the mastering seemed to be a bit hit or miss. Some really did deliver on the “wow” factor. Others didn’t really seem to be noticeably all that different from a stereo track.
Sony offers the ability (through its mobile app) to play any tracks with immersive audio enhancement. In this case, the speaker’s DSP tries to simulate the 360 mastering. I didn’t use the feature much. It leaned heavily on artificial reverb, bass boost, and tracks lost a lot of their detail in the mix.
Performance as a Wireless Speaker
The Sony SRS-RA5000 has the looks and when playing 360 Reality Audio-mastered tracks, it’s capable of producing some pretty impressive, immersive 3D music.
How does it sound in general? Because with those 360 Reality Audio tracks in short supply, for most people, this is going to act as a regular wireless speaker.
I don’t know what the power output is on the SRS-RA5000 (Sony doesn’t make that information available), but it definitely has the volume to fill a good-sized room with energetic sound. I found the bass a little underwhelming given that there’s a dedicated subwoofer inside, but at 2-7/8-inches it’s not all that big. However, using the app’s EQ I was able to pump up the bass to a very satisfying level. You can also use the app to direct how the audio gets piped to the various drivers—for example, emphasizing audio coming from side drivers.
It sounds pretty good with streaming music, especially over Wi-Fi, with higher bit-rate services. It’s not going to fool anyone into thinking you have a multi-speaker stereo system, but it’s a big improvement over most portable wireless speakers. The problem is that at $700, there are other wireless speakers that cost less and arguably sound just as good. Most of these are true portables that you can pick up and carry room to room (the SRS-RA5000 doesn’t even have a handle) and are equipped with a battery for use outdoors.
Sony SRS-RA5000 Key Specs
• 2-7/8 inch downward-firing subwoofer, 3 x 1-13/16-inch up-firing drivers, 3 x 1-13/16-inch mid-drivers
• Wi-Fi, Bluetooth with SBC, AAC codec support
• 3.5-inch AUX audio input
• Hi-Res Audio compatible
• 360 Reality Audio compatible
• Built-in Chromecast
• Multi-room audio capable using Google Home
• Supports Alexa and Google Assistant voice control
• On-speaker sound calibration button
• On-speaker touch controls for source, music playback, and power
• Additional features including immersive audio and EQ via Sony Music Center app
• 9-3/8 x 13 x 8/7/8 inches, weighs 10.8 pounds
There’s no denying the fact that the Sony SRS-RA5000 is a conversation starter. As a wireless speaker, it’s unique, both in its ultra-modern design and its seven-driver speaker arrangement. It can pull off some neat, surround-like audio effects when playing 360 Reality Audio tracks.
However, it has limitations for iPhone users, particularly the lack of AirPlay support which means either connecting a separate Wi-Fi streaming device to its 3.5mm input or making do with Bluetooth.
And while it sounds very good, there are other wireless speakers costing considerably less than $700 that will give this one a run for its money when streaming regular (non 360 Reality Audio tracks)—and most of these have a battery so they are portable.
The bottom line is that the Sony SRS-RA5000 is a beautiful, premium speaker. But at $700 it may leave you wanting more, especially if you’re an iPhone user.
Disclosure: Sony provided an SRS-RA5000 speaker for evaluation but had no input into this review. As an Amazon Associate, I earn affiliate fees from qualifying purchases.