One of the things I love about Sony is that every once in a while the company is willing to turn to fencing and launch a product that is – unlike – everything else. Extreme. This is the case with the Sony SRS-RA5000, an expensive big wireless speaker, bristling with speakers, sculpted to look like a modern work of art and optimized to make the most of the 360 Reality Audio format.
Sony knows how to design eye-catching products, and the SRS-RA5000 certainly catches the eye. It is a large speaker (13 inches high). All the curves, the unit is wrapped in black fabric and dominated by a trio of copper-colored speaker grilles on top. Maybe they’re rose gold. It depends on the light. Either way, they jump against black.
There are discreet touch controls for music playback on one “side” and for power and connectivity on the other. The speaker essentially looks like a work of modern art. While it’s unmistakably big, there are other wireless speakers that are even heavier – like the Ultimate Ears HYPERBOOM I reviewed last year.
Around the “back” is a small bass-reflex port and a 3.5mm AUX input. That’s it. Sony clearly wants you to be Diffusion to this speaker. The power connection is on the bottom to keep things as clean as possible, but this power cable leads to a very large power supply (6 x 3 x 1.5 inches). You will need to find a place to hide this.
There is no battery – it is strictly meant to be plugged in and left in place. The smooth black plastic top can collect dust (especially in the tight spaces between the speaker grilles), and I found the fabric wrap to be a magnet for dog fur.
However, it is probably the most unique wireless speaker I have installed in the office since owning a B&W Zeppelin ten years ago.
Things get interesting when it comes to the setup. I really don’t like “interesting” at this point, I want it to be easy.
Plugging in an auxiliary source or connecting via Bluetooth is simple. No problem at all. However, these methods do not allow you to take full advantage of the impressive audio capabilities of the SRS-RA5000.
There is no Apple AirPlay support, which is unfortunate – I’m an iPhone, so that means streaming Apple Music directly to the speaker over Wi-Fi is finished. However, there are other ways to connect. It has Chromecast built-in, for example. I went with an Amazon Echo Dot plugged into the AUX input to stream Amazon Music HD over Wi-Fi. This had to be set up using the Sony Music Center mobile app, in a somewhat frustrating process. Once I finally had linked accounts and everything was connected and working everything was moving forward, but this initial setup experience could really be made easier.
The SRS-RA5000 has a built-in microphone which is used only for sound calibration. When the speaker is installed in the desired location, press the Calibrate button on the speaker or the mobile app. The system will emit a series of loud beeps and pings while optimizing the audio output in its space. I have a similar system with my soundbar, although it does require plugging in an external microphone. The feature seems to work very well. After running it, there were noticeable improvements when I moved the speaker from my desk where it was set up on a bench several feet off the floor and near a wall, to the dining room where it was placed higher and without walls.
- 3 x 1.8 ” Trigger Up Speakers, 3 x 1.8 ” Mid-Bake Speakers, 2.9 ” Trigger Down Subwoofer
- Rear bass port
- Built-in microphone for automatic sound calibration
- Touch controls for music playback, source input, power
- 3.5mm AUX input
- Supports 360 Reality Audio
- Supports high resolution audio
- Optional immersive sound enhancement (via app)
- EQ with presets (via app)
- 9.4 x 13 x 8.9 inches, weighs 10.8 pounds
- Bluetooth with SBC, AAC
- 802.11n Wi-Fi
- Chromecast built-in, works with Google Assistant, Alexa, Spotify Connect
The big question, of course, is how the SRS-RA5000 sounds. After all, this is a $ 700 wireless speaker, equipped with a set of seven drivers. For this price and with this kind of setup it had better special sound.
Frankly, whether it lives up to expectations or not is highly dependent on how it is used and how you calibrate and personalize the sound (Music Center app includes an equalizer, sound level control speaker speakers and the ability to activate Immersive Audio On and Off).
Let’s start with 360 Reality Audio. This is the format the speaker is designed to get the most out of.
360 Reality Audio has been around for a while now, but they’re usually headphones designed to take advantage of the format. The specially mastered tracks are available on several streaming services, including Tidal and Amazon Music HD. When playing a 360 Reality Audio track on this speaker with Immersive Audio Enhancement active, you get music with a much wider soundstage. Individual voices and instruments can be arranged to appear in a spherical space surrounding the speaker. The idea is to provide a more realistic listening experience, similar to that of a concert.
I used Amazon Music HD. In my experience the results have been hit and miss and I guess this is based on how the tracks have been mastered. Some have really made the most of the technology. For example, a 2019 mix, 360 Reality Audio of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” was a showcase for the immersive three-dimensional music experience. Others weren’t so good. Besides the inconsistent results, finding 360 Reality Audio tracks on Amazon Music HD was much more difficult than it should be. There are several dedicated playlists, but searching for 3D tracks would often bring up an album that has only one track mastered in the format. Presumably that will change over time (and other services can do it better), but for now, consider the content to be limited.
You can also use Immersive Audio Enhancement feature with regular tracks. In this case, the system tries to create a similar effect using the hardware. It definitely changes the listening experience, but for me it mostly seemed to add a lot of artificial reverb and extra bass. The details are really gone. It got old really quickly, even with music that you thought could benefit from the processing – like Kraftwerk.
In general, the Sony SRS-RA 5000 is a beautiful sound speaker, oriented towards energy. It has plenty of volume on tap and with a few tweaks to the EQ its bass output is very impressive. High energy tracks like the Cicada Mix from Depeche Mode’s “World In My Eyes” sounded absolutely fantastic, especially with the volume turned up slightly. The placement of the driver means this speaker is able to project sound into a fairly large space, but that won’t make you believe it’s stereo.
That being said, purely as a bluetooth speaker or even as a Wi-Fi streaming speaker, there are others in my collection that would give it the price tag at a lower price. They certainly wouldn’t look so eye-catching doing it, however …
Ultimately, the SRS-RA 5000 is a $ 700 wireless speaker and one that doesn’t necessarily do away with the smaller, cheaper alternatives. It has no battery, requires a larger power supply than some portable speakers, and does not support AirPlay 2.
However, if you really love 360 Reality Audio and want to enjoy the immersive music listening experience without headphones, then the Sony SRS-RA 5000 is a great way to do it.
Whatever you end up using, the Sony SRS-RA 5000 is a beautifully sculpted speakerphone that will be a talking point in any room.
Disclosure: Sony provided a speaker for the evaluation, but did not participate in this review.