Introduction to the Sony HT-ST7 Sound Bar
For all the things we associate Sony with for home theater, speakers are lower down on that list. Many people scoffed when they decided to introduce a $27,000 pair of speakers, the SS-AR1, but response to them has been phenomenal. They’ve followed that up with a full set of home theater ES speakers meant to compete with the likes of B&W and other high-end brands.
They are also a big player in sound bars with their recent models racking up a bevy of awards. What they haven’t had is a product to merge those two ambitions in audio until now. With the HT-ST7 sound bar Sony is taking aim at the high-end sound bar market and offering up a few features that we don’t usually see at this price point.
SONY HT-ST7 SOUND BAR SPECIFICATIONS
- Drivers: Two 20mm Dome Tweeters, Two 2.6″ Cone Midrange, One 7.25″ (Sub)Woofer and One 8″ x 12″ Passive Radiator (Woofer and Passive Radiator in Separate Enclosure)
- Amplifiers: 7 x 50W + 100W (Woofer)
- Inputs: 3 x HDMI 1.4a, 1x Coaxial, 2x Optical, 1x Analog RCA, Bluetooth (NFC)
- Outputs: 1x HDMI with ARC
- Bar Dimensions: 4.4″ H x 42.6″ W x 4.4″ D3/8″, 17 lbs., 7 oz.
- Sub Dimensions: 16.25″ H x 15.5″ W x 9.5″ D
- Bar Weight: 17.4 Pounds
- Sub Weight: 24.9 Pounds
- Price: $1,300 USD
- SECRETS Tags: Sony, Sound Bars, Audio
Design and Setup of the Sony HT-ST7 Sound Bar
The HT-ST7 is a very large and sturdy sound bar compared to everything I’ve used in the past. Roughly the same width as my 50″ plasma TV, it is a sleek, intimidating package. The HT-ST7 consists of a main sound bar and a matching wireless subwoofer.
The bar itself has a black aluminum exterior that houses nine individual drivers. There is a 20mm dome tweeter and a 65mm midrange/woofer for the left and right channels, and five additional 65mm drivers in the center of the speaker. These center drivers can be assigned to work center channel duties, supplement the left and right channels, or help with ambient effects. Their involvement depends on the source material and the selected sound mode.
The top of the bar is very simple, with only five controls that blend nicely into the finish. There is a blue fluorescent display on the front that indicates the input, volume and other statuses but goes dark after a few seconds. Unlike most sound bars, the HT-ST7 has a removable metal grill. I chose to leave it in place in order to keep curious kids from poking at the drivers.
The subwoofer packs a front-firing active driver and a down-firing passive radiator. The wireless connection is established with a set of modules, one for the bar and one for the subwoofer. Once the adapters are inserted they communicate flawlessly and automatically. The subwoofer top is finished in Sony’s current Quartz finish, with similar angled lines as their Blu-ray players.
One area that sets the Sony apart is its selection of inputs and audio codec support. With sound bars, it seems that HDMI inputs have been relegated to the very cheap bars or the ones that cost $2,000 or more. The HT-ST7 features three HDMI inputs and an HDMI output that includes ARC functionality. Where most bars cannot, the Sony can decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HS Master Audio soundtracks. Taking advantage of this requires running all your devices through the bar and not the TV. HDMI switching should be automatic thanks to HDMI-CEC.
In addition to HDMI, there are analog and digital inputs, and an IR emitter. The HT-ST7 is tall at almost 5″, and in testing it blocks the IR receiver of my Sony TV. The IR emitter solves this, relaying the IR input out to the affected device. An easy solution that more vendors should copy.
Setting up the HT-ST7 takes a good 5 minutes. The bar and sub connect wirelessly, and then you just need to connect your additional components. The space for connections is a bit tight so excessively large HDMI cables are not recommended. With no automated test tones or other calibration to be done, the HT-ST7 can be unboxed and working in under 30 minutes easily.
The Sony HT-ST7 Sound Bar In Use
None of this matters if the Sony doesn’t sound good. Putting on Drive, the Sony HT-ST7 shows what it can do. I moved between Movie and Standard modes on the HT-ST7 bar. The Standard mode is more confined to the bar while the Movie mode adds a bit more ambiance to the presentation. Adding this ambience causes a bit of loss in vocal clarity and I bump the Voice setting to 2 or 3 to compensate.
In the Standard sound mode the vocals and sounds are distinct and clear. Background sounds and noises are well defined and not muffled while dialogue is easily understood. Sound effects like a helicopter-flying overhead the subwoofer comes in and really provides some good low-end response. The integration of the two is effective as the helicopter flies overhead and the bass isn’t anchored off in a corner.
The opening attack in Master & Commander is a strain for any system. The HT-ST7 sounds great with the Movie mode providing good ambience. It won’t beat actual surround speakers, but the immersion carries to a bit behind me in my 12’x25′ theater room. The flags flapping in the wind sound unmistakable and the cannonballs striking the boats carry a nice impact. Vocals are clear and crisp despite the sonic fireworks around them and pull me into the movie.
Wish You Were Here also sounds remarkable on the Sony. The sound of the opening solo guitar is hauntingly realistic and the stage in front of me is far wider than I expected. Instruments on the 5.1 SACD mix have wonderful separation and are easy to locate. What I didn’t get was a thump in my chest from the drums at the 2:01 mark in the song. The sound is there, but the impact is lacking compared to a larger speaker setup or subwoofer.
Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm” provides a very nice feeling of being in the recording studio. I found myself having to pick apart the things the Sony doesn’t do as well as my $8,000 separates. The guitar isn’t quite as detailed and lacks a bit of the air around the notes. The separation and sound stage are also smaller, but the Sony costs $6,700 less and doesn’t take up a whole room. The overall feeling and emotion of the song are there and communicated by the ST-HT7. It paints a wonderful picture that you’ll need a more expensive and larger setup to beat.
Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City remains a superb example of audio on Blu-ray. Picking a sound mode here presents a puzzle. Do I pick Movie as it’s a 5.1 TrueHD soundtrack? Or Music as it is a concert? Perhaps just Standard to remain neutral? Movie provides a much more immersive feeling than the other modes, though the vocals really need to be pumped up to 3 on this disc. I crank the Sony well past my usual levels and it doesn’t crack at all.
Imaging on “Two Step” is very nice and the song moves right along. Perhaps the sound of Tim Reynolds’ guitar gets a little harsh as I push the Sony to extreme volume levels, but I’m really digging for complaints.
On the right side of the HT-ST7 you’ll find an NFC connection for Bluetooth. Touching my Nexus 7 tablet to this let me instantly pair them and stream my favorite tracks from Spotify or Amazon Cloud Player right to the HT-ST7. While not everyone has bought into NFC yet (cough*Apple*cough), support keeps growing and it makes streaming music for friends far easier. You can pair with Bluetooth the usual way but using NFC will let you connect and start streaming music without needing a remote at all.
This made it easy to play back everything I owned on the Sony without wires. My Spotify playlists stream directly to it from my phone or tablet. Using an App for my NAS lets me stream my entire music library to it instantly. No cables. No Bluetooth access keys. I tap on the bar with my tablet and it works.
The one sound mode I found no use for is Football. Even with a football game off my TiVo, it sounded like I was in a large, cavernous stadium that echoed all around me. Instead of feeling like part of the crowd I feel like I’m a spectator in an empty arena. I went back to Standard or Movie for sporting events and found it much better.
With a variety of content, from Blu-ray to SACD and TV, the Sony moved right along and sounded great doing it. The Movie mode causes the vocals to vanish a bit too much but the Voice setting remedies it quickly. HDMI-CEC worked perfectly in my testing. Turning on a TV or Blu-ray player caused the Sony to spring to life and start playing back my media. I wish the cable access area was larger, and perhaps for a 4th HDMI input, but that is where my issues with the Sony in use stop.
The Sony HT-ST7 Sound Bar On The Bench
The Sony HT-ST7 bar crosses over to the subwoofer at 180Hz. I tested it measuring the response without the subwoofer and then with the subwoofer to see how it performs.
Playing audio back at 80dB (blue), 85dB (red) and 90dB (green) we see a lack of compression showing that the Sony is keeping up with these higher sound levels. There is a quick fall-off below 200 Hz, and the rise at 110-120Hz is almost certainly due to a room resonance.
Adding in the subwoofer (purple) and testing at 85dB we see the frequency response remain the same down to 180Hz, at which point the subwoofer extends the low frequency response down to 40 Hz or so. It won’t plumb the depths but it will provide reasonably deep response.
Testing with (purple) and without (red) the grill, it made virtually no difference to the measurements. You can pick based on aesthetics, or trying to keep your kids from damaging the speakers like I did.
Finally we see a comparison of the different sound modes through the HT-ST7: music (purple), movie (green), football (light blue) and standard (blue). The biggest difference is with movie having a large dip between 2 kHz and 4 kHz. This falls right in the human vocal range which is why I needed that bump up on the Voice setting. The other main difference is a big rise past 8 kHz for the music mode. Standard mode is the flattest of the choices, as I’d expect, and is what will provide the most neutral playback. The hump on music below 180 Hz is almost certainly a room issue as testing was done without the subwoofer engaged.
Conclusions about the Sony HT-ST7 Sound Bar
I think that sound bars fall into two main categories. The first is simply getting better sound than your TV. Flat panels have pretty awful sound, so adding on a $250 sound bar can make a sizable improvement. The second is trying to provide high quality sound for people that don’t want to fill the room with boxes or just want something simple. That is what the HT-ST7 is trying to provide. It’s also something that I thought was a bit dubious as the sound bar factor includes many inherent issues.
Putting those issues aside, Sony has done a fantastic job as coaxing high-quality audio out of a user-friendly box. Movies and music are clear and clean with dynamics that are much better than I expected. Sound bars have always left me lacking when it comes to music listening but the Sony did better than I could have possibly expected it to.
Perhaps the killer feature is the use of NFC and Bluetooth. Getting your audio from your tablet or Smartphone to the HT-ST7 is as easy as it can be with no external accessories needed. Making the Sony so easy to implement into your system and requiring virtually no work is what makes it so great. It is a high-quality, lifestyle audio system that looks and sounds the part.
If you want great sound in a simple, convenient package, I think you’ll be highly impressed by what the Sony HT-ST7 can do.