It’s rare to arrive at the launch of a consumer audio product and exclaim “Huh. OK, that product doesn’t exist now”. But that’s what happened when I saw Sony’s new HT-AX7 (previously leaked by Slashleaks as a MagicBucket speaker).
It’s a portable Bluetooth speaker with 2 muffin-sized portable satellite speakers that sit on top of the charging port, on top of the plate. It’s designed primarily to act as a small soundbar (it’s about the size of a Roku Streambar) and rear speaker – but for your phone, tablet or laptop. It’s similar to the concept of Art TV and Soundbar TCL launched at Milan Design Week, but that idea needs power and really means something for TV. This is not, and does not need to be.
So, is it a wireless speaker that uses your home wi-fi network? No, Bluetooth only – oh, and no physical connections other than the USB-C charging port. But it includes Sony’s proprietary 360 Spatial Sound Mapping, which can convert stereo signals via Bluetooth in real time. So, when those two up-firing channels are placed 1m to 1.2m behind you, they become rear speakers and provide what looks like a Dolby Atmos setup. And I heard it: it’s not a matter of going into our best Dolby Atmos sound bar guide only because it doesn’t actually support Dolby Atmos, but it’s good and deep.
No real room calibration technology. upconverting uses Sony’s monopolisynthesis technology but suppose you have placed your rear speakers about a meter behind you and the ‘main’ band in front of you, under your ears on a coffee table or similar. And I think it’s quite refreshing.
Sony calls the HT-AX7 a “portable theater system” and that’s a good assessment of it, although it’s not the only use case Sony offers. On the top bar next to the player and volume controls, you’ll see the “Sound Field” button. When this is clicked ‘On’, you will get the mini-surround setting described above. Anyone who watches movies in bed on a tablet, or shows on their phone at home, this is for you.
But when you turn off the Sound Field, all three speakers play in mono and you can place them around the room to create a party atmosphere. Oh, and if you plug the satellite speakers into their charging ports on the main unit, only the main speakers (which have two Sony X-Balanced drivers and two passive bass radiators) play, as normal Bluetooth speakers.
Opinion: Portable, practical, very happy – and expensive.
Does it look a bit like a giant contact lens? Maybe it’s just me. However, the fabric cover is made from recycled PET bottles and it seems popular, which is good because it’s only available in this light gray shade at the moment.
Multipoint connectivity means your phone can act as the HT-AX7’s remote as well, managing volume and adjusting the rear speakers using the brand new Home Entertainment Connect app. And the best part about That It leaves your tablet, laptop or mobile phone free to enjoy the visuals.
Battery life? Good question: 30 hours, but 10 minutes jolt will give you 2.5 hours of play.
There is a mic for the speaker function and although there is no IP rating (so it does not depend on the amount of mother nature in your balcony), I was impressed when I heard it. When watching a clip from the movie gravity, I couldn’t detect Sandra Bullock’s voice – and even better, as she clapped and collided with the outer body and doors of the spaceship, I felt the reverberations of the void of space behind me.
Bullets in the James Bond epic There is no time to die pew-pewed with admirable clarity and zip over my shoulder as well. The audio separation and three-dimensional sound that the Sony HT-AX7 can deliver when inputting this normal stereo recording greatly improves the experience. And it’s fuss free too; No wafting your phone around and recalibrating if you move it – you expected to move these speakers around frequently.
Price? Yes: €550 (which is roughly $598, £470 or AU$890 although we’re waiting for official clarification here), so it won’t be one of our best soundbar deals any time soon. But it’s talented and we shouldn’t be surprised – Sony’s SRS-XG300 is an excellent portable speaker that rarely gets the recognition it deserves, perhaps due to its similarly high price point.
Could the Sony HT-AX7 find its way into our best soundbars buying guide? Time will tell, but initially at least, there are many things to like.
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