I have had the opportunity to review countless wireless speakers over the years. Among those have been offerings from high-end audio brands that have gone to extremes to stand out. I’ve had zeppelin shapes, models made out of wood and aluminum, versions with flat electrostatic drivers, and one that was so big the company offered an optional backpack attachment to carry it. Some have had price tags in the thousands of dollars—getting up there for a wireless speaker. I thought I had seen (and heard) everything, but the Sony SRS-RA5000 wireless speaker managed to make a big impression.
Sony likes to take risks
One of the things I like about Sony as a company is its willingness to take risks. It puts out its regular series of well-regarded audio and video products, along with the Playstation game consoles. But it’s not afraid to go its own way and release cool things that no-one else is really doing. Xperia PRO smartphones that are basically a mobile phone built around a professional-grade camera. The Digital Paper, a super-sized, E-ink digital notepad. And the Sony SRS-RA5000.
This is a wireless speaker that looks like nothing else out there, and in the right circumstances, it also sounds like nothing else out there.
A unique design for a unique purpose
Let’s look at the SRS-RA5000’s appearance first because this wireless speaker makes a visual statement. It stands over a foot tall, with a trio of conical feet raising the bottom slightly. The upright body is a sculpted cylinder wrapped in black cloth that flares up at the top. The top surface is dominated by a trio of drivers that face up. They’re protected by copper-coloured metal speaker grills.
It’s a pretty striking and minimalist look. There are discrete, touch sensitive buttons along several edges and a handful of pinpoint LED indicator lights on the top. The “back” has a 3.5mm AUX input and a small bass reflex port. The power cable plugs in beneath the speaker, and leads to a sizeable power brick.
The unique design is even more unusual when you see what’s beneath the speaker cloth. The trio of drivers on the top are just the visible part of the speaker array. There are three drivers of the same size positioned midway, facing straight out. And there’s a downward-firing subwoofer, which explains why the speaker is raised slightly off the ground.
This design is for a purpose: to make the most of the 360 Reality Audio music format. More on that shortly.
SRS-RA5000 key specifications
Setup and use of the Sony SRS-RA5000
The Sony SRS-RA5000 offers Bluetooth wireless connectivity, which is easy. But you need the bandwidth of a Wi-Fi connection to be able to take advantage of its ability to support data-intensive formats like Hi-Res Audio and 360 Reality Audio. You also need Wi-Fi for multi-room audio.
That means going through setup with Google Home (the speaker has integrated Chromecast). This always seems to involve a bit of jumping through hoops, but if you have any smart home devices you undoubtedly know the drill.
There is no Apple AirPlay support and I’m an iPhone user, so I opted to plug an Echo Dot smart speaker into the 3.5mm AUX input. I also used a third party AirPlay streamer to be able to stream Apple Music tracks without having to drop down to Bluetooth.
Sony’s Music Center mobile app gives you full control over the speaker. There is an EQ for fine-tuning the sound, but it also goes to the extent of being able to manage the audio levels directed to the drivers. For example, if you want a more traditional speaker sound, you can turn down the upward-facing drivers.
Sound calibration feature
If you’ve ever setup a home theatre receiver or a high-end sound bar, it’s probably been equipped with a sound calibration feature. This uses a microphone to allow the system to optimize sound based on the room it’s in. My sound projector has this feature and it involves connecting an external microphone, then sitting through 20 minutes of beeps, pings, and screeches. But the results are worth it.
The Sony SRS-RA5000 is equipped with a sound calibration feature. Place the speaker, push the button (or trigger it from the app), and it uses a built-in mic to ping the room and optimize the audio. In this speaker’s case, the process only takes about 20 seconds. It is a really nice feature to have, especially if you move it from room to room.
360 Reality Audio performance
When playing 360 Reality Audio tracks (available on streaming services including Amazon Music Unlimited and Tidal) the SRS-RA5000 can output sound that lives up to the billing. The spatial audio can deliver the effect of sitting in a concert hall, with music coming from all directions, and different instruments standing out in the mix.
But … There are relatively few tracks available in 360 Reality Audio. And among those that are available, some have been mixed much more effectively than others. Give it time for engineers to get the hang of the format, but for now don’t expect to have an extensive playlist. At this point, 360 Reality Audio is more a showcase for what the speaker can do.
The Sony app includes an Immersive Audio setting that uses an algorithm to replicate the spatial audio effect with regular tracks. I wasn’t a fan, though. To me, it felt as though it was mostly adding fake reverb and a bass boost, while detail was being lost.
Overall performance of the SRS-RA5000
Fortunately, the SRS RA-5000 is well-equipped to play music in general, and when used as a traditional wireless speaker, it sounds very good. The seven-driver setup offers room-filling sound, and the built-in subwoofer delivers stronger bass than many wireless speakers are capable of. Sony doesn’t list the amplifier power of the SRS RA-5000, but it was able to put out the volume to fill a large room without distorting.
Is the Sony SRS-RA5000 the right wireless speaker for your home?
So now we get to brass tacks. There are many wireless speakers out there to choose from. Should you pick the SRS-RA5000?
It really depends on what you are looking for. In terms of playing standard streaming music, there are many wireless speakers that can offer sound that’s on par with what this produces, while costing significantly less. Same thing if you are looking to create a multi-room wireless audio setup. Start plunking down SRS-RA5000s in multiple rooms and the cost will quickly add up.
However, if you want to be able to experience the spatial audio effect offered by 360 Reality Audio from a speaker and not just headphones, then it doesn’t get much better than the SRS-RA5000. And if you want a statement speaker—one that looks like a piece of sculpted modern art as opposed to a big plastic box—the Sony SRS-RA5000 has your number.