The Sony SRS-ZR7 is a speaker that focuses on delivering high quality sound from a minimal and stylish package.This speaker offers a variety of ways to get the most out of its capabilities by enabling you to connect to audio sources from both wired and wireless connections. It can wirelessly connect over Bluetooth and you can listen to high quality streaming audio with Spotify Connect. The HDMI port separates itself from other speakers in its class by providing the option to directly connect to a television. On the surface, the Sony SRS-ZR7 appears to be a versatile speaker that can deliver quality audio. This review will examine how it actually performs under realistic conditions.
Best Buy Canada has sent over a series of the latest home theatre devices from Sony to test out. This series includes 4K televisions, home theatre sound systems, hi-def speakers, and an Ultra-HD Blu-ray player. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing my thoughts and experiences with these devices.
The minimal design of the Sony SRS-ZR7 is stylish
This speaker is made out of a metal enclosure that gives it a noticeable heft and a premium aesthetic. Its compact design can easily fit on almost any surface. The only limitation comes from its requirement to be plugged in at all times. Unlike other Bluetooth speakers, the Sony SRS-ZR7 requires full time power so that it can deliver hi-def audio. It also utilizes this power to provide un-compromised access to services like Spotify Connect and Google Cast. The top of the speaker features touch sensitive buttons that control the volume and input. There are also multicoloured status indicators that are always on. I would have appreciated an option to turn these off, as they add clutter the otherwise sleek design, especially at night.
The rear of the speaker features a dual passive radiator that is designed to provide additional depth and bass to the low-end.This radiator is neatly concealed with a metal grille that is uniform with the front. It was nice to see that the back of the speaker received appropriate attention to detail. The rear of any speaker usually loses priority since its mostly hidden from visibility when in use. If you are a fan of a retro or industrial aesthetic, the front grill can be popped off to reveal exposed tweeters and subwoofers. While I’m not necessarily a fan of the exposed components, this can be a great option if you desire an additional level of customization.
The Sony Music Center App makes setup complicated
In order to get access to the basic features of the speaker, you’ll need to complete a basic setup that involves connecting to Bluetooth and WiFi. If you have an Android phone with NFC, you can simply tap your phone on the speaker to establish a Bluetooth pairing. From here, you will be able to stream music over Spotify Connect or over Bluetooth. To access the speaker within apps like Spotify or Apple Music, simply select the Sony SRS-ZR7 speaker in the output menu within the app. For these basic features, you won’t need to use the Sony Music Center App again.
If you want to use the more advanced features of the Sony SRS-ZR7, there is a involved setup process that feels more complicated than it should be. This is a result of the lacklustre performance of the Sony Music Center App. A speaker grouping is required every time that you want to use the multi-room audio feature. When I was grouping multiple speakers, it replied with an error on many occasions. The connectivity issues feel more prominent because each request takes 20 seconds to complete. It also didn’t help that the app did not provide an explanation or guide on how to troubleshoot. This frustration led me to avoid using the multi-room audio feature altogether. Hopefully, Sony is able to improve the performance of this feature in a software update.
Using the Sony SRS-ZR7
Spotify Connect delivers an noticeable increase in audio quality
If you have a subscription to Spotify, the Spotify Connect feature can deliver noticeably improved audio experience. I also feel that it’s more convenient and easier to access than Bluetooth. The Sony SRS-ZR7 maintains a persistent WiFi connection that allows you to control and access the speaker from anywhere in your home. All you have to do is select the feature within the Spotify app to play music through the speaker. It’s important to note that Spotify Connect establishes a direct connection to the streaming service. This provides access to the best possible sound on the platform.
In testing, music played with Spotify Connect had substantially more clarity across the board, in the highs, mids, and low-end. Vocals and instruments sounded clearer and were vastly superior to the sound experienced over a Bluetooth connection. The Bluetooth audio still sounded great, but there was a noticeable difference. Empirically, a direct connection using Spotify Connect can deliver audio quality up to 320 Kbps. During testing, Bluetooth audio transferred music at a rate that fluctuated from 120 Kbps to 170 Kbps. The superior audio quality and convenience caused me to choose Spotify Connect every time over Bluetooth.
The HDMI port is unique and useful
The availability of an HDMI port is unique for a speaker in this category. This direct connection can instantly expand the utility of this device. The HDMI port enables you to connect directly to your television and output the TV audio through the speaker. Since it’s compatible with ARC, the speaker will automatically output any input from the television without having to make any changes. You just have to make sure that the speaker is connected to the corresponding HDMI ARC port on the TV. Depending on the size of the speakers on your current television, the Sony SRS-SR7 can deliver an apparent upgrade. It will be most noticeable on the low end as the subwoofers and dual passive radiator within the speaker is much larger than what you’d find on any TV.
It obviously won’t replace a home theatre setup, but it can improve your built-in TV speakers in a pinch. If you have a small room or apartment, this speaker can provide a suitable improvement.
Multi-room Audio is a difficult to use and ultimately disappointing
The multi-room audio feature has the potential to make you rethink how music can be played throughout your home. With multi-room audio, the Sony SRS-SR7 can wirelessly connect with compatible Sony speakers. You can then send one audio source to all the speakers at once. Unfortunately, the inconsistent performance from the Sony Music Center App delivers an experience that makes it very difficult to reliably use this feature. A manual speaker grouping is required for each use and in testing it often returned an error message. Since there was no message of what caused the error, you just have to repeat the request until it eventually connects. After an abundance of unsuccessful connections, I steered clear of this feature altogether and used the speaker for single room audio.
It’s unfortunate that the software of the Sony Music App delivered a feature that had hit-or-miss performance. When it did work, it was a great experience that turned my apartment into a giant stereo. This would have been great for parties or entertaining. I was disappointed that for every successful speaker grouping, I experienced 8 to 10 connection errors. Hopefully the performance of the Sony Music App improves in a future software update.
Final thoughts on the Sony SRS-ZR7
The Sony SRS-ZR7 is compact speaker that delivers exceptional audio quality over Bluetooth and especially with Spotify Connect. It can fill smaller rooms and offices with robust sound that has noticeable clarity in the mids and lows. The ability to connect the speaker to your TV with HDMI also expands this speaker’s capabilities as it can serve as a good upgrade for Televisions with smaller speakers. The only downside is the performance of the multi-room audio feature. The inconsistent feature controlled by the Sony Music Center App unfortunately doesn’t match the quality of the hardware. I really hope Sony is able to deliver a solution for more dependable software because the Sony SRS-ZR7 has excellent hardware and delivers great audio quality.
If you are looking for a sleek wireless speaker that can provide crisp audio, and multi-room audio is not a concern for you, the Sony SRS-ZR7 is a great speaker that is worth your consideration. In addition to the Sony SRS-ZR7, a compressive selection of the latest home audio gear from Sony, can be found at bestbuy.ca.