The Sony SRS-ZR5 represents a new wave of Bluetooth speakers that prioritize sound quality over portability. These speakers are designed to fulfill a more traditional speaker setup where the speaker remains in one dedicated area. The Sony SRS-ZR5 has a conventional design and it’s packed with forward thinking features that can enable you to have a seamless and convenient listening experience.

With options for connectivity that include Bluetooth, Google Cast, and Spotify Connect, you can easily listen to your favourite music wirelessly. For this review, I will be testing out how well this speaker performs in a variety situations to identify ways that it can provide value for an average consumer.

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.

Sony SRS-ZR5 design is compact & versatile 

The compact design of this speaker can easily fit on a desk or bookshelf. Its small stature should not be mistaken for a lack of quality or sound.This speaker is quite hefty for its size and it’s made out of premium metals.

Dual passive radiators located on the sides of the speaker help deliver robust and surprisingly strong but not overpowering bass.

The top of the device features touch controls to adjust the volume and a physical button for power. There are also indicators that show the selected input. If this speaker is paired with another ZR5 speaker, indicators light up to ensure that each speaker is correctly positioned. An option to turn off these indicator lights would have been nice, as these are quite noticeable, especially at night.

Since the focus for the Sony SRS-ZR5 is on sound quality and accessibility, the speaker needs to be plugged in at all times. Coming from using an ultra portable wireless Bluetooth speaker like the UE BOOM 2, it took a while to adapt.

You’ll need power, but it’s worth it

Once I adjusted to this requirement, I quickly began to see the benefits of this tradeoff. Having full-time access to power means the Sony SRS-ZR5 can turn on remotely, and it can instantly establish a wireless connection at any time. It also enables the speakers to access streaming services without having to worry about power consumption. I found it incredibly useful to be able to turn on and use this speaker without having to be physically near the device. The plugged in design also enabled Sony to dedicated more internal space to quality speaker components as there wasn’t a need to accommodate a rechargeable battery.

Sony SRS-ZR5 set up requires patience

Technology has become so user friendly that the setup process usually involves a few simple steps. Unfortunately, this was the first time in a while that I’ve had to carefully read the instruction manual to use the device.

Initial set up involved installing the Sony Music Centre App, pairing through Bluetooth, connecting the speaker to Wi-Fi, then installing a software update to the speaker. The process felt quite involved and borderline tedious. Keep in mind, if you only want to use the basic features of the speaker, it’s not too bad. For a traditional listening experience, setup will only involve Bluetooth pairing. However, if you want to use all of the features of this speaker, prepare for a learning curve. This is the case especially if you’d like to use the speakers for multi-room connectivity.

Sony Music Center App needs improvement

The set up process, access to features like stereo pairing, and multi-room audio is managed through the Sony Music Center App. Fortunately, stereo pairing only needs to be completed once and won’t require the app again.

Multi-room audio is a relatively new feature that enables you to connect multiple speakers around the home and simultaneously send music to all the speakers at once. Each time that you want to use this feature, the app needs to coordinate all of the speakers together. I found this requirement to be frustrating because each request can take up to 20 seconds to complete and it often returned an error. This inconsistency kept me from using the Multi-room feature. I hope the issue is software related and that Sony is able to release a fix in the near future.

Streaming services are easy to connect

Once the speaker has a connection to the internet, you can easily connect streaming services like Spotify to the speaker. Simply select Spotify Connect or Google Cast as the audio output and you’ll have access to high quality streaming audio.

Using the Sony SRS-ZR5 

Surround sound is immersive in stereo

The Sony SRS-ZR5 is sold as an individual speaker, but it provides an option to pair two of them together for 2.0 surround sound.

My previous experience with Bluetooth speakers has been with designs that involve one singular enclosure such as a sound bar. With this approach, sound is usually only delivered through one channel. For a multichannel speaker, the left and right speakers are too close together to fully appreciate the separate signals.

When I paired the two ZR5 speakers together, it delivered an incredible listening experience. The physical separation between the two speakers enabled me to hear distinctly separate sounds coming from the left and the right. With proper stereo sound, it feels like an entirely different listening experience. Vocals and instruments become layered as they come from each direction. This results in the delivery very immersive audio.

You can use two Sony SRS-ZR5 speakers as rear channels for compatible Sony sound systems like the Sony HT-NT5. While this setup may not be the most effective use of these speakers, it is great to have the option to combine all of your speaker components to create a cinematic audio experience.

While testing these speakers, the most effective stereo setup was when I used them at my desk. This configuration provided a good distance between the two speakers and it was in a location where I consistently needed quality audio for work. If you are thinking about purchasing the Sony SRS-ZR5, I would seriously consider acquiring two. A stereo pair will allow you to fully appreciate what these speakers are capable of.

Wireless streaming delivers great audio quality

The Sony SRS-ZR5 has a variety of ways to wirelessly connect to audio sources.

Being plugged into power enables it to have a constant connection to streaming services through Google Cast and Spotify Connect. It’s important to note that with these wireless connections, your mobile device isn’t sending audio to the speaker. It is providing instructions to establish a direct connection between the speaker and your streaming account on the internet. The result is a very noticeable increase in audio quality, if you compare it to using Bluetooth. I found that using Spotify Connect delivered audio that was more crisp and clear, especially in the mids and highs.

If you have a subscription to Spotify, these speakers will deliver great wireless audio quality due to the direct connection to a streaming service. Apple Music subscribers however, will need to use a Bluetooth connection to listen to music. This can result in lower audio quality.

Multi-room audio is disappointing

This speaker is able to wirelessly connect to other compatible Sony speakers that are in different rooms within the home; this means you can play one audio source in multiple rooms, simultaneously. However the requirement to sync a group of speakers with the Music Center App became frustrating. This was because each request took a long time and I encountered many errors when trying to establish a synced group. When I did manage to sync all the speakers in the apartment, it felt like the feature wasn’t worth the frustration.

The overall quality and responsiveness of the Music Center App in regard to the Multi-room functionality is quite disappointing. The Sony SRS-ZR5 sounds great as a single speaker and especially as a pair. The internal components and the build quality is also top notch. Unfortunately, this software misstep casts a shadow over everything that is good about this speaker. My disappointment only resonates because I was looking forward to using the multi-room functionality.

If you were in the market for a traditional sound system and weren’t looking to connect all the speakers in your home, the Sony SRS-ZR5 is still an excellent speaker.

Final thoughts on the Sony SRS-ZR5

The Sony SRS-ZR5 is a speaker that provides great sound, especially for its size. The ability to pair two of these speakers together for surround sound, delivers great physical separation and a very immersive listening experience. One downside however, is the Sony Music Center App. It can be unresponsive or very slow if you want to use it for multi-room audio. This inconsistency prevented me from wanting to use this feature altogether. For a more stable multi-room experience, I would suggest waiting for a software update from Sony. You could also check out the proven multi-room speakers from Sonos.

Fortunately, features like Spotify Connect and surround sound work great within the native apps and it won’t affect the user experience. If multi-room audio is not a concern and you are planning to use the Sony SRS-ZR5 as a regular speaker or even as a stereo pair, it can provide a great speaker solution for music in the living room or at a desk.

For more of the latest audio gear from Sony check out the extensive selection at Bestbuy.ca.

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