Sony’s 46” HTST7 HD Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer is massive compared to other sound bars. By that I mean the sound bar is “thicker” because of the room needed for the quality speakers inside; none of those thin tinny types found in flat-panel TVs and even some sound bars here. These speakers use a magnetic fluid technology that removes the need for speaker dampers (which inhibit sound waves) and is also more energy efficient than the norm. But what they mostly do is up the sound volume by a factor of 1.6X. That might not seem a lot, but when you’ve a 7.1 audio system where there’s 7 amplifiers driving 9 speaker drivers (which includes integrated front and center channels plus dedicated tweeters), it gets more important. And with a retail of $1298.00, those speakers and internal tech are expected to handle sound in an effective, efficient and verifiable manner that makes listening a pleasure.
The sound bar is a basic black, with the grill covering the front perforated aluminum — purists who feel that a grill compromises the audio quality of a speaker will be pleased to know that it’s removable.The connections are simplistic: 3 HDMI inputs, 1 output with internal decoding for Dolby TrueHD and dts-HD Master Audio. There’s also 2 optical inputs, along with a digital coaxial and RCA analogs. The wireless subwoofer can be connected initially by pressing a button on the back once the sound bar has been turned on, but in my case had already been activated at the factory. So when I turned on the sound bar with the included remote (more on that in a bit), the subwoofer’s LED indicator light glowed blue and was ready to go. Subsequently whenever I turned the sound bar on or off, the subwoofer followed suit.
Audio settings work through presets, and there’s not a lot of them either. You can select “Standard” which gives dialogue a push to the front for TV, or “Movie” or “Music,” with each highlighting the feature as the name would suggest (i.e., movie being more bombastic and music more melodious). The Football mode is interesting because Sony used acoustical data to make for a virtual surround effect more closely aligned with the fast moving action that sports presents. Obviously I used it while watching football and I have to say that it does more closely approximate a stadium’s “open sound field” feeling that some standard “surround sound” modes can do. It worked best with my being at the center “sweet spot,” but since the HTST7 is fairly long, there was more than enough room for my wife to sit next to me and experience the same effect — in her case she said it sounded more like she was in a larger room. Which is exactly the type of sound it’s supposed to create —- most noticeable I found when when cheering from the crowds would suddenly erupt.
The remote is a “candy bar” type that is long and thin. At first glance it appears to just provide controls for turning the sound bar on/off, modifying the volume and cycling through the various audio presets. But if you pull down on the bottom, it expands out to include control over the subwoofer and display. That’s quite a nifty way to go about doing it.
There is no lag or minor delay in hearing audio once the sound bar is turned on. The HTST7 relies on sending out a definitive amount of power into the room — 450 watts (50w x7, 100watts sub) worth which includes the subwoofer. But don’t be fooled — there’s actually a lot of power in the bar itself, compared to others whose wattage is purported to be higher because of the magnetic fluid technology being in play. There’s more than enough power to drive a “blockbuster” movie — RIDDICK comes to mind because it had a lot of sci-fi type sound effects mixed in with the traditional big explosions. The dialogue never got muddled, what there was of it since Vin Diesel is a man of few words here, and even quiet passages came though without any hiss or problems. Another good test came from playing the Blu-ray of MARY POPPINS. The quality of the voices, Julie Andrews in particular, was robust and singularly clear — the HTST7 setting having been chosen as “Movie.” There wasn’t any time that the dialogue couldn’t be heard or where vocals fell into the instrumentation — it sounded that good.
I also tried using the Bluetooth setting to stream rock and roll from my iPhone and couldn’t detect any obvious deficiencies in the quality of the audio. So overall I’d say that the audio capabilities of the HTST7 as stereo speakers gets a thumbs up. My mobile systems don’t use NFC but it’s there for those who have it — this isn’t a sound bar where Sony has cut back on anything it seems, because they even thought ahead to having an IR repeater that works from front to back so that the TV remote can reach even with the sound bar lying directly in front blocking the IR receiver.
I used the HTST7 over a period of months and overall found it to be excellent in its sound reproduction of both dialogue and music, although at no time did it convince me wholly of any “surround sound” effects (seated in front, dead center, there were times it came close though). I watched a lot of broadcast television, including episodes of such shows as Sons of Anarchy and Justified and the dialogue (voices) were always legible, and only occasionally did I use the “Voice” control, which equalized the mid-range against that of the lower. The only real issue was the bass — the subwoofer easily can drown everything out. Fortunately Sony thought ahead, because the “Tone” setting allows for varied degrees of resonance (which affects volume at the same time). This enabled me to “dial back” on the bass when necessary to restore clarity to the mid-range without losing out on the bass effect.
Bottom line: Sound bars these days tout how they have so many features you can’t begin to count them. But to me, it starts and ends with the quality of the sound it delivers. The Sony HTST7 HD Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer doesn’t disappoint because it’s all about what you hear. And what you hear is really, really good.
Multiple speaker drivers, Detachable sound bar grill
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.