In our Sony HT-A7000 soundbar review we gave it a maximum score of five stars – not just for its sound, but because it promised to be future-proof, too. And a new update demonstrates just that: a new over-the-air firmware update makes its clever 360-degree spatial sound mapping even better. One of the very best soundbars has got even better.
The update is designed for those of us who want a full surround sound experience in our homes, so if you've got Sony's SA-RS3S rear speakers or plan to get their new wireless siblings, the SA-RS5 wireless speakers, when they launch in June then this update is for you. It's designed to deliver an exceptional surround sound experience no matter where you are in the room.
Round round, baby, round round
As much as I love soundbars' simplicity, I'm a bit of an evangelist for additional speakers: the difference they make in movies and games is just incredible, which is why I went for one of T3's best AV receivers, the Sony STR-DH790, when I wanted better sound from my Samsung TV. My ears have been thanking me ever since and it's already persuaded one of my friends to add some extra speakers to their fancy soundbar setup. But if I were in the market for a new soundbar, the HT-A7000 would be high on my wish list – not least because it should deliver the same amazing immersive audio without requiring quite so many speakers.
There's more to 360 Spatial Sound Mapping than just adding a rear channel. If you're familiar with fairly recent AV receivers or high-end hi-fi you're probably familiar with room optimisation, where your device uses a microphone or microphones to create a model of your room's acoustics and tune the sound accordingly. Sony's system is similar, but it also calculates the height of your subwoofer and rear speakers. It then takes that data and creates multiple phantom speakers that use positional information to make the sound appear to be coming from everywhere.
I used to be really sceptical of virtual speakers – in the early days of surround sound there were lots of "virtual surround" options on hi-fi and home cinema kit that basically just stuck a big reverb on everything to make the space appear bigger and the dialogue harder to hear – but I'm definitely a convert now: there's some serious horsepower in audio and AV systems these days and that processing power is able to do really clever things. I can't wait to hear Sony's system on something with great sound design such as Better Call Saul.