Unlike their predecessors, the PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles operate at the cutting edge of today’s AV technology. The 4K at 120Hz and variable refresh rate features they support between them (though we’re still waiting for VRR to go live on the PS5) push beyond what many secondary bits of AV equipment – including TVs – are capable of. Fortunately, though, some AV brands are starting to catch up. Including, at last, some manufacturers of soundbars.
Two brands have recently unveiled new all-in-one soundbars equipped with high bandwidth HDMI 2.1 ports capable of supporting all the latest gaming features – as well as 8K video at 60Hz refresh rates should the Xbox Series X and PS5 ever start delivering on their now rather aging 8K promises. (Or should any external other 8K sources appear one day.)
First out of the traps was US brand Klipsch, with two PS5 and Xbox Series X-friendly soundbars: The Cinema 1200 and Cinema 800.
The first of these is a 54-inch soundbar system that ships with a meaty 12-inch wireless subwoofer and wireless Dolby Atmos-certified rear speakers, and pumps out 1200W of audio power across 5.1.4 ‘real’ (rather than virtual) channels of sound.
The 800 model is a 48-inch soundbar that ships with a 10-inch wireless subwoofer, but loses the wireless rears. The system delivers 800W of sound across a 3.1-channel configuration in its default state, but can decode 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos soundtracks. You can also opt to add two Klipsch wireless rear speakers to create a 5.1 system.
Both of these PS5/Xbox Series X-friendly Klipsch soundbars also support Dolby Vision HDR pass through, have two HDMIs for external sources, can be added to smart home Alexa, Google Assistant and Spotify Connect systems, and support eARC, enabling lossless reception of Dolby Atmos/DTS:X from eARC-capable TVs over the HDMI out.
Klipsch has confirmed to me that neither of its new HDMI 2.1-equipped soundbars are impacted by the dreaded HDMI ‘bug’ that stopped some of the first HDMI 2.1-capable AV receivers from being able to pass through 4K at 120Hz from the Xbox Series X.
Both of these Klipsch soundbars will be available from August, with the Cinema 1200 set to retail for $1,699/£1,449/€1,499, while the Cinema 800 should be available for $879/£899/€999.
The other new soundbar to deliver compatibility over HDMI pass through with the latest PS5 and Xbox Series X graphics capabilities comes from a brand that has skin in the console game: Sony.
The Japanese brand’s new HT-A7000 ships as standard as a single soundbar equipped with 7.1.2 channels. That’s two up-firing speakers, two beam tweeters, five front speakers (for a wider surround effect) and a dual subwoofer. You can also, though, add optional subwoofer and rear speakers if you wish.
Two subwoofer options are available: the SA-SW5, which delivers 300W of low frequency sound from a 180mm driver/passive radiator arrangement, or the SA-SW3, which delivers 200W from a 160mm bass reflex system. The optional rear speakers are the SA-RS3Ses, which can be wall mounted and add a total of 100W more power to the soundbar system’s output.
If you don’t add the extra speakers the A7000 system can use Sony’s Virtual Surround Engine processor to support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based sound, as well as Sony’s 360 Reality Audio music system (which is now available on Amazon Music HD, Deezer, nugs.net and Tidal).
The soundbar’s so-called Omnidirectional Block concept design also finds room for built-in mics it can use to optimise its output to your room layout, while Acoustic Centre Sync technology allows the soundbar and Sony TVs to join forces to work as the centre channel in a wider home cinema audio system.
The A7000 also lets you enjoy an integrated UI experience when it’s hooked up to a recent Sony Bravia TV, can stream using Chromecast, Spotify Connect, Apple Airplay 2, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and supports voice control via Google Assistant-enabled devices with Chromecast built in, or Amazon Alexa-enabled devices.
It should be said that Sony’s information to date on the A7000 doesn’t explicitly mention variable refresh rate support. This is perhaps not surprising given that Sony still hasn’t added VRR to either the PS5 or any of its Bravia TVs. If VRR support isn’t there on the A9 system already, though, it may well come eventually given that we’re still waiting for the promised VRR support to turn up on Sony’s other AV devices.
The HT-A7000 will be available soon for $1,299.99/£1,200/€1,300.
Joining the A7000 in supporting 4K/120Hz and 8K HDR (and Dolby Vision HDR) passthrough (VRR again is not explicitly listed) is Sony’s unusual HT-A9 audio system. This doesn’t follow the typical soundbar model, instead comprising a compact control/connections unit and four separate identical speakers designed to be placed in the four corners of your room.
Sony’s 360 Spatial Sound system uses a combination of sophisticated room monitoring and audio processing to deliver as many as 12 ‘phantom’ speakers from the four real speakers to create what Sony claims is not just the widest sound field it’s ever delivered, but a full 360-degree immersive sound stage.
This sort of full surround effect is crucial, of course, for getting the best from the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based sound systems the A9 supports as well as, again, Sony’s new 360 Reality Audio music format in mind.
The A9’s speakers uses X-Balanced Speaker Units that deploy a unique rectangular shape to maximise the diaphragm area, resulting in richer bass, better-maintained sound pressure and enhanced vocal clarity.
Also tucked inside the A9 speakers’ distinctive form are Wide Directivity Woofers that optimise the bass they can deliver from their relative shallow concave shape, and 19mm Soft Dome Type Tweeters capable of producing crystal clear high frequencies. Plus, crucially, there are up-firing drivers that reflect sound off the ceiling for overhead effects.
As with the A7000 soundbar, you can add either of the SA-SW5 or SA-SW3 subwoofers to the A9 package as an optional extra.
The A9 joins the A7000 soundbar in supporting Dolby Vision over its HDMI loop through; playback of hi-res audio formats; an integrated UI experience when hooked up to a recent Sony Bravia TV; and voice control via Google Assistance-enabled or Amazon Alexa-enabled devices.
The Sony HT-A9 will be available from September in the UK and Europe, and October in the US. Pricing is expected to be $1800/£1600/€1800.
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