Sony HT-ST7 Sound Bar and Wireless Subwoofer System Review

Sony HT-ST7 Sound Bar - Wireless Subwoofer System
Sony HT-ST7 Sound Bar - Wireless Subwoofer System. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
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Sound bars are everywhere! However, they are not all created equal. Although almost all sound bars are designed to upgrade from the limitations of built-in TV speakers, not all provide a listening experience deserving of serious movie and music listening.

However, in the past couple of years, several high-end speaker makers have come on line with sound bar products that are designed to meet this need.

Now, Sony has also decided to jump into this category with its new at $1,299.99-priced HT-ST7 7.1 Channel Sound Bar.

I first had a chance to experience the HT-ST7 at the Sony Electronics U.S. Headquarters in San Diego, CA. where it delivered a very good first impression. However, to fully evaluate the system, I brought one home for more detailed listening tests. Find out what I thought by proceeding through the rest of my review.

HT-ST7 Features and Specifications

1. Speakers: 2-way, Acoustic Suspension System. Woofer/Midrange: Seven 2 5/8-inch magnetic fluid drivers. Tweeters: Two 13/16-inch dome type. Speaker impedance: 4 ohms.

2. Frequency Response (entire system): Audible from 35Hz to 15+kHz (as measured using the Audio Test portion of the Digital Video Essentials HD Basic Blu-ray Edition Test Disc).

3 Sound Bar Power Output: 50 watts x 7

4. Inputs: Three HDMI in with 3D and 4K pass-through, two Digital Optical, one Digital Coaxial and 2 analog audio ins (One RCA and 3.5mm).

5. Bluetooth with NFC Audio Input: Allows wireless streaming of audio content from compatible Bluetooth-equipped devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and PCs/MACs.

6. Output: One HDMI with ARC (Audio Return Channel) and CEC (Bravia Link) control support.

7. Audio Decoding and Processing: Dolby (including Dolby Digital, Plus, and TrueHD), DTS (including 96/24, DTS-HD Master Audio, and PCM (2 channel and 7.1 channel), S-Force PRO Front Surround 3D, Dual Mono, HEC (Harmonics Equalizer for use with Bluetooth sources), AAV (Advanced Auto Volume).

8. Wireless transmitter for Subwoofer link: Bluetooth 2.4Ghz Band. Wireless Range: Approximately 30 feet - line of sight.

9. Sound Bar Dimensions (inches - with speaker grill and stands attached): 42 5/8(W) x 5 1/8(H) x 5 1/8(D)

10. Sound Bar Weight: 17 pound 6 5/8 ounces (with grill and stands attached).

Wireless Subwoofer (SA-WST7) For The Sony HT-ST7 Features and Specifications

1. Design: Acoustic Suspension with Passive Radiator for added bass extension. Driver: 7 1/8-inches, Passive Radiator: 7 7/8-inches 11 7/8-inches

2. Subwoofer Power Output: 100 watts

3. Wireless Transmission Frequency: 2.4 GHz

4. Wireless Range: Up to 30 feet - line of sight.

5. Subwoofer Dimensions (inches): 9 1/2 (W) x 15 1/2 (H) x 16 1/4 (D)

6. Subwoofer Weight: 24 lbs/11 oz

Note: Both the sound bar and subwoofer have built-in amplifiers.

System Setup

After unboxing the HT-ST7's sound bar and subwoofer units, first insert the supplied Bluetooth Transceivers into their respective installation slots on both the sound bar and subwoofer (note: both transceivers are identical so either one can be installed in the sound bar or subwoofer).

After you have installed the transceivers, place the sound bar above or below the TV (the sound bar can be wall mounted - additional wall mounting screws required but are not provided.

However, if you place the sound bar in front of the TV and you find that it prevents your TV's remote control signal from reaching the remote sensor on the TV, simply connect the provide IR blaster to the sound bar and place the other end in front the TV's remote control sensor. The sound will be able to pass your TV's remote control signal through the IR blaster and to your TV.

Next, find a place on the floor on either the left or right of the TV/sound bar for the wireless subwoofer. However, since the subwoofer is wireless (except for the power cord you can also experiment with other locations within the room you might prefer.

Next, connect your source components. For HDMI sources, connect that output to one of the HDMI inputs (there are three provided) on the sound bar unit. Then connect the HDMI output provided on the sound bar to your TV. The sound bar will not only pass both 2D and 3D video signals to the TV, but the sound bar also provides the Audio Return Channel feature which can send audio signals from a compatible TV back to the sound bar using the HDMI cable that connects from the sound bar to the TV.

For non-HDMI sources, such as an older DVD player, VCR, or CD player - you can connect either the digital (optical/coaxial) or analog audio outputs from those sources directly to the sound bar. However, in that type of setup, you must connect the video from those sources (if provided) directly to your TV.

Finally, plug in the power to each unit. Turn the sound bar and subwoofer on, and the sound bar and subwoofer should automatically link up. If the link hadn't taken automatically, there is a "secure link" button on the back of the subwoofer that can reset the wireless connection, if needed.

Performance

For the purposes of this review, I placed the HT-ST7 sound bar on the "shelf" just in front and below the TV. I did not listen to the sound bar in a wall-mounted configuration. The subwoofer was placed on the floor about six feet to the left of the sound bar, near a room corner.

In listening tests, the Sony HT-ST7 provided excellent mid-range and high-frequency response for a sound bar.

For music (in both stereo and surround modes), HT-ST7 reproduced prominent, full bodied, vocals as well as the depth and detail of the backing vocals and instruments (both electronic and acoustic).

Also, with movies, the vocal dialog was full bodied and well anchored, and background sounds were very clear and distinct. Also, the highs were well extended and dispersed, and sufficiently bright without being too brittle.

The Subwoofer provides a good, fairly tight, bass response solidly down to about 40-to-45 Hertz, which is great for watching DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies, in addition to providing a solid bass response for music listening.

Also, another performance area where the HT-ST7 does well is with providing a credible surround sound experience - given the sound bar form factor. The surround effect was not only well executed for movie-based material, as it should be, but is is also very effective with live recorded music performances, reproducing the ambiance of the hall, auditorium, or club fairly realistically.

With seven speaker channels built-into the sound bar, supported by Sony's S-Force Pro Front Surround Processing, the HT-ST7 can project a surround field well beyond the physical borders of the sound bar filling the room enough above and to the slightly to the sides of the listening position. However, I did not experience sound effectively projected to the rear - this is a difficult proposition for any front surround processing scheme and is typical from what I have experienced from most front surround processing technologies.

On the other hand, one benefit of the Sony's approach to surrounding sound processing for the HT-ST7 is that it does not depend on wall or ceiling reflections to attain the surround effect, so it works well in both a small or large room setting.

I tested the HT-ST7 in both a 12x13 and 15x20 size room and did not notice any appreciable difference in the surround sound listening experience (other than turning up the volume level a little more to better fill the larger room).

Another thing that bolsters the HT-S7's performance is the incorporation of both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding, enabling the sound bar to reproduce the high-resolution audio soundtracks present on Blu-ray Discs to the best of its ability - a feature normally excluded from most sound bars.

In addition to Blu-ray, TV, and analog video sources, the HT-ST7 can also easily access audio from compatible Bluetooth-enabled devices and, in addition to traditional Bluetooth pairing, also includes one-touch pairing via NFC.

Another feature of the HT-ST7 that works well is the ability for it to pass video signals from HDMI sources through to compatible TVs. However, it is important to note that the HT-ST7 does not provide any additional video processing or upscaling. However, if you are using a Blu-ray Disc player or Upscaling DVD player in your setup, those tasks can be easily be performed by those devices, and the results passed through the HT-ST7's HDMI connections to the TV.

What I liked About the Sony HT-ST7

1. Easy to unpack and set up.

2. Wireless Subwoofer reduces cable clutter.

3. Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding.

4. Excellent front surround audio processing.

5. Excellent sound quality from both main sound bar unit and subwoofer for both movies and music.

6. Lots of inputs.

7. 3D, 1080p, and 4K video pass-through capable HDMI connections.

8. Large front panel status display.

What I Didn't Like About the Sony HT-ST7

1. Remote control not backlit, small buttons, hard to use in a dark room.

2. Input connection compartment a little cramped.

3. No 3.5mm analog audio input connection option.

4. No USB input.

5. No HDMI-MHL support.

6. No Apple Airplay Support.

Final Take

I had the opportunity to experience the Sony HT-ST7 in both a dedicated sound room at Sony Electronics U.S. HQ in San Diego, as well as in my own home environment. When at Sony, my first impression at the official demonstration was that the system sounded really great and was definitely impressed with the detail and the effectiveness of the front surround effect, but I wondered what it sound like in a more "real word" setting. I can definitely say after spending time using and listening to the system in my own 15x20 foot living room and 13x12 foot office that the system lived up to my first impression.

In terms of operating the system, the only issue I had was that although Sony's "stick-type" remote control was easy to use in terms of basic power on/off, volume, input selection, and mute functions, the design of the remote made it hard to use the more advanced features of the system, due to the very small buttons that were heard to read and see, especially in a darkened room. However, this was offset somewhat by the large front panel LED display on the front of the sound bar unit, which is one thing that many sound bars seem to ignore the need for.

Also, although HT-ST7 packs in more features and connectivity than a typical sound bar, it would be nice to see HDMI-MHL, Apple AirPlay, and a  USB port added to a possible next-generation unit for even more flexible content access.

Overall, at is stands now, the capabilities of the system, including its current connectivity options (including HDMI, Bluetooth, and NFC), as well as the exceptional audio quality for both 2-channel music and surround sound movie listening, make the Sony HT-ST7 a top contender on how much you can get out of a sound bar design. It may not be a complete replacement for a true multi-speaker surround sound system, but it comes pretty close, which should satisfy consumers looking a more comprehensive solution than is provided by a typical sound bar.

If you are looking for an audio system to complement your large screen LCD or Plasma TV that delivers great sound quality and flexible connectivity, but doesn't have the baggage of all the cabling and speaker clutter needed with a traditional home theater system, the Sony HT-ST7 might be the solution for you. In fact, if you already have a full home theater system in your main room, and you want a good quality, but convenient, sound option for your office or bedroom TV as well, the HT-ST7 will definitely deliver, if you don't mind the price.

For a further look at the Sony HT-ST7, check out my supplementary Photo Profile.

NOTE: Since its introduction in 2013, the Sony HT-ST7 has had a successful production run, but is being supplanted by more current models. For a look at Sony's most current Sound Bar offerings, check out their Official Sound Bar Product Page. Also, for more sound bar product offerings from Sony, and other brands, check out my periodically updated list of Sound Bars, Digital Sound Projectors, and Under-TV Audio Systems

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

Additional Components Used In This Review:

Blu-ray Disc Player: OPPO BDP-103.

DVD Player: OPPO DV-980H.

TV: Samsung UN46F8000 (on review loan).

Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, and CDs Used In This Review

Blu-ray Discs: Battleship, Ben Hur, Brave, Cowboys and Aliens, Jaws, Jurassic Park Trilogy, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Oz The Great and Powerful (2D), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Standard DVDs: The Cave, House of the Flying Daggers, Kill Bill - Vol 1/2, Kingdom of Heaven (Director's Cut), Lord of Rings Trilogy, Master and Commander, Outlander, U571, and V For Vendetta.

CDs: Al Stewart - A Beach Full of Shells, Beatles - LOVE, Blue Man Group - The Complex, Joshua Bell - Bernstein - West Side Story Suite, Eric Kunzel - 1812 Overture, HEART - Dreamboat Annie, Nora Jones - Come Away With Me, Sade - Soldier of Love.