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Sony's new multi-room audio gear includes better speaker options

Sony's latest speakers are a much better attempt to take on Sonos.
Billy Steele, @wmsteele
01.06.16 in AV

CES isn't the first time Sony's debuted speakers capable of multi-room audio. In fact, I spent some time with the company's SRS-X77 earlier this year. The wave of products that included that speaker offered a range of sizes, but didn't cover all the bases that Sonos does. With its announcements here in Las Vegas, Sony has a well-rounded stable of tech, with two speakers, a soundbar and a wireless sub. And those expanded options give it a better chance at taking a shot at the current top dog.

Gallery: Sony multi-room audio hands-on | 19 Photos

The new gear includes the SRS-ZR5 and SRS-ZR7 speakers alongside the HT-NT5 soundbar and HT-CT790 wireless subwoofer. Let's start with the speakers first, shall we? The pair not only offers two sizes, but two different designs that are more than just a larger version of the other. The SRS-ZR5 is the smaller unit -- the one you'd use a pair of in a stereo setup or behind your sofa in a surround sound scenario. The SRS-ZR7 is more of a standalone option, something you could place in a room like the kitchen for more casual listening.

Then there's that soundbar and sub. The HT-NT5 has a rather unique design where the speakers are angled upwards. Sony did this to project sound out towards the ceiling and to the sides in addition to straight out in front of the unit. The company aims to simulate the audio you'd experience from a more robust surround sound setup with just that one speaker and its bassy companion.

Like most, Sony's multi-room gear is all controlled with an app. With that software, you're free to link speakers or beam music to them individually. In addition to the company's app, the gear supports Spotify Connect and Google Cast as well. When I spent time with the SRS-X77, my biggest gripe was the SongPal app, which was chore to use a lot of the time. In fact, I usually found myself bypassing it and heading straight to Spotify. Nailing the software side is something Sony will have to do if it want to compete with Sonos, so we'll have to wait and see if that happens.

Another area Sony will have to work on is audio quality. Based on what I heard here at CES, the new speakers and soundbar are quite capable of the task they're being asked to do. However, in terms of overall quality, they fall short of what Sonos offers. Both the SRS-ZR5 and the SRS-ZR7 favor treble, and despite having good clarity, they could use more low-end. When paired with the soundbar and sub, it's not as noticeable, but the idea is to be able use those speakers individually as well. Offering more variety in terms of devices will definitely help Sony tackle multi-room audio, so it'll be interesting to see if it makes the necessary improvements elsewhere.

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