Sony's new home theater gear has names that actually make sense

HT-SC40, we hardly knew ye.

The Bravia Theater Bar 8 could've easily been the HT-5100... or worse. (Sony)

When Sony debuted its ULT lineup of speakers and headphones last week, it took the first step towards a big change on naming its products. For years, the company has used an awfully confusing mix of letters and numbers, some of which are just one letter off from products with entirely different designs. You’ll no longer have to remember something like WH-B910N to find the headphones you’re hunting for as the new names make it immediately apparent what product you’re reading about.

The ULT line of audio gear is replacing the Extra Bass brand Sony has used for several years. Described as the “ultimate step into the evolution” of its portable audio devices, ULT Power Sound is an improved progression of the low-end boost the Extra Bass products offered. ULT breaks down even further into Tower (large party speakers), Field (smaller, portable Bluetooth speakers) and Wear (headphones). I’ll concede that Field is a bit obscure at first glance, but at least Tower and Wear accurately describe the products bearing those labels. All three are a massive upgrade from SRS-XV900, SRS-XG300 or WH-CH720N, three model names that were used for previous versions of three similar models.

Sony is also revising the names for both home audio and TV products, employing its existing Bravia moniker here. The company’s new TVs are the Bravia 9 (mini LED), Bravia 8 (OLED), Bravia 7 (mini LED) and Bravia 3 (LED) instead of older names like XR-65A95L. For soundbars and speakers, the company will use the Bravia Theater name along with much more descriptive terms. For example, the new soundbars are Bravia Theater Bar 9 and Bravia Theater Bar 8, while a new four-speaker setup is the Bravia Theater Quad. Previously, comparable models had names like HT-A7000, HT-A5000 and HT-A9. I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure how Sony will distinguish the next-gen models from these. Maybe it will add “second-gen,” or perhaps a different number. Either way, sticking with Bravia for its living room devices and adding “theater,” “bar” or even a single digit is much better than the previous jumble of letters and numbers.

Although they may seem random, there was a method to Sony’s madness. To my knowledge, the company never released any type of key to its alpha-numeric mess, but some of the terminology was easy to figure out. “HT” in home theater product names is pretty straightforward, while “WF” in true wireless models likely stood for “wire free” and the “WH” for headphones was probably “wireless headphones.” What followed after the hyphens was a creation from the minds at Sony, but thankfully things like “1000X” became mainstays over the last several years. That consistency certainly helped keep track of things.

Sony WF-1000XM5 and WH-1000XM5 earbuds and headphones side by side.
The WF-1000XM5 and WH-1000XM5 are one letter apart, but very different products. (Billy Steele for Engadget)

Speaking of the 1000X lineup, that’s where some of the biggest confusion in Sony’s naming scheme resides. The company’s flagship headphones, the WH-1000XM5, are literally one letter different from its flagship earbuds, the WF-1000XM5. You likely won’t encounter any issues if you’re searching for “1000XM5 headphones” or “1000XM5 earbuds,” but in situations where both are being discussed, you’ll have to pay careful attention.

For audio gear, the two letters before the dash describe the type of product. Immediately following the dash, you get an indication of the product family or brand, whether that be “XB” for Extra Bass or “1000X” for the flagship earbuds and headphones. Then, you’d get a model or generation number like “910” or “M5.” Unless you’re keeping track of Sony's product news, it can be a chore to decipher these. And even if you are paying close attention, it can be difficult to recall exact names accurately. I’d wager there has even been confusion among Sony’s own employees. It’s a terrible naming scheme that causes massive headaches.

“The main reason for Sony’s new naming convention is to expand recognition by adopting a more memorable and understandable name for customers,” a Sony spokesperson told Engadget. The company didn’t offer any more detail about the timing of the change or if it will rename other product lines as new models are introduced. Maybe the company transferred the task of naming products from the engineers to the marketing department. Sony has already been using the LinkBuds name for a few true wireless models. So, if the company continues what it started with the ULT and Bravia series, we could be in for easily distinguishable names instead of the (presumably upcoming) WH-1000XM6 and WF-1000XM6.

Let’s hope that happens.