There are a lot of smart speakers available these days. Some of them are cheap and not great for music, like the Nest Mini and Echo Dot. And then, there are devices at the other end of the spectrum like the Sony RA5000. Despite the uninspiring name, the RA5000 is the big debut for Sony's high-end 360 Reality Audio speakers. The sound you get from this speaker is fantastic across the board, but it's extremely expensive like most Sony products, and there isn't much 360 audio out there. Still, if you're looking for a new way to experience music at home, this could be it.
|Audio quality||With six drivers and sub, the RA5000 sounds fantastic even without 360 tracks.|
|Design||It's funky, but I like how different this speaker looks.|
|Price||$700 is a lot to pay for a single speaker, even one this good.|
|Limited 360 content||This speaker performs best with 360 Reality tracks, but there are only about 4,000 total songs with support across Tidal, Deezer, and Amazon. Good luck finding them all.|
What is the RA5000?
The Sony RA5000 is a "smart" speaker—I trust the use of quotation marks here comes off as sufficiently sarcastic. It does a few different things that could be described as smart, but none of those things involves running a voice assistant like Alexa or Google Assistant. It connects to WiFi, and you can stream to it via Google Cast, Spotify Connect, or Bluetooth. So, you can manage it in the Home app, but you can't talk to it directly. It also calibrates itself based on room positioning so it can bounce sound off the walls, which is the key to Sony's 360 audio.
Sony packed this speaker with six drivers plus a subwoofer, giving it impressive range even if you're not streaming a 360 track. If your audio source supports Sony's 360 Reality audio, the speaker uses that room calibration to bounce sound off your walls and ceiling to give the track a more "live" feeling. 360 Reality Audio is a proprietary Sony tech that requires specially mastered audio files, which are currently only available from Tidal and (newly) Amazon Music. There isn't a ton of it out there, but the tracks you do get through these services sound great.
Pardon the cosmetic dings in the grille on the right. I believe this is because of the non-standard review unit packaging.
The RA5000 looks expensive, but it had better for $700. The device has curvy fabric-covered sides and large speaker grilles on the top, each of which houses an upward-firing speaker. The other three are positioned on the sides, and the sub is on the bottom. You've got hardware controls for playback and connectivity, and I like that they're all on the sides. It makes the device look cleaner from the front. There's also an aux input, which is much appreciated.
The RM5000 is about the same volume as the Home Max.
I have, on several occasions, said "wow" out loud while listening to 360 Reality tracks on the RA5000. I don't mean to imply that the 360 Reality experience is objectively better, but it really does make the soundstage sound wider than a standard track. The lows, mids, and highs all sound a bit more separated and stronger (especially the bass). The sound envelops you more with 360 tracks, but you won't be convinced there are actually speakers on all sides. You'll hear a difference, but it doesn't live up to Sony's claim that the standard offers concert-like audio. It's an impressive amount of audio from a speaker with a very small footprint, though.
Should you buy it?
Probably not, but not because it's a bad speaker. It's actually a very nice speaker with big, crisp sound. I might even say it's one of the best single-speaker systems I've ever heard, but it's $700. You could spend $700 on other audio setups and get more for your money. The only reason to get the Sony RA5000 specifically is if you want to listen to 360 Reality Audio—that's the speaker's raison d'être. Odds are, your favorite songs aren't available in 360 Reality because there are something like 4,000 total songs with Sony's custom format.
The design will be divisive, but I find myself kind of liking it. The black and gold color scheme is something Sony has done on past audio products, and it's a fun colorway. I also like how little space the RA5000 takes up. I don't even mind that it looks like an electric shaver. I'm a little worried about the dings in the speaker grilles out of the box, but my unit was shipped in non-standard packaging. The retail speaker shouldn't be at risk of damage during transit.
If you love music and don't mind paying a premium to experience it differently, then by all means, buy the RA5000. Even without 360 Audio, it has superb sound. It's just not remotely a good value.