Sony is releasing its first wireless speakers that support its 360 Reality Audio (360 RA) surround sound music format. The $300 SRS-RA3000 and $700 SRS-RA5000 are available for pre-order today, from Sony.com, Amazon, and other retailers. In a related announcement, Sony says that the Amazon Music HD streaming music service will finally begin offering tracks in the 360 RA format starting on April 6, 2021.
The 360 RA format is Sony’s attempt to re-create the sound of being present at a live music venue. It produces an open and airy feel, and presents the music as though it were being played on a stage in front of you. The format has been available for just over a year, but until now, the only way to experience it was via select Sony wireless headphones, like the WH-1000XM4, WF-SP800N, or WF-1000XM3.
The launch of the SRS-RA3000 and SRS-RA5000 will be the first time people can hear what 360 RA sounds like without the intimacy of having the sound piped directly into their ears.
While both of the new wireless speakers support 360 RA, they’re configured very differently. The less expensive and smaller SRS-RA3000 uses a single, up-firing full-range driver that passes sound through a diffuser, which shapes the sound into an expanding cone. A pair of specialized tweeters project sound from the bottom of the speaker and out through the sides, using a technique that Sony says will create a sense of height. Two passive bass radiators help to fill out the low end. The SRS-RA3000 has been designed to withstand moisture, making it suited for bathrooms and kitchens.
The beefier SRS-RA5000 has more in common with the Amazon Echo Studio and the now-defunct Apple HomePod, with six full-range 46mm drivers, plus a dedicated 70mm subwoofer. Three of the full-range drivers are arranged in an angled, up-firing position, where they project sound toward the ceiling. The other three are arranged in a ring, projecting sound outward into the room. All seven drivers are powered by a single specialized amplifier designed to channel the right amount of signal to each speaker.
Both models have integrated microphones, but they aren’t for voice pickup. Instead, Sony uses them to automatically calibrate the speakers based on where you place them in a room. It’s similar to the Auto Trueplay system that Sonos uses on its Move and Roam smart speakers.
But if you want to control the SRS-RA speakers with your voice, you can — they’re compatible with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, and you can add the speakers to either platform’s multiroom control system.
They’re also designed to automatically correct for changes in volume between songs so you don’t have to constantly reach for the volume buttons. Plus, even though these speakers are optimized for Sony’s 360 RA format, they can “upscale” regular tracks to be a lot more immersive than they’d sound through a conventional wireless speaker. Sony has also thrown in its DSEE technology which can greatly improve the sound of compressed, lossy digital music like MP3s.
Both speakers can work over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and they’re compatible with Spotify Connect and Chromecast audio. Using the Sony Music Center app, you can adjust speaker attributes like EQ and access playback controls. The SRS-RA5000 is also capable of hi-res music and comes with Sony’s high-quality LDAC Bluetooth codec. This won’t be helpful for iPhone users, but Android owners will get a much better Bluetooth experience. It’s even possible to connect both models to compatible TVs over Bluetooth. Doing so could be a convenient way of getting much more immersive TV audio without needing to buy a dedicated soundbar.
If you have an analog source for your music, you can plug it into the available 3.5mm aux-in jack.
When it comes to actually playing 360 RA music, you can choose from Tidal HiFi, Amazon Music HD, Deezer (which has its own dedicated 360 RA app), and Nugs.net. There are currently about 4,000 tracks available in 360 RA.
The only question right now is whether or not the experience of listening to 360 RA music out loud is worth the investment in a premium streaming subscription and the cost of these speakers. We’ll have a full review for you in the coming weeks.