At first glance, you might think that the HT-AX7 is a conventional portable Bluetooth speaker. Okay, so the speaker might not look like anything else with the two round “pucks” on top. But few would guess that this is a complete portable home theatre system from its appearance.
The look and construction, however, is very well thought out. The two round dishes on the top are wireless speakers in their own right. When docked on top of the small soundbar of a main speaker, they charge. But if you take them off and place them behind you, they turn into rear speakers and help create a 360-degree soundstage, with the aim of enveloping the listener in surround sound.
The whole thing is battery-powered and portable, so you can take a complete surround system with you wherever you go.
Technology on the inside
The Sony HT-AX7 uses 360 Spatial Sound Mapping, which is designed to provide a coherent and immersive soundstage. Instead of using traditional audio formats like Dolby or DTS, Sony has developed their own mixing algorithm. The result? A stereo soundtrack that feels like it’s coming from all sides.
One important thing to note is that the speakers use Bluetooth connectivity exclusively, making them ideal for tablets, mobile phones or portable projectors. While this is very convenient in terms of ease of use and portability, it is a limitation when it comes to connecting to TVs or other devices that require HDMI. The idea is that HDMI connectivity is for desktop use, and here Sony recommends buying a traditional soundbar instead.
Battery and duration
One of the biggest concerns with portable devices is how long you can watch films and TV before the battery runs out. Sony doesn’t disappoint here. With a claim of up to 30 hours of battery life, the HT-AX7 gives you the freedom to enjoy your favourite movies, music or TV shows without the worry of having to charge the device multiple times.
And while I personally haven’t tested whether it actually lasts for 30 hours straight, it certainly lasted for a week of occasional use.
Sony HT-AX7 in practice
While the technical specifications may be impressive enough on paper, it’s the actual performance that counts. The first time I heard the speaker was during a listening session in London last autumn. There, a very impressive soundstage was demonstrated. Even with only three speakers, you could feel the sound effects coming from all directions. The placement of objects in the soundstage didn’t seem random, even though a stereo track was used: during a tennis match, you could clearly hear the ball flying back and forth, and film tracks were also reproduced with great conviction in the placement of the various elements.
Now that I’ve had the speaker for a while, I’m still impressed with the sound image. With the rear speakers positioned on opposite sides behind me (see below for left and right), a large and airy soundstage surrounds me.
With the Sony Home Entertainment Connect app, you can adjust how loud you want the sound level from the rear speakers and how much bass you want, as well as find a suitable surround sound mode (sound field).
The bass isn’t particularly energetic, but the overall balance of the sound is really good. Dialogues are clean and clear, there’s plenty of air and the bass is rich enough to engage. The midrange and treble area is probably the most impressive, with clear dialogue on TV and movies, and even singing voices and musical instruments coming through well when enjoying music.
Room for improvement
As with all products, there is of course room for improvement. Bass enthusiasts may find the deep bass lacking, but this is a deliberate choice on Sony’s part to preserve the compactness of the device. Instead, the midrange and upper bass are boosted. This makes for engaging bass, but depending on the surface, it can sound a little coloured in some situations. For example, I wouldn’t recommend placing the HT-AX7 on top of a hollow TV cabinet.
The dynamics of the sound could also be better. While the overall sound reproduction is pretty impressive, there’s a bit of a lack of contrast between strong and weak parts.
And while the surround sound is great, I have to admit that I haven’t quite managed to recreate the rock-solid soundstage that was demonstrated in London. Clearly, someone must have spent a lot of time finding the right clips for the demo, because with a lot of content from YouTube and Netflix, what ends up in front and behind seems a bit random. Often there are things both in front and behind that envelop the listener more vaguely than precisely.
However, there’s no doubt that the experience of film and TV content is greater and more enjoyable with the HT-AX7 than with a good quality stereo Bluetooth speaker. But let’s hope that a similar product will eventually emerge that can also utilise the metadata inherent in surround sound tracks such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. This requires either HDMI or Wi-Fi connectivity.
Price and value
With a price tag of €549, the Sony HT-AX7 places itself in a premium segment. Given the uniqueness and technological capabilities of the product, it’s worth the investment for many. For those who want a full-fledged home cinema experience in the living room instead, you may want to look at other options. Such as the Sony HT-A5000, JBL Bar 500 or any of the many great soundbars we’ve tested. But for those who appreciate the combination of portability and quality sound, the HT-AX7 is a very exciting choice.
The Sony HT-AX7 is not just a Bluetooth speaker, but a portable home cinema system. While the product may not be perfect for everyone, it fills an important niche in the market. Whether you’re looking for a portable speaker for your summer house trip, a device for the bedroom or just a portable audio solution for travelling, the HT-AX7 is a great option to consider. With impressive technology, design and solid battery life, it’s evident that Sony continues to stay relevant in audiovisual innovation.