Sony SRS-ZR5

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As we all are familiar that Sony is a large company as it makes a ton of products. It is not entirely surprising when some of them overlap a bit. For instance, take the new Sony SRS-ZR5 Bluetooth speaker.  The cost of this is $199.99 as the Sony H.ear Go. This works with the same free Sony app. It shares features such as the ability to connect to your home wireless network or pair with another speaker for stereo separation. In common, they don’t have two things. The SRS-ZR5 is not portable whereas the H.ear Go is portable. The Hear Go offers a tepid sonic experience compared with the SRS-ZR5 which sounds great. The SRS-ZR5 delivers better bang for your buck if you don’t need portability.

PROS

  • Powerful audio performance with clear highs and rich bass.
  • Versatile connectivity options can be paired with a second speaker.

CONS

  • Sculpted audio is not for purists.
  • Not portable.
  • Light on accessories.

BOTTOM LINE

  • The wireless Sony SRS-ZR5 is capable of impressive audio performance for its size.
  • It can pair with another speaker for stereo separation.

Design

Roughly measuring 6.3 by 3.9 by 3.9 inches and weighing 3.8 pounds. The SRS-ZR5 is available in black or white. It resembles a small bookshelf speaker. The two side panels and the front-facing panel are all speaker grille with dual passive bass radiators pushing extra low-frequency depth out of either side. And a front facing 0.6-inch tweeter and 2.8-inch woofer delivering audio through the front. Where the aforementioned Hear Go speaker feels cluttered with controls. The SRS-ZR5 is far less so, a curious fact. Essentially, the speakers offer very similar controls. But something about the couple, of extra buttons on the Hear Go. An unnecessarily busy LED display make it feel cluttered while the SRS-ZR5 feels refined and spare.

There is a power pairing button across the top panel. It consists of a built-in status LED, as well as three capacitive touch buttons that handle volume up and down. These work in conjunction with your device’s volume levels and function. This allows you to choose between HDMI mode, Bluetooth mode, Network mode, Audio in for the wired 3.5mm aux input, and USB mode. Given the plethora of modes, the back panel fittingly houses plenty of connectivity options. There are connections for HDMI, LAN, USB, and 3.5mm aux aside from the power cable connection point. Thus, you can use the SRS-ZR5 as a wired home theatre speaker(HDMI), a Bluetooth speaker, a networked speaker via LAN/Ethernet or WiFi, a computer speaker (USB), or wired with any device with a 3.5mm output.

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The back panel also houses buttons labelled Update or WPS for software updates which can also easily be done via the app. Set Up this, handles settings that the app can take care of and Stereo Pair for connecting two speakers to the same sound source. The speaker can also be mounted to the wall via a threaded connection on the rear panel.

The free SongPal app works with nearly all of Sony’s current wireless speaker offerings. It is somewhat clumsily designed and is not essential. However, this is the easiest way to update the SRS-SR5’s software. It is also where you can pair the speaker with another and manage network options, assign channels, and adjust EQ, which features customizable settings. Your mobile device’s native music app is likely a more organised. However, this is efficient way to access your music than the SongPal.

To the SRS-ZR5, you can also stream high-resolution audio. It uses LDAC for audio transmission at a higher transfer rate than Bluetooth. That is a solid extra feature for those who have hi-res collections. You will be listening through a mono speaker. Unless you get a second SRS-ZR5 with quite a bit of sculpting in the audio department more on that in the next section.

The top panel also houses an NFC pairing zone for compatible mobile devices. But you can easily pair the speaker with your mobile device via Bluetooth. The speaker ships with no accessories which are a minor disappointment. By including all those connections, a cable or two for some of them would have been nice particularly at this price.

Performance

SRS_ZR5

On tracks with intense sub-bass content such as The Knife’s “Silent Shout.” The SRS-ZR5 employs digital signal processing in order to prevent the possibility of distortion at top volumes. We don’t hear distortion at maximum volume. We don’t hear distortion but the track’s deepest thumping gets reduced to a thin tap. However, the SRS-ZR5 gets exceptionally loud for a speaker this size. Its drivers do a very solid job of delivering the bass response at more modest but still loud levels. Does the bass thump sound such as there is a subwoofer involved? No, but it definitely has a strong presence.

Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix gives us a better idea of the SRS-ZR5’s overall sound signature. The drums on this track can sound thunderous and unnaturally heavy on a bass-forward system. That boosts the lows too much through the SRS-ZR5. The drums sound perfectly natural and certainly not over-boosted. Here the real story is in the lows to the low mids. This is where the richness of Callahan’s baritone vocals lies. A boy does they sound boosted through the SRS-ZR5. The rich lows sound excellent. Though purists will find it a little much, and some listeners will wonder why his vocals are so much more powerful than the drum hits. There is plenty of high-frequency and high-mid presence to keep things clear and crisp. The overall mix balanced. Callahan’s vocals are certainly pushed forward more than normal. On concord, it is a strong sound likely to please most listeners. Of course, you can always tweak things using the EQ in the app.

On Kanye West’s and Jay-Z “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives plenty of high-mid presence. It allows its attack to retain its sharp punch and push through the multilayered mix. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are not delivered with subwoofer-style force. But still have plenty of bass depth, as does the drum loop’s sustain, which is given some extra thump. The vocals on this track are delivered cleanly and clearly, though at times they seem to do battle with the drum loop for the spotlight.

Orchestral tracks like the opening scene in John Adams ‘ The Gospel According to the Other Mary,’ receive a quite extra boost in the lows and low-mids. The higher register brass, strings and vocals retain their dominance over the lows, and  treble edge. On concord, this mix sounds far heartier in the bass department than it would on a more accurate sound system. Again, it’s a sound that’s likely to appeal to many listeners, especially those watching movies. Hollywood film scores not to mention explosions and rumbles. That have an added presence in the bass department through the SRS-ZR5, without sacrificing the highs or going overboard.

Conclusions

Accuracy isn’t everything and we give the SRS-ZR5 high marks for boosting the lows and low-mids in a tasteful way. Add to that its versatility in the connectivity department. Its ability to be used in pairs and the option to tweak the sound signature to your liking. This speaker has a lot going for it.

The most wireless speakers in this size and price range are portable. Who is the SRS-ZR5 for ? With lots power and ability to expand beyond one speaker seeks wireless audio in their home. Buying two of these is still cheaper than the excellent Bowers & Wilkins’ Zeppelin Wireless. For instance, while we may like the latter’s overall sound signature more. The SRS-ZR5 when you have two can achieve stereo separation. Something that soundbars and all-in-one systems can only dream of.

The Marshall Kilburn $248.50 at Amazon and Bose SoundLink Mini II are excellent choices if you are looking for portability. If you would like to spend less money for a Bluetooth system, the Sony SRS-XB3 $118.00 at Amazon offers some of the best Bluetooth audio. We’ve heard for its modest price. But the audio experience will be somewhat less powerful than the others options mentioned here. If stereo separation and the versatility of wired connections are your main priorities from a Bluetooth speaker. The Sony SRS-ZR5 is a great choice.


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