3D is all about the visuals, right? Wrong. The arrival of 3D on the home entertainment scene has major implications for your sound system too.
This is because making HDMI connections capable of handling full HD 3D signals has required the introduction of a new HDMI spec – v1.4. So unless your AV kit has this new socket, it won’t handle 3D sources properly.
This has caused particular pain to people with external surround sound audio systems, who’ve discovered that they can’t use the HDMIs on their old AV receivers to pass 3D video through from source to screen. Ouch.
Cue Sony’s HT-AS5 surround sound package: a neat and affordable way to get your surround sound system back up to speed.
The AS5 basically comprises three main elements: a full 5.1 speaker system, a claimed 1000W (yeah, right) of digital amplification built into the subwoofer, and a surprisingly comprehensive suite of audio inputs.
As you can probably guess, these connections include three v1.4 HDMI inputs. And there’s a further HDMI 1.4 output, so you can loop up to three 3D sources through the AS5 system and on into your 3D-capable TV.
The HDMI inputs also allow the AS5 to receive and deal with 2-channel, 5.1-channel and even 7.1-channel LPCM signals from Blu-ray discs.
The AS5 takes advantage of another HDMI v1.4 benefit too: the audio return channel. The sound from your TV can thus be sent via HDMI to the AS5, for it to work its magic on.
Hook it up
Yet more audio input support comes from two optical digital audio inputs, one coaxial digital audio input, two stereo analogue audio inputs, jacks for attaching the supplied FM loop antenna, and the DMPort. This allows connection with a range of portable media devices - including iPods - provided you buy the right optional adaptor cable.
There’s a big slot on the subwoofer’s rear, too, for adding Sony’s optional (£155) EZW-T100 ‘S-AIR’ module, which makes the system’s rear speakers wireless.
Last but not least among the plethora of connections are inputs for the colour-coded speaker cables and the auto-calibration mic included in the package. Both these features make setting up the AS5 a doddle for the most part.
The only setup problems we found were that the cable length for the front left and right speakers is rather short, the remote control feels overcomplicated in places, and finally the LED read out on the subwoofer is far too small to read comfortably.
Review continues after the break…
Our disappointments with the AS5 system are mostly short-lived, though. For it belies the relatively compact design of its speakers and its affordable price tag by producing a surprisingly engaging soundstage.
The front and rear speakers are unusually well-balanced for this level of the market, for instance, which helps the system immerse you in a convincing 360-degree sound space when watching films. It also means that front-to-rear and rear-to-front sound mix transitions sound convincing, with no ‘funnelling’ effect.
The four main satellite speakers are also excellent at picking up subtle soundtrack details and defining a coherent sense of space too, as well as managing to get low enough with their frequency response to meld with the subwoofer more successfully than is usually the case with relatively small sub/sat packages. I
In other words, there’s seldom evidence of the usual gap between the deep bass of the subwoofer and the sound from the satellites.
The subwoofer goes deep enough to add power to action scenes, meanwhile, but doesn’t try so hard it distorts. And finally in the plus column, the whole soundstage has sufficient breathing room to expand believably when launching into a full-tilt action scene.
There are a few inevitable caveats to report as well, though. The most troublesome concerns the centre speaker, which seems rather lightweight and flimsy versus the other satellites, and can leave voices and much of the soundstage sounding a touch sibilant and boxed in.
The AS5 system isn’t quite as accomplished with CD music as it is with surround sound AV tracks, chiefly because the subwoofer’s timing seems rather cumbersome versus that of the other speakers.
But while the AS5‘s audio performance is hardly audiophile grade, it seldom sounds less than pleasant, and is actually rather good at immersing you in the film or drama you’re watching. Add to this its compact, reasonably stylish design, its 3D friendliness and its impressive roster of audio inputs and you’ve got an appealingly quick, affordable and cheerful one-stop solution to your 3D audio blues.