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Sony doubles down on virtualized 3D audio with the HT-G700, a 3.1-channel soundbar that can deliver immersive 3D audio using not one, not two, but three competing audio technologies. While it lacks the upfiring drivers that most Dolby Atmos- and DTS:X-enabled soundbars employ for height effects, the HT-G700 simulates height and surround cues using virtual 3D solutions from Dolby, DTS, and Sony itself. The HT-G700 makes for an impressive showcase for how far virtualized 3D audio has come in recent years, yet it also betrays its weaknesses, particularly when it comes to Sony’s aggressive—perhaps too aggressive—implementation.
The HT-G700’s $500 price tag might sound enticing given its array of 3D audio functionality, but it’s also missing one huge feature: a Wi-Fi adapter. That means many of the wireless capabilities we’ve come to expect from soundbars in this price range—including multi-room audio, AirPlay 2 or Chromecast connectivity, direct support for streaming music services, and voice assistant support—are missing.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best soundbars, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.
A replacement for Sony’s 2.1-channel HT-X9000F, the HT-G700 arrives with more power than its predecessor (400 watts versus 300W for the X9000F), along with (according to Sony) a wider sweetspot, a larger subwoofer, and a new “Immersive AE” (Audio Enhancement) mode that’s capable of upmixing 5.1 or even stereo audio to virtualized 7.1.2 audio.
The Sony HT-G700 is a 3.1-channel soundbar, with a trio of 45 x 10mm oval-shaped cones in the main unit for the left, right, and center channels (the “3” in “3.1”) and a wireless subwoofer with a 160mm cone for low-frequency effects (the “.1”). Because the HT-G700 lacks the wireless capabilities of Sony’s pricier soundbars, it can’t be upgraded to a full-on 5.1-channel system using a set of wireless surround speakers; in other words, what you see (and hear) is what you get.
The HT-G700 supports 3D object-based sound formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, but it doesn’t deliver height effects with upfiring drivers that bounce sound off your ceiling (which is itself an alternative to installing speakers in your ceiling). Instead, it uses virtualization to trick your ears into thinking you’re hearing sound from above (not to mention from behind, or from the sides). The soundbar actually supports three flavors of immersive 3D audio virtualization: Dolby Atmos with height virtualization technology, DTS Virtual:X, and Sony’s aforementioned Immersive AE, which employs a pair of other Sony audio technologies—Vertical Surround Engine for height cues, and S-Force Pro for side-to-side surround—to upmix 5.1 or even 2.0 audio to virtualized 7.1.2 sound.
In general, virtual 3D height effects lack the precision you’ll hear from those delivered by upfiring drivers (which, in turn, aren’t as precise as in-ceiling speakers), and they can also sound harsh and distractingly artificial if they’re applied too aggressively. That said, virtual 3D sound offers a key benefit over drivers that bounce sound off the ceiling: its performance doesn’t depend on the type of ceiling you have. To wring the best sound out of upfiring drivers, Dolby recommends a flat ceiling between 7.5 and 14 feet height, and vaulted ceilings simply won’t do. If the ceiling in your entertainment room is too high, too low, or anything other than perfectly flat, virtual 3D sound might be your best option, shy of actual in-ceiling speakers.
The Sony HT-G700’s main soundbar unit measures 38.6 x 2.6 x 4.4 inches, making it somewhat narrower than my 55-inch LG C9 OLED TV, with the soundbar barely grazing the bottom edge of the screen from the vantage point of my living room sofa. Meanwhile, the 7.6 x 15.25 x 16-inch wireless subwoofer (which isn’t really wireless, since it requires a power cord) is about as big and bulky as those that come with competing soundbars.
The Sony HT-G700 takes only minutes to set up. You have the option of placing it in front of your TV or mounting it on a wall beneath your TV; a wall mounting guide is included, but no brackets or screws. I skipped the mounting process and simply plunked the soundbar down in front of my TV set.
Once you’ve put the soundbar where you want it, just plug in the power cord (there’s no outlet-blocking wall wart or power brick, thankfully), then position and power up the pre-paired wireless subwoofer, which should connect to the soundbar automatically (you can also pair the subwoofer manually if something goes wrong with auto-pairing).
Because the HT-G700 lacks network connectivity, you won’t have to deal with adding it to your home Wi-Fi network, a process that (as I’ve found with other soundbars) can be surprisingly arduous.
While its lack of Wi-Fi connectivity makes the HT-G700 a snap to set up, it also means that the soundbar lacks bevy of key features, including multi-room audio, AirPlay 2 and Chromecast audio casting, and the ability to directly connect to streaming audio services such as Spotify or Amazon Music. You also can’t control the HT-G700’s features or settings with a mobile app, nor with Alexa or Google Assistant voice commands. For a $500 soundbar, that’s a lot to give up.
The Sony HT-G700 comes equipped with a pair of HDMI ports: one is a standard HDMI input, while the second is an HDMI ARC (short for “audio return channel”) port that supports eARC, an “enhanced” version of eARC that allows for lossless audio formats such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio (you can read all about ARC and eARC in this story). In addition to the HDMI ports, there’s also a Toslink optical digital input, plus a USB port that’s only for installing firmware updates.
The easiest way to connect the HT-G700 to your TV is via the aforementioned HDMI ARC port, which allows you to keep your various video sources connected to your TV while sending audio to the soundbar over the included HDMI cable. If one of your video sources is a Blu-ray player (either standalone or those that are built into PlayStation 4 and Xbox One game consoles), the HT-G700’s eARC support will let you enjoy lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks in all their glory—provided your TV also supports eARC, that is.
Another option is to connect a video source to the soundbar’s single HDMI input and then connect the soundbar to the TV via the HDMI ARC port, which supports 4K HDR video passthrough. The benefit of plugging a video source directly into the soundbar is that you’ll be able to hear lossless audio from a Blu-ray player even if your TV doesn’t support eARC (which it likely doesn’t, unless you bought it in the last 12 months or so). The downside, however, is that you’ll have to physically swap out HDMI cables if you have more than one video input.
Integrated buttons, remote control
On top of the main soundbar unit, you’ll find touch-sensitive buttons for power, input select, Bluetooth, and volume up/down. Peeking out from the black aluminum speaker grille is a five-character display that tells you (among other things) the volume level, the detected audio signal (Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, etc.), which input is selected, and so on. You can also set the indicator to go dark after a brief period, handy for cutting down on visual distractions.
The HT-G700’s long, thin, and non-backlit remote can be tricky to use. While the large round volume button is easy to find in the dark (as is the jumbo-sized power button in the top-right corner), good luck identifying the other small, circular buttons without turning a light on.
A dozen of these identically shaped buttons are arranged in two columns of six buttons each, including the mute button, the night and voice modes, and the subwoofer level buttons. All of those sit beneath the volume rocker. Eight more buttons, including four for sound modes (such as Cinema and Music), one that toggles Sony’s Immersive AE feature, another that cycles the display, and yet another for selecting the active input, are above the volume rocker.
To navigate the HT-G700’s settings menu, you’ll need to press the Menu button, which sits in the right column of buttons beneath the volume rocker. You press the Up and Down arrows in the left column to navigate the menu options, and then press the Enter button that’s below the Menu button to select an option. The Menu button is the only way to enable DTS Virtual:X and Dolby’s virtual 3D sound modes, and to get to those menu options, you’ll have to navigate two menu levels deep, then step down to the very bottom of the second menu.
Virtual 3D modes
The Sony HT-G700 offers an embarrassment of riches as far as virtual 3D audio engines are concerned; indeed, if you ever wanted the opportunity to stack the virtual 3D sound technology of Dolby, DTS, and Sony against each other, this versatile soundbar presents the perfect opportunity to do so.
DTS Virtual:X is likely the most familiar of the three competing virtual 3D modes. Following its debut in 2017, DTS Virtual:X showed us just how realistic virtual 3D audio technology could sound. Dolby’s virtual 3D technology, known as Dolby Atmos height virtualization, is only now making its way onto soundbars (such as the upcoming TCL Alto 9+).
Then there’s Sony’s Immersive AE mode, which requires some explaining. As I mentioned earlier, Immersive AE is actually a combination of two Sony audio technologies: Vertical Surround Engine, which supplies height effects, and S-Force Pro for side-to-side surround effects. These two technologies are applied—or not—depending on the content you’re listening to and the sound mode you’ve chosen.
Both the Vertical Surround Engine and S-Force Pro are auto-enabled—and mandatory— whenever you’re watching object-based Dolby Atmos or DTS:X content (and assuming you aren’t using the Dolby or DTS virtualizers), meaning that pressing the Immersive AE button on the remote won’t have any effect. If you’re watching 5.1- or 2.0-channel content, pressing (for example) the Cinema button and enabling the Immersive AE mode engages both the Vertical Surround Engine and S-Force Pro; if you disable Immersive AE in Cinema mode, the Vertical Surround Engine is turned off, but S-Force Pro stays on. Music mode behaves a bit differently; while both the Vertical Surround Engine and S-Force Pro will (as with the Cinema mode) switch on if you enable the Immersive AE mode, they’ll both turn off if you toggle off the Immersive AE mode.
While virtual 3D sound modes have improved by leaps and bounds in recent years (with DTS Virtual:X leading the way), they can introduce an unwelcome element of harshness to the sound depending on how aggressively they’ve been applied. The HT-G700 isn’t immune from this effect, although the amount of harshness depends on the virtualizer you pick.
I started my testing with the recent 4K Blu-ray of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, which comes with a spiffy new Dolby Atmos mix. I teed up the frantic Millennium Falcon-Star Destroyer chase just after the battle of Hoth, with Sony’s Immersive AE mode auto-enabled. Right away, I was impressed by the wide, expansive soundstage (courtesy of Sony’s S-Force Pro technology, the other component of the Immersive AE mode), complete with noticeable (if subtle) height effects as the Falcon banked and weaved across the screen. Granted, physical surround and height speakers will always beat virtual 3D surround modes when it comes to accuracy and presence, but Sony’s Immersive AE mode certainly makes a good impression.
As I said before, though, even the best virtual 3D audio processing techniques can add a harshness to the sound, and I noticed this during certain moments of Empire’s Millennium Falcon-Star Destroyer chase scene. For example, I could hear a distracting hissing sound (that’s the best word I can think of to describe it) as the Millennium Falcon is buffeted by the laser blasts of pursuing Tie Fighters (37:11), as well as during the moment when the three Star Destroyers nearly crash into each other (37:26). The hissing disappeared when I switched from Sony’s Immersive AE mode to Dolby Atmos height virtualization, which serves up a less aggressive but smoother sound.
Next, I tried the iTunes version of Superman, which (like Empire) boasts a remastered Dolby Atmos soundtrack. With its swooshing titles and soaring John Williams score, the opening moments of Superman make for a great Dolby Atmos showcase. I switched to Sony’s Immersive AE mode, and the hissing was back, plainly noticeable (to my ears, anyway) with each swooshing title (1:42 is a good example), as well as during General Zod’s trial and imprisonment in the twirling Phantom Zone (10:53). Again, switching to the Dolby Atmos height virtualization mode yielded a more natural sound, albeit with more muted surround and height effects compared to Sony’s Immersive AE mode.
Heading over to the launch sequence from the UHD Blu-ray of Apollo 13, the hissing I’d previously heard from the Immersive AE mode wasn’t nearly as bothersome (perhaps because surround and height effects on this particular DTS:X soundtrack aren’t as pronounced as they are for Empire and Superman), but I did detect it occasionally and rather faintly, such as when the Saturn V rose from the launch pad and swooshed passed the camera (35:42) and when the cabin shook as Kevin Bacon’s Jack Swigart was reading his instruments (36:04). To be fair, these were only fleeting moments, and I heard the same harshness when I engaged both Dolby height virtualization and DTS Virtual:X modes. I’m also nitpicking at what was, overall, a delightfully punchy and crisp performance from the HT-G700 during this exciting sequence.
My next stop was the opening car race in 2 Fast 2 Furious, which comes with a 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray version. With Sony’s Immersive AE mode enabled, the sound of the race cars skidding around turns and streaking down straightaways was undeniably thrilling, complete with plenty of aggressive virtual surround effects, although (again) I could hear some harshness and hissing at times, such as when Brian’s car pulls up to the starting line and emits a jet of exhaust (5:09), or when the four racers zoom past the camera (8:05), or when the cars driven by Brian and Slap Jack hurtle around a curve and shoot over our heads (11:03). Similarly, the DTS Virtual:X mode sounded a bit harsh and a little thin. Dolby’s virtualized mode sounded richer and more natural, but it also dials down the surround effects, delivering much less of a “wow” factor compared to the Sony and DTS virtual 3D modes.
I also streamed some music to the Sony HT-G700 from my iPhone via Bluetooth. I switched to Music mode for this listening test, going back and forth with the Immersive AE button. While the Immersive AE mode greatly enhanced the soundstage, it also gave the music a slightly harsh edge; turning Immersive AE off, on the other hand, rendered a flatter, more authentic sound. I ended up leaving Sony’s virtual sound mode off, but it was a close call.
Dialing up the title track from Bruce Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad, I liked the warmth of The Boss’s reedy vocals and the detailed whine of his harmonica, all backed by tight percussion that never felt too boomy. Vlado Perlemuter’s performance of Ravel’s solo piano works for Nimbus Records sounded atmospheric and textured, with a deft tonal balance, while Ciara’s pulse-pounding “Level Up” sounded crisp and punchy (although I did dial down the 12-step subwoofer setting to 5 to tighten the bass a bit).
Besides its virtual 3D audio, Bluetooth, and music capabilities, I’m happy to report that the HT-G700 includes a night mode for late-night movie and listening sessions, along with a voice optimizer mode that (according to Sony) enhances the frequencies of human voices rather than simply boosting the level of the center channel.
The Sony HT-G700 is a tricky soundbar to evaluate. We’re fans of its crisp, punchy sound signature, and we appreciate getting the choice of three top-flight virtual 3D modes. But as good as they’ve become in the past few years, soundbars with virtual 3D modes still have to contend with harshness issues, and the HT-G700 is no exception. And while we understand Sony’s decision to focus on the HT-G700’s audio performance, the lack of Wi-Fi and all the features that comes with it is a tough pill to swallow, particularly when it comes to the G700’s $500 price tag.
In the end, your decision on the HT-G700 may come down to your particular use case. If you’re interested in 3D audio but you’d a) rather not deal with in-ceiling speakers and b) have a vaulted ceiling or another configuration that isn’t suitable for up-firing drivers—and, crucially, you don’t mind the lack of wireless network support—the Sony HT-G700 might make an attractive and reasonably priced option. But if up-firing drivers are an option for you, or if Wi-Fi is a must-have, we suggest spending a little extra for a soundbar that checks those boxes (the recently reviewed LG SN8YG comes to mind).
Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.