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If you own a Bravia XR TV, you might want to consider Sony’s $300 SRS-NS7 Bluetooth neckband speaker rather than headphones. The SRS-NS7 takes advantage of Sony’s 360 Reality Audio, a spatial audio technology found in the aforementioned TVs. The neckband speaker is also more comfortable than most headsets for long listening sessions.
While its audio performance is just so-so for critical music listening, it’s fabulous for surround-sound playback while watching movies, and that goes double for gaming; our test listeners reported a definite uptick in enjoyment and long-term comfort.
A different approach
Neckband speakers are nothing new (see the the Monster’s Boomerang and the since-discontinued Bose Soundwear Companion), but they haven’t taken off. This is largely, because it’s difficult to wring top-notch audio out of them. Firing sound waves at a 90-degree angle to your ear canal and relying on what your auricles can catch indirectly isn’t a great recipe for sonic success.
Despite those limitations, neckband speakers are an attractive solution because they’re so darn comfortable. Rather than put pressure on your sensitive pate and ear area, they rest lightly around your neck. During my hands-on testing, the 12-ounce SRS-NS7 proved so comfy I found myself wandering around the house, sound off, forgetting they were still on my neck. Cross my heart.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best Bluetooth speakers, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.
Design and specs
Inside the SRS-NS7 are two 32-ohm, 33mm drivers that fire sound upward toward your ears, and two passive radiators that fire down towards your body. There’s also a microphone on the right-hand side near the end of unit.
The controls are situated on the inside of the collar: the microphone mute and power/pair button on the right-hand side, and the plus/minus on the left. If you grab them as you might your collar, the controls will fall under your left and right index fingers respectively. That’s a nice bit of ergonomic design.
The SRS-NS7 ship with Sony’s WLA-NS7 Bluetooth transmitter. The company’s Bravia XR-series TVs can make special use of the transmitter to deliver 360-degree audio, including Dolby Atmos. Any Bravia XR TV will recognize the transmitter plugged into its USB port and walk you through the process of linking with the neckband.
The communication is based on Bluetooth 5.0 and the A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP, SPP, SBC, AAC, and LAD profiles are all supported. The SRS-NS7 are IPX4-rated, meaning they likely won’t die if you spill a small amount of liquid on them. You can read all about IP codes at the preceding link.
The SRS-NS7 can be controlled with two apps: The Sony Headphone Connect app used by other Sony Bluetooth products for tweaking EQ and other settings, and the new 360 Spatial Sound Personalizer app. Both require a Sony account, although you can sign in using your Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, or Sony identities.
Jon L. Jacobi
Personally, I think you should be able to use any product you purchase without having to create an account with the company that made it, and in the case of the Personalizer, share images of your ears. I soldiered on for your sake, dear reader, and followed the voice commands to have my ears analyzed. But I was not happy about it, and there didn’t seem to be a huge difference in the sound after said analysis
Sony Bravia XR Master Series A90J (55-inch class, model XR-55A90J)
As already discussed, the sound quality of the SRS-NS7 is hampered by the fact that sound waves from the device emanate at a 90-degree angle to your ear canal. Only what’s captured by your auricles reaches your tympanum. This lack of a direct route means lower sound pressure levels and a certain amount of absorption by your skin and other parts of your anatomy.
This explains the somewhat challenged top end, but the SRS-NS7 are also in contact with your neck and collarbone area, and I think Sony could have leveraged that acoustic coupling to add more impact in the bass register. The upshot In terms of pure audio preproduction is that the SRS-NS7 sound merely okay for normal stereo content.
Where the speakers hit their stride is when you feed them surround audio. That part of the experience waylaid most of my complaints, even if it’s faux surround. There’s still an added sense of dimension and placement in space that’s lacking in plain stereo. It’s not like true surround, but doppler trickery never is.
Unlike headphones, which move with your ears, the SRS-NS7 and other neckband speakers stay in place. Consequently, head movement alters how the sound waves interact with your auricles, effectively changing the amount of top-end that enters your ear. It’s a relatively mild phenomena and might actually be fun if you’re the playful type. But for serious listening, some will find it annoying.
On the upside, where headphones are prone to shifting position with more than moderate movement, the SRS-NS7 feel like they’re there to stay. Indeed, unless you tilt yourself well backward, they just stay where they are.
Because there’s no physical barrier to ambient sound, the SRS-NS7 keep you connected to your outside environment. Not completely, because there is some cancellation from waves crossing paths, but much better than conventional headphones. There’s an upside to this, as well: It’s easy and pleasing to sing along your tunes without blowing out your vocal chords or straying hopelessly off key. As a matter of fact, I think budding vocalists, and just about any other type of musician, will find the SRS-NS7 extremely useful for playing along. Okay, maybe not violinists, but just about everybody else.
The SRS-NS7 can certainly be heard by others, but the leakage isn’t as great as you might think due to the low sound-pressure levels. I wouldn’t recommend them for use in bed while you’re partner is asleep, but using them on the couch while your significant other putters about shouldn’t annoy them. Tolerance levels vary.
The low sound-pressure levels also make neckband speakers a healthier long-term listening choice, and I found battery life to very close to the 12 hours Sony claims.
One note. While neckband speakers are more comfortable than headphones, I think that they could be made more comfortable still with a bit of padding. This might also allow larger speakers, and done properly, increase the acoustic coupling with your body for more emphatic bass.
Yin and yang
Sony has something in the SRS-NS7. At the moment, they’re best for anyone with a Bravia XR TV who enjoys surround-sound while gaming or watching movies, but they’re also quite suitable for those who like to croon along with tunes, or for long music-listening sessions where merely decent audio is an acceptable trade-off for comfort.
More bass, some padding, and perhaps a more reasonable price would’ve earned the SRS-NS7’s another half star. That said, I enjoyed my time with them, and our resident gamer/facilities guy is chomping at the bit to get them back.
Updated February 9 to add our star rating, which was omitted when this review was first published.
Jon Jacobi is a musician, former x86/6800 programmer, and long-time computer enthusiast. He writes reviews on TVs, SSDs, dash cams, remote access software, Bluetooth speakers, and sundry other consumer-tech hardware and software.