Sony’s HT-A3000 does virtual Dolby Atmos right, if you can handle the price
“A Swiss-army knife of a soundbar that really does it all.”
- Great movie and music sound
- Excellent on-screen settings
- Airplay, Chromecast
- Highly expandable
- Convincing virtual Dolby Atmos
- Expensive for virtual Atmos
- No HDMI input
- No EQ settings
Sony’s A-Series of Dolby Atmos home theater soundbars and speakers are impressive, but they also cost a lot, with prices that begin at $1,000. That’s what makes its latest model so interesting. At $700, the HT-A3000 hardly qualifies as cheap, but it’s still the most affordable way to buy a premium Sony soundbar.
And it is indeed premium, bring in many of the features that make the A-Series ($1,000 HT-A5000, $1,300 HT-A7000, $1,800 HT-A9) a family to be reckoned with. With AirPlay, Chromecast, hi-res audio, expandability, and advanced compatibility with Sony’s Bravia XR TVs, there’s little these soundbars can’t do.
But bringing the price down to $700 means making cuts in a few areas, most notably the lack of any up-firing drivers to help deliver Dolby Atmos’ signature height-effect sounds.
So what exactly are these compromises, do they affect the enjoyment of TV and movie content, and if so, are you better off with the competition? Let’s get into it.
What’s in the box? Simon Cohen / Digital Trends
Along with the HT-A3000 (which, from here on in I’ll simply call the A3000), you get an HDMI cable, a power cable, a remote with two AAA batteries, a 3.5mm analog cable for sending center channel sound to a compatible Sony TV, a quick start guide, wall-mounting template, and a full user manual, which is nice to see — many companies are making folks head online for that documentation. It’s all packaged with big Styrofoam blocks, so you may not be able to fully recycle the material depending on where you live.
Design Simon Cohen / Digital Trends
Sony is the king of the black plastic box. And while that sounds like a dis, it’s not. Soundbars, unless they are works of art unto themselves, are better heard, not seen, so the A3000’s all-matte-black plastic and dark grey metal grille are just fine with me. When the lights go down, this thing disappears, just as it should.
At 37 inches long and just a hair over 2.5 inches tall, it should fit just fine in front of any TV from 32 inches and up. If your TV happens to have very low feet and the soundbar obscures its infrared (IR) receiver, the A3000 is equipped with its own IR repeaters, so you likely won’t have to do that thing where you hold your remote way up high to control the TV.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends
You’ll find a few touch controls on the top surface for power, volume, input selection, Bluetooth on/off, and a music service shortcut key that can be used to jump straight into Spotify if you want.
Behind that metal grille is a small OLED text display that shows you all of the status info you need from the current input, to volume level, to audio formats, if you need them. I kinda wish Sony had made it a few characters wider — many of the messages require text scrolling, which I find a hassle. But as these displays go, it’s fairly easy to read and you can dim it or turn it off entirely if it bothers you.
Setup, controls, and connections Simon Cohen / Digital Trends
Getting the A3000 set up is really easy, mostly because you really only have one option straight out of the box: plug the included HDMI cable into the HDMI ARC/eARC port on your TV, plug the other end into A3000’s only HDMI port, turn your TV on, then turn the soundbar on. Even if you don’t go through the rest of the set up steps, you’re now good to go for TV sound.
But I strongly recommend that you do continue. Sony is one of the few soundbar companies that takes full advantage of the fact that an HDMI connection can be used to send a video signal back to a TV, and it uses that signal to give you a full on-screen menu system for the A3000.
It initially walks you through the painless process of getting connected to Wi-Fi (sorry wired network junkies, there’s no ethernet port) and once that’s done you can choose to enable Chromecast built-in and/or Amazon Alexa compatibility. These functions can be used for music streaming as well as voice commands, but they’re both optional.
Apple’s AirPlay 2, on the other hand, gets enabled as soon as you’re connected to Wi-Fi, making it a cinch to stream audio to the soundbar from any Apple device.
If your TV doesn’t support HDMI ARC/eARC, you can still connect using an optical cable, but you’ll need to supply your own, and you won’t be able to get Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, or any of the high-bandwidth surround sound audio formats like Dolby TrueHD.
The HT-A3000 does virtual Atmos better than any soundbar I’ve heard so far.
Ordinarily, you could get around such a limitation by connecting a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X source like a streaming device or Blu-ray player to the soundbar’s HDMI input, (and just use the HDMI output to send the video to your TV) but the A3000 doesn’t have an HDMI input. If you need one, you’ll have to cough up the extra $300 and buy the HT-A5000.
Sony’s Music Center companion app for iOS and Android can also be used to control the A3000, but there isn’t much call to do so. Almost everything you need can be accessed via the included remote and the OLED display, or that fantastic on-screen user interface. Still, it’s worth noting that the app can be used to access any music you have stored on a networked computer or hard drive and it can control and link any and all compatible Sony wireless speakers you may own — almost like a simplified Sonos system.
If you happen to own a relatively new Sony Bravia XR TV, you can avail yourself of the included cable and connect the soundbar’s center channel output to your TV. I didn’t have one of those TVs on hand for my testing, so I can’t say how well it works, but the gist is that the TV’s internal speakers can act as a booster for on-screen sounds, especially dialog. It’s certainly worth trying.
Finally, there’s a USB port for accessing music from storage devices. Again, I didn’t try it because I suspect most of you will use the A3000’s streaming options, but Sony does provide excellent file format support. If you can play it on a computer, you can probably play it on the A3000.
Like the soundbar itself, the included remote is typical Sony fare — boxy and basic, but clearly labeled and well laid out. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with some of the button functions, and you’ll need a light source to see it if you’re in a dimly lit room as there’s no backlighting.
Sound quality Simon Cohen / Digital Trends
There are a few scenarios to discuss here, so let’s take them one by one.
Movies and TV
For conventional two-channel stereo and even Dolby 5.1 content, the A3000 sounds great. Dialog quality really surprised me. The A3000 lacks dedicated tweeters but despite that — and even without using the available Voice mode for speech enhancement — I found dialog very clear and intelligible, which is the first tes