Sony’s modular speaker system is a clever and portable take on the home theater

Here’s a dirty little secret: Consumer electronics can be boring sometimes. Hardware scaling is hard and people love the familiar, both things that have a tendency to disincentive adventurous product design. So it’s worth acknowledging when big companies try something a bit different.

From a purely design perspective, there’s a lot to love about the HT-AX7. Sony’s new modular wireless speaker system is clean but warm, symmetrical and generally pleasing to the eyes. The fabric-covered minimalism wouldn’t look out of place in most homes. The system also takes advantage of a handful of commonplace features to present an outside-the-box approach to Bluetooth audio.

Image Credits: Sony

Unless your place is decked out with Sonos speakers in every room, you likely understand the experience of dragging Bluetooth speakers around your home. HT-AX7 is effectively a trio of speakers. The oblong base serves as the front speaker, while the detachable circular pair up top are the left and right rear. Pair it with a tablet, and suddenly you’ve got an immersive surround sound experience.

Place the components around you, and the system goes to work, determining the optimal sound footprint based on positioning. These sorts of algorithms are generally a mixed bag, but Sony’s got a solid track record with this stuff.

“360 Spatial Sound Mapping, our unique 3D audio technology, synthesizes the wavefronts of sound from three speakers and generates multiple phantom speakers (virtual sound sources) to create a three-dimensional sound field that surrounds the viewer,” writes Sony. “You don’t have to do anything special, such as installing speakers on the ceiling, but you can enjoy 3D sound anywhere just by placing three speakers around you.”

Indeed, $499 isn’t cheap by any stretch, which means the product is likely to be something of a niche device. Surround sound is great and all, but that’s a significant premium over standard Bluetooth speakers. It’s more competitive with soundbar systems — take Sony’s own Sony HTA300, which you can currently pick up for the same price. For folks who prefer a little more freedom with their systems however, the HT-AX7 scratches an interesting itch.

The system starts shipping in a couple of weeks.

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