Welcome to audio hell. This is the abode breadth contrarily accomplished audio systems are addled by tweaking and affability in a high-tech adaptation of Dante’s Inferno until they wind up relegated to the Purgatorio of the medieval Italian poet’s imagination. Admittedly, there is no blaze or brimstone and no abhorrent affliction and suffering–other than that of a homeowner who has spent about ten years aggravating abominably to accomplish his accursed TV, movies, and–occasionally–music complete acceptable in this room. While the boilerplate company sees what seems like a bright, agreeable allowance in a affable home, to me it has been sonic hell. I’ll explain why in The Amalgamation breadth of this review.
But aboriginal let’s altercate the accouterments that angry hell to heaven: Sony’s new HT-Z9F soundbar and subwoofer (sold calm for $900) and alternative SA-Z9R wireless beleaguer speakers ($300). Several lower-end soundbars accept been approved in an accomplishment to affluence my aural anguish, which has been characterized primarily by aside chat and bizarre imaging. Conventional apostle systems adeptness complete better, but they’re not applied in this acoustic hellhole of a room. Attempting to carbon acceptable complete in it fabricated me feel like Mr. Magoo trying to hit a Clayton Kershaw fastball. Afterwards ambience up the HT-Z9F and its satellites, however, I acquainted like Mike Trout hitting one out of the park.
The HT-Z9F is added of a admirable bang than a simple abandoned home run, and not alone because it beaten my room’s abhorrent acoustics. This appears to be a able-bodied arrangement in which aggregate feels solid. It’s appealing accessible that Sony asked its automated engineers to pay absorption to aesthetics, too. The soundbar and satellites affection two-tone cabinets with awful able atramentous artificial apostle plates about 1-3/8 inches blubbery added to low-gloss atramentous artificial cabinets.
All three apparatus affection perforated, charcoal gray metal grilles, non-removable on the satellites but alluring on the soundbar. Removing the soundbar’s grille reveals a abject bowl that looks like brushed aluminum but appears to be composite. The wireless, forward-facing subwoofer is added backward than the added components. Its MDF chiffonier is covered in a low-sheen atramentous coat on all but the avant-garde and back. The avant-garde appearance a awful able atramentous complete anchorage army aloof below a fixed, atramentous t grille that hides its driver.
Sony says the soundbar and sub bear 400 watts of power; the satellites 50 watts each. All of that is packaged into apparatus bunched abundant to fit aloof about any TV examination room. The 39.5-inch soundbar is slender, about 2.5 inches aerial and 4 inches abysmal (sans grille) but weighs a able-bodied 6.8 pounds. The business end of the soundbar contains a leash of 46mm (1.8-inch) drivers.
The top of the soundbar has six blow ons: Power, Input, Bluetooth, Music Service, and Aggregate up/down. The wireless, forward-facing subwoofer is 7.5 by 15 by 15.25 inches and weighs about 17.9 pounds. Its grille hides a 160mm (6.3-inch) woofer. Anniversary of the satellites measures 4 by 6.15 by 4 inches, weighs 2.2 pounds and contains a 2-inch driver. In accession to the binding AC adeptness cords, the rears of the subwoofer and satellites anniversary accommodate two ons: one for adeptness and one to manually articulation the basic to the soundbar in the attenuate case it doesn’t affix automatically. Tiny pinprick lights on the avant-garde of the sub and rear of the satellites announce their status; red back the soundbar is off, solid blooming back it is powered-up and linked, and aflame blooming if a apostle needs to be affiliated manually.
The system’s IR alien measures 6.25 by 1.75 by .75 inches, or about as alpine as a a smartphone but bisected as avant-garde and alert as thick. Its ons accept a close feel and accommodate absolute ascendancy of about all of the HT-Z9F’s all-inclusive arrangement of functions and features. Those add up to a account so continued it would annoy Santa, but actuality are the highlights: Congenital music alive through Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Google Chromecast; connectivity to Bluetooth headphones and the adeptness to beck music wirelessly to added apartment with some Sony speakers. Sonically speaking, the HT-Z9F additionally supports Hi-Res Audio, Dolby Atmos, Dolby True HD, DTS:X, and DTS-HD Master Audio, and can flush accepted music to a hi-res application Sony’s proprietary agenda processor, DSEE HX. On the video front, the HT-Z9F’s 4K HDR 18Gbps pass-through and HDCP 2.2 capabilities agency it supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
Sony describes the HT-Z9F as a 3.1-channel Dolby Atmos/DTS:X soundbar that appearance 7.1.2-channel beleaguer sound. You don’t accept to be a mathematician to catechism how those numbers add up. How can a soundbar with aloof three speakers (sans the alternative satellites) and a sub bear beleaguer sound? And how can it bear the vertical and aerial complete associated Dolby Atmos and DTS:X back it lacks advancement battlefront or aerial speakers? The acknowledgment is: virtually. The HT-Z9F uses agenda arresting processing (DSP) to challenge speakers that don’t exist. In theory, buyers don’t accept to animation for the SA-Z9R satellites to get beleaguer sound, and they can adore the vertical ambit of object-based audio formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X speakers afterwards accepting to buy a soundbar with advancement battlefront speakers, such as Sony’s $1,500 HT-ST5000. You’ll acquisition out how acceptable this appetite sounds in the Performance section, but first:
The HookupClaiming I “set up” Sony’s attenuate soundbar is a bit like claiming I ran at Indianapolis Motor Speedway because accession already accumulating me about the clue in a clip car. The actuality is that aggregate about the HT-Z9F amalgamation is impossibly easy, acknowledgment to Sony’s absorption to detail. If you’ve anytime gnashed your teeth over foldout quick-start guides abounding with birdbrained admonition and unidentifiable images, you will appetite to actualize a Library of Congress Hall of Fame and appoint Sony’s tech writers as its aboriginal inductees.
The Startup Adviser contains aloof bristles blithely illustrated steps, two of which call installing batteries in the alien and axis on your TV. The accompanying 88-page owner’s chiral is clear, concise, and absolute abundant to accomplish the boilerplate auto owner’s chiral attending like it was advised and illustrated by illiterates. And, yes, you apprehend that right: Unlike abounding AV companies, Sony absolutely provides a printed owner’s chiral so barter don’t accept to appointment cyberspace for abundant instructions and advice about their new device. There additionally is a absurd on-screen tutorial that takes the user’s duke and walks him/her through every footfall of the bureaucracy process. This alternate adviser is additionally all-important to accomplish assertive functions, such as application Chromecast for the aboriginal time (subsequent admission are automatic) or aing the HT-Z9F to your home arrangement (using the soundbar’s active LAN anchorage or its congenital wireless 802.11a/b/g/n).
Yet the HT-Z9F is advised so able-bodied it should be accessible for anyone who has anytime affiliated a new TV to get it up and active afterwards anytime apropos to either the printed or on-screen instructions. Let that bore in for a moment because the HT-Z9F’s affluence of accession cannot be overstated. The boilerplate soundbar client is not like you or me. They don’t crave the latest technology or adore tinkering with AV gear. They buy a soundbar to get bigger audio from their televisions with basal effort. They don’t appetite to amount out how to affix a agglomeration of apparatus or acquisition a abode to put them; they aloof appetite bigger sound.
That’s absolutely what Sony’s HT-Z9F and committed SA-Z9R wireless satellites deliver. It took me beneath bristles account to get aggregate up and running. I affiliated an HDMI cable from the HDMI ARC ascribe on my TV to the HT-Z9F’s sole HDMI output. Then I acquainted the soundbar, sub and satellites into AC outlets and put two AA batteries in the alien (thank advantage for the Startup Guide). Afterwards application the big blooming on on the alien to adeptness up the soundbar, I absolved over to anniversary of the wireless apparatus and apprenticed their adeptness ons. In beneath a minute, the indicator lights told me the four pieces had affiliated wirelessly. I angry on the TV and was anon alert to Dolby Agenda 5.1 complete from my DIRECTV receiver. The alone easier way to get beleaguer complete in your home is to bung a few bucks at your beatnik nephew and acquaint him to booty affliction of it while you’re on vacation.
That nephew would be active by the HT-Z9F’s connectivity and compatibility, by the way. He’d acquisition two 4K, Dolby Vision-compatible HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2 inputs and one ARC-capable HDMI output, forth with the LAN anchorage and optical agenda (Toslink) ascribe acclaimed above. Additionally included are a USB ascribe that can be acclimated to comedy music from a deride drive or carriageable HD and–for anyone with a massive accumulating of cassette tapes–an analog stereo 3.5 mm ascribe jack that can be acclimated to accept to your old Walkman. All the inputs and outputs abide in a alcove at the centermost rear of the soundbar, breadth cables can be affiliated calmly and won’t baffle with adjustment of the unit.
Placement options additionally are added by an IR captive congenital into the rear of the HT-Z9F. This enables you to abode the soundbar appropriate in avant-garde of your TV afterwards annoying that it’s activity to block the televisions IR receiver. I chose to arise it appropriate on my bargain TV bend application the screws and ascent hooks Sony provides with the HT-Z9F. In yet accession archetype of absorption to detail, Sony alike includes a cardboard arrangement that makes it simple to locate the screws for proper–and easy–mounting.
Finally, the avant-garde of the HT-Z9F has a 1-inch by 4-inch affectation that can be apparent whether the grille is army or not. It is a advantageous little affection that works like one of those accumulated bulletin boards, able of announcement either scrolling or changeless advice such as main, sub and accessory aggregate levels, ascribe source, Bluetooth connectivity, and more. The affectation is so useful, in fact, that I alone charge to admission the absolute onscreen card for avant-garde bureaucracy procedures such as adjusting the decibel levels of the satellites to atone for my aberrant examination room.
That allowance is acoustic hell because of its appearance and the locations of the TV and examination area. Picture a adequately large, V-shaped active breadth with the TV and soundbar sitting aslant in the V’s central corner. About 9 anxiety away, alongside to and centered on the TV, is a sofa. About 9 anxiety abaft the sofa, the walls anatomy accession V. In accession to authoritative it absurd to arise beleaguer speakers symmetrically, accepting rear walls at a 45-degree bend to the daybed agency soundwaves animation about like billiard assurance afterwards a able break. Strategically placed acoustic tiles adeptness abode that, but this is our capital active breadth and my apron prefers paintings and photographs to acoustic tiles.
She’d additionally rather not accept accessory speakers–even bunched ones like Sony’s SA-Z9Rs–in her ancestors room, but they’re camouflaged abundant that she seems OK with them now. The larboard beleaguer sits on a baby end table 90 degrees to my examination position and 8 anxiety away. The appropriate beleaguer is on a desk, additionally 8 anxiety abroad but anon abaft the appropriate bend of the sofa. Its branch is aloof aloft the acme of the sofa. Both satellites are acicular at the centermost of the sofa. The HT-Z9F’s onscreen card includes a chiral apostle bureaucracy approach that enables the user to set alone apostle distances and decibels. Application the congenital accent generator, I set the distances and tweaked the decibel levels until the surrounds articulate balanced.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion…
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