Soundbars have cemented themselves as a must if you want to enhance the sound from your flat-screen TV without investing in a dedicated home theater setup. In the last few years, we’ve seen interesting technology enter the soundbar. We’ve seen some soundbars with up-firing speakers to give you a Dolby Atoms effect, we’ve also seen soundbars without subwoofers, offering a plug and play setup. We’ve also seen some modular soundbars where you can add a subwoofer and speakers around separately. Today, we have the Sony HT-Z9F. In the box, you’ll find a soundbar and a wireless subwoofer. You can upgrade the system to 5.1 at a cost of about 10k, this is a 5.1 setup. We reviewed the system with the surrounding speakers.
What’s in the box
In the box, you will find the soundbar itself with a detachable magnetic cover for the front. It’s nice that the front part can be detached because you can choose to reveal the drivers or hide behind the cover based on the aesthetics of your choice. In the box you will find a soundbar with remote control, an HDMI cable and a wall mounting bracket. You will also get two AAA batteries. The remote control that comes with the system is compact and has all the necessary functions. The remote has a vertical surround button and we will discuss this in the next section. Be aware that when you use the ARC to connect the soundbar to the TV, you can control the bar from the comfort of the TV remote.
Connection options include an HDMI port for eARC in the soundbar and two HDMI pass-through ports that support 4K HDR pass. At a lower price, we’ve seen a JBL SB450-like soundbar with 3 HDMI Pasteur ports with 4K HDR support. However, JBL does not have many of the features that our Sony HT-Z9F has, including the option to convert it to a 5.1 system. Sony HT-Z9F has an optical port, analog in, USB port and a LAN port. It supports Bluetooth and WiFi. The speaker boasts support for DTS-X and Dolby Atmos, which is nice. However, apart from the top firing speakers, we were curious to see how object-oriented surround sound works in this bar. When it comes to smart features, the speaker supports Amazon Alexa, Chromecast built-in and Spotify, which is great.
Sony HT-Z9F is being set up
It takes some work to set up the speaker but it’s not rocket science, especially if you don’t wall mount it. The soundbar connects wirelessly to the subwoofer and surrounding speakers, eliminating the problem of cable management. Just remember, they all need a power supply so make sure you have access to a PowerPoint where you decide to have sub and surround speakers.
Just as the HT-X8500 (read our review here) supports the HT-Z9F eARC, so does the future. eARC has more bandwidth than the ARC port and gives the bar access to DTS: X and Dolby Atmos content.
Once you’ve installed the speakers and sub, turn them on. You should see a green light behind the speakers and subwoofer around you. If the light is red, don’t worry. There’s a sync button that lets you “sync” speakers with the main bar When you turn on the TV after connecting the device via ARC, you need to follow the step-by-step instructions like logging in to WiFi etc. and you can go.
One tip is that the surrounding speakers should be at ear height, facing the place where you sit to ensure the best surround effects from the system.
Construction and design
The first thing that comes to mind when you first see the soundbar is a premium finish The removable metal grille adds variety to the bar design. So, if you want to expose the drivers, you can do this by simply removing the grill. The soundbar is long enough to sit flush under a 50 or 55-inch TV. Something small, and the bar will look overwhelming. It has a small display in front of it to show you the current input and standby status of the bar.
The wireless sub is big and quite heavy. The subwoofer fires with the pairing button at the front and the light is hidden behind. Satellite speakers are small, compact and have 4 rubber feet if you want to place them on a tabletop or a shelf. You can also wall mount the speakers if you want. The back of the speaker has clear markings for the speakers around “left” and “right”.
Overall, the speakers are well built, have a clean design and a premium feel.
Before we get into performance, find out that the speakers have a lot of settings and customization options. Connect it to the TV’s HDMI ARC port and you’ll be able to access all the options on the TV display. With the built-in Chromecast, you can play or “cast” music from your smartphone to the speaker. Sadly, it’s just audio casting so you can’t cast your favorite videos from YouTube or Netflix to the TV via the system. You’ll also find support for Spotify and Alexa built directly into the speaker. We’ve seen Alexa support on the Bose Soundbar 700 (read our review here) and it’s nice to see it here as well as access to Spotify. The menu, where you see these options, is easy to navigate and select your input source. Be aware that you don’t need a display to use the soundbar to listen to music because you can choose your sources from the comfort of the remote control. You have access to a number of setting options to tinker, including speaker settings, audio settings, HDMI settings, system settings, network settings and more.
Coming to the performance, this soundbar with surround speakers is great for a small bedroom (12 x 15 feet). It works if you buy a soundbar alone, but with surround speakers, you may want to use it in the living room. The modular nature of the soundbar will help you make a good purchase decision. Want to use it in the bedroom? Don’t invest in speakers around the satellite. If you want to use it in the living room, you can consider.
Let’s break down the soundbar performance into movie, music and gaming performances.
You can see in the movie that there is a clear reproduction of sound in the soundbar. The dialogue is clearly heard despite the background score playing. From Bike Chase Sequence on a Mission: It’s impossible to shoot a gun anywhere in the Matrix, and even in a show like modified carbon where there’s gunfire and gunfire all around you, the soundbar does a good job of immersing you. Although the sound is coming directly from in front of you, channel separation is good. With nearby speakers, you get a more immersive experience, especially during the action sequence. From the vehicles passing by you to the bullets flying around, the experience is immersive. One thing to consider is the placement of speakers around. They should face you and be 6 feet or less away from the seating position for the best experience. The base of the subwoofer packs enough punches without the irresistible sound. To give you a comparative perspective, the JBL SB 450 (read our review here) packs a tougher punch with diameter but I prefer the HT-Z9F’s bus response. It doesn’t look as irresistible as the JBL SB 450.
Overall, the Sony HT-Z9F is a great experience for movie watching.
Sony Soundbar’s music performance is what you expect from a Sony speaker. It also depends on the type of music you listen to. So with classic rock, where the bass isn’t necessarily too strong, it sounds clear. Vocals can be distinguished from instruments and heights are clear. Electronic music like Daft Punk is clean where you can sound the synthesizer. There is a base reaction to all these songs without feeling overwhelming. However, those who want more bass will want it to be better. You can control the trench level from the soundbar settings. However, if you enjoy genres of rock and metal music, you should look elsewhere.
For gaming, we played Marvel’s Spider-Man, God of War and Destruction. Channel separation works well in all games, especially when playing Spider-Man. Adding immersion to the experience of the surroundings, you will hear the city go through the speakers around you as you sway.
In a game like Doom for which you always have to be on your toes, you can create monster positions for nearby speakers. Even the sound of the shotgun in the game is enough to thank the subwoofer.
Overall, the speakers are great for gaming. The dialogue is clear, the sound effect crisp and the surrounding effect submerged
The only downside to the Sony HT-Z9F is the Dolby Atmos effect6 Of course, the speaker supports it, but it does not have an up-firing driver. So when you turn on the “Vertical S” feature in the speaker’s remote control, you will not experience the height channel being active. It does enhance the soundstage a bit, but with the speakers around, I like to keep this feature off.
The remote control bundled with the soundbar is easy. All buttons are neatly laid out. The remote control isn’t as simple as the one found on the Sony HT X 8500 but it’s not complicated to read. You have source selection and audio settings at the top while the lower half has volume control, playback control and controls for the rear speakers and sub-levels. The center of the remote is dedicated to navigation and settings.
The last row
So, here are the always important questions. Should you spend 60k on this soundbar and an additional 10k on the surrounding speakers? It’s a little difficult to give you a yes or no. The truth is that 70k is a really good budget for creating a custom home theater which ensures that you can upgrade the amplifier or speaker in the future. This is a great budget for a dedicated home theater sound system where you can get an amp from Yamaha, Denon, Onkyo and many more. You can pick and choose the transfer and combination of speakers and subwoofer based on your room. Sony HT Z9F is a simple solution for those who want plug and play setup. If you have the money, you should consider it for its functionality, ease of setup and feature rich package. But if you are an enthusiast, you should consider building a home theater at the same price.