Sony Ht-A9 Review: Immersive Virtual Surround Sound
Before the era of streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video, consumers would go out and rent movies on DVD. In those days many DVD players were integrated with a 5.1 home theater set up to provide an ambient sound experience. It was an all-in-one package and manufacturers like Sony set up DVD players / home theaters in a variety of options. With the rise of streaming services, home theaters in a box with a soundbar began to dominate. Both the home theater and the soundbar in a box need to have speakers in a specific position so that you can get the best surround sound experience. But what if you don’t need to place your speakers symmetrically? Or do speakers need to be at the same height or at equal distances from each other? What if the only important thing is to place the speaker in a convenient position facing your seating position? This is the problem that Sony HT-A9 aims to solve and it does great! Dive into it.
What’s in the Sony HT-A9 box
In the box, you will find four cylindrical speakers with one power cable for each. There is also a control box that connects to the TV and connects wirelessly to the speaker. You will also get a remote control. Although we didn’t just get an HDMI in the box with the review unit, you’ll get one in the box In the subwoofer box, we only get the subwoofer and the power cable.
Sony HT-A9 connectivity options
In terms of connectivity options, the Sony HT-A9 has an HDMI port for eARC and an HDMI pass-through port that supports HDMI 2.1. You have no other connection option like optical or 3.5mm. The control box also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. All the connection options are neatly placed behind the control box In addition to the two HDMI ports, you have an Ethernet port, S-Center out and a USB port for updates. Although connectivity options may seem limited, especially when compared to the Sony HT-A7000 (review), this home theater setup targets a very different audience. Something we’ll touch on in the upcoming section. The system supports DTS-X, Dolby Atmos and Sony’s own 360 Reality Audio.
Each of the four speakers has an up-firing speaker (X-balanced speaker unit), soft dome type twitter, wide directivity upper (X-balanced speaker unit) and dual microphone. Although compatible with the Sony HT-A9 SW3 and SW5 subwoofer options, we had the SW5 for the review period. When it comes to smart features, the system supports Amazon Alexa with Chromecast.
Sony HT-A9 is being set up
Setting up the Sony HT-A9 is a unique experience. You do not need to have a soundbar at the bottom of your TV. In fact, the only thing sitting at the bottom of your TV is the control box, which is about the size of two Apple TV 4K boxes. Each of the 4 speakers is marked front left, front right, left around and right around, and they all look the same. You don’t have to place them symmetrically, or you have to place them at the same height. These can be placed based on the layout of your room. Unlike a traditional home theater where the correct position of the speaker is important, this is not the case here. All you have to do is make sure the speakers point you in the right direction – with the front speaker point in front and the surrounding speakers facing the place where you sit.
Once installed and connected to a power outlet, connect the control box to your TV via an HDMI cable. All speakers and subwoofers have a red light that turns green when the control box is turned on. Switch to HDMI eARC source on your TV. Just like the HT-A7000 and HT-Z9F (Review), the HT-A9 has onscreen instructions for setting up and controlling settings which is a boon, especially when compared to other soundbars.
Follow the onscreen instructions that will guide you to connect to Wi-Fi and calibrate the system. It is very important that you go through the word calibration, especially if the position of the speakers is not symmetrical as this will help the speakers to determine not only their position but also the size of the room to give you the best listening experience. Once setup is complete, you can start viewing the content of your choice
Sony HT-A9: Build and design
The huge thing comes to mind when you see the cylindrical speaker for the first time. Each speaker is as long and wide as an Xbox Series X (review) to keep things in perspective. It is slightly smaller than the PS5 (review). They are heavy and well built. The speakers have a cylindrical design but the rear is flat which makes it easy to flush the speaker against the wall. Each speaker has an off-white color and the front driver and top driver are covered with a grille. The speakers do not look cheap in any way and will certainly attract attention.
As mentioned above, each speaker has a soft dome type twitter, wide directionality upper (X-balanced speaker unit), dual microphone and an up-firing speaker (X-balanced speaker unit). The speakers look very premium but it is possible that the white color may get dirty over time so you may want to keep a soft cloth in hand to clean them. The control box is small and minimal and will easily fit under your TV.
Sony HT-A9 Performance
The Sony HT-A9 promises to provide a submerged surround sound effect without leaving dedicated speakers in the corresponding sweet spot. In fact, the sweet spot is wherever you place the speaker until it faces the seating position and is calibrated. Once calibrated, the Sony HT-A9 produces 12 Phantom speakers that provide users with an surround sound experience. If you have a compatible Sony BRAVIA TV, you can use the TV as a center channel for setup. Yes, there is no dedicated center channel for dialogue and we were interested to see how dialogues would work in this setup. We connected the system to an LG B9 OLED TV and the results were outstanding For the duration of the trial, we used content from the TV’s built-in OTT app, playing some games on the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
Sony HT-A9 Movies
We’ve played a lot of content on TV 5.1 and Dolby Atmos and the output is great. The front 2 speakers were conveniently placed under the TV and I changed their position to see how it affected the sound output. Same for nearby speakers. I recommend placing the speakers around your face, about 6 feet away from you Since these speakers create phantom speakers all around to give you an ambient sound experience, they need space to project sound into different parts of the room. In a movie like Ready Player One, when cars jump off the ramp, you can feel the sound rising in the room by adding the Dolby Atoms effect. The same goes for the Dark Knight Rise when you ride Batman on his motorcycle. The surrounding effects are really submerged.
As I mentioned above, 6 feet away from me, the surrounding speakers made it so that the sound does not move harmoniously between the surrounding and front speakers, but rather as if the sound has moved from one speaker to another.
The center channel was not missed even in the action sequence with many dialogues. Now a traditional 2.1 setup where you notice that the sound is not coming from the center and it can go away from the experience. There are soundbars like the Yamaha YAS 209 that do a good job of projecting a virtual center channel, and the Sony HT-A9 does a great job. When a character is on the left or right side of the screen, the sound comes from that direction, but when it comes to a conversation that benefits from a dedicated center channel, the dialogues seem to come from the bottom of the TV. . For my setup the front speakers were kept 4 feet away for most of the testing but this effect was equally pronounced and actually many times when the speakers were 6-7 feet away. Not to mention the Sw5 subwoofer which added more than enough ditch. Even on Disney + Hotstar, viewing 5.1 content like Ford vs Ferrari, the effects around the car and the roar of the car were extremely immersive.
9 Music on Sony HT
Just like the HT-A7000, HT-A9 supports Sony’s 360 Reality Audio and while I couldn’t get my hands on any of the music mastered in 360 Reality Audio, the system has a demo that you can enjoy. Very good proof. With home theater, you’ll find quite pronounced bass, deep vocals and very good channel separation. In addition to listening to our quality music, we’ve seen bohemian rapsods, Begin Again and many more movies that have lots of music.
The music performance is very immersive overall and the channel breakup is very pronounced in songs like Bohemian Rhapsody.
9 gaming on Sony HT
We played a lot of games on Sony HT-A9. Horizon Forbidden West (review) to Ghost of Tsushima (review), some Dart 5 and many more. It is with the surrounding effects that the speakers really shine. So, in a game like Dart 5, the lower edges and grants of the cars in Dart 5 are very well pronounced and the positional sound of someone overtaking you from the left or right is very noticeable and immersive.
In Ghost of Sushima, when an enemy throws an arrow at you, he announces it, and the position of this announcement on the offscreen is very clear, especially for the direction from which it is coming. The Swiss of the arrows flying around you are very immersed. Even in the Horizon Forbidden West, when you’re hit by a device from behind, the surrounding speakers add to the immersion.
The Sony HT-A9 is similar to the A7000 in that, in fact, only 2 buttons have been relocated and the rest are identical in design, size and placement of the buttons. In addition to controlling the input source, you get control over the volume, surround, and subwoofer layers with immersive AE (which I recommend turning on and off), playback control. The remote control is functional, intuitive and easy to use.
The last row
The Sony HT-A9 is aimed at those who do not have dedicated space under the TV for the soundbar or do not have space to place the speakers symmetrically around their room. Placing the speakers in odd positions around the room actually works for the system as long as the speakers are facing you. Once calibrated it provides an incredibly immersive experience and the system has a lot of low-end grants so you don’t miss the theater. The 4 speakers are each huge and this is a good thing because it provides a immersive virtual surround sound experience. Control box min. The overall sound output is fantastic, the high volume provides a very good experience without any distortion and the overall sound is extremely clear. The only problem with the system is the absence of traditional connectivity options like optical and the speakers are white which means like the PS5, you can expect it to be a bit dirty after some use. But that’s just me nitpicking. If you don’t have the space or symmetry for a soundbar or home theater, the HT-A9 should be at the top of your list because it provides an ambient sound experience without the need to redesign your interior.