Sony Z9F Soundbar Review
In modern times, most TVs are built with a focus on providing a crisp image, leaving sound almost entirely overlooked. And in my personal opinion, audio is half of the experience of whatever I am watching. Therefore it is just as important as a great television. But running a 5.1 channel audio system that creates an immersive soundscape can’t be fully replicated without literally surrounding yourself with speakers. For most people, that means if you don’t have a separate room dedicated entirely to your TV, then you probably don’t have the space for true surround sound. And that’s why soundbars exist.
Compared to ordinary speakers, soundbars are designed to be essentially invisible in a room. They’re small enough to escape notice and fit into cramped spaces. Yet, they retain nearly all of the power of a full-sized stereo system. But not all sound bars are created equal. Especially if you’re looking for something closer to a true surround sound experience. Sony’s newest soundbar, the Z9F is one of those soundbars that fits in that criteria
From the remote, you can toggle between the five essential audio modes that the HT-Z9F has been designed around. That includes cinema mode, music mode, game studio mode, news mode, and sports mode.
Cinema mode is focused on providing an immersive sound experience similar to a theatre. While music mode focused on enhancing the richness of the sound. The gaming mode is also focused on heightening the feeling of motion and distance for the player. The news mode is handy for people who have hearing problems. It’s designed to take voices and make them stand out against background music, noise, and audio effects. The sports mode is something you’ll either love or be totally indifferent towards. It’s designed to bolster stadium noise to help you feel like you’re watching from the sidelines.
Another noteworthy thing you’ll find on the remote is the “vertical S” button. When you press it, the HT-Z9F will up-mix your digital signal processing to 7.1 channel sound. The result isn’t a 7.1 channel system; you would need seven separate units for that. But your audio quality does get up-mixed to prestigious 7.1 standards. The Z9F also includes Wi-Fi with a Chromecast audio built-in, giving you uncompressed audio with Spotify, Google Play Music, etc. And, of course the standard Bluetooth for convenient music listening.
The Sony Z9F matches the design of Sony’s X900F 4K television, which is a minimalist aesthetic that will match most other electronics. The body of the sound bar is just over 39” long, making it well suited for almost any television. It’s design differs vastly from its predecessor, the NT5 Soundbar.
As mentioned, Sony has moved away from the flatter design of the NT5. This has lead to concerns about the position of the bar itself. Positioning a sound bar directly in front of your television can cause problems because the base of the TV is where IR remote sensors are typically placed. But thankfully, Sony’s HT-Z9F uses an IR repeater design which ensures you won’t run into those issues.
Turning to the back of the speaker, the IO interface is a refreshing new look on Sony’s old format. It’s essentially easier than ever before to set up. If you’re looking for a wired connection, there are two HDMI inputs and one HDMI output. The only other port to be found on the back is a LAN connection for Internet access, and a USB port for playback. Beyond the hard connections, you can connect through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which makes the HT-Z9F incredibly versatile.
Part of what gives this sound bar its surround-sound like feeling is its Dolby Atmos technology. It’s the same sound tech used in many modern movie theatres, which helps add spatial depth to sound on the digital level. And Sony is no stranger to the space of audio equipment, as demonstrated by their own high end audio features, like S-Force PRO. The result is Sony’s claim that the HT-Z9F can produce studio-quality sound, offering audio reproduction higher than CD quality. This is true, but somewhat misleading.
In the distant future, audio engineers may be able to design a speaker capable of handling ridiculous quantities of digital music data, perhaps even terabytes of data. But doing so would be almost exactly like moving from a 4K television to a 40K television. After a certain point, human perception isn’t going to be sensitive enough to keep up.
Given closer viewing distances, most people already can’t tell the difference between a 4K and an 8K screen. When it comes to audio quality, the limits of human perception have already been reached, and they roughly match up with the sound resolution of 44.1 kHz CD-quality audio. Higher sampling rates mostly exist for the purpose of sound recording, which can benefit from avoiding data compression.
In other words, the HT-Z9F sounds excellent and compares favorably to almost any pair of high end speakers. It uses three relatively small drivers, but manages to create a versatile sound stage that you’d normally need half a dozen speakers to recreate. It wouldn’t be totally inaccurate to call these audiophile quality speakers. The end result is in cinematic quality in your home, and it’s truly the best three dimensional sound that you get without making a 5.1 surround system.
People who choose sound bars are doing so to make a compromise. They don’t have the space for a full 5.1 or 7.1 channel setup, or they don’t want their home littered with bulky speakers. But this 3.1 channel rig doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve made a compromise. While digital recreation of surround sound isn’t as good as a true surround setup. If you don’t have the willingness, space, or budget to move to a 5.1 or 7.1 channel system, then the Sony Z9F Soundbar is the next best thing. The 3.1 channel design is considerably better than anything you’ll find from comparable 2.0 and 2.1 channel systems.
The Z9F is a strong pick for people who want a compact sound system that suffers very little based on its design. Speakers tend to be a long-term investment. If you take care of them, there’s no reason to expect them to last less than a full decade. Between its expandability and wireless support, the Sony Z9F Soundbar is as much of a safe choice as it is a smart choice.
Price: $999.99 CAD @ MSRP
Value Rating: 9/10
Overall Rating: 8/10