Sony HT-Z9F 3.1 Soundbar with Dolby Atmos 2020 Detailed Review.
Sony HT-Z9F 3.1 Soundbar with Dolby Atmos: 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 retain nearly all of the power of a full-sized stereo system. But not all soundbars are created equal, especially if you’re looking for something closer to a true surround sound experience.
Sony HT-Z9F 3.1 Channel Soundbar
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 retain nearly all of the power of a full-sized stereo system. But not all soundbars are created equal, especially if you’re looking for something closer to a true surround sound experience.
The HT-Z9F is different than either ‘bar from Sony or Samsung because it’s a 3.1 model that snubs physical up-firing drivers. Yet Sony says it offers a sound-field akin to a 5.1.2 system. Even in the world of amorphous Atmos hardware, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher. So just how does the HT-Z9F offer Dolby Atmos, you might reasonably ask? The answer is ‘virtually’. And it virtually works
Design and setup
Design-wise, the Z9F is neat and simple. The bar is around a meter wide and features a removable grille, which conceals a trio of drivers.
Rear connectivity includes two HDMI inputs (which are 4K HDCP and Dolby Vision compatible) plus an HDMI out with ARC. There’s also USB, an analog stereo 3.5 mm minijack input, and optical digital audio input.
The Bluetooth implementation is compatible with Sony’s LDAC extension, and while there’s no NFC, Bluetooth headphones can be paired for private listening. Chromecast is built-in, and there’s interaction with Google Assistant.
Keep in mind that the ZF9 is a 3.1 setup and thus the partnering wireless subwoofer has a forward facing 16cm paper driver.
The good news is that the HT-Z9F really does deliver an expanded sound field using post-processing virtualization. This is sleight of hand for the ears.
But the sheer variety of processing on offer can be confusing. At the heart of the HT-Z9F is Sony’s Vertical Sound Engine, supplemented by the Vertical S up-mixer. In addition to these is Dolby’s own Atmos virtual processing. The latter does a similar job to Sony’s Vertical Sound Engine, albeit with an acute sweet spot.
Vertical S is given prominence on the remote control. This doesn’t switch the Vertical Sound Engine on or off, but toggles the up-mixer, and should only be used for two-channel and non-object based sound mixes.
When the HT-Z9F receives a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X bitstream, the Vertical Sound Engine switches on automatically. But if you want to use Dolby Atmos virtual processing, this defeats the Vertical Sound Engine.
Play Modes and Features
You can learn far more about this device by looking at the remote than by looking at the speakers. 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.
Part of what gives this soundbar 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.
Additionally, you should know the HT-X9F can be paired up with Sony’s SA-Z9R as rear speakers, extending the surround sound experience. If the availability of space changes or you want to add to your sound system later on, it’s nice to know you the compatibility is present. It supports Google Assistant voice operations, allowing you to talk to a smart speaker to issue commands to your soundbar. And it supports most high-resolution audio formats, including the popular lossless.FLAC format.
People who choose soundbars are doing so to make a compromise. They don’t have 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. With Sony’s S-Force PRO working alongside Dolby Atmos, the result is desperately close to authentic surround sound.
If you’ve got space and a budget for a 5.1 channel system, then the HT-Z9F isn’t the right choice for you. Digital recreation of surround sound isn’t as good as a true surround setup. But if you don’t have the willingness, space, or budget to move to a 5.1 or 7.1 channel system, then the HT-Z9F 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.