Sony HT-Z9F soundbar evaluation | TechRadar

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The Sony HT-Z9F is a Dolby Atmos soundbar like no different. Till now, Atmos soundbars have used entrance firing drivers with built-in Dolby enabling up-firers, to create immersive audio. Examples of this embody the pricey-but-versatile Samsung HW-Ok950 and the newly debuted LG SK10Y.

The HT-Z9F is totally different than both ‘bar from Sony or Samsung. It’s a 3.1 mannequin that snubs bodily up-firing drivers. But Sony says it gives a soundfield akin to a 5.1.2 system. Even on the earth of amorphous Atmos {hardware}, it’s a little bit of a head-scratcher. So simply how does the HT-Z9F provide Dolby Atmos, you would possibly fairly ask? The reply is ‘virtually’. And it nearly works.

At $899 (round £665 / AU$1150), Sony HT-Z9F (referred to as the HT-ZF9 within the UK) is proof of how handy Atmos has now develop into. 

Design and setup

Design-wise, the Z9F is neat and easy. The bar is round a meter large and encompasses a detachable grille, which conceals a trio of drivers. 

Rear connectivity contains two HDMI inputs (that are 4K HDCP and Dolby Imaginative and prescient suitable) plus an HDMI out with ARC. There’s additionally USB, an analogue stereo 3.5 mm minijack enter, and optical digital audio enter.

The Bluetooth implementation is suitable with Sony’s LDAC extension, and whereas there isn’t any NFC, Bluetooth headphones can  be paired for personal listening. Chromecast is built-in, and there’s interplay with Google Assistant. 

Remember the fact that the ZF9 is a 3.1 setup and thus the partnering wi-fi subwoofer has a ahead going through 16cm paper driver. 

The HT-Z9F comes with a full-function distant management, but in addition gives contact controls for energy, enter choice and quantity. There’s additionally an IR repeater should you want one.  

The HT-Z9F can be upgraded with wi-fi rear audio system, Sony’s elective SA-Z9R, to create a bodily 5.1 system. None have been provided with our evaluation unit, so we’re specializing in the fundamental HT-Z9F proposition right here.

Setup is easy. There’s no provision for auto calibration, though you’ll be able to (and will) manually set listening distance for the soundbar and subwoofer. A clear Watch/Hear/Setup graphical interface supplies onscreen orientation.

Efficiency

The excellent news is that the HT-Z9F actually does ship an expanded soundfield utilizing submit processing virtualization. That is sleight of hand for the ears.

However the sheer number of processing on provide could be complicated. On the coronary heart of the HT-Z9F is Sony’s Vertical Sound Engine, supplemented by the Vertical S up-mixer. Along with these is Dolby’s personal Atmos digital processing. The latter does an analogous job to Sony’s Vertical Sound Engine, albeit with an acute candy spot.

Vertical S is given prominence on the distant management. This doesn’t change the Vertical Sound Engine on or off, however toggles the up-mixer, and will solely be used for 2 channel and non-object based mostly sound mixes.

When the HT-Z9F receives a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X bitstream, the Vertical Sound Engine switches on mechanically. However if you wish to use Dolby Atmos digital processing, this defeats the Vertical Sound Engine. 

However like we are saying, the Vertical Sound Engine is definitely actually spectacular. It demonstrably enlarges the soundstage, giving film soundtracks width and peak. What you don’t get although is any sense of overhead journey.

However the impact is definitely dramatic.  

When Lois is knocked underwater by a shockwave in Batman V Superman Daybreak of Justice, the soundstage genuinely seems to submerge. It muffles and sinks backwards, but the struggle between Bats and Supes above strikes relentlessly ahead.

Reassuringly, the compact subwoofer drops deep. It truly does a lot of the heavy-lifting, because the soundbar itself doesn’t provide something a lot beneath 200Hz. Integration between the 2 is close to seamless, which may be very spectacular.

The Dolby Atmos audio of Okja (Netflix), delivered va DD+, has layered depth. Because the animal liberation entrance liberate the tremendous pig within the confine of an underground tunnel, there’s a pervasive sense of echo and reverberation that extends past the entrance soundstage. An incongruous mariachi audio observe sits again and large from the motion. The heavy footfalls of the escaping pig, because it thunders by way of the shopping center, are given plausible heft by the sub.

Deciding on Dolby Virtualisation with the Vertical Peak Engine turned off, the system gives a extra pronounced sense of fake encompass. The acquainted Dolby Atmos Amaze trailer, with its circling chook, ripple of thunder and subsequent rain, is gloriously crisp, and gives a tantalising sense of encompass that’s not there with the Vertical peak Engine. 

Selecting between the 2 is finally a matter of style. Nevertheless the Vertical Peak Engine works higher for a much bigger viewers, and in contrast to the Dolby processing, interprets DTS:X.  

The HT-Z9F isn’t nearly motion pictures. It’s suitable with Excessive-Res FLAC 192kHz 24bit and DSD, and the result’s extra participating than you may think. When you’ve got low res audio sources, Sony gives DSEE HX plumping.

Verdict

In opposition to all odds, the three.1 HT-Z9F actually does provide an enhanced listening expertise over vanilla-flavoured stereo soundbars. It has scale and width, and works properly with motion pictures and music. There are limits to its submit processing science, although. 

For instance, ut doesn’t provide that attribute Atmos overheard audio expertise, and Dolby’s personal Virtualiser usually sounds higher with Atmos-encoded materials, albeit from inside a a lot tighter and unique candy spot.

Though priced a very good deal decrease than Dolby Atmos bars with built-in up-firing audio system, intelligent submit processing creates an nearly comparable listening expertise. The HT-Z9F can slam with the very best of them but all the time manages to maintain dialogue intelligible. It even does a pleasant job height-scaling music. The HT-Z9F ought to be a folly, but it surely’s truly fairly fab making it properly value an audition.



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