Before the era of streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video, consumers went out to rent movies on DVD. At the time, many DVD players were bundled with a 5.1 home theater setup to provide a surround sound experience. This was an all-in-one package and manufacturers such as Sony offered DVD players/home theaters with several options. With the gradual emergence of streaming services, boxed home theaters along with sound bars began to gain prominence. Both the home cinema in a box and the soundbar need to place speakers in specific positions to get the best surround sound experience. But what if you don’t have to place the speakers symmetrically? Or do the speakers not have to be at the same height or at the same distance from each other? What if the only important thing was to place the speakers in a convenient position facing your sitting position? That’s the problem the Sony HT-A9 aims to solve and it does it brilliantly! Let’s dive in.
Sony HT-A9 What’s in the box
In the box you get the four cylindrical speakers along with a power cable for each. There is also a control box that connects to the TV and also wirelessly connects to the speakers. You also get a remote control. While we didn’t get an HDMI cable in the box with the review unit, you do get one in the box. In the subwoofer box, we only get the subwoofer and the power cable.
Sony HT-A9 Connectivity Options
When it comes to 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 options such as optical or 3.5 mm. The control box also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. All connection options are neatly organized on the back of the control box. In addition to the two HDMI ports, you have an Ethernet port, S-Centre out and a USB port for updates only. While the connectivity options can feel limited, especially when compared to the Sony HT-A7000 (review), this home theater setup is aimed at a completely different audience. Something we’ll get into in the next few paragraphs. The system offers support for DTS-X, Dolby Atmos and Sony’s own 360 Reality Audio.
Each of the four speakers has an upward-firing speaker (X-Balanced Speaker Unit), Soft Dome Type Tweeter, Wide Directivity Woofer (X-Balanced Speaker Unit), and dual microphones. While the Sony HT-A9 is compatible with the SW3 and SW5 subwoofer options, we had the SW5 with us for the duration of the test. When it comes to smart features, the system supports Amazon Alexa along with Chromecast.
The Sony HT-A9 . Set up
Setting up the Sony HT-A9 is a unique experience. You don’t need to have space under your TV like with a soundbar. In fact, all that sits under 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, Surround Left and Surround Right and they all look identical. You do not have to place them symmetrically and also not at the same height. They can be placed according to the layout of your room. Unlike a traditional home theater where the accurate position of the speaker is important, this is not the case here. All you need to do is have the speaker pointing in your direction – the front speaker points forward and the surround speakers point toward where you sit.
Once placed and plugged into a power outlet, connect the control box to your TV via the HDMI cable. All speakers and the subwoofer have a red light that turns green when the control box is turned on. Switch to the HDMI eARC source on your TV. Like the HT-A7000 and the HT-Z9F (review), The HT-A9 has on-screen instructions for setup and setup, which is a boon, especially when compared to other soundbars.
Follow the on-screen instructions that will guide you to connect to Wi-Fi and also to calibrate the system. It is very important that you go through the sound calibration especially if the position of the speakers is not symmetrical as this will help the speakers determine not only their position but also the shape of the room to give you the best listening experience. Once the installation is complete, you can start watching your favorite content.
Sony HT-A9: Build and Design
Huge is the first thing that comes to mind when you first see the cylindrical speaker. To put things in perspective, each speaker is the size and width of an Xbox Series X (review† it’s only slightly shorter than the PS5 (review† They are heavy and well built. Although the speakers have a cylindrical design, the back is flat, making it easy to place the speaker flush against the wall. Each speaker is an off-white color and the front-facing driver and top driver are covered with a grille. The speakers don’t feel cheap in any way and are sure to turn heads.
As mentioned above, each speaker has a Soft Dome Type Tweeter, Wide Directivity Woofer (X-Balanced Speaker Unit), Dual Microphones and an Up-firing Speaker (X-Balanced Speaker Unit). The speakers look very premium, but it’s possible that the white color will get dirty over time, so you can keep a soft cloth handy to clean them up. The control box is small and super minimal and fits easily under your TV.
Sony HT-A9 Performance
The promise of the Sony HT-A9 is to provide an immersive surround sound effect without placing dedicated speakers at the respective sweet spot. In fact, the sweet spot where you place the speaker is as long as it is facing the seating position and calibrated. Once calibrated, the Sony HT-A9 creates 12 phantom speakers that provide users with a surround sound experience. If you have a compatible Sony BRAVIA TV then you can use the TV as the center channel for the setup. Yes, there is no dedicated center channel for dialogue and we were curious to see how dialogue would perform in this setup. We hooked up the system to an LG B9 OLED TV and the results were excellent. For the duration of the test, we used content from the TV’s built-in OTT apps, played some games on a PS5 and Xbox Series X.
Sony HT-A9 Movies
We played a whole range of content in 5.1 and Dolby Atmos on the TV and the output is fantastic. The front 2 speakers were conveniently placed under the TV and I changed their position to see how this affects the sound output. Same for the surround speakers. I recommend placing the surround speaker about 6 feet away from you, facing you. Since these speakers create phantom speakers all around to give you a surround sound experience, they need the space to project sound into different parts of the room. In a movie like Ready Player One, when the cars jump off the driveway, you feel the sound moving up in the room, adding to the Dolby Atmos effect. The same goes for the Dark Knight Rises if you let Batman sniff around on his bike. The surround effects are truly immersive.
As I mentioned above, being 2 meters away from me, the surround speakers made the sound move harmoniously between the surround and front speakers, rather than making it feel like the sound was jumping from one speaker to another.
Even in action scenes with a lot of dialogue, the center channel was not missed. Now a traditional 2.1 setup you find the sound is off center and that can take away from the experience. There are soundbars like the Yamaha YAS 209 that can project a virtual center channel well and the Sony HT-A9 does this brilliantly too. When a character was to the left or right of the screen, the sound came more from that direction, but if it was a conversation that would have benefited from a dedicated center channel, the dialogue felt like coming from right under the TV. The front speakers for my setup were spaced 4 feet apart for most of the testing, but this effect was equally pronounced and even better at times when the speakers were 6-7 feet apart. Not to mention the Sw5 subwoofer which added more than enough bass. Even watching 5.1 content like Ford vs Ferrari on Disney+ Hotstar, the surround effects of the cars and the growl of the cars was very immersive.
Sony HT-A9 Music
Like the HT-A7000, the HT-A9 supports Sony’s 360 Reality Audio and while I couldn’t get my hands on music mastered in 360 reality audio, there is a demo on the system that you can experience to get a taste of it. getting it. This demo is also a very good proof of the system’s channel separation and virtual surround capabilities. With the home theater you get quite pronounced bass, deep vocals and very good channel separation. Besides listening to our standard music, we also saw some movies like Bohemian Rhapsody, Begin Again and more that have a lot of music in them.
The music performance is generally very immersive and the channel separation implemented in songs like Bohemian Rhapsody is very pronounced.
Sony HT-A9 Gaming
We played a lot of games on the Sony HT-A9. From Horizon Forbidden West (review) to Ghost of Tsushima (review), some Dirt 5 and more. It is with the surround effects that the speakers really shine. So in a game like Dirt 5 the low end and grunt of the cars in Dirt 5 is extremely well pronounced and the positional sound of someone overtaking you from left or right is very noticeable and compelling.
When an enemy fires an arrow at you in Ghost of Tsushima, he announces it and the position of this announcement off-screen is also very clear, especially for the direction it’s coming from. The rustle of the arrow flying around you is very immersive. Even in Horizon Forbidden West, when you’re attacked from behind by a machine, the surround speakers provide even better immersion.
The Sony HT-A9 is almost identical to the A7000, in fact only 2 buttons have been moved and the rest of the design, size and placement of the buttons is identical. In addition to controlling the input source, you also get access to the Immersive AE (which I suggest you turn on and forget), controls for the volume, surround and subwoofer levels along with playback controls. The remote control is functional, intuitive and easy to use.
What it comes down to:
The Sony HT-A9 is for those who don’t have the dedicated space for a soundbar under their TV or don’t have the space to place speakers symmetrically in their room. Placing the speakers in odd positions in the room actually works to the advantage of the system, as long as the speakers are facing you. It offers an incredibly immersive experience once calibrated and the system has plenty of low-end grunt so you don’t miss the theater. Each of the 4 speakers is huge and that’s a good thing, as it offers an immersive virtual surround sound experience. The control box is minimal. The overall sound output is fantastic providing a very good experience without distortion at high volumes and the overall sound is extremely clear. The only downsides to the system are the absence of traditional connectivity options such as optical and the fact that the speakers are white, meaning like the PS5 you can expect this to get a little grubby after some use. But I’m just nitpicking about that. If you don’t have the space or symmetry for a soundbar or home theater then the HT-A9 should be at the top of your list as it provides a surround sound experience without having to redo your room’s interior.