Sony HT-A9 Home Theater System
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Sony HT-A9 7.1.4ch Home Theater Speaker System Review

With the continuous advancement of audiovisual technology, home theater has become an essential part of entertainment for many consumers. While enjoying movies, games, and music, we also desire a more realistic and immersive audio experience. Most home theater sound systems use soundbars to achieve surround sound effects, but this approach has some limitations in sound field performance.

One of the noticeable differences between high-end and entry-level soundbars is their length. High-end soundbars often have more built-in speaker units due to their longer design. The soundbar’s length determines the real sound field positioning range between points A and B.

While soundbars can create a virtual surround sound effect through multiple built-in speaker units, extending the sound field beyond the physical soundbar area largely depends on the user’s imagination.

Sony HT-A9 Home Theater System

Moreover, a common issue with many regular soundbar products is that the sound comes from below the screen. This positioning mismatch becomes more evident when larger-sized TV screens are combined with soundbars. Some users suggest using a traditional home theater setup with an AV amplifier and separate surround speakers for better surround effects.

However, finding an AV amplifier that supports 4K120fps, 8K signal transmission, and full HDMI 2.1 specifications, along with a full-fledged surround speaker package, can be quite expensive.

Recently, we have been planning to set up a home theater system that satisfies our needs for watching movies, playing exciting PS5 games, and enjoying music. We also want to make a future-proof choice by selecting a model that supports full HDMI 2.1 specifications and can handle 8K and Dolby Vision signals, avoiding the embarrassment of upgrading hardware again in a few years.

Sony HT-A9 Home Theater System

Among the soundbar and home theater speaker products available in the market, Sony’s HT-A9 Home Theater Speaker System stands out as one of the few options offering full surround sound performance while fitting our budget.

Traditional home theater setups with AV amplifiers and surround sound systems have another drawback—complicated wiring, which makes installation challenging and creates a cluttered living room environment. Each audio channel requires a separate audio cable from the AV amplifier to the speakers.

In contrast, Sony HT-A9 only needs a single power cable for each speaker, whether wall-mounted or placed on a stand, providing a clean and neat setup. The wireless solution of HT-A9 resolves the persistent “wiring mess” issue in traditional home theaters.

Sony HT-A9 Home Theater System

The irregular positioning of the TV has always been a challenge for the installation and calibration of traditional home theater audio systems. Although some high-end amplifier products may come with room calibration features, they still require some level of expertise for regular users to operate. Sony has been continuously exploring audio technology, allowing users to enjoy a more realistic and immersive audio experience at home, bringing a new auditory sensation to music and movie enthusiasts.

Indeed, traditional home theater audio systems typically require suitable room layouts, angles, and corresponding audio processing techniques. However, Sony’s 360 Spatial Sound Mapping technology allows for a more realistic surround sound experience without needing a special environment.

The system automatically optimizes the room sound field when installing and starting the HT-A9 for the first time. The four speakers can be placed freely according to the environment, and their heights don’t need to be on the same horizontal plane. With just one sound field optimization calibration, Sony HT-A9 Home Theater Speaker System utilizes its sound field optimization technology to enhance the sound field within specific scenes.

Sony HT-A9 Home Theater System

Unlike traditional AV amplifiers that require an external microphone for DSP optimization, each speaker of the Sony HT-A9 comes equipped with two built-in microphones dedicated to sound field optimization. During the calibration process, the system measures the relative height and position of each speaker, the distance between them, and the height of the speakers in relation to the ceiling, among other data.

This information is then used to calculate a 12-channel surround sound space, allowing you to achieve optimized, emperor-level sound field positioning effects even with seemingly casually placed surround speakers.

Design

Sony’s flagship home audio system, the Sony HT-A9, consists of 4 individual speakers and one central control decoding box, connected wirelessly. Each speaker also includes a ceiling speaker unit, forming a 4.0.4 channel configuration, creating a panoramic sound system. What sets the HT-A9 apart is Sony’s exclusive audio technology, “360 Spatial Sound Mapping” (360 SSM).

With this technology, the HT-A9 utilizes sound reflections from walls and ceilings to create up to 12 “phantom speakers” positioned strategically in the room, simulating a 7.1.4 channel surround effect that offers users an IMAX theater-like surround sound and an immersive experience.

Sony HT-A9 Home Theater System

The Sony HT-A9 boasts an elegant pearl gray exterior that complements various home decor styles. For easy wall mounting, the back of each speaker is designed with a flat structure. Installing the HT-A9 is straightforward—connect the four speakers to the power source. The top cover of the system also features a Hi-Res logo, indicating its support for high-resolution audio.

On the back of the HT-A9 control box, in addition to HDMI inputs/outputs, there is a network LAN port, a power interface, an S-CENTER output terminal, and a power button. Each Sony HT-A9 speaker contains two elongated Spatial Balance Speaker units, maximizing the speaker area in the compact enclosure. One of these units reflects sound toward the ceiling. Additionally, each speaker includes a wide-range full-frequency speaker, which helps reduce low-frequency reflections within the room.

Sony HT-A9 Home Theater System

The bottom of each speaker is labeled with positions: FL (Front Left), FR (Front Right), RL (Rear Left), and RR (Rear Right). Though the four speakers look identical, Sony’s designers have thought ahead, and even if you accidentally place them in the wrong position, the built-in microphone during speaker calibration will detect the issue and prompt you to reposition them correctly.

The Sony HT-A9 supports Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Bluetooth music playback and incorporates Sony’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine Extreme (DSEE Extreme) technology. This Edge-AI artificial intelligence-based audio enhancement system instantly restores audio to high-quality levels. Even with low-quality audio sources, DSEE Extreme can elevate the digital audio quality, offering a richer and fuller listening experience.

Especially when connecting to the Sony HT-A9 via Bluetooth using a music app on your smartphone and enabling DSEE, you can noticeably perceive an improvement in audio quality, as if bringing a live concert experience right into your home.

Sony HT-A9 Home Theater System

The remote control features multiple functions to cater to different listening environments. For instance, the Night mode reduces bass performance to minimize noise disturbance to neighbors, while the Voice mode enhances the gain of vocals for clearer dialogue. The Immersive AE (Audio Enhancement) engine allows for one-click entry into an “immersive experience,” particularly enhancing surround effects while watching movies or listening to music, elevating the overall listening experience.

When pairing Sony’s TV with the HT-A9, most of the soundbar’s functions are integrated into the TV’s quick menu. This integration lets users directly control most of HT-A9’s features using the TV remote, a quality not commonly found in other competitor products.

Sony’s 360 Spatial Sound Mapping – 360SSM

360SSM technology allows for a more precise sound field reproduction. Traditional audio products can only provide surround sound within limited spaces, while Sony’s 360SSM technology can offer a unified surround sound experience throughout the entire room.

This is achieved by utilizing multiple speakers and algorithms to simulate the position of sound sources and characteristics of the sound field, resulting in a more expansive sound field and a more realistic surround sound effect.

Sony HT-A9 Home Theater System

Using the two built-in microphones in each Sony HT-A9 speaker, the system measures the distance between each speaker and the ceiling. Based on the speakers’ unique spatial layout and specific placement, the system generates 12 “phantom speakers” at the ideal listening positions.

These phantom speakers independently emit spherical sound waves, creating a realistic sound field. The combination of phantom speaker sound output and Sony’s precise audio control technology presents a dome-shaped sound field, which is vast and immersive.

The Sony HT-A9 Home Theater Speaker System is a wireless home theater system, which sets it apart from traditional home theater surround sound systems and soundbars. There is no need to place a large soundbar in front of the TV. Instead, you connect your TV and media devices (e.g., DVD player or gaming console) to the HT-A9’s central control box via HDMI, and the four speakers will wirelessly connect to it. Each speaker only requires its power source and does not need additional speaker cables, eliminating the clutter associated with traditional home theater setups.

With the trend of ever-increasing TV sizes, the center speaker and soundbar may obstruct the TV screen, leading to discrepancies between the sound origin and on-screen action. Sony takes a different approach by utilizing compatible Sony TVs supporting the Center Speaker Mode.

Sony HT-A9 Home Theater System

In this mode, the TV becomes the center speaker, contributing to the sound output of the entire audio system. This feature is available on Sony TVs released after 2022, equipped with the XR Cognitive Processor.

Sony’s HT-A9 can achieve a similar audio effect to IMAX theaters, where the sound appears to come directly from the on-screen action, providing users with a high-level immersive audiovisual experience. This is similar to how high-end IMAX theaters place the center channel speaker behind a transparent screen, allowing the sound from the center channel to synchronize with the on-screen action as characters move.

In contrast, traditional TVs or home theater systems with center speakers often have the sound emanating from the bottom of the screen, resulting in a phase difference between the sound and the visual content, known as “audio-image mismatch.” It’s like a ventriloquist speaking to you through a puppet before you—the sound comes from the ventriloquist, not the instrument. This discrepancy becomes more pronounced, especially with strong mid-to-high frequency sound localization.

The ability to deliver this experience is Sony HT-A9’s biggest charm, so Sony categorized it as a home theater system rather than a soundbar. This functionality sets the HT-A9 apart and provides users with an exceptional, immersive home entertainment experience.

Setting

When you first start the device, you can follow the prompts to perform room sound field optimization. Sony TVs automatically recognize the newly connected HT-A9 device. During the optimization process, it is advisable to keep the surroundings as quiet as possible, and it is recommended to set your phone to silent mode. Please note that the speakers will emit loud sounds during the testing process.

Once the optimization is complete, you will see the “360SSM” displayed on the screen, and you can start experiencing the demonstration of surround sound effects. Unlike regular surround sound experiences, the sound flows around you, and you can also clearly perceive sound height changes as they move with the on-screen action.


Like any wireless speaker-type product, the Sony HT-A9 may encounter occasional signal instability issues (such as being affected by a complex network environment). To address this, HT-A9 provides solutions. You can choose the “Connection Priority” option if there are many nearby WiFi devices. On the other hand, if there are fewer interference sources nearby, you can opt for the “Sound Quality Priority” option.

Sound Performance

Gaming

The HT-A9 delivers an exceptional gaming experience, particularly in games like “God of War 5” and “Gran Turismo 7

In “God of War 5” the immersive surround sound provided by the HT-A9 Home Theater Speaker System enhances the gaming experience significantly. The clash between the protagonist’s axe and the hammer of the god Thor creates a lifelike sensation as the sound waves emanating from the center of the screen.

The impact of the battles is greatly intensified with the support of the HT-A9, surpassing the stereo sound effects of ordinary TV speakers. During the game’s later stages, when the protagonist tames the giant hellhound, the HT-A9 accurately positions the sound effects as the gigantic boss moves around and attacks.

Sony HT-A9 Home Theater System

That includes vertical and horizontal attacks, showcasing the HT-A9’s ability to create a rich sound field with depth and height. Suppose you previously played this game with headphones. In that case, it is highly recommended to experience it again with the HT-A9 to truly appreciate the artistry of gaming when audio and visuals merge seamlessly.

In “Gran Turismo 7” the iconic racing game developed by Polyphony Digital, the HT-A9’s 7.1 surround sound setting allows players to immerse themselves in the game like never before. The revving engines during high-speed turns, the sound of your car scraping against the roadside barriers, and the raindrops hitting the windshield—all of these audio details are crystal clear.

The Sony HT-A9’s precise sound localization ensures you can discern the direction of the sounds, such as the thunder from overhead, during races on rainy Tokyo highways or mountain tracks. The combination of realistic visuals and immersive audio creates a truly captivating experience, making “Gran Turismo 7” even more enjoyable for players of all ages and skill levels.

Sony HT-A9 Home Theater System

In both games, the Sony HT-A9 enriches the gaming experience by providing accurate and immersive soundscapes, heightening the sense of realism and engagement. With its ability to reproduce detailed audio and create a captivating soundstage, the HT-A9 takes gaming to a new level, elevating the overall gaming artistry and enjoyment.

Movie

Avatar 2: The Way of Water” has finally been released after 13 years since the first installment. As a sequel that was anticipated for so long, “Avatar 2: The Way of Water” continues the series’ story and showcases the advancements and breakthroughs in the film special effects industry.

The surround sound effects in the movie are particularly impressive. During the thrilling scene of capturing the giant ocean creature, the leviathan, the sound of the speedboats scattering, the diving equipment plunging into the water, and the powerful energy sound effects of the sonic cannons hitting the leviathan not only resonates with the creature on screen but also creates a continuous sonic pressure that the audience can feel.

Sony HT-A9 Home Theater System

When the leviathan emerges from and crashes back into the water, the sound positioning accurately portrays the difference in sound as it leaves the water’s surface and then impacts it again. Watching “Avatar 2” with the Sony HT-A9 at home provides a sound experience close to that of an IMAX cinema.

Fast & Furious X” undoubtedly satisfies the audience’s desire for high-speed chases, fights, and explosions. In this film, we witness the return of familiar faces such as Vin Diesel and Jason Statham, as well as new additions like Nathalie Emmanuel and John Cena, injecting new vitality into the movie.

In the opening scene, the protagonist drags a safe while driving on a highway, constantly changing direction and smashing the safe into the bridge and other vehicles. The sound effects of these collisions carry a weighty impact, and the rotation of the driver’s seat during vehicle turnarounds can also be felt. As the vehicles ultimately crash into the sea and explode, the adrenaline rush for the audience is guaranteed.

Sony HT-A9 Home Theater System

During the scene where the protagonist uses a car to block a spherical bomb, you can hear the massive bomb colliding with vehicles and forcing them to roll, creating a sense of pressure. When Vin Diesel uses the car to block the bomb, the sound of the glass shattering and flying toward the screen creates an immersive sensation that makes you instinctively want to dodge.

With the Sony HT-A9, the sound performance elevates the movie-watching experience, bringing every thrilling moment and action sequence to life and ensuring the audience fully engages in the adrenaline-pumping scenes.

Conclusion

Compared to traditional soundbars and home theater speaker packages, Sony HT-A9’s home theater audio system with 360 Spatial Sound Mapping technology offers more precise soundstage reproduction, finer sound performance, and greater versatility for various room environments.

While most traditional soundbars can only provide surround sound within limited spaces, Sony’s 360 Spatial Sound Mapping technology can deliver consistent, high-quality surround sound even in more complex room structures. This allows users to immerse themselves more deeply in the atmosphere and emotions of music or cinematic works, experiencing the nuances and emotions of the music more sensitively.

Particularly when the Center Speaker Mode is activated, the perfect combination of Sony X90L’s screen sound technology and Sony HT-A9 dramatically enhances sound details and positional effects, elevating the soundstage performance. For movie enthusiasts, music lovers, and PS5 gamers, this can be considered a top-notch panoramic sound equipment choice that excels in hardware performance indicators.

From the perspective of product design advantages, the HT-A9’s wireless signal transmission between each unit eliminates the need for messy wiring coupled with the 360SSM technology. It completely breaks free from the constraints of precise speaker placement typically associated with traditional audio systems, solving two major pain points of installing home theater speakers.

Furthermore, the design of the Sony HT-A9’s metal grille ensures freedom from worries about dust accumulation on fabric-covered speakers. The power output and delicacy of the two-way speaker units exceed expectations, thanks to Sony’s specially designed speaker unit structure, enabling this compact speaker to deliver a more powerful sound performance.

The top-mounted speaker units for the overhead channels also exhibit excellent performance, allowing the audience to experience sound positioning from above and appreciate the commendable auditory effects in representing the subtleties of sound fluctuations.