Sony’s Dolby Atmos HT-Z9F sound bar & speakers review


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Erin Lawrence

With any new TV today you definitely need proper speakers or a sound bar. That’s because TVs are now made so thin, there’s no room for sizeable, powerful speakers.

I recently had the opportunity to review a Sony X900F 4K HDR TV alongside a Sony sound bar; the 400 watt HT-Z9F with sub woofer, plus the SA-Z9R rear speakers. I tested the entire set up in my home over a couple of weeks.

 Sony home theatre sound system set-up

I had the toughest time getting this TV connected to the sound bar and speakers. I thought I was following the pictographic instructions properly but I wasn’t able to get any sound. I switched around all my connections, which really consisted of just one HDMI cable, and tried again. Still no dice.

Since this TV is smart, I initially didn’t connect any streaming devices or peripherals to complicate things. If you do want to do add streaming devices, read my blog for Best Buy Canada that explains how today’s sound bars are Home Theatre Receivers, so this means all your components need to go through the sound bar, even if they’re video based components.

A Home Theatre Receiver will take the place of an amplifier or a receiver, which means you can simplify and streamline your home theatre.

How to connect Sony X900F to Sony Z9F sound bar

Here’s how to get connected. Hopefully your TV has an HDMI port in the back labelled ARC (since my loaner TV was a Sony, I did, but you may or may not). ARC means ‘Audio Return Channel” and this is what will send audio out to your sound bar. Even if this says ‘HDMI In’, just plug in. I’m kind of assuming the ARC functions override the in and the out and that’s why this works. Connect the HDMI cable on the sound bar to HDMI Out, which again, seems counterintuitive when you want to get sound into the sound bar.

If you have rear speakers, the instructions seem to suggest they’ll can be auto-connected to the sound bar, but this didn’t happen for me. Good thing there’s a backup method.

How to manually connect Sony SA-Z9R rear speakers

Push the ‘Home’ button on the sound bar remote. Select Setup, then Advanced Settings. Select Speaker Settings then Wireless Speaker settings and then Start Manual Linking. Then press the physical ‘Link’ button on all the rear of all speakers that you are trying to connect.

Once the green lights begin flashing on the back of your devices, you’ll select Start on the on-screen menu and the sound bar will search for them. The lights on your devices should switch from flashing to solid green when they’re connected and you’ll get a message on screen which confirms this.

In my case, I found when I was going through this manual linking that my subwoofer was actually not connected, but after this process it was.

One other note; I had to unplug one of my rear speakers to move it. When I plugged it back in it became disconnected. If you mess with your set up you’ll likely need to perform manual reconnections.

Sony HT-Z9F sound bar features

This sound bar comes with a rather large subwoofer. It delivers that deep thumping bass that makes you to feel like explosions are ripping through the floor, or a chopper is swirling above your scalp.

Dolby Atmos Sony sound bar

One of the most significant features of this sound bar is that it has Dolby Atmos technology.

What’s Dolby Atmos? Watch my demo and explainer video or read What is Dolby Atmos in my article for Best Buy. The simple version is that it creates 3D sound. Atmos has the ability to project sound from, or bounce sound off the ceiling, creating a three dimensional sound environment. So when a plane flies overhead, it actually sounds and feels like it’s flying across the room.

You can get 3.1 channel Dolby Atmos sound with the addition of two rear speakers, as I had in my test set up, or using a different sound bar, the system can be connected to up to 4 ceiling speakers for up to 7.1.2 channel sound. (Quick speaker-number primer: the first number is the number of speakers on the horizontal plane. This includes your sound bar and other speakers. The second number is for your subwoofer, and there’s usually almost always only one. But there could be more. That third number is where Atmos comes in. It represents the number of overhead speakers being used in your set up.) Read about What all those Home Theatre numbers mean in this blog.

The HT-Z9F doesn’t look like it has upward firing speakers to replicate that overhead sound. So how does it work? I chatted with two Sony reps for clarification.

Streamlined home theatre with Sony

In essence, the overhead effect is being handled digitally using something Sony calls the Vertical Sound Engine which creates what Sony calls an umbrella of sound, and with this technology, sound can digitally move through the space created by all your components. Sony worked with Dolby Atmos on how to best achieve this effect, and this sound bar is just part of that direct collaboration. They tell me they’re the only major manufacturer that is certified to do this.

Because the HT-Z9F has that Vertical Sound Engine there’s no need for overhead speakers with this set up.

Wi-Fi & Bluetooth connectivity: what does it do?

The sound bar and speakers have Wi-Fi connectivity. This allows them to connect wirelessly to each other and to hook up to the internet so you can stream music via services like Spotify.

How to connect Spotify to Sony sound bar

To do this, you’ll need to make sure you have the most up to date software installed on the sound bar (I needed to update). Go to Home> Set up>Chromecast Built in and make sure you’re connected to Wi-Fi. (I wasn’t)

Once you’re up to date, when you go to Home> Listen you should see Spotify appear in the menu. Important to note: you need a Spotify Premium account in order to cast your music to this sound bar. You can use your smartphone and the Spotify app as a remote control too.

Listening to music is feature I really enjoyed, and it’s great being able to listen to Spotify on a higher-end sound system.

Connect Google Home to Sony sound bar, TV, speakers

Thanks to built in Google functionality, you can connect your Google Home smart digital assistant device to your new home theatre set up. Doing this is deceptively easy, but not intuitive.

How to connect Google Home to Sony Sound bar

I probably spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get the sound bar into pairing mode so I could connect it to Google Home. Unfortunately, Google Home couldn’t ‘see’ the sound bar, it was only seeing my (previously connected) Sony X900F 4K TV. In a moment of experimentation, I decided to ask Google to play the music on the TV and just like that the sweet sounds of music started eminating from the sound bar. In this case, Google Home interfaces with your smart Sony TV to drive audio and streaming.

Pro Tip: Take it from me, you’ll want to re-name your TV in the Google Home app to something short and sweet, like “Media Room TV”. Saying “OK Google, play music on XBR-55X900F,” is a mouthful.

Sound quality: Sony HT-Z9F & SA-Z9R

The overall sound quality of this set up is outstanding. The technology really does create a bubble of sound all around you. I watched the movie Deepwater Horizon on DVD in order to check out the Atmos soundscape.

Finding Dolby Atmos content

A quick word about finding Dolby Atmos content: Netflix doesn’t fully support Dolby Atmos yet. It’s supposed to be coming later in 2018, but while you can enjoy 4K video, you won’t get Atmos. With that said, the sound quality of most of what I watched on Netflix was still outstanding. So to take advantage of that Dolby Atmos experience, you’ll want to choose DVD or Blu-ray discs that are labelled as being engineered with Dolby Atmos, since if it’s not marked with the Dolby Atmos logo, that’s not what you’re getting.

In my case, the movie gave me a truly amazing and enjoyable sound experience. I could hear lots of tiny sound elements that I don’t know that I’d otherwise hear. Subtle subtle sounds like glass and metal fragments tinkling to the ground around me in an explosion scene. It was pretty cool watching a movie where the entire structure the actors are standing on (an offshore oil platform) is blowing itself to pieces all around you. It felt like I was part of the scene, and the bass from the subwoofer was so realistic sounding, there were a few times I felt like the shock waves were going to flip the TV over!

I really enjoyed the overall sound experience, and from such a streamlined set up. This is a great option if you need a stripped down, smaller home theatre audio solution that still delivers on quality sound.

If up to now you’ve only ever used your TV’s built in speakers you’ve been missing out. It’s difficult to describe what being inside a cocoon of sound feels like. It’s enveloping, all encompassing and it makes you feel like you’re part of what’s happening on screen. It really feels like the sound is reaching out to you, rather than you straining to hear those built-in TV speakers.

Special audio settings

There are some shortcut buttons on the sound bar remote control that will allow you to change how your audio sounds. The modes are: Cinema mode, Music mode, Game Studio mode, News mode and Sport mode.

While each button switches up the sound, it’s not easy to describe accurately how it changes the audio. In some cases, it gives the audio more depth, or more high or low end. For example, the ‘Music’ setting sounds more resonant, Game pumps up the bass, News seems to move the sound more forward, etc.

Overall thoughts on Sony sound system

I think having a proper sound system with today’s thin flatscreen 4K TVs is an absolute necessity. And you definitely want something that hits the right balance between price, audio quality, and ease of use. For me this set up delivers on that.

Dolby Atmos is a great feature, plus with the ability to stream music right to the sound bar thanks to Spotify connectivity it becomes not just a TV and movie device, but a true home entertainment machine. Having Google Home control and connectivity is also a nice plus, and being able to ask Google to play music to the sound bar without needing a remote control or my phone is a treat.

Not needing a receiver with this set up is a huge bonus as far as I’m concerned. Since the sound bar is a Home Theatre Receiver it allows me to streamline my set up, while still having the ability to enjoy Dolby Atmos.

I can definitely recommend this set up, and if I were in the market to upgrade my simplified living room TV and audio set up, this would be the setup I’d choose right now.

Find the Sony X900F 4K HDR TV, the Sony 400 watt Sony HT-Z9F with sub woofer, (about $1000CAD) along with the SA-Z9R rear speakers (about $399CAD) at Best Buy.


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