Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.
Sony Soundbar Review (HT-Z9F)
I bought the Sony HT-Z9F soundbar to pair with my new Sony Bravia (X900F) 75-inch TV. A soundbar was needed to replace the poor sound from the built-in speakers on my new flat screen. This 3.1 soundbar comes with a 7 1/2-inch wireless subwoofer, but no surround sound speakers. I separately purchased two wireless rear speakers and mounted them up high on the wall behind my couch for surround sound.
This is actually the first soundbar I've ever owned (aside from the Sony HT-CT800 model that I ended up exchanging for this one), so I can only compare it to that model. Since buying this sound bar in 2018, I'm still happy with my purchase, as of this 2021 review update. I had a couple of problems initially with audio lag in the surround sound speakers, but I was able to fix the issue by fine tuning the settings.
This soundbar isn't cheap, but is it worth the money? In this article I go in-depth on what to expect and my experience after using it on a daily basis for the last three years.
Is the Vertical Surround Engine Really Surround Sound?
This soundbar is equipped with what Sony calls their vertical surround engine, which is supposed to mimic 7.1.2 surround sound. This feature can be turned on and off by pushing a button on the remote. While the system does sound awesome on its own, you do need to buy two separate rear speakers to get true surround sound.
The vertical surround engine does enhance the audio quality when activated for movies, but again, it isn't a substitute for dedicated surround sound speakers mounted on the wall.
My living room is average size with standard eight-foot walls. Maybe in a tall room the vertical surround engine would be more effective. I can tell you for whatever reason the vertical surround setting sounds horrible when listening to music, even when I activate the music audio setting on the soundbar. I only turn on the vertical surround setting when I'm either watching movies or TV.
Let's cut to the chase and talk about the sound quality. This Atmos-supported sound doesn't disappoint, even when watching mediocre YouTube videos, but 4K and blu ray discs is when you'll hear the full potential. The thumping bass on the subwoofer is deep and sounds really good. After watching TV and movies my whole life without a subwoofer, it is definitely a huge improvement in sound quality.
I've watched multiple 4K discs on my Sony 75-inch TV using this sound system including It, all of the John Wick films, Rambo and Interstellar, and the sound quality for action scenes is excellent paired up with my rear speakers.
The Sony Z9F has a center channel to separate the voice audio. When pairing this setup with the wireless surround sound speakers, this really makes a difference. The subwoofer isn't overbearing, and you can go into the advanced menu settings to increase the decibels for more bass on the subwoofer. The default was set to zero decibels on mine. The subwoofer volume itself is adjusted separately on the remote, allowing a max of 12. I usually leave mine set between 10 and 12.
I have noticed, on occasion, the sound quality of voice audio coming through the center channel can sound a little raspy at times, but I've mostly noticed this only when watching certain YouTube videos. However, this is likely due to poorly recorded audio on the video itself and not the soundbar.
While the advanced settings for this soundbar allow you to increase or decrease decibels, it doesn't allow you to alter treble. But there are five different sound settings to choose from on the remote, which include Cinema, Music, Game, News, Sports, and Standard. I've only used Cinema and Music, both of which sound fine.
Another feature worth noting is the Night setting. If you press the Night button on the remote, the subwoofer deactivates for quiet late night viewing.
Setting up the soundbar was very easy, taking only ten minutes tops. You can connect an HDMI cable from the HDMI ARC on your TV to the soundbar, or use an optical cable. I connected mine using an HDMI cable.
The subwoofer is wireless and only needs to plug into a wall outlet. When I powered on my TV and soundbar, the subwoofer automatically connected in less than one minute, and it stays connected until the soundbar is turned off.
I placed the subwoofer next to the soundbar, in a corner, for the best sound. I experimented with different spots in my living room, and the corner produces the best bass. You can mount the Z9F, but I placed mine on top of my TV stand under my wall mounted TV.
The menu settings for this model are very helpful. The other Sony model I returned didn't have a settings menu, only settings on the remote. If you buy the two rear speakers (Z9R), which I recommend, you'll need to set the speaker distance in the menu settings to avoid audio lag.
Sony HT-Z9F vs. HT-CT800 Soundbar
I actually first bought the cheaper HT-CT800, but I ended up returning that one for the more expensive Z9F. While the sound on the HT-CT800 wasn't bad, it's much better on the upgraded model, due to the separate voice channel. The sound is more clear too with the high-resolution audio.
Another difference is the design, which may effect the sound quality. The HT-CT800 speakers were at an odd angle, whereas the Z9F faces you directly. The installer had even recommended not wall mounting it under my TV because the audio would project behind the TV, due to the angle. I'm not sure why Sony designed the soundbar like that, but my installer told me that was their last model to feature this design. The angled design was one of the reasons I returned it.
There is definitely a noticeable difference in sound quality between the two, but the subwoofer for both are almost the same. The Z9F allows you to adjust the decibels of the subwoofer though. The bass on both is very good. If you live in an apartment, you might have some unhappy neighbors.
The Sony Wireless Speakers (SA-Z9R)
If you buy this soundbar, I recommend buying the rear speakers too to get the best sound experience. The vertical surround engine doesn't provide surround sound on its own, at least not in my living room. At $300, the speakers are a little pricey, but they do enhance the sound when watching a movie in surround sound. Even without the rear speakers though, the sound is still good.
The remote has a volume setting for the rear speakers. The speakers are soft and not very powerful, but sound great when activated.
I had some trouble connecting the speakers to my soundbar at first. There was annoying audio lag occurring until I went into the settings, updated the software, and configured the speaker distance. Once your speakers are set up, they'll automatically connect when the system is turned on.
So far, I'm very happy with the Sony Z9F soundbar. The sound is a huge improvement with the terrible speakers on my Sony Bravia TV (reviewed in another article). I feel that the vertical surround engine doesn't really provide surround sound on its own, or very little, without the rear speakers that are sold separately. The sound quality on the Z9F is noticeably better than the less expensive model I returned. The center channel makes a big difference. This soundbar also supports Dolby Atmos.
I can't compare this soundbar to other brands, because this is the first one I've ever owned, but I'm pleased with its performance so far. I give it a rating of 5 stars. I should also mention that this model can be paired via Bluetooth with your phone for Spotify music. I noticed though that Sony tries to get you to sign up for Spotify premium if you use the app through the soundbar. You can work around this simply by using screen mirroring, or the Spotify app on your TV.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Matt G.