With any new TV today, a sound bar, sound base or speakers is an absolute must. Yes, there are speakers built into the TV itself, but because they’re so thin, there’s just no good way to create powerful sound from such thin and small speakers.
I recently had the chance to pair a review of a Sony X900F 4K HDR TV with a Sony sound bar; the 400 watt HT-Z9F with sub woofer, along with the SA-Z9R rear speakers. I tested the entire set up in my home over a couple of weeks.
Setting up Sony home theatre sound system
I had the darndest time getting this TV connected to the sound bar and speakers correctly. Following the pictographic instructions, (I thought) I wasn’t able to get any sound. I reversed all my connections, which really consisted of just one HDMI cable, and tried again. Nope.
Since this TV has smarts, 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 that explains how today’s sound bars are Home Theatre Receivers, so all your components need to go through the sound bar, even if they’re video based components.
A Home Theatre Receiver essentially takes the place of an amp or a receiver, simplifying and streamlining your set up greatly.
How to connect Sony X900F to Sony Z9F sound bar
Here’s what to do. Hopefully your TV has an HDMI port in the back labelled ARC (as my demo TV was a Sony, I did, but you may or may not). ARC means ‘Audio Return Channel” and this is what will kick audio out to your sound bar. Even if this says ‘HDMI In’, just plug in. The ARC functions override the in and the out, or so I think. Connect the HDMI cable on the sound bar to HDMI Out, which again, seems counter-intuitive when you want to get sound into the sound bar.
If you have rear speakers, the instructions seem to suggest they’ll auto-connect when plugged in. Mine didn’t. Fortunately 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 then Start Manual Linking. Then press the physical ‘Link’ button on all the 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 turn 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 everything seemed to be in good order.
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.
Features of Sony HT-Z9F sound bar
This sound bar comes with a rather large subwoofer. It delivers that deep rumbling bass that allows you to feel like tanks are rolling through your home theatre, or a plane is skimming 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 short and sweet 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 soundscape. So when a plane flies overhead, it actually sounds and feels like it’s moving across your 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 the system can be connected to a sound bar, speakers and 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.
Sony & Dolby collaborate on streamlined home theatre set up
In essence, the overhead effect is being handled digitally using something Sony calls the Vertical Sound Engine which creates an umbrella of sound, and can digitally move sound through the space created by all your components. Sony worked directly with Dolby Atmos on how to best replicate 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. Worth noting, is that you need a Spotify Premium account in order to cast your music to other devices, including this sound bar. You can use your smartphone and the Spotify app as a remote control too.
Listening to music is a nice feature that I’d take advantage of more often if I had a set up like this permanently. Music sounds great; clear, and sharp.
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 spent a good 15 minutes trying to figure out how to put my sound bar into pairing mode in order to connect it to my Google Home. Unfortunately, Google Home couldn’t ‘see’ the sound bar, only my Sony X900F 4K TV. In a moment of experimentation, I decided to ask Google to play the music on the TV and, Bingo! the sweet sounds of jazz started playing from the sound bar. Google Home interfaces with your smart Sony TV to drive audio and streaming.
Pro Tip: you’ll want to re-name your TV in Google Home to something short and sweet, like “Media Room TV”. Saying “OK Google, play music on XBR-55X900F,” is a mouthful.
Sound quality of Sony HT-Z9F and SA-Z9R
The overall sound quality of this set up is amazing. The technology really does create a bubble of sound all around you. I watched the movie Deepwater Horizon on Blu-ray 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 on the TV. 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 provided an outstanding sound experience. I could hear subtle sounds like glass and metal fragments tinkling to the ground around me in an explosion scene. The overall effect of watching a movie where the entire structure you’re standing on (an offshore oil platform) is exploding all around you is hard to describe, but it definitely felt like we were a part of it.
The bass from the subwoofer was so realistic sounding, there were a few times I felt like the shock wave was going to tip the TV over!
I really enjoyed the overall sound experience, and from such a streamlined set up. This is a great option if yon need a pared down home theatre audio solution that still delivers on quality audio.
If you’ve only had your TV’s built-in speakers you’re truly missing out. There’s not a great way to describe what being inside a bubble of sound that a true home theatre system creates feels like. It’s enveloping, all encompassing and it makes you feel much more like you’re part of what’s happening on the screen. It feels like the sound is reaching out to you, rather than you straining to hear those built-in TV speakers.
The bass is outstanding, and rumbles thought the room heartily.
Special audio settings
There are some quick recall buttons on the sound bar remote 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 does indeed bring a slightly different sound, it’s hard to describe accurately how it changes things. In some cases, it brings more depth, or more high or low end. For example, the ‘Music’ setting brings more resonance, Game gives you more bass, News seems to throw the sound more forward, etc.
Overall thoughts on Sony sound system
I think having a sound system with today’s thin 4K TVs is an absolute must. And you want something that strikes the right balance between price, sound quality, and ease of use. For me this set up delivers.
Having 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 home theatre and movie centre, but a true home entertainment portal. Having Google Home control 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 an additional receiver with this set up is a huge bonus as far as I’m concerned. Since the device is a Home Theatre Receiver it allows me to streamline my set up, while still having the ability to enjoy Dolby Atmos.
Overall I can definitely recommend this set up, and quite honestly, if I were in a position to upgrade my simplified living room TV and audio set up, this would be the kit I’d choose right now.