Sony always has a huge collection of amazing gear to show at CES, but there was one product in particular that we just had to
see hear. They were demonstrating a new soundbar called the HT-Z9F that promised to reproduce the experience of Atmos in any room.
There are other soundbars on the market that incorporate upward-firing speakers to bounce audio off the ceiling. This tricks the ear into thinking a sound is coming from above the listener. It generally works pretty well, and it’s a far simpler solution than trying to install speakers in or on your ceiling. However, reflecting sound off the ceiling doesn’t work all that well in rooms with very high ceilings. That led Sony to come up with a new solution, and they call it their Vertical Surround Engine.
The Sony HT-Z9F uses the Vertical Surround Engine to trick the ears into thinking audio is coming from above them, but it does it while only using three speakers. All of those speakers are firing straight ahead. We were quite skeptical of how well it could actually work, and we were shocked when we discovered just how well it actually performed!
Despite having all of its speakers firing straight ahead, the Sony HT-Z9F did an amazing job tricking our ears into thinking the sound was actually overhead. Unfortunately, it might have worked too well. We couldn’t go so far as to say that it seemed like all of the audio was coming from above, but there was far more sound overhead than there should have been.
The soundbar has three speakers housed inside and the package includes a wireless subwoofer. All of this combines for a 3.1 arrangement that sounds more like a 3.1.2 setup. It does a nice job allowing you to hear things above you, but if you’d like a better surround sound experience Sony offers wireless rear speakers too. Those are called SA-Z9R, and are sold for $299 for a pair.
Atmos isn’t the only technology that the HT-Z9F supports. It also works with HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid Log Gamma for passing through HDR content to your 4k UHD television. The soundbar also has Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth support, and it features Chromecast and Google Assistant.
The Sony HT-Z9F won’t outperform a dedicated Atmos setup, but it does the best job we’ve heard yet. It also does it at a far lower price point than a dedicated system. It’s also impossible to overstate how much simpler the soundbar is to set up. It will be available for $899 later this year.