Sony has gone for quite a minimalist clean design. The bar is slightly wider at (exactly 1 meter) than what I had previously been using a Orbitsound A60. That’s not a bad thing, it actually fits perfectly on my TV stand and really seems like it’s the perfect partner for TV sizes 50” and above.
The majority of the HT-ZF9 soundbar has a textured feel as opposed to hi gloss or brushed metal finish that we’ve seen in the past on sony soundbars.
The buttons are across the top & are a little hard to see if your room isn’t well let, but it does help keep the design very sleek. The onboard controls are capacitive buttons, so there is no tactile feedback when you push them. Maybe a little haptic feedback could have been a nice touch here… just a thought (I don’t think there is a soundbar out there that uses haptic feedback yet).
The ZF9 soundbar does, however, have an onboard display. So if you find yourself feeling around in the dark for the buttons the display will let you know what’s happening. One of the things I really like about the design of this soundbar is the magnetic removable grill. Sony has been doing this for a while. It really doesn’t do much to enhance the sound quality, it’s just cool to be able to change the look of the sound system from time to time.
When you remove the magnetic grill, behold the three drivers. The drivers are fairly small and not quite as aesthetically pleasing as sony’s old magnetic fluid speakers, but these 2” drivers are mightier than they look. I’ll get to that later. Also, Sony has added a nice little bit of bling here with their gold Hi-Res audio sticker. I love stuff like this.
Due to the HT-Z9F’s driver configuration, Sony is calling this the world's 1st 3.1 soundbar. The 0.1 is the subwoofer which is quite a hefty bit of kit (H: 38.2 / W: 19 / D: 38.6 - 8.1KG). The design of the subwoofer is nothing out of the normal. It really seems like Sony designed this not to be seen. It’s just has a really plain look, with a netted front and quite a large glossy port also on the front.
Just in case you didn’t know the port in the subwoofer allows airflow in and out to help the large driver’s diaphragm travel more. This helps to produce those really deep low ends
The remote is slightly nicer than some of Sony's previous designs but not a massive leap forward in usability. It’s pretty standard really just a little more rounded than some older designs. (video explaining better remote layout)
Now the quality of the sound that the Sony HT-Z9F will produce is heavily dependant on the source you are using. It can support Hi-Res audio such as DSD, Wav, Flac, Alac(.m4a only), AIFF, HE AAC, AAC, mp3, Monkey Audio, WMA, Ogg Vorbis.
It also has Sony’s DSEE-HX upscaling tech for improving those lossy sound files. Scaling them up close to Hi-Res. The amplifier is Sony’s S Master HX and it delivers a max output of up to 400 watts and that’s equal to (add your idea here)
This soundbar supports Dolby Atmos, however true Dolby Atmos would normally mean having speakers installed above your head. The HT-Z9F actually has forward firing drivers only, so Sony has worked some audio magic here to emulate that vertical effect.
Does it really work?
It will only work properly if you have Dolby Atmos content... which is a bit scarce right now, but don’t worry the Z9F’s atmos capabilities will make this soundbar future proof for quite a while. A good sound investment one might say. When you have the right content and the soundbar detects it; It’s actually really impressive. Especially when you ramp up the volume.
Also if like me you have pretty much no Dolby Atmos content (except for the provided demo blu-ray) you’re in luck, because the HT-Z9F has a Vertical-S feature which takes your audio and emulates a 7.1.2 channel experience. It creates a sort of bubble of sound around you, it works well but not for everything. I would recommend using the preset sound modes according to what you are watching or listening to, to get the best experience. Each mode is fine-tuned, which helps you keep it simple. Or you can just use the auto sound mode to keep it even simpler.
As for the bass output. The low ends can sometimes overpower the mids and treble but you can fine tune this manually using the remote.
The placement of the soundbar is key for getting the most from that Dolby Atmos effect. You really need to be front and center to really appreciate it. The range of the soundbar to the subwoofer hasn’t been a problem for me except for when I had it really close (less than 1meter). For some reason when I was watching an old episode of game of thrones on Sky+ the bass kept cutting in & out. Very strange.
The Sony HT-Z9F has it’s own user interface which you can only use if you use the HDMI connection. If you have a slightly older TV like my old plasma with no ARC, you will have to use the provided optical cable and the HDMI cable to get the most from the soundbars software. The onboard software will allow you to customise the soundbar with several settings such as your distance from the speaker & HMDI pass through settings. It’s a little tricky but there are some important settings here especially if you are going to be watching 4K HDR content.
The onboard controls are pretty easy to use and self-explanatory. As I mentioned earlier they’re a little hard to see at times. The remote is a little old school but everything is their so not much to complain about. On the back of the soundbar, you have a good amount of inputs. 2 HDMI ins, 1 HDMI out with ARC. As well as an analog in, an optical in, a USB in and a LAN in for connecting to your local network. The Z9F does also support wi-fi.
The HT-Z9F can work with Google assistant which means you can control it using your voice. However, you will need a google assistant device, because Z9F doesn’t have its own mic. This awesome feature could make It a really good addition to your connected home set up.
In addition to Google assistant compatibility, the HT-Z9F also supports Google Chromecast so you can actually stream videos and audio straight through the soundbar. Which is great for those with non-smart TV’s.
Another awesome feature is Sony’s very own multiroom software via the SongPal app. If you have other sony wifi speakers around your house you can pair up devices and even stream Hi Res Audio throughout your house thanks to Sony’s LDAC.
The last awesome feature that I want to mention comes at a cost, but I think would be worth it. It’s the Sony SA-Z9R Wireless Rear Speakers. These speakers do need a power supply of course so there will be a cable. So if you want to upgrade your home theatre experience you can always add these on later. I haven’t heard these just how good these are combined with the HT-Z9F, so I guess that’s for you to find out.