Sony HT-A9: a wireless Dolby Atmos experience with only 4 speakers

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The Sony HT-A9 wireless home-theater system promises a true Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound field with just four speakers. Using 360 Spatial Sound Mapping technology, the four wireless speakers in the Sony HT-A9 wireless home theater system can create up to twelve virtual speakers. We tested these speakers with the Sony SA-SW5, a subwoofer specifically designed to be wirelessly connected to them. It is equipped with a 7” driver and 300-watt amplifier.

Sold for €2,399, can this system comprised of the Sony HT-A9 speakers and Sony SA-SW5 subwoofer offer a performance on par with that of a traditional AV receiver and speaker pack system?

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With only four speakers and a powerful audio spatialization algorithm, the Sony HT-A9 home-theater system promises an immersive 3D surround sound with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X tracks.

Sony HT-A9 & SA-SW5: packaging & accessories

Both the Sony HT-A9 wireless home-theater system and Sony SA-SW5 subwoofer come with all the necessary elements to be operational straight out of the box. These accessories include a power cable for each component, an HDMI cable to connect the box to the TV’s HDMI ARC connector and a remote control with batteries to control the system.

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The Sony HT-A9 system and Sony SA-SW5 subwoofer come with all the necessary accessories to be functional: power cables, HDMI cable and remote control.
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The remote control that comes with the Sony HT-A9 provides access to all the settings and allows you to control the overall volume, the level of the surround speakers and the bass level separately.

Sony HT-A9 & SA-SW5: presentation

Minimalist design

Sony has chosen a minimalist design for this system, with almost cylindrical speakers with a light gray finish that quickly blend into the decor despite being a little over 30cm tall and 16cm wide.

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The speakers in the Sony HT-A9 home theater system have a very simple and elegant design. They clearly aren’t meant to stand out, but rather blend into the decor like Sonos’ speakers, which are also discreet.

The Sony SA-SW5 subwoofer is also appealing with its rounded edges. Its reasonable size means that it doesn’t take up much space. Lastly, the hub box looks similar to an Apple TV and is just as discreet, measuring just 15x15cm with a height of 5cm.

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Soft shapes and conventional silhouettes: the Sony HT-A9 and Sony SA-SW5 have been designed with discretion and integration in mind.

4.0.4 channels, HDMI 2.0

The four wireless speakers with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X front and vertical effect drivers form a true 4.0.4-channel audio system. The control box communicates wirelessly to send audio signals to the speakers, which deliver 360° surround sound in the room. This connection hub is equipped with an HDMI input to connect a source (UHD 4K Blu-ray player, AV network player) and an HDMI ARC/eARC output for a 4K TV, both of which are HDR, HLG and Dolby Vision compatible. It also incorporates an Ethernet and WiFi network controller for audio streaming and a bi-directional Bluetooth controller.

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The Sony HT-A9 control hub’s connectors include a Dolby Atmos and DTS:X compatible HDMI ARC/eARC input and output as well as a network connector and a USB port for updates. The S-Center Out plug allows you to use the audio system of a compatible Sony TV as a center speaker.

4 x 95 watts

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The two front drivers of each speaker are powered by a Sony S-Master HX amplifier (tweeter: 25W, midbass: 35W). 

Each speaker in the Sony HT-A9 wireless home theater system has three drivers: a midbass driver and tweeter at the front, alongside an upward-firing driver for the Atmos effects. The tweeter benefits from an amplification of 25 watts and the other two drivers each have a digital amplification of 35 watts.

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On the top of each speaker is a vertical sound effect driver powered by a 35-watt Sony S-Master HX amplifier.

360 Spatial Sound Mapping

To produce an immersive sound around the viewers, the Sony HT-A9 wireless home theater uses proprietary 360 Spatial Sound Mapping technology. The latter simulates up to twelve virtual speakers using the four physical speakers, automatically adapting the sound of each one according to its location in the room. To do so, each speaker features two microphones that allow the audio processor to measure its height and position in relation to the other speakers. It therefore isn’t necessary to place the speakers at the same height and symmetrically in the room.

Sony 360 Spatial Sound Mapping
Using only four speakers, the Sony 360 Spatial Sound Mapping technology integrated into the Sony HT-A9 system promises an immersive sound bubble similar to that produced by a set of 16 speakers!

Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, LDAC

The Sony HT-A9 is compatible with all Dolby and DTS audio formats, including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and can reproduce the majority of multi-channel sound formats used by TV programs, streaming services, Blu-ray discs and DVDs. Several sound modes allow you to adapt the sound to the program you’re watching (Cinema, Music, Standard). The Night mode compresses the dynamic range so that you don’t disturb those around you, the Vocal mode enhances voices (ideal for talk shows), and the Immersive Audio Enhancement mode creates a 3D effect from stereo sound (TV or music, for example).

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The box that comes with the Sony HT-A9 decodes Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio tracks and orchestrates the sound diffusion through the wireless speakers to produce an immersive 3D sound field.

Chromecast, Spotify Connect, AirPlay 2, Bluetooth

Once connected to the local network and to the Internet (Ethernet connector or WiFi), the Sony HT-A9 can stream music wirelessly from Android devices via Chromecast, or from Apple devices using AirPlay 2. You simply have to open your favorite music app and select the Sony system as the playback device. 

Its Google Home and AirPlay 2 compatibility also allow the Sony HT-A9 to be added to a multi-room audio system made up of compatible speakers placed throughout the house. You can then stream the same music in every room or create different listening zones all from your smartphone. 

In Bluetooth mode, the Sony HT-A9 can receive the AAC, SBC and LDAC codecs (playback from a smartphone, PC or tablet) and can send SBC and LDAC streams (streaming to Bluetooth headphones or True Wireless IEMs).

Sony SA-SW5: wireless subwoofer

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Like the Sony HT-A9 wireless home theater speakers, the Sony SA-SW5 wireless subwoofer is visually discreet to blend into its environment.

The Sony SA-SW5 subwoofer is specifically designed to be wirelessly paired with the Sony HT-A9’s connection hub (or the Sony HT-A7000 soundbar). Its 300-watt amplifier powers a 7” front-firing driver supported by a large passive radiator that increases the emissive surface as well as the scale and depth of the lows. Its ribbed cone ensures better rigidity, for more impactful bass. This downward-firing passive radiator delivers low frequencies in all directions. Once connected to the mains, simply pressing the Link button connects this sub to the HT-A9.

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Underneath the subwoofer is a large passive radiator with a ribbed cone to ensure better rigidity and, as a result, improve the bass response.

Sony HT-A9 & SA-SW5: key specifications

  • 4.0.4 channel audio system
  • Sony S-Master HX digital amplification
  • Total output power: 380 watts
  • Wireless subwoofer (300 watts)
  • Dolby Atmos and DTS:X compatible
  • 360° surround sound
  • 4K/60Hz HDMI 2.0
  • Chromecast, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect

Sony HT-A9 & SA-SW5: configuration

For our review of the Sony HT-A9 wireless home theater system, the two front speakers were positioned on either side of the TCL 65C825 mini LED TV and were both placed on NorStone Stylum 2 speaker stands. The left and right surround speakers were placed to the left and right of the viewers, the first at a height of approximately 80cm and the second at 60cm. The subwoofer was placed in between the television and the front right speaker. The front speakers and the control hub were connected to the Taga Harmony PF-2000, while the rear speakers were each plugged directly into a wall socket.

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Simply place the two front speakers on either side of the TV and the surround speakers to the left and right of the audience for the Sony HT-A9 home theater to work.

Each speaker in this system is configured at the factory to play a specific channel. A marker and small diagram on the base lets you quickly identify each speaker (front left: FL, front right: FR, rear left: RL and rear right: RL).

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Each of the four speakers in the Sony HT-A9 wireless home theater system is assigned to a channel. They are labeled for easy installation with a diagram explaining where to place them.

Sony has also equipped these speakers with a wall mounting system that can be accessed by removing a cover on the back of the speaker: a keyhole-like notch allows it to be mounted on the wall with a single screw.

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Note: the Sony HT-A9 home theater system allows a great deal of freedom when it comes to the placement, but the driver on top of the speaker must not be obstructed, otherwise the 360° sound will be affected. 

Once the speakers were in place, we connected a 4K Blu-ray player to the control hub’s HDMI input before connecting its HDMI output to the TV’s HDMI ARC connector. Finally, we connected the hub’s Ethernet port to the router from the Netgear Orbi RBK852 pack to enjoy wireless streaming from a smartphone via the Chromecast protocol. 

Once the hub is connected to the TV and the speakers are in place, you must connect all of the elements to the mains before turning the hub then the TV on. The TV switches to the correct HDMI input and the setup menu starts to guide the user through the installation.

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The calibration process only takes a few minutes and lets you check the position of the speakers.

You then select the language and launch the sound field optimization procedure. The control box detects the speakers and plays a series of sounds on each of them in order to determine their respective locations. If two speakers are inverted, the system prompts the user to make the necessary changes.

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When the calibration is finished, the system plays a convincing 360-degree sound demo, perfect for appreciating the surround sound capabilities of this Sony wireless home theater.

When the calibration is finished, the Sony HT-A9 home theater system plays a 360-degree sound demo. All that’s left to do is to pair the Sony SA-SW5 subwoofer by pressing the Link button.

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Pressing the Link button on the back of the Sony SA-SW5 subwoofer (lower button) will initiate the pairing procedure with the Sony HT-A9 connection hub.

Sony HT-A9 & SA-SW5: listening impressions

We began our test with the Formula 1: Drive to Survive documentary on Netflix (S3: E4 – “We Need to Talk About Ferrari”), which was in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. The HDMI eARC connection between the TV and the control box fully fulfilled its purpose here by conveying the 3D audio track without any latency or interference. We followed the adventures of the Ferrari team on the track and in the paddocks of Monza accompanied by the sound of Scuderia’s V6 engines.

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With the Sony HT-A9 wireless home cinema and the Sony SA-SW5, we experienced the Formula 1 races as if we were at the edge of the track or in the cockpit!

Perfectly synchronized, the Sony HT-A9 home theater system’s speakers effectively delivered a wide three-dimensional sound field while the subwoofer provided efficient support to reinforce the soundtrack. The first thing that impressed us was the sound of the Frecce Tricolori planes flying over the circuit and seemingly passing overhead. We were particularly impressed by the Sony HT-A9 home theater during the race, especially with the on-board camera. We really felt like we were behind the wheel and experienced acceleration, overtaking and braking with sound effects all around the cockpit. From the stands, we were able to appreciate the spatialization of the sound effects every time a car went past. It was hard to believe that there were only four speakers in the room! During the interviews with the drivers and crew members, the voices were well centered despite the lack of a dedicated center channel speaker.

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The landing scene in Spielberg’s film was very impressive and was extremely well spatialized by the Sony wireless home theater system!

We continued with the 4K Blu-ray of the movie Saving Private Ryan whose audio track benefits from an excellent Dolby Atmos mix. The Normandy landing scene truly demonstrated what this multichannel audio format can offer. Comfortably seated in an armchair, we felt the full force of the rain of ammunition showering the allies as they left the vessels that had barely docked. Bullets whizzed around the room from all directions and the subwoofer roared with the sound of mortar fire. The spatialization was effective and put us right in the heart of the action. It wasn’t as precise as with a dedicated Atmos speaker system, but the performance was impressive with only four speakers. A real feat!

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Very compelling with movies, series and video games, the 360 Spatial Audio technology was less impressive with music.

To wrap up our test, we listened to a playlist from Qobuz, first in stereo then by activating the 360 Spatial Sound Mapping function which widens the sound field for music. 

The stereo was quite satisfactory with a lot of detail in the high frequencies and a midrange that was slightly emphasized but remained pleasant. However, it is highly recommended to use the subwoofer to achieve a balanced sound, without which the lack of bass is quickly noticeable. 

In 360 Spatial Audio mode with a stereo file, the spatialization was much wider but lacked naturalness. What we gained in airiness, we lost in precision and clarity with the impression that the artist was suddenly much farther away from us, far behind the front speakers. To put it plainly, we do not recommend this mode for music.

Sony HT-A9 & SA-SW5 compared to the Philips Fidelio B97 and Sonos Beam 2 soundbars

Philips Fidelio B97

Philips Fidelio B97
With the Philips Fidelio B97, the Dutch brand offers a unique modular concept with detachable wireless speakers.

This 7.1.2 channel Philips soundbar features removable wireless speakers that use a battery. However, their low power and the absence of an automatic calibration system means they must be installed very close to the listening area to hear the surround sound effects clearly. Despite this flaw, the soundstage is spacious and the Atmos effects are realistic. The lows are lively and very powerful. The Sony HT-A9 is even more impressive, with more magnitude and more space. It also offers more freedom when placing the speakers and has a very effective automatic calibration system… but it costs twice as much.

Sonos ARC 5.1

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The Sonos Arc soundbar reveals its full potential when paired with the Sonos Sub and wireless Sonos speakers for surround sound.

Combined with a pair of Sonos One connected speakers (used as surround speakers) and the Sonos SUB (gen 3) subwoofer, the Sonos Arc Dolby Atmos soundbar is a true 5.1.2-channel wireless home theater system that also features automatic calibration (TruePlay), which is unfortunately reserved for iPhone or iPad owners. Spatialization is a bit more accurate than with the Sony system, benefiting from an effective distribution of effects across channels. With Chromecast and AirPlay2 protocols, the Sony HT-A9 holds its own against the Sonos system in terms of connectivity and streaming.

Sony HT-A9 & SA-SW5: who are they for?

The Sony HT-A9 is for those who want to enjoy immersive 3D sound on movie and game soundtracks without the clutter of a traditional home theater system in their living room. With only four speakers, it offers effective spatialization of TV, Blu-ray and video game sound, with a surprisingly immersive feel. It’s ideal for a room of about 15 to 30 square meters with a standard ceiling height.

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The Sony HT-A9 wireless home theater is well suited for a room with a surface area of between 15 and 30m² and a ceiling height of no more than 2.5m.

Sony HT-A9 & SA-SW5: conclusion

The Sony HT-A9 wireless home theater system is a practical and efficient alternative to traditional home theater systems in the living room. With only four speakers, it easily adapts to the constraints of a living room and to asymmetrical speaker placement, without sacrificing the spatialization of sound effects, which remains precise and immersive. The addition of the Sony SA-SW5 subwoofer is, in our opinion, essential for a well-rounded and well-balanced home theater experience, with deep bass and a real impact during action scenes. Chromecast and AirPlay 2 compatibility (music streaming and multi-room) are also highlights for this wireless home theater system that truly won us over. There is the question of the price, which seems a little high compared to a home theater system consisting of a receiver and a pack of compact speakers with a subwoofer. Sony’s wireless technology and virtual spatialization system don’t come cheap, but are certainly very effective.

We liked

  • The unique concept
  • The easy set up
  • The freedom of placement for the speakers
  • The genuinely immersive surround sound
  • The Chromecast and AirPlay 2 compatibility

We would have liked:

  • Apple Spatial Audio compatibility
  • More HDMI inputs
  • For it to have been more affordable

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