Let me set the scene: I’m in the Catskills, sheltered from the icy December air in a ski lodge overlooking Hunter Mountain. The snow is pouring down so heavily on the mountain that the hiking trails can hardly be seen from the balcony window of our cozy room. Skiing is out of the question due to the adverse conditions, but the next best thing is waiting for us downstairs in the lobby: movies.
Well, it’s not exactly a movie theater the lodge set up down there. It’s really just a yoga room with a big screen. But once the lights go out and Ridley Scott’s epic The last duel fills the space that separates glorified Projector room in the hotel and Holy shit, we’re in medieval France right now? gets as hazy as the snowy mountain outside.
Sure, the majesty of this makeshift projection facility is no doubt due in part to the enormously powerful (and enormously expensive) projector they lit behind us. It’s Sony’s VPL-VW1025ES 4K SXRD home cinema projector, a super-hyper-ultra-premium lamp that could easily turn any dingy living room into an IMAX theater if you have the 40 grand it costs. But any savvy theater-goer knows that it takes more than a few pretty pictures (even if they’re worth nearly half $100,000) to truly be drawn into a historical epic.
They also need BIG sound!
Turns out Sony had us covered for audio with its $1799 HT-A9 surround sound system, which is a very decent price, especially given the high-end projector it was paired with. The four-speaker deal divides the difference between the cheap soundbars everyone has under their flat-screen monitors these days and the mega-powered home theater systems you might find at your rich movie-nerd friend’s childhood home.
Best of both worlds! And better yet, it’s 100 percent wireless, baby. That means no more dreaded speaker cables. Thank you God.
Sony’s main selling point for the HT-A9 is its adaptive 360 spatial sound. Using audio junkie buzzwords like Dolby and 5.1 and 7.1 and DTS:X, it’s often difficult to keep track of what really matters when it comes to sound (believe me, I’ve been writing about tech for a few years now, and even I’m struggling to keep up). But I have to admit, this 360 speaker mapping is pretty cool. I’ll leave it to Sony to describe exactly what’s going on here (video below), but basically the speakers are smart enough to interpret the architecture of your screening facility (or ski lodge yoga room in my case) and to map Use phantom speakers throughout the room for a truly immersive audio experience.
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What is a phantom speaker? Unfortunately, it’s not the ghost of a recently killed audio monitor. What Sony calls phantom speakers are basically spots that sounds come from…which don’t actually have a physical source per se. It’s all thanks to upward-firing speakers, internal mics, and a bunch of other technical stuff that I don’t get, but the very funny word includes, woofer.
This 360-degree spatial audio mapping emulates the feeling of being in a movie theater, with an array of speakers shooting sound at you from every angle. Sony says their setup will give you up to 12 phantom speakers, which is crazy to imagine, especially if, like me, your TV is set up in your tiny one-bedroom “living room” apartment (the only room…next to the bedroom). But when it comes to sound, overkill doesn’t matter. The beefy, the better.
Aside from the speakers, the HT-A9 comes with an HDMI receiver box that you can easily connect to a Roku or Apple TV or any smart device. You also have the option to go even bigger with a Sony subwoofer – the two they recommend are the SA-SW3 and SA-SW5, which cost between $400 and $700.
While we didn’t have good skiing that weekend in the Catskills, we at least had great sound. Especially on a snowy day, when the outside world is almost completely off limits, good audio can feel like a godsend. Let this teach you a lesson – don’t skimp on the sound!
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