Let me set the scene: I’m in the Catskills, sheltered from the icy December air in a ski lodge overlooking Hunter Mountain. Snow is pouring so thick on the mountain that the trails are barely visible from the balcony window of our cozy room. Skiing is out of the question due to the nasty conditions, but we’ve got the next best thing waiting for us by the lobby downstairs: movies.
Now, it’s not exactly a movie theater that the lodge has set up down there. It’s really just a yoga room with a big projector screen. But, once the lights go down and Ridley Scott’s epic The Last Duel fills up the room, the line between glorified hotel projector space and holy shit are we in medieval France right now? gets as hazy as the sleet-covered mountain outside.
Sure, the majesty of this makeshift screening facility is no doubt thanks in part to the massively powerful (and massively expensive) projector they’ve got lit up behind us. It’s Sony’s VPL-VW1025ES 4K SXRD Home Cinema Projector, a super hyper ultra premium lamp that could easily turn any dinky living room into an IMAX theater, should you have the 40 grand it costs. But all refined theatergoers are well aware that, to really get swept away in a historical epic, you need more than some nice visuals (even if they are worth almost half $100,000).
You need BIG sound, too!
Turns out Sony had us covered for audio with its $1999 HT-A9 surround sound system, which is a mighty decent price especially given the high-end projector with which it was paired. The four-speaker deal splits the difference between the cheap-o soundbars everybody’s got blasting under their flatscreens these days and the mega powerful home theater systems that you might find at your rich movie nerd friend’s parents’ house.
Best of both worlds! And better yet, it’s a hundred percent wireless, baby. That means no more dreaded speaker wire. Thank god.
Sony’s main selling point for the HT-A9 is its adaptive 360 Spatial Sound. With audio junkie buzzwords like Dolby and 5.1 and 7.1 and DTS:X, it’s often hard to keep track of what actually 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, in my case, ski lodge yoga room), and map out phantom speakers all over the room for a really immersive audio experience.
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What’s a phantom speaker? Sadly, it’s not the ghost of a recently slain audio monitor. What Sony’s calling phantom speakers are basically spots where sounds are coming from…that don’t actually have a physical source, per se. It’s all thanks to upward-firing speakers, internal microphones, and a lot of other techy stuff that I don’t understand but involve the very fun-to-say word, woofer.
This 360 spatial audio mapping emulates the feeling of being inside a movie theater with an array of speakers shooting sounds at you from every angle. Sony says their setup will give you up to 12 phantom speakers, which is insane to imagine, especially if, like me, your TV is setup in your tiny one-bedroom apartment “living room” (the only room…besides the bedroom). But when it comes to sound, overkill is not part a consideration. The beefier, the better.
Other than the speakers, the HT-A9 comes packaged with a HDMI receiver box that you can easily hook up with a Roku or Apple TV or whichever smart device fits your fancy. You also have the option of going even bigger with a Sony subwoofer–the two they recommend are the SA-SW3 and SA-SW5, which range between $400-$700, respectively.
Although we didn’t get any good skiing that weekend in the Catskills, at least we got some great sound. Especially on a snowy day when the outside world feels almost completely off-limits, good audio can feel like a godsend. Let this be a lesson for you–don’t skimp on sound!
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