July 12, 2024

KJ Home

The Best Home for Creating Lasting Memories

Impressed Us with Legit Home Theater Performance

11 min read

Sony Promises Great Sound with Non Optimal Speaker Positions From 360 Spatial Sound Mapping

Sony
recently introduced a new range of Bravia-branded home audio products promising
“exceptional acoustic performance and precise room-filling audio.” The lineup
includes two soundbars: the Bravia Theater Bar 8 ($1,000) and Theater Bar 9 ($1,400).
The Bravia Theater U neckband speaker ($300) provides personal immersion with a
more open presentation than headphones. The flagship product, and the subject
of this preview, is the Bravia Theater Quad surround system ($2,500). All of
the above are designed to seamlessly integrate with Sony’s new Bravia TVs. By
unifying TVs, soundbars, and other home audio products under the Bravia brand, Sony hopes to simplify home entertainment
shopping and provide customers with the cinematic experience of immersive
picture and sound with minimal hassle. Sony says that the matching features and
design of Bravia TVs and Bravia Theater home audio products make it easier for
consumers to choose their ideal combination of products to complete their home
theaters. Of course, enthusiasts will still prefer a more DIY approach with an
AV receiver and an abundance of wired speakers, and Sony still makes some
impressive products for those customers. (The latest lineup of Sony ES AVRs in particular has earned praise from reviewers). But the
Bravia Theater Quad system that we’re looking at today is for the customer who
wants something better than a soundbar — with real stereo imaging for music and
real surround sound for movies — without the complications of configuring an AV
receiver and running lengths of cable to multiple speakers. The Bravia Theater
Quad system is designed to do
all that and more, while delivering compelling performance from Dolby Atmos, DTS:X,
and IMAX Enhanced content. And it manages all of this with just four powered
wireless speakers.

If
this concept sounds at all familiar, it’s likely because the Bravia Theater
Quad system is a direct
replacement for 2021’s Sony HT-A9 home theater system ($1,800 at launch), which used four
tall, cylindrical speakers and some brilliant software wizardry to mimic a full
Dolby Atmos system with a surprising level of success. The BRAVIA Theater
Quad copies the HT-A9’s basic premise, but
uses completely redesigned speakers with a new, more design-friendly
form-factor and improved performance. Gone are the imposing cylinders of the
HT-A9, replaced here by square-shaped speakers with a slim profile, neutral-colored
fabric wrap, and the option to be wall-mounted (hardware included) without
protruding much from the wall.

We’re excited to bring audiences an
unrivaled cinematic experience in the home and beyond with Sony’s new BRAVIA IMAX Enhanced certified
TVs and BRAVIA Theater home audio products. IMAX Enhanced is designed to
preserve and enhance filmmakers’ vision and intent, and Sony’s expanded device
offering adds more ways for fans to experience the power of IMAX through some
of the most iconic films hosted on the platform.


Vikram Arumilli, SVP and GM, Streaming and Consumer Technology at IMAX

Storytelling
is at the heart of everything we do at Dolby. With Dolby Vision and Dolby
Atmos, creatives have a wider set of tools to work with so audiences can
experience their stories exactly as they envisioned. Through the combination of
Sony best-in-class engineering and Dolby’s industry-leading innovations,
consumers can enjoy truly cinematic Dolby experiences on their favorite Sony
Bravia TVs and Bravia Theater devices.


Mahesh Balakrishnan, Vice President of Consumer Entertainment, Dolby
Laboratories

Sony
Bravia Theater Quad: Under the Hood

Connector Box

Like
the outgoing HT-A9, the Bravia Theater Quad system comprises 4 powered speakers
that create a 4.0.4-channel system, thanks to built-in up-firing drivers. (Yes,
this system relies on the “bouncy-house” technique for reproducing height
channels by reflecting sound off of the ceiling.) Adding an optional subwoofer
bumps the channel configuration up to 4.1.4. The four speakers connect
wirelessly to a small control box, which itself connects to your TV via HDMI
eARC. There is another HDMI input for connecting a gaming console, Blu-ray
player, or media streamer. I would have liked to see an optical input or even
an analog auxiliary input, but it’s HDMI or nothing with the Bravia Theater
Quad. The control box processes all of the
audio and broadcasts the signals to the speakers, each of which needs to be
plugged into an electrical outlet.

SpeakerSpeaker x-ray

Each
speaker measures 11 ½ by 10 ⅞ by 2 ¼ inches, and weighs a bit under 5 ½ pounds.
The speakers are supplied with a table stand and wall-mounting bracket.
Optional floor stands are shown in the product images, but no information is
available on their pricing/availability as of the time of writing. The speakers
themselves are three-way designs (not including the full-range up-firing Atmos
drivers), which is an upgrade over the two-way speakers in the HT-A9 package.
Each speaker contains a 3 ⅜ inch by 3 ⅜ inch “X-Balanced Speaker” bass reflex
woofer, which has a unique rectangular shape to maximize the diaphragm area for
punchy bass while simultaneously reducing driver excursion, thus ensuring lower
distortion and greater vocal clarity, according to Sony. The midrange is
covered by a 2 ⅜ inch acoustic suspension driver, and the highs are reproduced
by a ¾ inch 6-ohm tweeter. The full-range up-firing driver is again an
X-Balanced Speaker unit measuring 1 7/16 by 3 ⅛ inches. The total system power
is 504 watts, which breaks down to four 31.5-watt amplifiers in each speaker —
one each for the woofer, midrange driver, tweeter, and up-firing driver.

Sony
Bravia Theater Quad: Technology

One
of the most impressive features of the HT-A9 was Sony’s proprietary Sound Field
Optimization technology, which has been implemented again in the Bravia Theater
Quad system. According to Sony, this tech
eliminates the need to “rearrange
furniture or precisely position the speakers.” According to the company,
speakers can be placed anywhere in the room, even at different heights and
distances. Need to put the left speaker on the TV stand, but the right speaker
two feet higher up on a bookshelf? Not a problem. Each speaker has built-in
microphones that can measure their relative height and position, and then Sony’s Sound Field Optimization will make
the necessary adjustments to ensure good sound. This calibration is done
automatically during initial setup, and can be repeated if you ever need to
move the speakers around in the room, or to another room entirely. Essentially,
you don’t have
to worry about finding the perfect position for the speakers in order to enjoy
good sound. Sound Field Optimization also analyses your room’s acoustic
characteristics, and then “uses advanced signal processing to overwrite them
with those of a movie theater,” according to Sony. OK, it may not be
Dirac-level room correction, but many soundbars and home-theater-in-a-box solutions
don’t provide any room correction at all. The calibration is performed with the
new Bravia Connect smartphone app,
and it includes detection of the main listening position, so the sweet-spot
comes to you.

Bravia Theater Quad in room 2

The
second party trick of the Bravia Theater Quad system is Sony’s 360 Spatial Sound Mapping, which creates phantom
speakers  — up to 12 of them — to deliver
surprisingly immersive, atmospheric sound from just four loudspeaker positions.
Yes, the up-firing speakers reflect sound off the ceiling for immersive
overhead audio, but the addition of 360 Spatial Sound Mapping takes that
technology to an impressive level of performance by generating multiple phantom
speakers in locations where no speakers are present, both overhead and at the
main listening level.

Some
users of the original HT-A9 system reported occasional audio dropouts,
particularly in the rear channels. Sony says that will not be a problem with
the Bravia Theater Quad. Radio output power has reportedly been enhanced by up
to 2.5 times compared to the previous model, while an all-new switchable dual
antenna and frequency-hopping system ensure more stable communication between
the control box and the wireless speakers, according to Sony.

In
my view, the main shortcoming of soundbar-based systems is their inability to
reproduce true stereo imaging. Most soundbars simply aren’t wide enough to
deliver stereo separation for the left and right channels. This is one area in
which a solution like the Bravia Theater Quad
(or its predecessor) has an undeniable advantage. You can enjoy pure stereo, or
you can enjoy up-mixed sound from stereo sources. Spotify users can take
advantage of built-in Spotify Connect. Others will have to get by using Apple AirPlay
2 or bluetooth to send audio to the Theater Quad. Of course, the system is
compatible with the 360 Reality Audio format, which Sony introduced
in 2019.

Sony
Bravia Theater Quad: TV Integration

Close-Up plus AppIn
my article on the HT-A9 system, I said that “it would be cool if the A9 system
could accommodate an optional 5th speaker to act as a dedicated center-channel
speaker, but alas, it is not so.” The same goes for the Bravia Theater Quad.
While I have no doubt that the system is capable of creating a good phantom
center, that effect is always compromised for viewers sitting too far off to
the side. Sony does offer the option to use a compatible Sony TV as a center
channel via the Acoustic Center Sync feature, but how well this works will
likely vary from one TV model to another. (Sony’s OLED TVs, like my 65-inch
A80J from a few years back, have surprisingly good sound. Some of the company’s
LCD-based TVs don’t.) I wouldn’t be surprised if some users preferred the
phantom center channel created by the Bravia Quad speakers. That said, Sony has
introduced a new technology for the 2024 Bravia line called Voice Zoom 3. It
works in conjunction with a compatible 2024 Bravia TV to make muffled dialogue
a thing of the past, according to Sony. Voice Zoom 3 uses AI machine learning
to recognize human voices and amplify them (and reduce the volume of other
sounds, including background chatter) to render “even faint dialogue” crystal clear. According to Digital
Trends, Voice Zoom 3 requires a compatible Sony TV because the processor for it
is in the TV rather than in the speakers. Settings for Voice Zoom 3 and the
Bravia Theater audio product line connected to Bravia TVs can be operated using
the new Bravia Connect App (formerly Home Entertainment Connect App). You can
also control sound settings using your Bravia TV remote. Sound settings should
automatically appear on the Bravia Quick Settings menu for easy access to
features like Sound Field control and volume level.

It
was eery how well Voice Zoom 3 worked. I think Voice Zoom 3 might be one of the
best things that Sony’s audio engineers have done because I think it’s going to
be a huge benefit to a lot of folks.


Caleb Denison, Digital Trends

Sony
Bravia Theater Quad: Where’s the Subwoofer?

Like
its predecessor, the Bravia Theater Quad
system does not include a subwoofer, but Sony offers two wireless subs as
options: the SA-SW5 is
a 7-inch, 300-watt sub, currently on sale for $600 (down from $700); the SA-SW3 is a 200-watt, 6.3-inch sub currently
on sale for $350 (down from $400). The fact that customers are limited to these
two sub options is perhaps the weakest link in an otherwise appealing product.
I think a $2,500 system marketed as an all-in-one solution should include a
subwoofer, but if it doesn’t, then the buyer should have the option to use any
subwoofer — especially one that he/she/they might already own. In my article
about the Theater Quad’s predecessor, I said, “the only disappointing things
about the HT-A9, on paper anyway, are the fact that a subwoofer is not included
in the system, and the fact that your only subwoofer options are those two
Sony-branded models with questionable specs. Even if the larger SA-SW5 can do
actual wizard-level magic with its 7-inch driver, the $700 you have to spend to
get it would be better spent on an SVS SB-1000 Pro instead. But because the HT-A9’s control box doesn’t include a wired subwoofer output,
you’re
stuck with the wireless Sony subs.” Sadly, Sony didn’t seem to get the memo.
One other caveat: you can only pair one sub to the Theater Quad system, which
is somewhat disappointing given the performance potential of the rest of the
system. I can imagine a number of situations in which it might be worthwhile
for a Theater Quad buyer
to connect a pair of subs, if that were an option. But if you can live with
these limitations, the Sony Bravia Theater Quad might be a huge improvement
over whatever soundbar-based system you might be considering.

Speakers

Sony
has been operating at the heart of the film industry for decades and has unique
positioning with their experience in film creation, professional production
equipment, and distribution. We want to bring that expertise to consumer’s
homes by integrating it into our new Bravia TVs and Bravia Theater home audio
devices. We are excited to launch these new products and for consumers to have
an upgraded cinematic experience in their homes.


Yoshihiro Ono, Head of Home Entertainment Business Unit, Sony Corporation

More information: Sony Bravia Theater Quad Home Theater System

Our Initial Listening Impressions from Sony Training Event

By. Don Dunn

Sony QuadI attended a Sony 2024 TV training session the week before last. They showcased their new 4-speaker Bravia theater quad setup with a matching wireless subwoofer. I was in a large room, flanking one of their new 7-series LED TVs. The Sony representatives played a couple of demos, and the whole room was floored by the giant sound coming from these small speakers. The phantom center was spot on with very clear dialogue. The faux Atmos was decent, but given that the ceiling of this room was probably at least 12 feet high, I’d imagine this effect would be much greater in a normal-sized room. I give Sony credit; their 360 spatial sound mapping did a great job of making the system immersive, and the actual speakers had much better-than-expected dynamics. I prefer this system to ALL of the powered soundbars I’ve heard.

They played a music demo, and once again, the Sony Bravia Quad system outperformed any other non-receiver-based system I’ve heard. This compact setup was incredibly impressive. I believe most people, including budget-conscious audiophiles, would be more than satisfied with it. Additionally, it’s easy to install and occupies minimal space which are big wins for most consumers wanting to augment the sound in their family room without the fuss.

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.


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