Sony’s $1,800 HT-A9 home theater system finds a satisfying middle ground between the ease-of-use offered by a soundbar and the immersive audio experience created by a true multi-speaker surround speaker array.

Sony uses a mapping technology it calls 360 Spatial Sound to analyze your room layout and create the illusion of 12 phantom speakers that will convince listeners that sound is coming from overhead and from virtual center and side speakers. Users can enjoy streaming and physical media that include either Dolby Atmos or DTS:X sound mixes.

[ Further reading: The best soundbars ]

Listeners who’ve experienced less-than-impressive results from soundbars promising a “virtual 5.1” surround-sound experience might have their doubts going in, but Sony has absolutely solved this challenge and delivered a system that effectively delivers an immersive experience that doesn’t depend on as many speakers, wires, and in-ceiling installation hassles.

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