What Hi-Fi (UK)

Sony KD-48A9


Having a small or medium-sized living room shouldn’t prohibit you from owning a genuinely brilliant TV, which is why it’s a shame that for the past few years, true flagship models have gone no smaller than 55in. For many, that’s simply too big.

But last year, that all changed. Predictabl­y, the first 48-inch OLED TV was launched by LG, the company behind all of the OLED TV panels currently used by every manufactur­er; and excellent it is, too.

Hot on its heels came Sony’s KD-48A9, which is even better. In fact, it may well be the best sub-55in TV ever made. It’s certainly the best you can buy right now, although that sort of quality does come at a price.

As small as possible

Clearly looking to capitalise on the compact nature of the new, smaller OLED panel, Sony appears to have made the 48A9 as small as possible, at least in terms of height and width. The flush, black bezel along the top and sides is less than 1cm thick, while the stylishly glossy bottom edge – which features a Sony logo so subtle that in most light it is invisible – is only slightly thicker.

The pedestal stand, which gives the set a narrow footprint of just less than 47cm, has such a low profile that there’s barely a 5mm gap between the bottom edge of the TV and the surface upon which it’s placed.

The downside to using this separate stand is that any soundbar placed in front of the set will block a fair amount of screen. However, Sony hopes you won’t consider purchasing a soundbar necessary, thanks to the screen-vibrating audio tech built into the TV.

Bigger enclosure

While OLED panels are extremely thin, all OLED TVS need an enclosure for the speakers, processing hardware and connection­s. The enclosure on the rear of the KD-48A9 is bigger than most, both in terms of how much of the panel it covers and the overall depth that it adds. While LG’S own 48in OLED (the OLED48CX) measures 4.7cm at its thickest point, the Sony is 6cm. Ultimately, though, it just looks a little less impressive in profile.

The set’s connection­s, many of which can be hidden by plastic panels included in the box, include aerial and satellite (full Freesat functional­ity is coming soon), ethernet, three USBS, optical and headphone outputs, and four HDMIS. HDMI 3 supports both ARC and the more advanced EARC, but that’s the only advanced HDMI feature this set has.

There’s no support for 4K@120HZ (HFR), VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) or even ALLM, and that will come as a disappoint­ment to gamers, particular­ly those planning to buy a PS5 or Xbox Series X. The set does at least boast a competitiv­e input lag of under 19ms when the Game mode is (manually) selected.

Top TV chip

Sony’s X1 Ultimate processor, which made its debut in 2019 and remains a terrific TV chip, is nestled at the core of the KD-48A9’S chassis. This means it gets advanced features such as Objectbase­d Super Resolution, which is designed to intelligen­tly analyse and enhance the definition of individual objects in an image, and an improved version of Object-based HDR Remaster, which applies a similar approach to contrast. The set also gets Sony’s Pixel Contrast Booster, which is designed to enhance colour and contrast in bright areas of the image.

While this A9 carries ‘Master Series’ designatio­n, which Sony uses for its flagship models, a couple of its features are at the same level as the A8, which isn’t a Master Series model, rather than the AG9, which is. It has X-motion Clarity instead of Motionflow XR, and Acoustic Surface Audio rather than Acoustic Surface Audio+. Those minor downgrades don’t hold the A9 back from excellence, but they do highlight some inconsiste­ncies in Sony’s marketing.

Sony has kept the faith with Google’s Android TV operating system, and it’s beginning to pay off. While it may never quite equal the bespoke systems of Samsung and LG – it often feels more like having a media streamer built into the TV, rather than having the operating system as the true heart of its software – it is steadily becoming slicker, more intuitive and more fully featured.

Sony should be applauded, too, for bolstering the core Android TV app offering. So, while Android TVS from the likes of Philips lack Now TV and BT Sport, the Sony A9 has both. Sony says the Apple TV app is also coming soon, bringing with it Apple’s unparallel­ed pay-as-you-go library of 4K HDR films.

With those additions, there are no significan­t gaps in the Sony A9’s app offering. So, you get Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Google Play Movies & TV and Rakuten, all in 4K and HDR (Dolby Vision in the cases of Netflix and Disney+); BBC iplayer, ITV

Hub, All 4 and My5 complete the suite of core catch-up apps; Plex is on board for streaming your media files; and music and radio are covered by Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, BBC Sounds and Tunein.

If any service you use isn’t covered – Amazon Music or

Apple Music, for example – the set also features both Apple Airplay 2 and Google Chromecast. The only slight disappoint­ment is that content in the Disney+ app that should be available in Dolby Atmos appears to work only in 5.1 via the Sony. This has been the case on all of the Sony (and Philips) models we’ve recently reviewed.

Cautious delivery

Straight out of the box, the A9 is cautious in its delivery, seemingly reluctant to offer the sort of dazzling contrast we’ve come to expect from great HDR signals. After a bit of tweaking, that issue is solved, and as we fire up Blade Runner 2049, we’re delighted to see the film’s bright red and white text appear on the perfectly black screen with serious punch and purity. In fact, it has the measure of the LG CX in this regard.

The A9 is also superior to the CX at the opposite end of the spectrum: while both sets deliver pure, pitch black, the Sony digs up more dark detail, reproducin­g the interior of Sapper Morton’s dingy farmhouse with more scene-setting insight.

Less of a surprise is that the A9 handles motion better than the CX. Sony has long been the master of motion processing and, while other manufactur­ers have made improvemen­ts this year, the way the A9 (and many of its siblings, for that matter) smooth and sharpen motion without introducin­g fizz or artificial­ity is superb. Everything looks as it should, only better, and the fact that Sony has been so far ahead of its rivals for so long proves what a tricky feat that is.

No sepia-tinted blandness

Sony’s Master Series models are sold on their dedication to delivering the picture as intended, and the A9 also delivers here. There’s a slight warmth and richness to the colours that may not be entirely true to life, but it is true to cinema. We’re not talking about the horrible sepia-tinted blandness that you’re confronted by when you select most TVS’ Cinema mode: this is a subtle rosiness that enhances the sense of life in skin tones. Again, everything looks as it should, only better.

For sharpness and detail, there’s never been a better TV at this size, and the way the set combines ultra-deep blacks and bright, pure whites works with these qualities to create an unrivalled sense of depth and solidity in the image. Whether it’s the close-up of K’s hand at the start of Blade Runner 2049 or the eerily beautiful shots of the decimated town in 1917, everything has palpable three-dimensiona­lity. Dropping down to 1080p with the Blu-ray of Children Of Men, the Sony does a superb job of maintainin­g control of the shaky, handheld action, keeping everything blur- and judder-free without adding an unpleasant soap opera effect. Colours are again superb and the image is sharp, detailed and clean.

That cleanlines­s continues as we stream old, standard-def episodes of Spaced via Netflix. Given the low resolution of the signal, the image is both smooth and sharp, surprising­ly detailed, and with colours that are vibrant but controlled.

The Sony A9 is a significan­t step up on its closest rival for sound, too. The uncomforta­bly bass-heavy beginning to the second chapter of Blade Runner 2049 makes the LG CX’S drivers flap badly, but the Sony is composed and clean.

It’s punchy and dynamic, too, building the drama just as it should as K approaches the foreboding LAPD building. We opt for the Cinema preset, which adds openness and spaciousne­ss, and this generates a good sense of atmosphere as our protagonis­t takes his bewilderin­g baseline test, the disembodie­d voice of his commanding officer echoing off the bare walls of the boxy room. K’s own voice, by comparison, is clear and direct and, thanks to the A9’s screen-vibrating tech, the audio and video are more spatially connected than from other TVS.

But while the A9 sounds good for a TV, particular­ly one this size, it can be pushed to hardness by high volumes. If you want audio quality that’s equal to the picture, a dedicated sound system is still the way to go, particular­ly if you like your films loud and bombastic.

A stunning television

The Sony KD-48A9 is a stunning TV. The quality of TVS below 55 inches in size has been limited for years, but LG blew the doors off those limitation­s by making a 48-inch OLED panel available. Sony took LG’S panel and, with its own picture processing and audio wizardry, raised the benchmark previously (and briefly) held by LG’S own OLED48CX.

This is, without doubt, the best sub-55-inch TV you can buy – and possibly the best ever made. It’s expensive for a TV this size, but if you have the budget and aren’t fazed by a lack of HDMI 2.1 features, you should consider it well worth the money.

“Sony has taken LG’S panel and, with its own picture processing and audio wizardry, raised the benchmark. The KD-48A9 is now the best sub-55in TV you can buy – and possibly the best ever made”

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 ??  ?? The pedestal stand allows just a 5mm gap between the TV and furniture
The pedestal stand allows just a 5mm gap between the TV and furniture
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