Review: Sony KD-48A9

Small but tough

Sony's smallest OLED TV impresses with razor-sharp picture quality, plus clear sound from the built-in speakers. Could this be the perfect bedroom TV?

Sony KD-48A9

Our verdict

Sony KD-48A9 provides a beautiful picture and sound experience, with great contrast, deep black level and smooth movements. Plus for strong and clear sound from the built-in (and invisible) speakers.
The screen is a bit thicker than most OLED screens. The KD-48A9 also lacks some of the HDMI 2.1 features, which can be disappointing for gaming enthusiasts.
  • Size / type: 48 ”4K OLED
  • Resolution: 3840×2160 (4K Ultra HD)
  • Operating system: Android 9.0
  • Inputs: 4 HDMI (2.0b), 3 USB
  • Outputs: Optical digital audio output
  • HDR: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
  • Other: Acoustic Surface speakers
  • Other screen sizes: 55 “, 65”
  • Web: sony.com
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Price: £ 1999

The Sony KD-48A9 is the smallest model in the new Master Series, which is Sony’s very best OLED screens for 2020. More screen sizes are expected, but the youngest gets the honor of opening the ball! The image panel is as usual taken from LG, while Sony’s own engineers have concentrated on image processing and sound. Here, the Japanese once again use their innovative Acoustic Surface speaker technology, where the sound comes directly from the TV screen – which also contributes to a tight and sleek design.

Design

Sony’s OLED screens have gradually acquired a fairly well – known form factor with a polished, discreet and all – black design. The A9 model stands on a flat and rounded aluminum base, and rests only a few millimeters above the table surface. It undoubtedly looks nice, but can also be impractical if you plan to put a soundboard in front of the TV.

Sony KD-48A9 OLED front Sony KD-48A9 top sony-a9-4k-2020
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The OLED panel is thin from the side, but the screen also has a thicker part where the electronics and speakers are located. (Photo: Sony)

The screen itself is slim like most OLED screens, but only at the edges: On the back is a fairly solid “box” full of power supply, connections, speakers and other electronics, which takes a little away from the otherwise slim impression. This also means that the TV will protrude a lot when mounted on a wall.

Ease of use and features

Like other Sony models, the A9 comes loaded with the Android system from Google (version 9.0). Combined with good processing power and memory capacity, this ensures that both menu selections and apps are loaded in no time. The Google platform is also characterized by a wide range of apps and streaming services, including Disney + and Netflix pre-installed – the rest can be easily found in the Google Play Store.

The A9 series has also received Sony’s new premium remote control with Bluetooth transmission. It has become far more comfortable to use, and does not even need to be pointed directly for the TV to respond.

The A9 also has support for Google Assistant voice control, and a built-in Chromecast that makes it easy to stream or share content via your Android phone. Apple users can enjoy support for Airplay and Homekit, which make it easier to control your TV and share content via iPhone.

Good format support – but lacks HDMI 2.1

The Sony A9 supports both Dolby Vision HDR as well as standard HDR10 and HLG. It also boasts Netflix Calibrated Mode, which offers studio-quality Netflix content. On the other hand, there is no support for the open HDR10 + with dynamic metadata, which Amazon Prime and Rakuten, among others, offer. Sony could with advantage support both, as among others Panasonic and Philips now do!

The Sony monitor has 4 HDMI inputs, 1 of which is equipped with the high-definition audio return channel eARC. On the other hand, it has to do without HDMI 2.1, which means that it also lacks some profiled gaming features: Here is neither VRR (variable refresh rate), ALLM (auto low latency mode), or HFR (High Frame Rate, 4K / 120 fps) which can all prove relevant in the gaming context.

Sony has launched several TV models as “ready for Playstation 5” including the LCD models ZH8 and XH90. We therefore scratch our heads a bit about why the KD-48A9 is not on the list of TVs with advanced gaming features. It would have been a great candidate for the next generation of gaming consoles! We measured the delay (input layer) to about 15 milliseconds in Game mode, which is a couple of milliseconds slower than we managed with the LG OLED48CX.

Image quality

Based on previous experience with Sony OLED, we had relatively high expectations of what the KD-48A9 could last up with in terms of picture experiences. And we were definitely not disappointed! We recently tested the 65 ”edition A85 with good results, and there is no doubt that the A9 series is close to this one: the 48-inch uses Sony’s rawest image processor X1 Ultimate, which is full of image-enhancing features.

Sony KD-48A9 provides sharp and true-to-life image quality. Here from Queens Gambit on Netflix. (Photo: Audun Hage)

Since LG and Sony use exactly the same 48 ”image panel, it is no surprise that the image reproduction is also very similar. With both screens set in movie mode, they look almost exactly the same, and you should be good at distinguishing the difference at first glance! But as we get to know each other better, the Sony screen actually appears marginally better at some points.

First, we notice that the Sony screen has even better and more natural color shades. The color reproduction is incredibly rich and nuanced, without being oversaturated or unnatural. The Sony screen also has a superb noise reduction, which removes annoying compression noise without putting an artificial layer over the image.

The Sony KD-48A9 also has very smooth and seamless movements: It should be mentioned here that LG has also achieved major improvements in the last generation. Both TVs are very good at keeping focus during fast pans.

Although both screens are superb in sharpness, we find that the Sony screen manages to conjure up an even sharper and more detailed image. It can be about tiny differences in skin tones and facial pores, the way light hits and is reflected by a surface – but they are there! Although some of the differences are small, they barely go in Sony’s favor. Put another way: If the LG screen is a golden clean and freshly washed window pane, the window is open in Sony’s case!

Missing some gaming features

Many people are probably wondering how well the Sony KD-48A9 is suitable as a gaming screen, and the answer is that there are advantages and disadvantages. As long as we stick to today’s game consoles, well-known game titles as well as “normal” PC gaming or graphical use, the Sony screen will be an excellent monitor. For graphic processing, photography, etc., you can also take advantage of the excellent neutral color reproduction.

At the same time, it is clear that the KD-48A9 can not compete with the LG OLED48CX in some areas: the LG screen will feel even faster and more responsive with demanding game titles, and especially those that can benefit from 120hz frame rate. During testing with the Forza Horizon 4, which supports up to 4K / 120fps, we found the Sony screen to be a bit more choppy and uneven than the LG screen at its best.

The lack of 4K / 120fps is not a direct crisis, but may turn out to be a miss on the latest game consoles (Xbox Series X / Playstation 5) and the rawest game titles. Although the majority of games on the market work excellently at 60 fps, you may want to be “cautious” if you want to take advantage of the latest technical innovations.

Sound quality

The Sony KD-48A9 comes with Acoustic Surface Audio, which are Sony’s “invisible” speakers. Instead of mounting the speakers under the screen as others do, Sony has found a way to send the sound directly out of the TV panel! This is done with the help of small mechanical actuators, which cause the image panel to vibrate in sync with the audio signal. This in turn means that the sound (voices, etc.) is experienced as coming from the exact same place as the action, which has a positive effect on, among other things, speech comprehension.

Sony’s Acoustic Surface technology transmits the sound directly through the OLED panel. (Illustration: Sony)

The sound is also clear and distinct, with good fullness in both voices and sound effects. Here, there is significantly better fullness and clarity than what the LG competitor can keep up with! The sound reproduction is so good that we think many will be satisfied, without feeling the need for a separate soundboard: Especially in smaller rooms such as bedrooms etc, this will probably be experienced as a great advantage, as you get away with fewer boxes and wires.

Conclusion

Sony KD-48A9 is a compact and sleek looking TV with impressive performance: This small 48-inch is capable of providing a truly magnificent picture experience! The Sony screen can also last up with excellent built-in sound, as well as good smart solutions and app support. The only point where the KD-48A9 lags a bit is the limited connectivity options. While LG’s 48-inch boasts HDMI 2.1 and more gaming-friendly features, the Sony screen has to do without. It’s a bit disappointing, coming from the Playstation manufacturer itself! Especially when the competitor also costs several thousand bucks less. But as long as gaming is not the main focus, and you are just looking for an excellent compact TV, the Sony screen works right on target.

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