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Sony LBT-SH2000

Sony ZS-BTG900 Boombox Review

My craptastic Eagle Arion 2.1 PC speakers have been dying for some time now and finally reached the point where I had to replace them. I’ve also been needing something more portable than my small PA speakers to take to Radio Hanna on-location events where I require good sound, but nothing too loud. After prolonged research, I settled on the Sony ZS-BTG900 portable boombox. It has a rather, er, striking visual appearance, to say the least. Damned ugly is probably the most forthright description.

The history

I’ve been a Sony buff most of my life. My first portable tape player was the original Sony Walkman TPS-L2, which was my most coveted possession back in junior high school. It was eventually upgraded to a Sony WM-10, the latter being purchased from The Sony Store in Calgary, which was the closest I came to going to church in my teens. I was also one of the proud few to own a Betamax player, a better format that a mulishly stupid general population foolishly rejected. Trinitron tubes were the choice for your television as Sony’s aperture grille was vastly superior to shadow mask technology. Sony was the company to purchase a television or stereo from at one time as their engineering excelled. Yes, there were better brands — think Bang & Olufsen — but Sony was the best you could find at a consumer price point.

Sony has largely been eclipsed by other electronics companies these days. In the portable music player market, Apple, obviously. Samsung in the flat screen market. I’m not even sure if Sony still makes computers, although I owned a VAIO laptop in days past. Sony does make a mean smartphone (Sony Xperia z3), and I’m happy I chose it over the obnoxious iPhone 6, although I’m one of two people in town that I’m aware of who owns one. Not a lot of people buy Sony stuff these days, which is why I was so sad when they closed all of their Sony Stores in Canada.

What I’m saying is that there was some personal tradition in shopping Sony.

The specs

Width:  23.6 in
Depth:  14 in
Height: 8.3 in
Weight: 17.64 lbs
Body Color: Black with red accents
Supported Digital Audio Standards: WMA, MP3
Bluetooth Profiles: A2DP, AVRCP
Output Power / Total: 20 Watt
Nominal (RMS) Output Power: 0.5 Watt, 12 Watt, 3.5 Watt
Sound Effects: Mega Bass
Sound Output Mode: Stereo
Equalizer Factory Presets: Electronica, Flat, Hip Hop, Pop, Reggae, Rock
Equalizer Band Qty: 6 bands
Preset Station Qty: 30
AM Preset Station Qty: 10
FM Preset Station Qty: 20
Tuner Bands: AM/FM
Antenna Form Factor: Built-in AM / telescopic FM
Cassette Player: No (thank gawd)
CD Player: Yes (WMA, MP3 support)
Tuner Frequency Range AM: 530 – 1710 kHz, FM: 87.5 – 108 MHz
Tuning Display: LCD display
Radio TunerL Digital – AM/FM
Power: AC, 8x D-Cell batteries
Included Accessories: Remote, power cable
Additional Features: One-touch Listening with NFC

The sound

Good for the size of the unit.  Amazingly good, in fact. If you listened to the Sony ZS-BTG900 without seeing it you would swear you were listening to a much larger stereo. You can not only hear the bass but feel it. You can also select the amount of bass by turning off the subwoofer, turning it on, and enabling loudness, or the mega bass boost. The bass thump is crisp and distortion free (Sony has put the ‘boom’ back in boombox). The midrange is very clear and not at all muddy, even at higher volumes. The tweeters provide just the right amount of high-end without being obtrusive. This thing can also get loud. Extremely loud. You can crank it high enough to hack off the neighbours without hearing any distortion.  20 Watts from this boombox delivers more oomph than a 50 Watt stereo from many other manufacturers. This is classic Sony engineering, folks.

The built-in genre-specific equalizer settings are quite good, but I prefer to leave the EQ on the device set to flat and use the EQ on my Bluetooth-connected phone or tablet instead. The built-in EQ would be useful for listening to CDs if I had enough grey hair to do that sort of thing. Which I don’t.

If you miss the badass boomboxes of the eighties, particularly loud and proud units like the classic JVC RC-M90, Sony brings back the sound you remember, if not the classic Manneristic styling.

The appearance

sony_zs_btg900_wireless_boombox_system_1006219Fugly. (Fantastically ugly.) The ZS-BTG900’s visual design brings to mind the ill-fated Pontiac Aztek — a vehicle whose form was dictated by its function first, and then made to look silly with overly aggressive styling that turned people off. For those familiar with audio engineering, the chassis design and speaker placement put function over appearance. Then Sony’s marketing got involved, adding flashing LED effects and the cartoonish red accents that detracted from one’s ability to take the unit seriously.

Oh, and, yes, there are blinky lights. You can set the built-in lights that accent the side speakers and woofer to off, on full-time, or to blink in synchronization to the music, which they do poorly. I find it to be horribly distracting and just leave them on steady (turning them off completely also disables the subwoofer, which was a poor design decision).

The remote

I was pleasantly surprised to find an infrared remote control with the system when unboxing it. It’s not a cheapie remote, either, but a solid, well manufactured unit that will withstand many years of service. The pause, back, and forward buttons not only control the built-in CD player (which I used once and suspect I will never use again), but also the audio on a connected Bluetooth device.

The wireless

Flawless. The ZS-BTG900 paired easily with every device and computer I tried with it. The NFC function just works. I held my Sony phone next to it and was instantly able to play music without having to go into my settings. I can be on the other side of the room with my phone and not have the signal drop, either. For those who are wondering, no, this unit doesn’t work as a speakerphone like many Bluetooth speakers do.

The radio

Um, who the hell cares? I use the TuneIn app on my phone and stream Net Radio via Bluetooth. I’m also involved in a student broadcasting project — Radio Hanna — which streams over the Net as well, so guess what I listen to? Terrestrial radio is for codgers.

The irksome

There is a 3.5mm stereo (miniplug) jack on the front of the unit for connecting legacy music players or computers that don’t support Bluetooth. This is workable but makes the unit even uglier, something one wouldn’t think possible. A second plug on the back would have been a nice addition. The blinky lights and red speaker cones also detract from the appearance of what is an otherwise incredibly tightly engineered piece of electronics. You just know that some marketing jackass at Sony asked a teenaged nephew for an opinion. I wish I could turn off the lights without also turning off the subwoofer. I also wish the red LCD display — which actually is attractive — was brighter and had better viewing angles.

The portability

This boombox weighs a tonne with 8 D-cell batteries in it, but the performance is respectable. I’ve gotten 12 hours out of it at a moderate volume using Bluetooth. I probably could have squeezed out more, but a person my age needs to go to bed at a reasonable time. The built-in handle hides nicely when it isn’t needed. In fact, the handle hides so well I originally thought the display crossbar in front of the subwoofer might be the handle!

The verdict

The Sony ZS-BTG900 is worth owning based on the extremely high build and sound quality. This is a high-fidelity portable stereo that won’t disappoint your ears, just your eyes. The appearance is indeed cartoonish, and that no doubt played a large part in why this model has been discontinued. The good news is that there are many places that still have them in stock and are selling them at excellent discounts — I saved about 50% of retail on mine. You should consider one if you want big sound in a small package at a reasonable price.

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