Sony STR-DN1080 review

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The Good: The Sony STR-DN1080 offers all of the features you could want in a modern receiver — multiroom music, Chromecast streaming, Dolby Atmos and a slew of 4K-compliant inputs. Sound quality is excellent, especially for movies. The user interface is easy to follow, and it is coupled with a friendly remote.

The Bad: Sound quality is a little less full than on last year’s model, meaning it may not be quite as forgiving of bright speakers. Google Home control failed in our tests.

The Bottom Line: The Sony STR-DN1080 is fully featured and easy to use, and it sounds great, making it one of the best AV receivers available for the price.

With the rise and rise of sound bars, could AV receivers are on the way out? Ask any home theater enthusiast and they’ll tell you “no,” but for many buyers who just want better sound for their TVs and music, a massive, black, input-infested box is much more intimidating than a skinny bar.

Sony tries to counter the increasing complexity of the modern receiver with its new STR-DN1080. Though it boasts the wealth of features and inputs typical of the breed, the company has applied a user-friendly sheen to help the receiver should appeal to both newbies and old hands.

The Sony STR-DN1080 is the follow-up to the outstanding STR-DN1070, our favorite receiver of 2016, and it patches that unit’s only significant hole — the lack of Dolby Atmos. The two receivers do sound a little different, with the older one sounding a little warmer and the newer a bit more home cinema focussed.

In terms of features the Sony offers pretty much everything you could want in 2017, and it sets a high bar against this year’s competition. We can’t call it our favorite yet until we can review similar models from from Denon, Onkyo/Pioneer and Yamaha, but we like what we see from Sony so far.

The STR-DN1080 is available now for $599 or £600, and while Australian pricing and availability have yet to be announced, we expect it to be the same as the outgoing model at AU$1,399.

Design

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While Sony’s receivers from the last decade really pushed the bar when it came to design with their bulldog-like visage, more recent models have been a little less striking. The design of the STR-DN1080 is pretty blocky — it’s a solid, rectangular box with a thin glossy strip for a readout. It comes with a volume knob and a smaller selector knob next to it.

One thing that you wouldn’t notice unless you put the receiver next to last year’s — as we did — is that the 1080 is a little smaller than the 1070. Peering inside both we didn’t notice much difference in the internals of the 1080, it’s just that the new model seems to manage empty space better.

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Receivers’ on-screen displays languished in a user-hostile jail for much longer than on any other home cinema gadget. Blocky white text on a black background? Yuck. So when you come across something as lovely as the Sony’s interface, it almost erases memories of the past. Big, friendly tiles on the front and readable text once you get one level in. The only downside is that the streaming services need a phone to work — no point-and-click with your remote.

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Just as OSDs have had a spit and polish in recent years the same is true of remote controls. Gone are the “Apollo mission control panels”, now replaced with a stripped-down candy bar with the Sony STR-DN1080. If you need anything more complicated than what’s presented, that’s what the on-screen interface is for.

Features

The STR-DN1080 is a 5.1.2 (or 7.1) receiver that now offers Dolby Atmos and DTS:X at a more affordable price than the company’s ES receivers. Last year’s 1070 seemed like it sorely wanted to be “atmospheric”-compatible but the designers just ran out of time.

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While its competitors shaved down the number of HDMI ports in the move to 4K/HDR-compliant versions, Sony managed to keep the number of HDMI inputs at six. The only real change is that one port moved from the front to the back. The receiver has two HDMI outs, which means it is able to distribute 4K video and surround sound to two different TVs and zones.

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Other connectivity is a little sparse, with a coaxial and optical digital, Bluetooth plus Wi-Fi and Ethernet.

With internet connectivity comes an excellent selection of streaming options, including Chromecast built-in, UPnP and Spotify Connect. Chromecast support means that you can cast audio from any Android phone or Chrome browser as well as dozens of smartphone apps.

You can also control it with your Google Home smart speaker, although unfortunately, that function didn’t work in our testing. Attempting to control the receiver via voice only resulted in a “something went wrong” message, even after rebooting the router, Google Home and updating the Sony firmware. This feature worked fine on the 1070 from last year, and we were able to cast to the 1080 from our apps — it’s only voice control that wouldn’t work. We reached out to Sony for an explanation and will update this section when we hear back.

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The receiver also includes Sony’s own multiroom system — which has had a much-needed name change from SongPal Link to Music Center. It’s also much improved from previous versions and lets you assign music to Sony equipment more easily or change inputs.

One feature from the 1070 that seems to have slipped quietly into the waiting night is the ability to add wireless rear speakers. This has been replaced by the less-interesting “Phantom Surround Back” technology, which lets you simulate a seven-speaker configuration with only five speakers.

Setup

For this review we used a pair of ELAC Debut B6 bookshelf speakers in the front-left and -right positions, an ELAC Debut C5 center-channel speaker, ELAC Debut B5s as surrounds, Klipsch RP-140SA height speakers, and a Klipsch R-110SW subwoofer with the STR-DN1080.

To get started, we ran the Sony STR-DN1080’s DCAC EX calibration system, which uses a rather unusual-looking plastic stereo mic. Most receiver auto setup systems use mono mics, so we hoped the STR-DN1080’s setup results would be better than average.

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After auto-setup we felt the sound was rather dark and opaque. For some reason, the STR-DN1080 incorrectly determined the Debut B6 bookshelfs were “large” speakers with a high crossover at 120Hz. We manually changed the Debut B6’s “size” to “small,” and changed the crossover setting to 80Hz for the fronts and rears, and kept the heights at 120Hz. We adjusted the volume of the R-110SW sub, which was much too loud, a common occurrence with auto-setup.

As part of the STR-DN1080’s auto-setup, you have one of four Calibration Type options: Full Flat, Engineer, Front Reference, and Off. We briefly experimented with each of the EQs before finally using the Off setting, which sounded best.

As we’ve seen time and time again, auto-setup systems can’t be counted on to produce the best possible sound quality from their receivers. A complete manual setup usually winds up taking less time than it takes to correct an auto-setup’s errors.

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Performance

The “Gravity” Blu-ray is still our favorite sounding Dolby Atmos-encoded movie, and its sound took flight over the STR-DN1080. Clarity was excellent, and the effect of the astronauts and ground control voices floating around the CNET listening room was spectacular. When astronaut Dr. Stone (Sandra Bullock) enters the International Space Station, the sounds of beeps, radio chatter, and Steven Price’s brilliant music score came from all around us.

We’ve used “Gravity” on countless reviews, and the sound effects and music score sometimes sounded overly thick, but here with the STR-DN1080 the bass definition firmed up, which further enhanced overall clarity. We next turned the heat up with the apocalyptic sandstorm scenes from “Mad Max: Fury Road” to fully exploit the STR-DN1080’s power reserves, and the receiver didn’t flinch.

The Rolling Stones’ 2013 concert Blu-ray “Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live” demonstrated the STR-DN1080’s music skills. The Stones may be old geezers, but they sounded great, and on some of the quieter, more acoustic tunes we could hear the ambience of the concert venue and the vast adoring crowd sprawled across the park. As we continued we noted that the film’s sound mix of the front soundstage seemed a little flat, but we had no other complaints.

When we brought out Sony’s equivalent model from last year, the STR-DN1070, the sound was similar, though we felt that the STR-DN1080 was a little clearer, and the STR-DN1070 fuller. The STR-DN1070 lacked Dolby Atmos processing, so as expected when we played “Gravity” the surround mix was less expansive than the STR-DN1080’s.

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Final thoughts

Despite the rise of the sound bar, receivers are here to stay, especially since a model like the Sony STR-DN1080 offers a lot for an agreeable price. If you were sitting on your hands waiting for Sony to release a mainstream Dolby Atmos receiver, this is your opportunity.

We found a lot to like about the Sony STR-DN1080’s sound, especially after we canceled the auto-setup, and rolled up our sleeves and did it ourselves. The Sony offers excellent home theater and music performance and all the features you could possibly want. It’s tough competition for the other models that are due to follow in its wake this year.

(cnet.com, https://goo.gl/JA1NMU)

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