OUR FULL REVIEW IS BELOW, BUT YOU CAN ALSO READ THE ORIGINAL MAGAZINE PAGES BY CLICKING THE IMAGE TO THE RIGHT ►►►
We have got a little behind with the evolution of Sony’s AV receivers — the last one we plugged into our system was four years ago in 2013. That was the Sony STR-DN1040, and we were quite impressed by it. The model presently under review — the Sony STR-DN1080 — is, we deduce, the natural successor after four annual updates, and it arrived for review with Sony’s first Ultra High Definition Blu-ray player. Needless to say, the receiver is fully equipped to make the best of such a high-quality source. Let’s see what they can do together.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the the receiver’s rated power output. Sony quotes this only into six ohms: 100 watts from each of the seven channels across the full audio spectrum at 0.09% THD. We think that’s for two channels operating. That would mean an output of at least 75 watts per channel into eight-ohm loads, perhaps a bit more if output current was the limiting factor with the lower impedance load.
The amplifier pair that are nominally for surround back can be redirected to drive a ‘B’ set of front speakers, biamplify the front speakers, drive speakers in Zone 2 or run height speakers for Dolby Atmos and the like.
There are six HDMI inputs, and only one optical digital audio input. Component video has now been entirely dropped. That’s a little connectivity than some (and less than that 2013 receiver offered), but six HDMI inputs ought to be enough for the vast majority of purchasers.
There’s a USB socket on the front for playback of music from thumb drives or hard drives. Networking is provided by Ethernet or Wi-Fi.
There’s one surprising input and one surprising output. The input is Chromecast. We’ll talk more of that later. The surprising output is Bluetooth. In addition to being able to be paired with a Bluetooth source device for playback, you can further pair the receiver with, say, a set of Bluetooth headphones. The Bluetooth communications can, depending on the device, be encoded using the basic SBC codec, the better AAC codec (typically used by Apple devices) or the even better LDAC codec (used, so far as we can tell, only by high-end Sony devices — see www.avhub.com.au/ldac
The receiver’s documentation recommends using the Sony app SongPal for controlling the receiver and managing network audio tracks. But when we went to install this on our iPad Mini 4, the App store kept responding instead with an app called ‘Music Center’. Apparently SongPal is defunct, and Music Center has replaced it.
An ‘Easy Setup’ wizard helps you set up the receiver at first switch-on (or after a factory reset). There are two sections: speakers and network.
We had chosen to do a wired network connection, so the network section was very fast and easy. If you’re going wireless, that’s also pretty straight forward. The receiver scans for access points, showing the signal strength of those it finds. You select one and enter the password. Both 2.4GHz and 5GHz points could be used.
Upon completion of this, the receiver displayed a message indicating that a firmware update was available, and said how we could install it.
The auto speaker calibration system (called ‘D.C.A.C. EX’) uses an interesting double-headed microphone, with the left and right microphone elements perhaps 70mm apart. This allowed the receiver to tell us that we had the left and right height speakers accidentally swapped. The distance settings were conducted very quickly once we’d fixed that error. Then a second stage went to EQing the system. You get a choice at that point of aiming for a flat frequency response, choosing the Sony Engineer’s preferred setting, or going for ‘Front Reference’, which matches the rest of the system to your front stereo speakers. Finishing off the set-up was an option to enable Chromecast, along with setting the time zone.
There wasn’t much opportunity to check the settings throughout this, but afterwards it appeared the receiver had set all speaker positions to ‘Large’, even our admittedly-competent but nonetheless bass-limited ceiling speakers.
We must spend a few words on the menu and set-up system here. It’s hard to precisely put our finger on it, but there was just a general sense of a more professional, computer-like, layout to the instructions and the wizard than is the norm for home theatre receivers.
And similarly we really enjoyed using this receiver. The remote is well laid out — especially with the volume control sitting almost alone (with only Mute next to it) down there at the bottom. Somehow Sony manages to provide the same functionality with its remote as other brands do, but with half the number of keys — and yet still with a good level of system control (see the UHD Blu-ray information above right). Then of course there’s also the option to do things like choose inputs using the on-screen menu of the app.
When it came to the receiver’s bread and butter, this Sony receiver performed sterling duty delivering to loudspeakers the music and sounds provided to its inputs, and delivering to a TV screen the video provided to its inputs. The 75W we estimated to be the output into eight ohms did not seem to be a limitation. We would note, though, that six-ohm loudspeakers are the minimum allowed, so one should be doubly careful in loudspeaker selection: choose both a suitable impedance and reasonable sensitivity.
With our eight-ohm system the receiver delivered excellent sound, both in stereo and in surround. We opted for the ‘match the front speakers’ EQ, and that delivered a relatively unadulterated sound from the front speakers while having the others match them tonally. One thing led to another and we spent way too long enjoying several of our Super Audio CDs in 5.1 surround. At all reasonable volume levels, and even at levels verging on unreasonable, the receiver delivered clean, well-placed, properly-balanced sound.
As it did for movies. The HDMI connections easily passed through full 2160p/60 with HDR and a wide colour gamut from discs played on the Sony Ultra-HD Blu-ray player (and from another brand of player as well).
The Dolby Atmos decoding delivered a fine, encompassing surround field despite the system being limited to two overhead speakers. One feature we think may be unique — phantom surround back speakers. The receiver can process the incoming channels to make it seem as though there are surround back speakers, creating a kind of virtual 7.1.2 speaker arrangement.
As for network audio, we’re pausing for a moment, pondering the big question: is there any protocol this receiver does not support? Okay, the only internet streaming service directly provided by the receiver is Spotify. To use that you’ll need a premium Spotify subscription which gives you Spotify Connect. If you prefer Pandora or Tidal or some such, you’ll have to use a smart device to access that and send the music to the receiver. But that’s where this receiver is so very open. You can use just about any of the main systems to do that.
You can use Apple AirPlay if you’re using an iPad or iPhone. Or DLNA if you’re using an Android device with suitable player software. Or Chromecast if you’re using a suitably equipped Android device or Chrome browser. All of that (except for AirPlay which worked perfectly throughout) was initially rather flaky. Remember how we said earlier we’d wired the receiver into Ethernet? Well, we switched over to a Wi-Fi connection and the whole thing settled down. Our Chromecast-enabled apps found the receiver (and those which used a representative icon showed it as a Chromecast stick). DLNA-enabled apps found the receiver (its icon was a receiver).
Using DLNA the receiver did a fine job with our FLAC music files, along with MP3, AAC and Apple Lossless, with the FLAC one going all the way up to 24 bits and 192kHz. The manual says the receiver also supports Direct Stream Digital up to 5.6MHz, but we couldn’t make it work. If we used a DLNA app to send such a track, it reported no success. If we directly accessed the folder containing the DSD tracks (we tried both DSF and DFF formats) using the receiver’s own interface, then it said that the folders were empty. If we used the ‘Music Player’ app, the tracks were found, but when we tried to play them the app reported ‘Playback failed’. So we have no idea what was going on there.
Especially as the receiver had no problems decoding both stereo and multichannel DSD when we played Super Audio CDs to it in native DSD via HDMI. (It is Sony, after all.) Indeed, the receiver played DSD — including double rate 5.6MHz DSD — from a USB stick plugged into the front socket. Perhaps it didn’t like our network configuration, even though we routinely play DSD tracks to other receivers and audio devices. We’d be surprised if that weren’t fixed in a forthcoming firmware. After all, we note that this model has not yet appeared (as we write) on Sony’s website.
Sony’s UBP-X800 Premium UHD Blu-ray player ($499)
A decade ago, one of the prime movers for the growth of the Blu-ray format was Sony’s decision to put a Blu-ray player in the PlayStation 3. For a good few years the PS3 was the best Blu-ray player on the market, and may have helped see off the challenge from rival format HD DVD. So many were disappointed when Sony’s gaming division chose not to include a UHD Blu-ray player in the PlayStation 4, even though it’s capable of 4K gaming. Now Sony’s consumer video team is out to fix the omission, with the company’s first standalone UHD Blu-ray player, the UBP-X800.
It’s labelled a ‘Premium’ player, but the price is pleasingly not so premium at $499.
We were supplied the UDP-X800 to use with the Sony receiver reviewed here, and of course there are good reasons to ‘team’ them together, beyond the neatness of one-brand aesthetics and ease of purchase. As with TVs and receivers, most companies implement some form of proprietary communication between connected units. Sony’s is called Bravia Sync, in this case using the HDMI connection to communicate between the X800, the receiver and, if you’re using one, onto a Sony Bravia television.
The most obvious bonus is that you can use a single Sony remote control — you’ll note the AV receiver’s remote is labelled ‘AV System’, and a press of its power button will turn off Blu-ray player, AV receiver and television together. Conversely you can enjoy ‘One-Touch Play’ where pressing play will start your UHD Blu-ray disc spinning, select the right receiver input and turn on your TV. Convenience and control!
We were very impressed with Sony's STR-DN1080 AV receiver. With solid performance with everything up to Ultra HD Blu-ray (and operational benefits from pairing it with Sony’s player, above) and the convenience of Chromecast Audio along with DLNA and Apple AirPlay, the Sony STR-DN1080 home theatre receiver looks like a winner.
Sony STR-DN1080 networked AV receiver
+ Solid audio and video performance
+ Decent network functionality
+ Supports the new network standard, Chromecast
- Not rated to drive fou-rohm loudspeakers
Tested with firmware: M41.R.0175 (fv=p7.0175.0)
Rated power: 7 x 100 watts (into 6 ohms, 20Hz-20,000Hz, 0.09% THD)
Inputs: 6 x HDMI, 0 x component video, 2 x composite video, 4 x analogue stereo, 1 x optical digital, 1 x coaxial digital, 1 x USB, 1 x Ethernet, Wi-Fi
Outputs: 2 x HDMI, 0 x component video, 1 x composite video, 0 x analogue stereo,
0.1 pre-out, 7 pairs speaker binding posts, 1 x 6.5mm headphone, Bluetooth
Zone: 1 x analogue stereo, HDMI 2 assignable, assignable amps
Other: 1 x IR in, 1 x IR out, 1 x setup mic
Dimensions (whd): 430 x 156 x 331mm
A full-length review of the UBP-X800 UHD Blu-ray player will appear in the August issue of Sound+Image magazine, and once published you’ll be able to read the full review online via a link here.