Sony STR-DA5300ES review: Sony STR-DA5300ES

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MSRP: $1,699.99

Sony STR-DA5300ES

(Part #: STR-DA5300ES) Released: Sep 7, 2007
4.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Excellent graphical user interface; six HDMI 1.3 inputs; can upconvert all analog signals to HDMI; user-selectable output resolution; excellent upconversion video quality; XM- and Sirius-ready; automatic speaker calibration; can switch between nine high-definition video sources; onboard Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding

The Bad Expensive; main remote can be confusing, although simpler remote provided; Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding cannot be used with current crop of high-definition video players.

The Bottom Line With six HDMI inputs, an intuitive graphical user interface, and excellent audio and video quality, the Sony STR-DA5300ES raises the bar on what to expect from a high-end AV receiver.

8.7 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 8.0

Editors' note: While we experienced some HDMI syncing issues with our original preproduction review sample, repeating the same tests with the shipping unit did not exhibit the same issues in our setup. It's worth noting, however, that HDMI performance can vary, so we cannot speak to compatibility in all systems.

Last year we were wowed by the Sony STR-DA5200ES because it was the first AV receiver we'd seen with a true menu-driven, graphical user interface (GUI). Most receivers still rely on archaic-looking onscreen displays with blocky white text--in combination with cryptic feedback from the front-panel readout--to accomplish speaker setup, upconversion settings, input naming, and the myriad other tasks required by a multitalented AV hub. We found that Sony's GUI was more than just eye candy, it really made the receiver easier to use on a daily basis. Other manufacturers have taken note--some of Denon's new 2007 receivers will feature a GUI as well.

While the STR-DA5200ES was groundbreaking for its interface, its successor, the STR-DA5300ES, is almost as impressive for its incredible feature set. It packs a walloping six HDMI inputs, which is more than we've seen on any other receiver in this price range, and it comes with onboard decoding for the latest high-resolution soundtracks, namely Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD Master Audio (although you can't use that decoding yet). Sony has also made a good thing even better by refining the graphical user interface so that each HDMI input can be renamed. And our complaints about the previous model's lackluster video performance have been almost entirely addressed: the STR-DA5300ES delivers very good video quality with the ability to upscale all analog sources to 1080p. The $1,700 list price on the STR-DA5300ES is steep, but it's well within reason considering how it stacks up to the competition.

As far as AV receivers go, the STR-DA5300ES has a pretty average look, with its all-black design, display in the center, and a couple of knobs and buttons scattered across the front panel. To the far right, on the bottom half, is the volume knob; on the far left toward the bottom is an additional AV input with S-Video and an optical digital-audio input. The display is a little on the small side, so sometimes we had trouble making it out from our seating distance of about seven feet.

By renaming the inputs, you can choose easy phrases such as "Apple TV" instead of having to remember that it's connected to the "HDMI 2" input.
Like its predecessor, the STR-DA5300ES features a slick, icon-based graphical user interface. While certain Denon receivers will feature a GUI later this year, the vast majority of AV receivers with onscreen displays still use white, blocky text that looks dated in the high-def era. Press the Menu button and up pops the GUI, which gamers will recognize as similar to the Cross Media Bar ("XMB") navigation found on the PSP and PS3 interfaces. The first option is Input, which allows you to select an input visually, by name and icon, and change which video and audio sources are assigned to each input. You can also change the icon next to the inputs, so it matches the source you have connected, and rename the inputs themselves.

The most enticing aspect of the GUI is that it makes using the receiver a lot easier, because it allows you to interact with an onscreen menu instead of a cluttered remote and a tiny front-panel display. To select a source, for example, you can just hit "Menu" and then select "DVR" or any other name from the device list. Without the GUI and the ability to rename inputs, you can be stuck having to cycle through all of the inputs while watching the front panel readout and trying to remember which device is connected to the "Video 2" input, for example. One nitpick we did have is that the list of inputs is pretty lengthy--we'd love the ability to hide unused inputs so we could just pick from our connected devices.

In addition to the Input menu, there are several other options: Music--which is used solely for attached DM port (Sony's proprietary connection) devices--as well as AM, FM, XM, Sirius, and Settings. The radio options are self-explanatory, and having the Settings menu in graphical form definitely takes some of the anxiety out of AV receiver setup.

The main remote is one of the STR-DA5300ES' weakest links, but you can use the smaller remote if you like to navigate with the GUI.
We were pretty harsh on the older 5200ES' remote, and, unfortunately, the 5300ES' remote is largely the same. All AV receiver remotes have a lot of buttons, and the 5300ES is no different. Our main gripe is how the DA5300ES mixes receiver control with device control. For example, if you press the HDMI 2 button, and then a little later you want to switch to another input using the GUI, when you hit Menu most likely nothing will happen--because the remote thinks you want to bring up the menu on the HDMI 2 device. Despite knowing how to avoid this mistake, we found ourselves inadvertently repeating it quite a few times. We'd much rather see a dedicated button, just for the GUI menu itself, to eliminate some of this confusion. To be fair, however, we expect most people buying a receiver in this price range will have enough dough for a quality universal remote.

The STR-DA5300ES also comes with a second, simpler remote, which takes some of the sting out of our criticisms of the main remote. The smaller remote lacks much of the functionality of the main remote--for example, you can't access any of the inputs directly--but it's a good option for those that want to navigate solely using the GUI on the receiver, then pick up the original remote for the device you've selected.

Unlike most receivers we review, the DA5300ES comes with a stereo, rather than a mono, calibration mic.
The STR-DA5300ES comes with a stereo mic for automatic calibration of your speaker system. The automatic calibration program is accessible through the GUI, and it's dead simple to run. Overall, Sony's automatic setup did a pretty good job of setting the levels on our speaker system, although we still went into the manual settings to make a few tweaks--for example, it never asked us the size of our front speakers, which needed to be set to small. On the upside, we did find it was faster than the Audyssey 2EQ setup system found on competing receivers, if a little less accurate.


Key features at a glance:

Connectivity Audio soundtrack capabilities
HDMI inputs 6 Passes Dolby Digital and DTS via HDMI Yes
Component video inputs 3 Passes LPCM via HDMI Yes
AV inputs w/S-Video 5 (4 rear, 1 front) Decodes Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Yes
Optical inputs 6 (5 rear, 1 front) Video capabilities
Coaxial inputs 3 HDMI version 1.3
Selectable HD sources 9 1080p via HDMI Yes
Satellite radio XM and Sirius ready 1080p via component Yes
Network audio No Upconverts analog sources Yes
Phono input Yes Deinterlaces 480i via HDMI Yes
Analog multichannel inputs Yes Selectable output resolution Yes

The STR-DA5300ES is a 7.1-channel receiver, which Sony rates at 120 watts per channel. Like essentially every other receiver available, it offers a full selection of Dolby and DTS surround processing modes. In addition, the STR-DA5300ES also offers decoding for the new high-resolution formats, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.

The logos don't lie: the STR-DA5300ES has onboard Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding.

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