The Sony STR-DA7100ES receiver ($2,000 list) is the flagship model of Sony's ES (Elevated Standard) line. So sure, it's loaded with all the standard features you could want, including multiroom functionality, oodles of surround processing, High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) switching, and video conversion. But the real story is how it combines the last two features: this receiver, unlike most HDMI switching units, can convert composite-, component- and S-Video-equipped sources such as VCRs, satellite boxes, and DVD players to HDMI. That means you can connect all your sources to this receiver and run only one HDMI cable from the receiver to an HDMI-equipped television, never having to switch inputs on your TV. Power ratings are also above and beyond the norm: the receiver delivers 170 watts to each of its seven channels. Oh yeah, its sound quality competes with that of the best receivers on the market. The Sony STR-DA7100ES's handsomely sculptured, satin-finished aluminum faceplate and solid-metal control knobs have the look and feel of genuine high-end components. Just a smattering of small buttons interrupts the front panel's clean lines; behind the thick, flip-down metal door you'll find a nicely organized group of controls, including ones for bass and treble, A/B speaker switching, and tuner. Like most of today's higher-end components, the DA7100ES is large, measuring 17 inches wide and 18.5 inches deep and weighing nearly 52 pounds.
With a receiver as technologically well endowed as this one, you need a well-written user manual; instead, you get a muddled mess. We had to scrutinize the logic of Sony's digital and video assignments to get them to work. Even basic operations, such as adjusting speaker levels, were more of a hassle than on just about any receiver we can recall. Home-theater novices shouldn't even think about attempting the setup; they'll need professional help to get the most out of their Sony STR-DA7100ES. On the upside, we noted that the receiver's onscreen menus appeared over its HDMI-monitor output.
Sony provides two remotes: a surprisingly compact unit with a large, illuminated LCD window, and a second, more conventional remote for use in multiroom installations. The efficiently compact main unit gets by with a small number of buttons, and you can customize the controls to simplify them even further.
If you don't need the DA7100ES's HDMI connectivity, we recommend Sony's half-price alternative, the nearly identical . The Sony STR-DA7100ES's S-Master Pro digital amplifier delivers 170 watts of power to seven channels, making it one of the most powerful receivers we've tested. Surround processing includes all the typical 7.1-channel Dolby and DTS schemes plus a smattering of proprietary Sony modes.
The DA7100ES's connectivity suite includes five A/V composite and S-Video inputs plus two component and two HDMI inputs. We're pleased with the two HDMI inputs, but come on, Sony, $2,000 receivers should have at least three or four component ins. Things improve on the digital-audio side: you get four optical digital inputs, one optical output, three coaxial inputs, a 7.1-channel analog SACD/DVD-Audio input, and a digital iLink single-cable connection for compatible DVD-Audio/SACD players. Oh, there's also a phono (turntable) input for the audiophile set.
As mentioned above, the receiver can convert composite-, component-, and S-Video sources, such as your VCR or DVD player, to HDMI. Rather than running different cables for each video format, those with HDMI-equipped HDTVs can use just one HDMI cable to connect the TV and the DA7100ES. One caveat, though: the receiver converts 480i signals only. It passes other resolutions--namely 480p, 720p, and 1080i--to the component monitor output without modification.
You can have the DA7100ES convert 480i signals to 480p for output via component or HDMI. Other than that, don't expect HDMI conversion to significantly improve the image quality of standard-definition sources; its main benefit is to simplify connections and video switching. A few competing units with HDMI upconversion include Denon's AVR-4806 and AVR-3806, as well as .
Multiroom capabilities include second-zone A/V and third-zone audio-only outputs, three 12V triggers, an infrared input, two infrared outputs, and an RS-232 control port for use with computer home-automation systems.
The owner's manual refers to the possibility of configuring a 9.1-channel speaker system, which temporarily threw us because the DA7100ES is, in fact, a 7-channel receiver. Yes, you can hook up a total of nine speakers, but the number of discrete channels remains the same: 7. If you plan on sticking with standard 5.1 surround in your main system, you can take advantage of the receiver's A/B switching to assign the front channels to speakers in one room and the surround-back channels to speakers in another. An equalizer function with five memory settings provides separate bass, midrange, and treble settings for the front, center, and surround speakers. The DA71000ES is a remarkably flexible receiver.
An adjustable A/V lip-sync control provides up to a 200-millisecond delay, which might come in handy if your TV's pictures lag behind your audio. The best DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD discs demonstrated just how good the Sony STR-DA7100ES can sound. Norah Jones's Come Away with Me SACD, with its unhyped vocals and richly portrayed instrumental presence, revealed ample detail without a trace of harshness or exaggeration. Rocking out with Dire Straits' classic Brothers in Arms, remastered on Dual Disc, showcased the DA7100ES's surround sound. The new 5.1 mix melted away the walls of our home theater as the dimensions of the soundstage took on holographic proportions.
A stack of CDs ranging from Radiohead's Kid A to John Coltrane's Giant Steps came across with unfailing realism. Drums had impressive impact and a visceral quality we rarely hear from receivers, and with 170 watts per channel at our beck and call, the DA7100ES can easily fill even fairly large home theaters with sound.
The receiver effortlessly decoded the dense range of sounds coursing through The Interpreter DVD. The failed assassination sequence at the United Nations sounded especially chilling, with its heart-pounding score and occasional, but scarily realistic, gunfire. We compared the Sony receiver with Yamaha's new RX-V4600 and determined that the Yamaha sounded slightly clearer and more detailed; the Sony's balance was softer and more laid back. The DA71000ES's sound quality approached that of high-end separates selling for many times the cost.
We hooked the DA71000ES to a variety of gear to test its HDMI upconversion, and for the most part, it worked as advertised. The video quality of standard-def sources did not improve appreciably, and HDTV sources did not seem to suffer at all from the pass-through. The HDMI handshake worked properly on the high-def sets we connected, including a , a , and . A couple of times we had to establish a connection by switching away from the TV's HDMI input and back, but your experience with issues such as this will vary depending on which TV you connect.