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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Sony STR-DN1020

Design

Front panel

Front panel USB port

iPod dock included

Graphical user interface

Cramped menu system

Remote

Remote app

Connectivity

Automatic speaker calibration mic

Side view

Sony AV receivers can be unpredictable, going from best in class one year to mediocre the next. The STR-DN1020 is Sony's midrange model for 2011, and it's underwhelming. It has fewer HDMI inputs than all of its competitors, it lacks the built-in AirPlay upgrade available on competing Denon and Pioneer options, and its paltry selection of streaming-media services is beaten by Onkyo and Yamaha. We'd be willing to accept those shortcomings if they were made up for with outstanding sound quality, but the STR-DN1020 was a step behind other midrange receivers to our ears. The STR-DN1020 doesn't have a deal-breaking flaw, but its competitors are better in every way that counts.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Like other AV receivers, the STR-DN1020 is a large black box. Its design is cluttered, with three knobs and plenty of small buttons scattered on the front panel.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Considering the fact that we hardly ever use the front-panel buttons on our AV receiver, we'd prefer a more minimalist look. While we generally don't care that much about the aesthetics of AV receivers, the design of the STR-DN1020 certainly looks less refined and thoughtful than that of the competing Denon AVR-1912.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
We did appreciate the STR-DN1020's front-panel USB port, which allows you to directly connect an iPhone or iPod via USB.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
The STR-DN1020 is unique in that it includes an iPod dock, although we're not sure why Sony went through the trouble when you can also connect an iPod or iPhone directly via USB.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Sony was originally one of the innovators in adding GUIs to AV receivers, but the STR-DN1020 doesn't reflect that. While the STR-DN1020's GUI is decent for simple functions like assigning inputs, it's very cumbersome when using more advanced networking and streaming functions.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
One of the biggest issues is that the GUI doesn't make good use of the screen space. All the menus are cramped into a small box in the middle of the screen, which doesn't leave enough room for most functions.

For example, navigating Internet radio (vTuner) functions is incredibly tedious. If you browse stations by location, you can only see a measly two locations at a time and are forced to scroll to see more choices. And even when you finally get something to play, the GUI shows a scrolling message at the bottom to "Press DISPLAY to view the information." Not only is that message somewhat cryptic, but there's no reason seeing full artist and song information should require a button press.

Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
The included remote for the STR-DN1020 is decent, which is more than we can say about most AV receiver remotes. We liked the large white buttons toward the top of the remote. Unfortunately, those buttons also have secondary functions written in pink above them, which makes things somewhat confusing for anyone not already schooled in the language of receiver remotes. Also, the volume rocker--arguably the most important button--is placed far too low on the remote.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
The STR-DN1020 can also be controlled by Sony's Media Remote application, available for both Android and iOS. While other manufacturers have created apps designed specifically for AV receivers, Sony's app can be used to control several types of Sony home AV products, which makes it not particularly suited to controlling the STR-DN1020. Whereas Onkyo's remote app is smartly designed so you almost never need to look at the GUI on your TV, Sony's app functions more like an app version of the physical remote, forcing you to frequently look back and forth between your phone and your TV. We doubt we'd use the Media Remote app frequently.
Caption by / Photo by Matthew Moskovciak/CNET
Video connectivity--or more specifically, HDMI connectivity--is a weakness for the STR-DN1020. Every competing AV receiver has at least five HDMI inputs, with most having six, so Sony's four seems particularly paltry.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
The STR-DN1020's Digital Cinema Auto Calibration (DCAC) auto setup system is super easy to use. Just plug in the supplied microphone, bring up the Auto Cal page on the GUI menu, and have the program initiate its very short series of test tones through the speakers and subwoofer. Unlike Onkyo's or Denon's Audyssey calibration routines that require you to repeat the procedure three or more times with different microphone positions, the STR-DN1020 gets the job done from a single mic position.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
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