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Sony DAV (2006 Dream system) review: Sony DAV (2006 Dream system)

Sony DAV (2006 Dream system)

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
8 min read
With a $900 list price, the Sony DAV-FX900W is poised at the high end of the company's 2006 home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) lineup; only the $2,000 DAV-LF1H is more expensive. To be sure, the DAV-FX900W has an impressive list of desirable features: a sleek front head unit with a combined A/V receiver and five-disc DVD changer that provides HDMI output with 720p/1080i video upscaling; the ability to receive XM Satellite Radio (with an add-on antenna accessory and a subscription); and automatic speaker calibration. Moreover, the system boasts front and rear tower speakers, with the option to connect the rear ones wirelessly, obviating the need for running speaker cables from the front to the back of your room. The only problem was the Sony's sound--it certainly wasn't bad, but considering the hefty $900 price tag, we weren't altogether wowed by its sonic quality on DVD or CD. Notably, there are three less expensive all-in-one HTIBs you can buy from Sony. While they're not quite as slick-looking as the FX900W, they offer the same basic multidisc changer and HDMI capabilities. For a lot of consumers, any one of them may well be the better buy. For this new generation of so-called DVD Dream Systems, Sony moved away from the all-silver finish to a brushed black-and-silver look that we found quite handsome. The Sony DAV-FX900W's slot-loading disc mechanism eliminates the loading tray; you simply feed each disc into the slot on the front panel. But the changer takes its time loading and unloading discs, requiring almost 20 seconds to start playing a CD, 30 seconds to change discs, and 8 seconds to eject one. The low-profile receiver stands 2.75 inches high, 17.5 wide, and 16 deep. Build quality is unusually solid.

The elegant main front and surround speakers are 23.25 inches tall and can be wall mounted as is, used with the short table stands, or mounted on the floor stands--both types are provided. When stand mounted, the speakers are 47.25 inches tall. Speaker-stand assembly is labor intensive and involves threading wires through the stand/bases; screwing together bases, columns, and brackets; and attaching the wireless electronics to the left surround speaker's base. The whole routine for all four speakers consumed 45 minutes but, thankfully, needs to be done only once. The circular wireless receiver/amplifier that fits under the left surround speaker's pedestal base needs to be plugged into an AC outlet, and you have to run a speaker wire across the back of the room to the other "wireless" surround speaker.


Sony DAV (2006 Dream system)

The Good

The Sony DAV-FX900W is a stylish, feature-packed, home-theater system that can be configured with wired or wireless surround speakers. Highlights include four tallboy speakers that can also be wall mounted, HDMI output with 720p/1080i video upscaling, automatic speaker calibration, and a front-panel input for portable audio players. The sleek receiver/five-disc changer plays DVDs, CDs, and SACDs, and the system is XM-ready.

The Bad

The slot-loading disc changer looks cool but slows things down. The remote control has some usability issues, and there's no direct control over subwoofer volume. While this machine can display DVD content via any video output, external devices using the composite- or component-video inputs must use those corresponding outputs.

The Bottom Line

The Sony DAV-FX900W Dream System maxes out on style and features--such as HDMI output and wireless rear speakers--but its sound quality is disappointing relative to the price.

The superslim center speaker is a shade under 2 inches tall and 15 wide. The speakers are all dark gray-and-silver plastic with black metal grilles, but the subwoofer's medium-density-fiberboard construction feels pretty solid. It's 6.75 inches wide, 15.6 high, and 17.5 deep.

The A/V receiver's autosetup and speaker calibration routine was quick and painless. That said, once it was done, we thought the subwoofer was too loud, and since the remote doesn't offer direct control over the sub's volume--as most Panasonic HTIBs do--we had to read and reread the owner's manual to learn how to adjust the subwoofer volume to our liking. We eventually found the subwoofer volume buried in a Speaker Setup menu, but getting there requires far too many button pushes and an excess of obtuse menu navigation. It's not something you'd want to tackle every time you play a DVD or CD. While we're complaining, we'll also point out the slick Sony lacks some extremely basic features such as bass and treble controls.

The remote's layout was pretty good overall, but we didn't appreciate the placement of the volume and function (input selector) controls right next to each other. If we accidentally hit the function control in the middle of watching a DVD, the Sony DAV-FX900W would change inputs and stop the movie; that must have happened five times over the few days we used the FX900W. Resuming DVD playback took 25 seconds--far too long for our liking. The Sony DAV-FX900W's receiver/changer digital amplifier delivers 84 watts per channel (including the surrounds, whether they're wired or wireless) and 162 watts to the subwoofer. The unit offers the requisite surround-processing modes, including Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, and proprietary Sony surround options. The five-disc changer plays DVDs, DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW discs, Super Audio CDs, standard CDs, and MP3 and JPEG discs.

Connectivity is better than average for an all-in-one home-theater system. The head unit includes all the video outputs you'd find on a good DVD player--S-Video, as well as component- and composite-video outputs--along with an HDMI output that can scale DVDs to as high as 720p and 1080i resolution when connected to compatible HDTVs. There are two sets of A/V inputs: one offers just composite-video in, while the other set features composite- or component-video ins. Most HTIBs have just a couple of audio-only inputs, so two video inputs--one with an ultrarare component input--would normally be worth trumpeting. Unfortunately, Sony didn't follow through with the final convenience of video conversion. That means those are pass-through inputs only--composite to composite, component to component--rather than converting those incoming video signals to any and all of the DVD outputs: composite, S-Video, component, and HDMI. As a result, using the inputs for other A/V sources--say, a VCR, a DVD recorder, a cable/satellite box, or a game console--gives you little advantage to running the wires straight to your TV; you'll need to flip to the TV's corresponding video input anyway.

Rounding out the rear-panel connections are two digital audio inputs: one optical and one coaxial. There's also a connector for an XM Connect-and-Play antenna. To receive XM's 160-plus music, talk, and entertainment channels you'll need to buy a compatible antenna (such as the Audiovox CNP1000) and subscribe to the XM service, which charges a monthly fee. On the front panel, you'll find a 1/8-inch input for quick connections to a portable audio player, such as an iPod--handy for listening to your MP3s on the big speakers when you're at home. The Sony DAV-FX900W offers an A/V Sync feature to reestablish lip sync with TV displays that lag behind audio, but because it's not adjustable--you can only turn it on or off--it's not terribly useful.

The tower speakers all feature the same oval-shaped 2.8-by-4-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter. Curiously, the center speaker is tweeterless and has just one 1.25-by-3.25-inch woofer. The subwoofer has a 7.8-inch woofer on its right side.

One big selling point of the Sony DAV-FX900W is its wireless rear-speaker option. Sony's proprietary Digital Infrared Audio Transmission Technology (DIAT) requires a clear line of sight between the small infrared (IR) transmitter that you plug into the receiver/DVD changer and one of the surround speakers. If someone gets up and walks between the IR transmitter and the speaker, the sound will momentarily drop out. Otherwise, we found the system worked well and didn't suffer from the dropouts we've heard from 2.4GHz radio wireless systems that don't rely on line of sight but are susceptible to interference from other household devices. If the wireless system sounds like too much of a hassle, you can go ahead and hook up the surround speakers using wires. Like almost all "wireless" home-theater systems, though, this one eliminates only the front-to-back wires that would run between the receiver/DVD changer and the surround speakers.

Sony 2006 HTIBs compared:

Model Quick Take Release date Price
Sony HT-DDW700 Entry-level component-style HTIB includes 5.1-speaker system and A/V receiver; 800 watts total power; automatic speaker calibration; user must supply a DVD player. May 2006
Sony HT-DDW900 Component-style HTIB includes 5.1-speaker system and A/V receiver with two HDMI inputs; 900 watts total power; automatic speaker calibration; user must supply a DVD player. May 2006
Sony HT-7000DH Component-style HTIB includes a five-disc DVD/CD changer with HDMI upscaling output; separate A/V receiver with two HDMI inputs; XM-ready; 900 watts total power; automatic speaker calibration. April 2006
Sony DAV-DX255 Built-in five-disc DVD/CD/SACD changer with HDMI upscaling output; 1,000 watts total power; automatic speaker calibration; front-panel audio input for easy connection to portable audio devices. May 2006
Sony DAV-DX375 Built-in five-disc DVD/CD/SACD changer with HDMI upscaling output; 1,000 watts total power; automatic speaker calibration; includes front speaker stands. April 2006
Sony DAV-FX500 Built-in five-disc DVD/CD/SACD changer with HDMI upscaling output; 1,000 watts total power; XM-ready; automatic speaker calibration; tallboy-style front-left and front-right speakers; front-panel audio input for easy connection to portable audio devices. May 2006
Sony DAV-FX900W Built-in five-disc DVD/CD/SACD changer with HDMI upscaling output; 1,280 watts total power; XM-ready; automatic speaker calibration; tallboy-style front and rear speakers; rear speakers can be connected wirelessly or with wires; front-panel audio input for easy connection to portable audio devices. May 2006
Sony DAV-LF1H Built-in single-disc DVD/CD/SACD player with HDMI upscaling output; 600 watts total power; flat tallboy-style front and rear speakers; rear speakers can be connected wirelessly or with wires. July 2006
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a hilarious, pulpy detective story. Robert Downey Jr. stars as Harry Lockhart and serves as our narrator, and we have to admit that his voice sounded huge coming out of the skinny center speaker of the Sony DAV-FX900W. The FX900W's front and back speakers presented seamless surround effects, and the tall speakers effectively disappeared as sources of sound. Soundstage and depth were decent. On most discs, the FX900W could play pretty darn loud. But we also noted that on most of the DVDs we played, dialog had a pronounced nasal quality, and while the FX900W can sound warm and full, it lacks the detail and refinement we heard from Onkyo's better HTIBs, such as the Onkyo HT-S990THX. On a less expensive system--say, less than $500--that would be par for the course, but we expect better from a $900 unit near the top of Sony's line.

Turning to music, we popped in T-Bone Burnett's new True False Identity CD. It's got a low-down, almost sinister growl to it; and the DAV-FX900W, thanks in large part to the subwoofer's punchy bass, delivered the goods. But the sound detail of the satellites was muted, dulling the sound of the guitars and drums. Since the Sony doesn't have bass and treble controls, there's not much you can do to change the tonal balance.

The DAV-FX900W is outfitted with Sony's Portable Audio Enhancer circuit for use with MP3 players and iPods, but when we hooked up our iPod, the sound was harsh and lacking in bass compared to CD quality.

SACD sound quality was a little better than CD, evident on James Taylor's vocal and acoustic guitar on his JT SACD, but we still think the Sony DAV-FX900W does its best with DVD movies; music reproduction isn't as satisfying.


Sony DAV (2006 Dream system)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 5