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Sony STR-DA1200ES review: Sony STR-DA1200ES

Sony's STR-DA1200ES is one of a rare breed of AV products that has managed to stand the test of time and despite the company recently releasing a new similarly priced model, there are still no plans to take it from the shelves.

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8.3

Sony STR-DA1200ES

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The Good

Stylish design; extremely accurate automatic calibration; video up-conversion; outstanding all-round performance.

The Bad

No integrated HD audio decoding.

The Bottom Line

Sony's STR-DA1200ES sits alongside the very best AV receivers at this price for design, features and performance. It's only because of the absent integrated HD audio decoding that loses it points

Its longevity has been granted by a strong cast of features that still meet all readily available home cinema needs. There's no integrated decoding for high-definition audio formats but since there are so few compatible players around that do, it's not a deal breaker. Besides, there aren't many AV receivers costing £400 that sound as good as this.

Strengths
You can always rely on Sony for a stylish design. The beveled aluminium front panel with a minimalist arrangement of controls makes this one of the most attractive budget AV receivers we've seen. Build quality is equally impressive.

The list of features includes seven channels of 100W amplification, HDMI video switching with support for 1080p signals and video up-conversion from composite and S-Video to component, which will improve the picture quality from your analogue sources. There's also an excellent automatic calibration system that sets up the receiver more quickly and accurately than any other model we've come across at this price point.

While there are a few receivers in this range with a comparable specification, only Onkyo's TX-STR605 can equal the Sony's sensational sound quality. The receiver creates an almost three-dimensional sound stage using far-reaching dynamics, seamless steering and tightly gripped low frequencies. Whatever film soundtrack you're playing, it never sounds strained or coloured, even at high volumes. There is plenty of power to spare, too -- subtleties are not left ignored with outstanding detail, especially in the midrange. Watching an ambient film like Into The Wild emphasises the difference in expressive dialogue compared to rival receivers.

Add commendable two-channel performance to the equation and this is one of the class leaders in the budget bracket of AV receivers.

Weaknesses
The STR-DA1200ES is difficult to beat for style, usability and performance but the absence of integrated high-definition audio decoding, which can be found at this price, might sway HD enthusiasts looking for a future-proof model.

As mentioned, since there aren't many HD players able to send high-definition audio formats such as Dolby True HD and DTS Master Audio in bitstream yet, it's largely a moot point at this time -- but that could change. Until then, Sony's STR-DA1200ES is still one of the best surround sound receivers that you'll come across -- and it even embarrasses some more expensive rivals.

Conclusion
By extending its lifespan, Sony is aware just how good a receiver the STR-DA1200ES is. It offers outstanding ability with practically everything you play and has all the features you'll need at this point in time -- although there are models that can claim to be more future-proof.

Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday