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.
Review summary We love big stuff: gargantuan SUVs, 65-inch televisions, and half-gallon Big Gulps. But when it comes to audio components, we crave the petite, and Sony is hip to the trend. The company's receivers, among them the STR-DE695, are some of the most space-efficient we've seen. The DE695's list price, just $299, is also commendably small, making this model Sony's least expensive six-channel receiver this year. The big news is the small size. The DE695's 17-inch width and 6.25-inch height are standard, but its depth is a mere 12.25 inches--this machine will squeeze in anywhere. Most receivers measure 16 inches or deeper, not an easy fit for the usual shelving and cabinetry.
The DE695's unusually well-organized front panel and display are nice pluses, and we especially liked having direct access to stereo and various surround modes. Since the unit doesn't offer an onscreen menu system, we were thankful for its straightforward and logical speaker and setup routines.
The silver-and-black remote is also above par. Instead of the usual tiny, indistinguishable buttons, Sony uses different sizes and shapes, so despite its lack of illumination, the control was easy to operate in the dark. The DE695's power, 90 watts per each of the six channels, will be ample for most buyers. Surround fans will delight in the processing modes: Dolby EX and Pro Logic II, as well as DTS ES and Neo:6.
Connectivity is nothing to sneeze at. You get component-video switching, a set of 5.1-channel SACD/DVD-Audio inputs, and a good assortment of digital jacks: four ins (three optical and one coaxial) and one optical out. Beyond that, there are only three other A/V inputs and a smattering of stereo analog-audio ins and outs. The receiver features banana plug-compatible speaker connectors for all six primary channels, but Sony saved a few pennies by choosing spring clips for the other speakers. As long as they don't need S-Video, gamers and camcorder photographers will appreciate the front panel's composite-video and stereo-audio inputs. Solaris is an American take on the classic Russian theme of unrequited love in deep space. When we played the DVD on our JVC RX-8030VBK receiver, the movie's subtle textures and nuances kept us on the edge of our seats, but the DE695's smoothed-over rendition blunted the film's emotional power. Our CD test confirmed that the JVC's audio is slightly finer and purer than the Sony's. On Morphine's The Night, the DE695's sloppy bass response was obvious, and the lack of immediacy and treble sparkle rendered a bland sound.
Ah, but the JVC, listed at $450, is more expensive. To compare apples and apples, we considered the Onkyo TX-SR501, which has a list price of $300. The Sony again came out sounding slightly coarser and sloppier. Of course, most listeners don't subject their receivers to this sort of scrutiny, and you may enjoy the DE695's laid-back sound.
We continued our evaluation with the newly remastered DVD-Audio version of a Beach Boys classic, Pet Sounds. This disc features a surround-heavy 5.1-channel mix that made big demands on the DE695's power reserves. We never detected any strain or distortion; on the contrary, the huge sound of the band's ethereal voices and the studio musicians' percussion, strings, and horns filled every corner of our listening room.
In the final analysis, the DE695's sonics didn't wow us, but they never crossed the line and actively irritated us.