When it comes to A/V receivers, Sony's offerings haven't exactly dominated the field. In an effort to figure out why, we decided to check out Sony's latest midprice contender, the STR-DE998 ($499 list). The receiver delivers a bit more power than average, with 110 watts to each of its seven channels; offers decent connectivity options; and turns in an impressive performance, but we were less than thrilled with its bland styling and quirky setup routines. As a result, the Sony STR-DE998 is a receiver that doesn't much distinguish itself from the pack. Sony's stylists are a talented group, but they must have taken the day off when the STR-DE998 was passing through the system. We're kidding, but the black plastic receiver looks awfully bland next to the stellar cosmetics of Harman Kardon or Rotel. We're not just knocking the look--the STR-DE998's plastic knobs, tiny buttons, and faceplate feel a little low rent too. Come on Sony, you can do better! That said, when we removed the receiver's top cover to take a look inside, we found the Sony STR-DE998's build quality to be on par with the competition.
The receiver measures just a hair less than 17 inches wide, 6.25 inches high, and 15.8 inches deep; it weighs 29.8 pounds.
The small remote handset features an illuminated LCD window and nifty scrollwheel that selects inputs, but its button layout and design are only fair, and we never really got used to it. We also found the receiver's setup procedures even more daunting than average. We reread the user's manual--which doesn't offer any clues about the receiver's onscreen menus--a number of times and made our way through the setup trials. Sony's designers should consider an autosetup and calibration feature, similar to the excellent system in Pioneer's VSX-D914 for example, when cooking up future models.
Even more troubling: when we played music in the stereo mode, the DE998 didn't send a signal to our subwoofer. To get any bass, we had to play CDs or the radio in surround, which put the sub back in the game. The Sony STR-DE998 delivers 110 watts to each of its seven channels, while its surround processing runs to nearly all of the Dolby and DTS modes plus a smattering of proprietary Sony DSP modes. All that's missing is Dolby Headphone for surround fun via stereo headphones.
Connectivity options are somewhat disappointing, in that you have only two sets of component-video inputs; many competing receivers, such as Onkyo's TX-SR602 and , have three. The STR-DE998 has a total of five A/V inputs (four with S-Video); a whopping six digital audio inputs (four optical, two coaxial); one optical output; two analog inputs, including one recorder plus a turntable input; an eight-channel analog SACD/DVD-Audio input; and a set of Zone 2 stereo audio outputs that can be connected to an outboard amplifier. That's nice, though we guess most folks would rather avoid that expense and use the DE998's A/B speaker switching to get sound into another room. Speaker connectors accept banana jacks or bare wire ends. The front panel also features a complete set of A/V inputs and one optical digital input--all are included in the totals above.
If your TV has a component-video input, you'll need to run only one set of cables from the DE998; the receiver will upconvert your VCR or cable box's composite or S-Video outputs to component video. When we explored the limits of this receiver's stamina with the Matrix Reloaded DVD, the Sony STR-DE998 never flinched. The body blows punctuating the fight scenes were palpable, and the potent Sony didn't inhibit the vehicular mayhem on the smash-'em-up car chase coursing through Chapter 21. When the SUVs did multiple backflips, we literally felt their end-over-end impacts with the asphalt. Ouch!
Satisfied with the DE998's heavyweight home-theater skills, we settled down to watch the Kinsey DVD. This quiet film doesn't have special effects, but its realistic soundtrack pulls you into the story, so when Dr. Kinsey lectures his students, you feel like you're in the classroom.
Next, we auditioned some SACDs. The sound was magical, especially Mobile Fidelity's newly remastered Gershwin, American in Paris multichannel disc. The orchestra filled our large home theater; its dynamic range was thrilling, and the strings' sound was positively lush. Two-channel SACDs' sound was three-dimensional, though we did become aware of the DE998's tendency to soften some discs' inner detail. The hard rock CDs' edges were softened a wee bit.
We compared the DE998 with Sony's higher-end receiver and definitely heard a family resemblance. It shares the pricier model's poise and sweet tonal balance, but the DA3100ES was more transparent, and its sound seemed to open up more so that it was less confined to the speakers, especially when we turned up the volume. That said, the DE998 is, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, a better value.
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