Even for savvy home theater enthusiasts, buying an AV receiver can be a chore, requiring hours hunched over spec sheets trying to figure out what each model offers. From a general perspective, the Sony STR-DH700 looks to offer a good value, as a 7.1 AV receiver with three HDMI inputs, widely available for less than $300. However, the details aren't as kind to Sony's receiver, as it lacks onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio and an onscreen display--both of which are available on Pioneer's VSX-819H, which has a street price only slightly higher. We could have overlooked this if the STR-DH700 performed better than average for its price, but we were mostly underwhelmed by its sonics, although it's a decent choice for movies as long as you don't crank it too loud. While the STR-DH700 is a perfectly capable AV receiver at a budget price, we think most buyers will be better served by alternatives. Die-hard Sony fans, meanwhile, will need to spend more for one of the better-appointed receivers in the company's 2009 line-up.
AV receivers are typically the workhorses of home theaters and the STR-DH700 has an appropriately utilitarian look for the task. The front panel is all black, and about two-thirds of the way down it bevels out, which is more visually appealing than the sheer design of last year's STR-DG820. There are two small knobs on the left--tone control and input selector--and a larger volume knob on the far right. Between the knobs is the LCD screen, which is of average size, although because the STR-DH700 lacks onscreen menus, it would be nice if the screen was a little larger.
We were fans of the large remote control included with last year's STR-DG920, so we were disappointed to see the STR-DH700 came packaged with the same style of remote usually included on the company's home-theater-in-a-box systems. It's not a bad clicker, but it has a cluttered look and important buttons like the volume rocker aren't as large as we'd like. The remote is capable of being programmed to control other Sony devices, but not devices made by other manufacturers.
The STR-DH700 receiver features Sony's DCAC (Digital Cinema Auto Calibration), an automatic speaker calibration system that determines the size of each speaker, sets the subwoofer-to-speaker crossover frequency, adjusts the volume level of each speaker, and measures the distance between each speaker and the listening position. To start speaker calibration, simply plug in the (supplied) A.CAL microphone, then initiate DCAC by pressing the AUTO CAL button on the remote. All of the measurements are taken from just one mic position.
The setup process takes around three minutes, during which time the receiver sends test tones to all of the speakers, but the autocalibration doesn't set the subwoofer's volume. That's something you have to do for yourself. But since we usually have to reset the sub volume after autosetup anyway, we really didn't mind that the STR-DH700 omits that function.
After autosetup, we checked the results and noted that the DCAC misidentified the center and surround speakers of our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD system as "large" speakers. Since the 4C center speaker and 4B satellite have 4-inch woofers with limited deep bass we classify them as "small" speakers. When a receiver recognizes a speaker as small, it redirects some of the bass that would normally go to the speaker to the subwoofer. That's what bass management is all about.
Manual setup chores are somewhat complicated by the receiver's lack of an onscreen display; to correct the STR-DH700's bass management mistake we had to slog through the manual speaker setup menus. It's not that big a deal, but navigating the receiver's small display menus might be a hassle for home theater novices.
|Dolby TrueHD + DTS-HD MA||No||Onscreen display||No|
|Analog upconversion||No||Source renaming||Yes|
|Selectable output resolution||No||Satellite radio||Sirius|
The Sony STR-DGH700 is clearly a budget AV receiver, offering bare-bones functionality. It does not offer onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, which is included on the Pioneer VSX-819H, but it's worth pointing out that decoding for these formats is less important now that almost all new Blu-ray players offer onboard decoding. There's also no onscreen display (also available on the Pioneer), so you'll have to change settings using the small LCD screen on the unit.
|HDMI inputs||3||Optical audio inputs||2|
|Component video inputs||3||Coaxial audio inputs||1|
|Max connected HD devices||4||Stereo analog audio inputs||2|
|Composite AV inputs||4||Analog multichannel inputs||No|
|Max connected video devices||4||Phono input||No|
The most important connections here are the three HDMI inputs, which is equal to what you get on the comparable Pioneer VSX-819H-K and Onkyo TX-SR307, but is more than the two available on the Yamaha RX-V365BL. Surprisingly, there are three component video connections (many receivers only have two these days), but remember that there's no analog video upconversion, so you'll need to run the component video output to your HDTV. Like almost all receivers now, the STR-DH700 lacks S-Video inputs, offering composite video connections instead.
Sony also has its proprietary DM port, which allows you to connect a variety of compatible accessories, such as the TDM-NC1 (a Wi-Fi music streamer), the TDM-BT1 (a Bluetooth adapter), and the TDM-IP50 (an iPod/iPhone dock). The add-ons are expensive, and again, the similarly priced VSX-819H-K has a USB port into which you can simply plug an iPod/iPhone.
|Line level 2nd zone outputs||No||Line level 3rd zone outputs||No|
|Speaker-level 2nd zone outputs||No||Speaker-level 3rd zone outputs||No|
|2nd zone video output||No||2nd zone remote||No|
Unlike many step-up receivers, the STR-DH700 lacks any second-zone functionality. That means you're basically limited to using the STR-DH700 in a single room. It does, however, have "B" speaker connections, so you can add a second pair of speakers in another room that will play the same music as in the main room. Note that the "B" speaker connections double as the surround-back channels, so you're limited to a 5.1-speaker arrangement if you connect B speakers.
Starting out with a straight dramatic movie, "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," the STR-DH700 sounded fine. Set in Germany during World War II, a little boy, Bruno, is the son of a Nazi officer. Dialogue was clear and the outdoor scenes where Bruno befriends a boy his own age who is a concentration camp prisoner sounded very natural. The lush orchestral score was simply gorgeous.
Turning up the home theater heat with the plane crash early in "The Flight of the Phoenix" DVD revealed the STR-DH700's dynamic range limitations. The receiver squashed the sound of the crash's impact. It was less of a crash than a thud. We noted the same lack of amplifier muscle with Cream's "Royal Albert Hall 2005" concert DVD. Jack Bruce's bass guitar lacked definition; Eric Clapton's guitar didn't have the presence it should have.
Joel Fan's brilliant solo piano CD, "West of the Sun," had a laid-back sonic balance over the STR-DH700. The "polite" easy treble might, in fact, be a plus when the receiver is matched with thin or bright-sounding satellite speakers. We next compared the STR-DH700 with a Pioneer VSX-1019AH receiver while playing CDs. The Pioneer's dynamic punch, clarity, and resolution of fine detail were far superior, but in all fairness, it's double the price of the STR-DH700. On the other hand, we felt like buyers who appreciate high-quality audio would be "getting their money's worth" by stepping up to a more powerful AV receiver.
So, sure, if you're looking to play just dramatic films or music at moderate volume, the STR-DH700 will sound fine. But it may not be the best choice for buyers looking for home theater excitement.