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Sony STR-DN1010 review: Sony STR-DN1010

Sony STR-DN1010
6.7

Sony STR-DN1010

The Good

7.1 channel AV receiver; four HDMI inputs; graphical user interface; analog video upconversion; audio return channel support; standby pass-through; 3D compatible.

The Bad

Not our top pick for sound quality; requires $100 dock for iPod/iPhone connectivity; competitors offer more HDMI inputs; skimpy on extra features, such as traditional multiroom functionality and USB connectivity; dynamic range compression turned on by default.

The Bottom Line

Sony's midrange AV receiver improves on its predecessor with new HDMI features like standby pass-through and 3D compatibility, but it lacks a compelling reason to pick it over its competitors.

When Sony announced its 2010 line of AV receivers in February, the STR-DN1010 was the first AV receiver announced with 3D pass-through capability, and it was a step-up feature over Sony's STR-DH810. Since then, however, 3D compatibility has become commonplace, trickling down to receivers as inexpensive as Denon's $250 AVR-391 and Pioneer's $230 VSX-520-K. That largely tells the story of Sony's midrange AV receiver, which is certainly an improvement last year's STR-DN1000, but lags compared to competitors, which offer more HDMI inputs, better sound quality and easy iPod/iPhone connectivity. Even its once best-in-class graphical user interface has now been surpassed by the new menus found on the Yamaha RX-V667. If you're a fan of the Sony brand, there's nothing wrong with the STR-DN1010 and it still offers a good value, but there are better options available in the same price range for the majority of buyers.

Design
The STR-DN1010 goes for a minimalist look, with a glossy front panel uncluttered by the usual knobs and buttons that tend dominate AV receivers. There's a power button the left, a large volume button the right (with a mute button), and an input selector button rocker--and that's it. We're fans of the "less is more" look, as we rarely feel the need to use front panel buttons anyway. If you do need them, they're still there, underneath the flip-down panel that runs along the bottom. There are a few buttons for changing sound modes, plus an AV input and the port for the automatic speaker calibration microphone.

STR-DN1010 flip-down panel
There's an extra AV input and the port for the auto setup mic under the flip-down panel.

Most gadgets have gotten much thinner over the year, but AV receivers still tend to require plenty of AV shelf space. The STR-DN1010 is a full-sized AV receiver, coming in at 16.9 inches wide, 12.8 inches deep and 6.2 inches high. It's actually quite a bit shallower than the competitors like the Denon AVR-1911 and Pioneer VSX-1020-K, so it might be a good choice if you have a tight AV cabinet. If you're looking for a substantially smaller unit, check out the slimline Marantz NR1601.

The included remote is better than average for an AV receiver. It manages to offer enough functionality without becoming overwhelming. Input buttons are given priority at the top of the remote, and the direction pad is below, for navigating the GUI. As with most AV receiver remotes, the STR-DN1010's clicker tries to do too much by being able to control other devices. That means anytime you press "BD" to select that input, the remote will then start trying to control the Blu-ray player, rather than the receiver. As always, it's worth considering an upgrade to a quality universal remote.

STR-DN1010 user interface
The STR-DN1010's XMB-inspired user interface is a step above the text-based interfaces offered by some competitors.

STR-DN1010 speaker setup interface
The GUI is most helpful for visualizing configuration chores like manual speaker setup.

If you press the large menu button, it will bring up the STR-DN1010's graphical user interface (GUI). Although the graphics are barebones--it's far from the eye candy you'd find on, say, a Blu-ray player--we do find that it's a worthwhile step-up from the blocky text interfaces offered on competitors like the Denon AVR-1911 and Marantz NR1601. We found it relatively easy to assign and rename inputs, and the visual nature of the menu was most helpful for visualizing setup tasks like speaker setup. Overall, we prefer the more colorful look and faster response time of the Yamaha RX-V667's menus, but the STR-DN1010's are a step-above the norm.

Features

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key AV receiver features
Channels 7.1 Analog video upconversion Yes
Graphical user interface Yes Automatic speaker calibration Yes
Warranty 2-year
The STR-DN1010 has an excellent set of key features. Like all AV receivers at this price, it offers analog video upconversion, so your component and composite video signals can be output via HDMI. We were also pleased to see it offered a two year warranty, unlike the Pioneer VSX-1020-K's stingy one year warranty.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">HDMI features
HDMI version 1.4a 3D pass-through Yes
Audio return channel Yes Standby pass-through Yes
The Sony comes with a full suite of the new HDMI features offered this year. Like nearly every receiver this year, it supports 3D pass-through, which means it can pass a 3D video signal from a 3D video source to a 3D HDTV. The STR-DN1010 also supports audio return channel functionality, as well as standby pass-through. Those features gives it the edge over the Pioneer VSX-1020-K in that department.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Audio decoding features "="">Other: Night mode
Dolby TrueHD Yes DTS-HD Master Audio Yes
Dolby ProLogic IIz Yes
As is standard, the STR-DN1010 includes onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DST-HD Master Audio, plus decoding for Dolby ProLogic IIz. While the Sony does have a "Night Mode," it doesn't have nearly as many sound options as competitors, many of which feature a full suite of Audyssey sound processing options.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Video connectivity
HDMI inputs 4 Component video inputs 3
Composite video inputs 4 Max connected HD devices 7
Four HDMI inputs are the minimum we expect at this price level, although many competitors offer six, including the Pioneer VSX-1020-K, Onkyo TX-SR608 and Yamaha RX-V667. The rest of its analog video connectivity is better than average, but that's less of a concern to us now that nearly every home theater gadget features HDMI. Altogether the STR-DN1010 can switch between seven HD devices at a time, but we still wish it featured more HDMI ports.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Audio connectivity
Optical inputs 3 Coaxial inputs 1
Stereo analog audio inputs 6 Multichannel analog inputs No
Minijack No Phono input No
Audio connectivity options are relatively standard. Four total digital audio inputs should be enough to handle any devices that don't use HDMI for audio. The lack of phono and multichannel analog inputs is unfortunate, but they are standard omissions these days. We were more disappointed that the STR-DN1010 doesn't have a minijack input, especially since it also doesn't have out-of-the-box iPod connectivity.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Additional features "="">Other: S-Air compatible
iPod connectivity No Satellite radio Sirius
USB ports 0 IR input/output No
The lack of out-of-the-box iPod/iPhone compatibility is a major downside, as the Pioneer VSX-1020-K, Denon AVR-1911 and Marantz NR1601 all have compatible USB ports. (You can purchase a separate iPod dock from Sony.) Compared to other receivers at this price level, the STR-DN1010 seems a little light on additional features, with most competitors having at least some extras like IR inputs/outputs or optional Bluetooth capability.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Multiroom features
Line level 2nd zone outputs No Powered 2nd zone outputs No
Again, the STR-DN1010 comes up short with no traditional second zone functionality. Yes, you can operate a second zone using Sony's S-Air products, but that's less valuable to us than, say, powered second zone outputs, where you can use existing bookshelf speakers that you may already have.

Audio setup
The STR-DN1010's DCAC (Digital Cinema Auto Calibration) automatic speaker calibration system is super easy to use. Not only that, it takes about a minute to complete; just plug in the supplied microphone, bring up the Auto Cal page in the GUI, and initiate the program. Unlike Onkyo, Marantz or Denon's Audyssey calibration routines that require the user to repeat the procedure three or more times with different microphone positions, the STR-DN1010 gets the job done from a single mic position.

The DCAC determines each speaker's "size," frequency response, volume level, distance from the listening positions, and the speakers' optimal crossover frequency relative to the subwoofer. After we completed the DCAC we noted the DN1010 misidentified the size of the center speaker in our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD reference speaker system as "Large" (it should be "Small").

We didn't immediately make the correction in the STR DN1010's manual speaker setup menu; the sound balances were fine with the "Large" setting. The only potential problem with leaving the center speaker size as "Large" would be that an extremely dynamic movie soundtrack might overdrive or damage the center speaker (as a "Large" speaker, it would be sent full-range, deep bass signals).

In everyday use the "Large" setting wouldn't be a problem, and when we briefly experimented with changing the setting to "Small" we didn't like the sound as much. We used the speaker settings determined by the DCAC for the duration of our listening tests. Listening at commonsense volume levels we doubt STR-DN1010 owners would be taking undue risk with their speakers with the settings determined by the DCAC.

We did make one change in the Audio Settings menu: The STR-DN1010's factory default setting for D. Range Compression (dynamic range compression) is "Standard." With the D. Range Compression turned on our DVDs and Blu-rays dynamic range and impact were reduced, so we turned the D. Range Compression "Off." The default setting baffles us, especially since many owners will never realize the compression is turned on, unless they read the STR-DN1010's instruction manual or fully explore the manual setup menus.

Audio performance
We'd characterize the STR-DN10101's sound as warm and rich, and that was the case with all of the movies and music we played during our auditions. It was a big step up from what we've heard in our recent reviews of sound bar home theater systems. A receiver, used with a top quality speaker system like our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD produces a significantly bigger, more room-filling sound, with deeper, more powerful bass, and superior clarity than any sound bar on the market.

Listening to a recently released classical SACD, Benjamin Britten's "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" in 5.1 surround confirmed all of the above observations. The sound was spacious, and the music floated free of the actual locations of the five Aperion speakers, so we could almost believe we were in a concert hall. This is an extremely dynamic recording, and the STR-DN1010 never showed signs of strain, even during the most demanding passages. Our sole criticism of the sound was the bass--there was lots of it, but definition was muddy. CDs were also too bassy, but other than that, they sounded great in stereo.

A coming-of-age rock bio-pic, "The Runaways," charts the history of the first all-girl punk band in the 1970s. Starring Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cherie, the girls struggle to get the band together. The sound of the girls playing in clubs and rehearsal studios was very good, in a "you-are-there" sort of way. The raunchy rock had plenty of punch and power. We next experimented with the STR-DN1010's D. Range Compression that reduced the soundtrack's soft-to-loud dynamics without overtly affecting sound quality. It does a good job.

To finish up we compared the STR-DN1010 with Pioneer's VSX-1020-K receiver. Before the advent of auto speaker calibration systems most similarly priced receivers sounded nearly the same, but the sound of these two, after calibration, was very large. First, on the Britten SACD the bass went deeper and definition was greatly improved with the Pioneer. In fact, the overall clarity of the SACD was dramatically better with the VSX-1020 receiver. Then again, some listeners may prefer the STR-DN1010's richer tonal balance, though you can sweeten the VSX-1020's sound with its various equalization and room-tuning adjustments and make it sound more like the Sony.

The violent gunfire and helicopter crash on the "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray demonstrated the Pioneer receiver's home theater superiority. The differences in clarity and dialog intelligibility between the two receivers were easy to hear. The VSX-1020-K made the skinny Aperion 4T tower speakers sound like bigger, much more powerful speakers; with the STR-DN1010 we were more aware that the deep bass was coming from the subwoofer.

Sony STR-DN1010
6.7

Sony STR-DN1010

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 6