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Sony STR-DN1070 review: Sony receiver sets new performance standard

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The STR-DN1070 boasts built-in Wi-Fi connectivity with support for a number of streaming protocols, including AirPlay, Google Cast and Spotify Connect. It also has compatibility with Sony's "SongPal" multiroom system, with support for download formats including WAV, FLAC and native DSD decoding. Other receivers offer a greater number of streaming options such as Pandora and even Tidal built in, but the Sony's support for Cast and AirPlay makes most such apps easier to use via your phone.

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Three amplified zones.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In addition to Wi-Fi streaming, the company offers Bluetooth on this model with a proprietary spin it calls LDAC. But unless you own the latest Sony 'phones or a ZX2 Walkman, it's normal Bluetooth transmission for you.

A recent update also adds the ability to use Sony's SongPal wireless speakers as rears if snaking speaker cable across the room isn't that appealing to you.

Setup

To test the Sony receiver, we used a pair of ELAC Debut F5 towers in the front left and right positions, an ELAC Debut C5 center-channel speaker, ELAC Debut B5s as surround speakers, and a Klipsch R-110SW subwoofer. We ran the Debut F5 towers as "large" speakers, with the center and surround speaker channels set to "small" and the subwoofer-to-speaker crossover points set to 80 Hz. The complete manual speaker calibration/setup was over and done in just a few minutes.

When comparing the new Sony DN1070 against the older DN1060, we swapped the ELACs out for the Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-160 Home Theater System. We then performed a manual calibration of both receivers with all speakers set to "large" and a lower 40Hz crossover.

Performance

Listening first to music in stereo, with just the Debut F5 towers, and no subwoofer, the STR-DN1070 sounded big, brawny, and full-bodied. Bass was deep and definition rock solid. Of course if you really want to feel the room shake, or if your home theater is located in a large space, go ahead and turn on the sub to add a more solid foundation for your music.

With Radiohead's new "A Moon Shaped Pool" album, the F5 towers produced a broad, deep soundstage. The music's dense textures and the vivid pizzicato strings on the very first track, "Burn the Witch," were ample indications of the STR-DN1070's resolution of fine detail. Thom Yorke's vocals were firmly planted between the two towers.

To kick off our home theater trials, we played the creepy Gothic thriller, "Crimson Peak," which has lots of sounds that go bump in the night. Thanks to the Blu-ray's truly immersive surround sound mix, churning with low bass tremors, shrieking violins, and the delicate flicker of candles in the wind, we really felt like we were inside the action. The surround blend of the five ELAC speakers in the CNET listening room was seamless.

When we switched over to the Pioneer VSX 831 receiver, the sound felt less spacious, and we were more aware of the location of each speaker. That receiver's brighter and leaner tonal balance wasn't as pleasing to our ears as the Sony STR-DN1070.

When "King Kong" got rowdy on the streets of New York City and started busting up the place, the STR-DN1070 didn't hold anything back; there was power aplenty. As we nudged the volume higher and higher, we detected no strain or harshness in the sound.

Compared with last year's DN1060 receiver, the sound quality of the DN1070 has actually improved. Spoon's "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb" is a torture test for many home-theater receivers as they tend to sound "exciting" when replaying movies. On the DN1060, the song's dual tambourines became pointed metal darts, while in comparison the DN1070 tamed them and put them back in their place. The song's vocals had a 3D quality to them when listened to through the 1070, but they flattened out considerably when we switched to the 1060.

Similarly, the DN1070's surround sound had better punch and impact with the movie "Deadpool." During chapter three's frenetic fight scene on an LA freeway, we see the titular character launch himself off a bridge into a baddie's car and then shoot or maim everyone in or near it. In one of the shots, the camera is positioned on the road and the car drives over you from the back of your seating position to the screen. The 1070 did a better job of creating the claustrophobic sense of being under a moving car with road noise and a satisfying sense of being between two "walls" of moving wheels. The 1060 wasn't able to capture this with the same level of shock and awe. Similarly, the sounds of cars crashing and sickening punches landing lacked the oomph on the older model, though dialogue remained crisp on both receivers.

Conclusion

The Sony STR-DN1070 isn't just a powerhouse; it has a softer side to its sound quality, so it delves deeper into the quieter details of the sound of your music and movies. As much as we like the ELAC Debut speakers, our appreciation for their sound quality jumped a notch or two with the STR-DN1070.

While Sony didn't really do much in terms of adding features, this year it has noticeably boosted the receiver's performance. Previously the company's models exhibited a me-too sound signature that failed to differentiate themselves from the rest of a crowded market. But this year, Sony is gunning for the music lover as well as the movie lover, and it has paid off handsomely. As a result the STR-DN1070 is worthy of your most serious consideration.

While this receiver is a great deal in the United States, users in Australia -- where the unit is priced much higher -- might look to alternative models such as the equivalently priced, Atmos-toting Marantz SR1010 instead.

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