CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Sony STR-DN840 review: The best AV receiver value of the year

The Sony STR-DN840 is by far the best AV receiver value of the year, offering tons of wireless connectivity and six HDMI inputs for well under $500.

Matthew Moskovciak Steve Guttenberg
Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.
Steve Guttenberg
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.
7 min read

The Sony STR-DN840 ($420 street) is by far the best AV receiver value of 2013. It starts with its outstanding wireless features, serving up built-in Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and Bluetooth, which no other receiver at this price can match. That allows Sony to nail the instant gratification experience: select the STR-DN840 via Bluetooth or AirPlay from your smartphone or tablet, and the receiver automatically powers on and flips to the correct input. In other words, you can be streaming to your big speakers in seconds. If your music collection revolves around your mobile devices, you're going to love the STR-DN840.


Sony STR-DN840

The Good

The <b>Sony STR-DN840</b> is extraordinarily well-featured for the price, with its built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and AirPlay, allowing for convenient wireless streaming from nearly any mobile device. There are six HDMI inputs, which is enough to cover almost every home theater. And its sound quality is solid, although not a standout.

The Bad

No MHL-compatible inputs or true second-zone audio support.

The Bottom Line

The Sony STR-DN840 is by far the best AV receiver value of the year, offering tons of wireless connectivity and six HDMI inputs for well under $500.

The rest of the STR-DN840 is solid, too, with six HDMI inputs and solid sound quality. It may be slightly pricier than some of its competitors (such as the $400 Pioneer VSX-823-K), but the benefits are worth it, especially for a component you're likely to hold onto for five years or more.

There are some other worthwhile alternatives to consider, mainly the slim Marantz NR1403, the turntable-friendly Onkyo TX-NR626, and Sony's step-up STR-DN1040, which adds some bells and whistles, including an impressive graphical user interface. But for most buyers the STR-DN840 hits the sweet spot of features, performance, and pricing, which is why it earns CNET's Editors' Choice Award for the category.

Design: Big, but minimal
The Sony STR-DN840 basically looks like a traditional AV receiver: it's a big, black metal box. Still, it manages to look slightly better than most, with some of Sony's design talents clearly showing through on its tastefully minimal front panel. The STR-DN840 doesn't have nearly the refinement of the Marantz NR1403, but it won't look too bad in your home theater cabinet, either.

Sony STR-DN840
Sarah Tew/CNET

Sony STR-DN840
Sarah Tew/CNET

The STR-DN840's remote is better than the ones that come with most AV receivers, although it's still a bit of a cluttered mess. The bright white input buttons are distinct and easy to read, and the directional pad nicely falls right under your thumb. On the other hand, there are still just way too many unneeded buttons, not to mention secondary functions written in pink above some buttons, only adding to the confusion. There are also two rockers at the bottom that look like volume controls; one of them actually cycles through the available "sound fields," which is a dubious feature that certainly doesn't deserve dual-billing with the all-important volume rocker. If you're investing this much in your home theater system, you'd be wise to invest in a universal remote.

Features: All the wireless you could want
The STR-DN840 is hands-down the most fully featured receiver at this price.

Sony STR-DN840
Click to enlarge. Sarah Tew/CNET

That starts with six HDMI inputs on the back panel, which matches the most you'll find short of stepping up to Sony's STR-DN1040, which includes eight. There's no MHL-compatibility, like you'll find on some competitors (such as the Onkyo TX-NR626, Yamaha RX-V475, Pioneer VSX-823-K), but that's not much of a loss unless you were planning to use Roku's Streaming Stick. The STR-DN840 has a fair assortment of legacy connections, including three digital audio inputs (two optical, one coaxial) and four analog audio inputs. There aren't any component video connections at all, but that's fine by us now that most devices use HDMI.

What's most impressive is the STR-DN840's wireless capabilities. There's built-in Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and Bluetooth, which makes it a truly standout for receivers under $600. It's a potent combination, particularly the flexibility to wirelessly stream audio from nearly any smartphone or tablet. Bluetooth and AirPlay work with any app on your mobile devices, so you can easy load up, say, Spotify, stream right to your receiver, and maintain playback control on your phone.

The STR-DN840 is also DLNA compliant and supports several integrated streaming services, including Pandora, Slacker, Sony Music Unlimited, and Internet radio, but you're best served streaming from a mobile device if you can, since AV receivers aren't great media streamers themselves.

Sony is also smart about how the wireless features are implemented. Turning on "network standby" lets you "wake up" the receiver simply by selecting it as your source on your mobile devices using AirPlay or Bluetooth. That means you can start listening to music on your home stereo without picking up any remote other than your smartphone or tablet. It's incredibly convenient and feels like the way all AV receivers should work with modern gadgets.

The rest of the features are less important for mainstream buyers. The STR-DN840 is a 7.2-channel receiver, but most buyers won't need the extra functionality that enables: surround back channels, dual subwoofer capabilities, and Dolby Pro Logic IIz "height" channels. There's no analog video upconversion, but again, that's less of a concern now that most modern devices use HDMI. It is worth pointing out that despite supporting seven channels, the STR-DN840 does not have true second-zone functionality, so you'll need to look elsewhere if you have a two-room setup.

If you're looking for more-detailed feature comparisons, check out our giant AV receiver spreadsheet, which compares the STR-DN840 with other 2013 models as we review them.

Setup: Quick, but manual is better
The STR-DN840 uses Sony's Digital Cinema Auto Calibration (DCAC) automatic speaker calibration system. The owner's manual recommends turning your subwoofer's volume control to the midpoint, and if the sub has a crossover control knob, setting it to the highest number setting -- a good start. The onscreen display guides you through choosing the correct "SP Pattern" (speaker pattern) for you home theater, which in plain English means how many speakers are in your home theater, and if you're bi-amping the front speakers, or using height speakers, etc. Next, you plug in the supplied calibration microphone and the fully automatic process takes about a minute to complete.

Sony STR-DN840
Sarah Tew/CNET

The STR-DN840 determined that all of the speakers in our Aperion Intimus 4T system were "large," and that's certainly not the case. The tower and center speakers just have two 4-inch woofers, and the little 8.75-inch-tall surround speakers have a single 4-inch woofer. We ran the DCAC a second time and it again identified all of the speakers as large.

We listened to the STR-DN840 with those settings and the sound was fine, but when we went into the manual setup and changed all the speakers to small, with the 4T towers set to a 80Hz crossover, and the center and surround speakers with 100Hz crossovers, the sound improved. Even so, we noted that our Hsu Research VTF-1 MK4 subwoofer wasn't loud enough. We turned the sub's volume up to improve the blend with the Aperion speakers.

It's the same story we usually have with automatic speaker calibration: it generally doesn't bring out the best possible sound from a home theater speaker setup. It's worth at least giving the manual speaker setup a try to see if you can do better. If you're not sure you improved the sound, you can always rerun the automatic calibration.

Sound quality: Up to the task
Sound-quality evaluations of AV receivers (and other amplifiers) are controversial. Some say all AV receivers sound the same, others disagree, and we're not likely to settle that argument anytime soon.

What we can say is that AV receiver sound quality has much, much less effect on overall sound quality than speakers or room acoustics, so you're better off spending your home theater budget there.

After we manually re-setup the STR-DN840 and listened to a few movies and some music, the sound was improved. Peter Gabriel's excellent "New Blood: Live in London" Blu-ray transported us to the concert. The enveloping soundfield from the front and surround speakers was spacious, and Gabriel's vocals sounded extremely live and present. The orchestra's sound was clear and highly detailed, and the concert hall's ambience sounded natural.

Sony STR-DN840
Sarah Tew/CNET

The scene in the "Jurassic Park" Blu-ray where a T-Rex chases a galloping herd of smaller Gallimimus dinosaurs demonstrated the STR-DN840 home theater skills. When the T-Rex captures a Gallimimus and tears it to shreds, the sound was quite good, but switching over to the Marantz NR1403 receiver, the two animals' ferocious struggle was more viscerally presented. That receiver, which is "only" rated at 50 watts per channel, sounded more powerful than the STR-DN840. There was nothing "wrong" with the STR-DN840's sound, but the NR1403 sounded more fleshed out and realistic.

CDs, played over just the two Aperion 4T tower speakers, consistently produced perfectly enjoyable sound. With the best-sounding discs, like Jonny Greenwood's orchestral score to the movie "The Master," produced a huge, wall-to-wall sound stage from the two speakers.

What are the alternatives?
The STR-DN840 is clearly the best option in its price class for value, so the best alternatives take a different tack.

Sony's step-up STR-DN1040 ($600) is worth a look. It packs a whopping eight HDMI inputs and also includes an excellent graphical user interface that tops anything we've seen at its price. We still think the STR-DN840 is the better pick for most buyers (do you really need eight HDMI inputs?), but the STR-DN1040 certainly makes you feel like you're getting your money's worth.

On the other end of the spectrum, we still like Marantz's slimline NR1403 ($400). It lacks all the great wireless features on the STR-DN840, but you can always add some of that functionality later with, say, an Apple TV. The real attraction is the NR1403's handsome, compact form factor that tops just about anything else available.

Finally, it's worth considering whether you even need a full-fledged AV receiver in the first place. If you're willing to downsize your home audio system to stereo, you might be able to use a compact integrated amplifier.

Conclusion: This is the AV receiver to get
Sony's been on a roll with AV receivers, as last year's Sony STR-DN1030 was also one of our top picks, and we were mighty impressed with this year's STR-DN1040, too. The STR-DN840 manages to outdo both of them, offering an unparalleled set of features for its price. If you need a new AV receiver, the Sony STR-DN840 should be the first model you consider.


Sony STR-DN840

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Sound 7Value 10
Shopping laptop image
Get the best price on everything
Shop your favorite products and we’ll find the best deal with a single click. Designed to make shopping easier.
Add CNET Shopping