With the rise and rise of sound bars, could AV receivers be on the way out? Ask any home theater enthusiast and they'll tell you "no," but for many buyers a massive, black, input-infested box is much more intimidating than a skinny bar.
Sony manages to counter the increasing complexity of the modern receiver with its STR-DN1080. Though it boasts the wealth of features and inputs typical of the breed, the company has applied a user-friendly sheen to help the receiver appeal to both newbies and old hands.
The Sony STR-DN1080 is the outstanding follow-up to the STR-DN1070, which was our favorite receiver of 2016, and it patches that unit's only significant hole: the lack of Dolby Atmos. The two receivers do sound a little different, with the older one sounding a little warmer and the newer a bit more home cinema-focused. Compared to the competition however the DN1080 still offers a marked improvement in terms of sound quality.
In terms of features the Sony offers pretty much everything you could want in 2017, and on its release set an early, high bar against this year's competition. Nothing else released in 2017 has come close to capturing the Sony's mix of performance and features, and as a result it is a deserving winner of CNET's Editor's Choice.
The STR-DN1080 is available now for $599, £600 or AU$1,399. It's also available for limited time in tghe US as a Black Friday special for $399.
Updated Dec. 4, 2017: The Sony STR-DN1080 has been updated with further testing of Google Home voice control
While Sony's receivers from the last decade really pushed the bar when it came to design with their bulldog-like visage, more recent models have been a little less striking. The design of the STR-DN1080 is pretty blocky -- it's a solid, rectangular box with a thin glossy strip for a readout. It comes with a volume knob and a smaller selector knob next to it.
One thing that you wouldn't notice unless you put the receiver next to last year's -- as we did -- is that the 1080 is a little smaller than the 1070. Peering inside both we didn't notice much difference in the internals of the 1080, it's just that the new model seems to manage empty space better.
Receivers' on-screen displays languished in a user-hostile jail for much longer than on any other home cinema gadget. Blocky white text on a black background? Yuck. So when you come across something as lovely as the Sony's interface, it almost erases memories of the past. Big, friendly tiles on the front and readable text once you get one level in. The only downside is that the streaming services need a phone to work -- no point-and-click with your remote.
Just as OSDs have had a spit and polish in recent years the same is true of remote controls. Gone are the "Apollo mission control panels", now replaced with a stripped-down candy bar with the Sony STR-DN1080. If you need anything more complicated than what's presented, that's what the on-screen interface is for.
The STR-DN1080 is a 5.1.2 (or 7.1) receiver that now offers Dolby Atmos and DTS:X at a more affordable price than the company's ES receivers. Last year's 1070 seemed like it sorely wanted to be "atmospheric"-compatible but the designers just ran out of time.
While its competitors shaved down the number of HDMI ports in the move to 4K/HDR-compliant versions, Sony managed to keep the number of HDMI inputs at six. The only real change is that one port moved from the front to the back. The receiver has two HDMI outs, which means it is able to distribute 4K video and surround sound to two different TVs and zones.