Audio Performance Features Ergonomics Value PRICE $600 AT A GLANCE Plus Fine amplifier sonics and power Excellent, quick-responding home-network streaming plays most formats, including HRA and DSD Speaker Relocation & Phantom Surround feature Minus Scales only 1080p/24 video to 4K THE VERDICT Excellent audio performance and a unique feature set counterbalance a somewhat quirky and (in a few cases) slow user interface. It’s been several years since I’ve had a Sony AV receiver in my rack, so when the STR-DN1080 arrived on my porch, I was eager to see what the foundational brand’s 7.1-channel Dolby Atmos/DTS:X model had to offer. Sony has been synonymous with consumer electronics for so long that today—in the more specialized corners of the field, such as home theater—it’s easy to overlook the company that was such an early player in the game. But Sony still has an enviable market position, as well as design and engineering firepower aplenty to compete in any sphere they choose. At $600, the STR-DN1080 is smack in the middle of upper-entry-level A/V receivers, the area most folks explore when assembling a first (or second) serious home theater. What that sum buys you today is utterly gob-smacking: not just the Dolby Atmos/DTS:X capability already mentioned, nor a claimed 100-plus watts per channel from seven channels, nor proprietary auto-setup/calibration/EQ, nor both Apple AirPlay and Google Chromecast built in, nor network/Wi-Fi on board (of course), but also Bluetooth with Sony’s proprietary lossy LDAC codec, for which the company claims 96/24 sonic equivalence within its wireless ecosystem (which includes wireless/multiroom speakers, portable hi-res players, and wireless headphones); video 4K and HDR passthrough via HDMI 2.0a ports that are all HDCP 2.2 compliant, and a raft of multiroom options, including second zone via HDMI from its “B” HDMI output, itself a nice fillip on a receiver in this range. With a feature set like this, you might think there’s little that the STR-DN1080 can’t do, and basically you’d be right. But there’s one limitation, and it bugs me. The new Sony—in common with just about every similarly priced “Dolby Atmos/DTS:X-ready” competitor—has only seven channels of onboard power. Fair enough: For $600, you don’t get the eggroll. But there’s no line-level height output that would permit an outboard two-channel amplifier to power a second pair of elevated speakers for a fully 5.1.4-channel object-surround system. And who among us doesn’t have an unused stereo receiver or integrated amp somewhere under a bed? Granted, the costs in DSP, hardware, and perhaps even licensing fees associated with adding those extra RCA outputs is probably prohibitive at this competitive price point, especially for a feature that might never get used. And yes, I know both Dolby and DTS sanction a 5.1.2 configuration that this receiver fully supports, so neither Sony nor the competition is doing anything “wrong” or deceptive. I just believe, as many do, that to get the full Atmos experience (Dolby’s flavor is the one I have the most experience with), you need all four height channels, and not having a path to grow into them is unfortunate. OK, I’m climbing down off the soapbox now. Setup In light of the above, I set up the STR-DN1080 in an Atmos 5.1.2 layout, with elevation module “ceiling bounce” speakers located atop my front left/right pair. Connections couldn’t have been simpler: speakers to decent-grade multi-way posts for all channels, HDMI cables from my set-top box and universal disc player to two of the receiver’s six HDMI inputs, and a few odds and ends like subwoofer and network cabling. (Later on, I also tried the onboard Wi-Fi, which discovered and joined my home network without a hitch.) The STR-DN1080 provides composite-video paths for two inputs and one output (plus one each of optical and coax digital-audio inputs), but as is increasingly standard in the HDMI age, that’s it for legacy connections. The front panel offers the receiver’s only USB input, a minijack for the supplied setup mic, and a full-sized, quarter-inch headphone jack. That setup mic serves Sony’s D.C.A.C. EX (Digital Cinema Auto Calibration EX) routine, a system that includes Speaker Relocation & Phantom Surround—said to be able to conjure up phantom surround-back speakers and to compensate for non-ideal speaker locations. It also delivers a choice of three room/speaker-equalization options, as well as an “in-ceiling” mode that’s said to lower the sound of ceiling-mount front LCR speakers (a feature I am not equipped to confirm). The mic itself is a truncated “T” with a stereo pickup, which Sony says provides a better view of response over a larger listening area from the single measurement position that the system allows. D.C.A.C. EX proceeded faster than any other auto-cal system I’ve encountered: The entire process including setup took less than three minutes from start to finish. And the results were quite good. The AVR got the levels and distances for my five full-range speakers spot-on. (The subwoofer level was far too high by my lights, and the sub’s distance was off, too, but those results always seem to be the case, regardless of auto-cal brand or system.) The receiver did, however, set all five speakers to Large. I could accept this for my Energy Veritas 2.3 fronts, which in my studio measure quite flat to below 40 hertz, but it seemed questionable for my center and surrounds, which both roll off substantially below 80 Hz or so. (I eventually reset these manually for my preferred 60-Hz crossover.) D.C.A.C. EX provides three different curves derived from the EQ/cal results: Engineer, Full Flat, and Front-Reference. The first is designed to cleave to Sony’s listening room standard; the others are selfexplanatory. In this particular instance, I found I preferred the last, as it provided a very subtle brightening/clarifying effect, and not much else. Full Flat seemed a bit too bright, while Engineer was very similar to FrontReference in my setup. My standard disclaimer applies: Any auto-cal/EQ system will perform differently in every room and with every speaker array (and even with small changes in speaker location), so as always: Try it for yourself. Listening, Viewing Relatively affordable A/V receivers have long impressed me with the quality and quantity of their amplification, and the STR-DN1080 was no exception. In pure-direct, full-range stereo playback, it delivered excellent sound, and lots of it. An über-familiar recording like Steely Dan’s “Black Cow” (from the remastered Aja CD) arrived fully dynamic, conveying the beautifully round, incisive attack from the distinctive unison of clavinet and bass in the opening bars, a surprising level of detail and transparency on the laid-back drums, and brassy definition from the horns in the middle eight—all of which, a decade ago, would have won praise for a receiver of twice the price. And this receiver had no problem playing seriously loud: Full-blown party level was eminently clean and still quite punchy.