Sony STR-DN1030 A/V Receiver Page 2
Associated equipment included five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers, a Paradigm Seismic 110 subwoofer, an Oppo BDP-83SE universal Blu-ray Disc player, a second-generation iPod touch for AirPlay, an LG Remarq cell phone for Bluetooth, and two Lenovo desktop PCs connected to a Netgear router, which sent both wired and wireless connections to the receiver. Basically, I used everything but the kitchen sink, and I’d have connected that too if it were a wireless sink. All movie demos were on Blu-ray Disc.
Movies à la Surround Mode
By budget-receiver standards, the STR- DN1030 was an excellent all-around performer. Considered in conjunction with the amp’s intrinsic qualities, the room-corrected tonal balance left no cause for complaint. While the amp section didn’t have the dynamic assurance or airy highs of a fourfigure model—in those respects, paying more gets you more—it could play loud enough to fill my medium-sized room, with speakers of average sensitivity. I did find myself turning down the volume during the most challenging moments of the noisiest movies, and if I hadn’t been listening as a reviewer, I would have admitted the wisdom of Sony’s default setting of the dynamic range control. However, at the moderate volumes I use for music, listening fatigue was not an issue.
Red Lights (with a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack) pits a ruthless pseudo-psychic (Robert De Niro) against two skeptics (Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy). The movie is more action packed than that synopsis suggests, and Sony’s room correction handled aggressive bass effects well, dishing them out to the sub with a generous hand but not letting them tip over into boomy bloat. Incidentally, Sony receivers handle surround soundtracks with an HD-D.C.S. (Digital Cinema Sound) mode that has three settings: Dynamic, which emphasizes reflected sound with a big reverb; Theater, suitable for a living room, but with the reverb of a dubbing stage; and Studio, with minimal reverb. When I reviewed this receiver’s predecessor, the STR-DN1020 (Home Theater, October 2011), I experimented and preferred Theater. This time, I stuck with that preference.
Chronicle (DTS-HD Master Audio) is the unexpectedly moving story of kids who acquire increasingly powerful degrees of telekinesis. Even with the moderate-reverb HD-D.C.S. setting mentioned earlier, a rave party scene had huge and detailed ambience. Like the previous movie, this one escalated to an extended climax that had me backing off the volume. Again, there are reasons why you might want to pay more than $499 for a receiver—reasons that have nothing to do with features and everything to do with amplifier capabilities.
Thomas Haden Church was both executive producer and star of Don McKay (DTS-HD Master Audio), a hapless high school janitor who pursues a long-gone love into a house full of intrigue. The room correction adroitly sculpted a buzzing synthesized bass line that accompanies a violent scene, sending it straight from the subwoofer up my spine. Quiet outdoor scenes with in- finitesimal surround effects were also well served by the digital magic of HD-D.C.S. I liked the way the receiver and its cinema circuit handled Church’s voice—which has elements of both tenor and baritone—above and below the crossover to the sub.
Much of my music-demoing time was absorbed in mastering the wireless playback options. While Sony makes a big deal of having AirPlay and Bluetooth in a single product—and justly so—this receiver offers other methods to access music via Wi-Fi or Ether- net. It acts as a media server by using DLNA to reach router- connected devices, so I could punch through the receiver’s GUI to access music stored on my computers. I could also reverse the process, activating playback while sitting at the computer, by using a feature unmentioned in Sony’s manual and press release: Windows 7 Play To.
I wasn’t thrilled about the unvarnished sound from the Bluetooth input, even given that I was playing MP3s encoded at 192 kilobits per second. The receiver offers a few listening modes, though, and I found myself preferring A.F.D. Auto, for Auto Format Direct, which basically just passes stereo and applies bass management to add the subwoofer to two-channel sources. Sound Optimizer added a little midrange enrichment, and I liked the sound of the (admittedly misapplied) HD-D.C.S. cinema processing even better. It had a way of making voices more solid and well imaged. It was especially adept with sonic basket cases—like Derek & the Dominoes in Concert, an album that wasn’t well recorded in the first place, ripped from vinyl to MP3. With better material, such as a CDsourced rip of A Scarcity of Miracles by Jakszyk, Fripp & Collins, HD-D.C.S. made my $57 Bluetooth phone sound pretty good. However, I ruminated into my notebook: “Wandering further and further away from the whole concept of truthful reproduction, into the digital hall of mirrors—help, I can’t get out!”
As expected, AirPlay sounded cleaner without sweeteners. I could listen to most files without any additional tampering. AirPlay offered another nicety that made life easier, coordinating the volume controls of the receiver and my iPod touch. Whether I used the iPod volume slider or the remote’s volume keys, the volume indicators of both devices tracked up and down in tandem. Once I got used to this, it was hard to go back to Bluetooth.
After hopping from track to track, toward the end of the listening sessions, I finally began treating myself to full albums, most memorably Bert Jansch’s folk-guitar masterpiece Rosemary Lane. I accessed the first few tracks via DLNA at the receiver end through the Network input. But while I was checking e-mail on my multimedia computer, I inadvertently shut down the Windows Media Player, and the music stopped.
I decided to activate Windows 7 Play To, a feature I’ve never used before, at the computer. It wasn’t entirely intuitive. I couldn’t simply right-click the song titles in the PC’s music library and pick Play To. Instead, Play To required me to restart Windows Media Player and drag the desired tracks to what Microsoft calls the list pane, a field at the right-hand side. Then I could click the Play To icon, select the Sony, a small pop-up window would open, and the tracks would reappear and play.
In a later Play To experience, I started it while Bluetooth was playing from the phone. Play To took precedence, switching the receiver to the Network input and playing its own selected tracks. But when I tried to get Bluetooth to interrupt Play To, it couldn’t because the pairing had been undermined. Could I get AirPlay to interrupt Play To? Yes, and it was easy, because AirPlay can be activated directly from iTunes on the iOS device. I could have played these little games forever.
The Sony STR-DN1030 A/V receiver does everything a budget AVR should do and then some. It’s especially adept at pleasing the listener who’s tired of wires and addicted to mobile devices. It comes, of course, with the usual caveats about inevitably underpowered budget receivers: Use it with reasonably efficient speakers in a moderately sized room, and don’t expect it to hold up with highly dynamic material at concert hall volumes the way an AVR costing twice the price will. But it does well with what it has sonically, and with all that wireless versatility, it speaks directly to the way many people store and access their music at home. This just might be the receiver of the future. For now, at least, no one can touch Sony’s AirPlay/Bluetooth/Wi-Fi triple threat.