The new Sony STR-DN1080 is the first Sony receiver with Dolby Atmos and and DTS:X support. 4K and HDR-compatible HDMI support the latest video standards, including HDCP 2.2 content protection for 4K content.
What is the Sony STR-DN1080?
The STR-DN1080 AV receiveris the successor of the STR-DN1070 last year. In our region it is even the top model within Sony’s AV receiver line, despite the relatively small price tag. Sony is aiming for a higher level elsewhere in the world. For example, in the US you have very nice premium receivers under the ‘ES’ flag, with the mighty STR-ZA5000ES as an absolute flagship of about $ 2,500. The ES receivers are powerful and also have very interesting home automation functions. Unfortunately, if you want them, you have to cross the ocean. The STR-DN1080 is more of a mainstream story. The device carries a suggested retail price of 800 euros, which makes it a counterpart for devices such as the Yamaha RX-V683 (slightly cheaper) and the Denon AVR-X3400H (slightly more expensive). In this test we investigate whether the Sony STR-DN1080 is a worthy challenger for these aircraft.
Appearance remains the same
You have to look carefully to see the difference between a Sony STR-DN1080 and the STR-DN1070 last year. Nothing new there, because the DN1070 was in turn twins of the DN1060 of 2014. At least you can say that Sony is very consistent in design. He is only available in black, some rivals can also be given a silver color.
Compared to some of the competitors, the Sony STR-DN1080 is a very sleek device. The black front plate is broken horizontally along the entire length by a piece of black glass with a number of inconspicuous buttons and a groove underneath. The glass hides a centrally placed display, which, however, occupies only about a third of its width. For the rest, the front panel is only marred by the usual volume and input buttons, a headphone jack, headphone jack and a USB port where you can deliver via music files. Small minus: the USB port only delivers 1A, too little to quickly charge a tablet or phablet.
The sides and top of the STR-DN1080 are much more common than the better front plate. The best thing this receiver looks like when you put it in a piece of furniture, so that only the front is presented. The receiver will get a little warm, so provide the necessary ventilation. During our tests we noted a typical consumption around 50-60 watts. The high standby consumption that was present with older Sony receivers does not appear to be present at the Sony STR-DN1080 anymore.
Connections and options
Sony has been smart and has released the rear panel of the Sony STR-DN1080 from old connections. The result is a clean back with relevant connections and not a series of ports that you may not be able to use. The receiver comes with six HDMI inputs that are HDMI2.0a (and therefore 4K and HDR compatible). HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision are now or soon to be supported, making the STR-DN1080 a free future-oriented choice.
There are two HDMI outputs, useful for a second display or projector. The fact that there is only one coaxial and one optical input may perhaps be a disappointment for people who want to connect multiple music sources. But given the large built-in streaming options, that does not seem to be a problem. There are still three analogue cinch inputs, unfortunately without a phono input.
The Sony STR-DN1080 is a 7.2-channel or 5.2.2-channel receiver, depending on whether you choose to install height channels for example Dolby Atmos . As you would expect at this price point, only two height channels are supported, not the optimum four height speakers. If you want an xx4 setup, you have to spend more money. The two pairs of surround / back connections can also be used for a second zone or for bi-amping speakers. With an AV receiver with its many smaller amplifier units, this may be more useful than with a dedicated stereo amplifier. The speaker terminals are of good quality.
Interface of the receiver
Sony was the first to make some extra effort to give its AV receivers a nice interface. They have lost that competitive advantage a bit because others now also provide a better menu experience. The Sony interface, however, remains pretty good. We are particularly pleased that the Home main screen looks good and brings you quickly to the desired entrance or function. Six large icons (Watch, Listening, Custom Preset, Sound Effects, Zone Controls and Setup) take you right where you need to be. ‘Custom Preset’ is a powerful one, where you can define up to four presets yourself. Select ‘Film’ for example, and the Blu-ray is selected automatically, the volume is set to a certain level and the correct sound mode is selected. But there is more that is possible: for example, for movies you can play the subwoofer more louder or send the video to the second HDMI output (useful for a double TV / projector setup). Zone Controls also refers to the operation of a second loudspeaker zone, if you do so, not to the operation of any multiroom speakers. The latter can only be done via an app.
Under setup you will find the choice between an automatic or manual configuration. If you choose the latter, the Sony interface will once again show its best side. With the ‘Speaker Pattern’ setting, for example, a nice graphical living room appears on the screen in which the different speaker configurations are shown. A very positive point for those wishing Dolby Atmos is that the Sony STR-DN1080 offers many Atmos options. Both reflective top speakers, built-in ceiling speakers and wall-mounted height channels can be selected. An important option with a 5.2.2 receiver like this is that you can choose to place the height channels in front of the room or in the middle. In our opinion, the middle is often the best choice for a nice spatial feeling. We do miss an institution to enter the height of your room if you opt for reflective height speakers (so they are on top of your two front speakers). You may have to manually play with the levels here for an optimal effect, if your room is very high or the ceiling covering is dampening.
It is very positive that you can switch on and off any ceiling speakers at any time. With ordinary TV broadcasts they can sometimes seem annoying, so that’s a handy option. Also in the next step is very well shown how you connect the different speakers correctly. Also very good is that Sony lets you do all possible adjustments per entrance. Another icon, a name, or not … they are small things that allow you to make the Sony receiver completely yours.
If you go for an automatic setting, you will be guided through a simple step-by-step plan which also includes a measurement with the supplied microphone. The DCAC calibration is very compact compared to other brands: one measurement, from the sitting position. It really takes a very short time. With other receivers you need to measure multiple positions and there is a bit more work. Nevertheless, DCAC delivers fairly accurate results. For example, the system noticed that one of the surround speakers was slightly too far out. Due to the extensive testing of speakers in our test room, the front speakers were not completely symmetrical with respect to the listening position. DCAD detected this and gave us the option to virtually “move” the speakers to a more symmetrical setup. It is a function that you can switch on and off, we thought it was worth keeping. Also worth a try is the Calibration Type setting. We prefer ‘Engineer’, but ‘Front Reference’ can be an interesting choice when listening to certain stereo recordings.
New name for the app
The Sony STR-DN1080 comes with a classic Sony remote control. It is clear and there are relatively few buttons on it. There is also a custom preset button that you can program, for example to go directly to a specific sound mode. You do not have a lot of flexibility, but it is useful.
This receiver is compatible with the multiroom platform from Sony, which is embedded in numerous other products (soundbars, receivers, wireless speakers) of the brand. You serve them all from the same app, which can also be used perfectly if you only have the Sony STR-DN1080 in your home. For years the Sony app was called Songpal, but recently it was renamed Music Center. True to the Sony design philosophy, Music Center is also very sober and sleek, but effective. Unlike, for example, the Pioneer app, it does not offer access to the receiver’s full settings, only a part. The app is perfect for choosing inputs and playing music over the network. Conveniently, for example, you can adjust the individual speaker levels from the app and adjust the sound mode (called Sound Field). We would have preferred to see the latter option immediately, so you do not have to tap 4-5 times to get to that menu.
In the Music Center app you can easily open DLNA servers on the network and select music. Gracenote integration ensures that album art is displayed as soon as you listen to a song, even if it is missing in the ID3 tag of your music file. If you want to listen to a streaming service, you have to go to the app of the relevant service. The Sony STR-DN1080 owns Spotify Connect and is compatible with Google Cast (Chromecast) , so you have a choice. The list of Chromecast apps is pretty long, with Soundcloud, Deezer, Qobuz, Tidal and many others. A handy feature of the Music Center app is that you can show an icon of your music apps, so that you can switch from the Sony app to Qobuz at the touch of a button.
We noticed that the app on the iPad looks pretty bad, not optimized for large screens. That is in stark contrast to the Android version, which appeared fine on our Sony Xperia Tablet Z2. Music Center also looks great on a smartphone screen. We are a bit surprised, because we thought that in 2017 everyone would provide solid iOS and Android apps.
But how does the Sony STR-DN1080 sound?
From previous tests of Sony receivers we know that they were surprisingly good in terms of musical reproduction. The sign of the STR-DN1080 is of course the Dolby Atmos support, a feature that only seems relevant to film fans. Not so, because a number of very good music disks have already appeared with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Very recently the great ‘12345678’ by Kraftwerk came out with new mixes of their most famous songs, ‘Autobahn’ and ‘Radioactivity’. It sounds great on the 5.1.2 setup that we have put together.
We also try out the multiroom options while listening to the Kraftwerk drive. In addition to the STR-DN1080, Sony also supplied the SRS-Z5, a compact wireless speaker that we hang on the network in the same way as the receiver. Via the Music Center app it is very simple to connect additional speakers: just select the receiver and then immediately touch the prominent button to connect speakers. After a first failed attempt, it took about 30 seconds to connect the ZR5. The music stopped for a moment, presumably to do buffering. But it works: the soundtrack that is played from a Blu-ray disc is streamed to the ZR5 without hesitation. A small synchronization error can be detected, which gives you a light feeling of hearing the music in a large room. This is of course only noticeable if you place the extra speaker (s) in the same room as the STR-DN1080. We do not think that is a common scenario.
Musically, the STR-DN1080 is. You can let it play fairly loudly before you get the impression that the sound is getting stressed or starts to sound harsh. Music lovers will be very pleased with the particularly wide support of music formats. Even exotic formats such as hi-res AIFF and 5.1-FLACs play seamlessly. The latter – purchased via Qobuz – are almost always very clever classical recordings (for example ‘Absolute Jest’ by John Adams, brought by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra), but unfortunately there are few devices that they can play. The Sony so. According to the specifications, the STR-DN1080 can handle DSD, but it does not work with us. There may be the problem with our DLNA media server, although this is the usually reliable MinimServer module on a Synology DS216. A request to Sony: the screen that shows when playing a song can not be a little more exciting? For example, the app shows covers, but on your TV you only see a black screen with some artificial circles and practical information. Snore!
The cinema experience
The predecessor of the STR-DN1070 was actually one of the best receivers in its class, but was just not competitive due to the lack of Dolby Atmos. The STR-DN1080 now comes with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and has suddenly become a very strong entry.
As part of our test, we watch ‘Man of Steel’ on Blu-ray, played on a Marantz UD-7007 in 5.1 DTS MA HD. In this film you get the usual Zack Snyder mix of dreamy and bombastic scenes, supported by a soundtrack by the ubiquitous Hans Zimmer. What we immediately notice is that the automatic DCAC calibration has given a nice result. We do not feel like we need to adjust anything, not even the subwoofer. It sounds very compelling, although we only use affordable Dali Spektor speakers at this stage of the test. At the climax at the end of the Superman film, the separation of the different channels is good (which is important in this film, because Snyder sometimes pushes effects to the background to accentuate dialogue) and the orchestral theme is brought with all the dynamics that we expect from Zimmer. According to Sony, the STR-DN1080 delivers 165 watts in seven channels. As usual with AV receivers, you have to take that with a coarse grain of salt – usually that power is measured on one channel, only loaded with a pure signal of a certain frequency. It is guessing what the STR-DN1080 can really deliver, but with a set of not too demanding speakers there can be no problem in a medium-sized room, it seems to us.
Also the following tests, in which we are using two extra wall mounted speakers for Atmos, the STR-DN1080 passes very well. Our reference (a Denon AVR-X6300H) may have a bit more power and therefore a slightly softer sound, yet the STR-DN1080 can handle the comparison – especially if you take the price difference into account. Acoustical imaging is pretty good, as with the opera scene from ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ that we often use for this test.
You can catch the STR-DN1080 with few shortcomings. He is strong sound and has ample power in this class. The STR-DN1080 performs well on music. Sony deserves a pat on the back for good hi-res support and the decision to mainly support Chromecast. On the video side, the receiver is also ready to provide years of loyal service with wide HDR compatibility. Recommended.