Review: Sony STR-DA4600ES A/V Receiver

Key Features
$1,499 (pair) Sonystyle.com
• 7 x 120 watts (1 kHz, 0.7% THD, 2 channels driven)
• Wired network-ready
• Shoutcast and Rhapsody Internet music access
• DLNA certified
•3D-ready (pass-through); HDMI audio return channel
• Upconverts analog video to 1080p format via HDMI
• Second-zone HD video (up to 1080i) via component video, plus balun output
• Decodes Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, and DSD (SACD)
• Sony DCAC auto-setup/ equalization with supplied microphone
• Dolby PLIIz mode with heightchannels option; 6 proprietary surround modes
• Full graphical onscreen displays
• FM/AM tuner with 30 presets; Sirius satellite-radio-ready
• 2 assignable channels: DPLIIz height; surround-back; powered-Zone 2, or front biamp
• 12-component preprogrammed/learning remote; onscreen multibrand remote control via supplied IR blaster; second “simple remote” included for main zone
• DLNA certified
• Free iPhone/iPad/iPod touch app for full system/zone control
• 4 HDMI v1.4 inputs, 2 (simultaneous) outputs
• IR in, out (2), 12-v trigger, RS-232 serial port, fully IP-controllable via Ethernet
• Dimensions + Weight: 17 x 6¼ x 15 3?8 in; 28½ lb

A generation ago, Sony ruled the consumer electronics world, establishing new market segments with every innovation and instantly owning whatever existing ones it chose to enter. Today, although it’s still a consumer electronics force to be reckoned with, Sony has to step into the cage and compete like everybody else. Fortunately for the storied brand, it continues to do so with designs like the new STR-DA4600ES A/V receiver.

The DA4600ES is as fully featured and innovative an A/V receiver as you’ll find in the just-shy- of-flagship category — where most of the luxury-class receiver dollars actually get spent. Its list of goodies, both techno-useful and pure farkle, would fill a page by itself, and the receiver’s English-language manual runs to some 169 pages. Despite these riches, the newest Sony is a comparatively svelte unit, considerably smaller than the cruiser-class behemoths of a few years back. This appears to be a general industry trend, and it’s one that I heartily applaud.

Setup

After the usual plugging in of cables and speaker wires, I fired up the Sony’s auto-calibration routine using the supplied mini-mike. (The DA4600ES incorporates Dolby PLIIz, with the option of “height” channels; I connected a small two-way speaker pair mounted near the ceiling and astride my projection screen.)

The automatic routine proved impressively quick (less than 30 seconds) and yielded generally correct levels and accurate distances. However, my dipole surround speakers were balanced a bit high (this is normal, since the dipole null “fools” single-point mikes slightly), and the subwoofer a lot high — nearly 10 dB.

After correcting these things manually, I set about comparing the Sony’s three auto-cal EQ algorithms, dubbed Flat, Engineer, and Front Reference. (Engineer is said to duplicate the response of Sony’s “listening room standard.”) These sounded just about as their names suggested: Flat a bit brighter and “narrower” than uncorrected, Front Reference along the same lines but rather less so, and Engineer euphonically fuller and rounder, which should make it the favorite of most casual listeners who get this far. That said, I did all of my evaluative listening with the auto-cal results defeated following a carefully performed manual level/distance setup. (The Sony DA4600ES provides no visual display or data dump that lets you check out the EQ results.)

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