Sony STR-DN1040 AV Receiver
At A Glance
Plus: Improved construction and sound • Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth • 4K video with scaling
Minus: Room correction didn’t work in our sample
A feature-packed, all around excellent performer offering incredible bang for the buck.
If I were down on my luck—jobless, hopeless, living on beans à la can—and absolutely had to buy a new audio/video receiver on a tight budget, how much would I spend? The magic number is $600. That’s what I’d take out of the rainy-day fund to get enough power for reasonably efficient speakers and enough features to make my system fully functional for 21st century listening. In a mass market AVR line, that’s about twice the cost of an entry-level model but a fraction of what you’d pay for a top model. When Sony added two new models to its more value-oriented receiver line, one of them hit the magic number and a bell rang in my head.
Maybe you’re not living on beans à la can—which are much better with a squirt of mustard, by the way. Maybe you’re just the hardheadedly practical type who wants to get the most for your money. Even for you, the $599 Sony is charging for the STR-DN1040 is an interesting value proposition, especially considering that Sony is one of the few AVR manufacturers offering triple wireless connectivity. This receiver has Wi-Fi, Apple AirPlay, and Bluetooth. And all of them are built in: no adapters, no dongles, no extra-cost add-ons.
To sweeten the deal, Sony has exerted itself in an attempt to make the STR-DN1040 discernibly better than the STR-DN1030, which it is replacing. It costs $100 more, but the extra bucks have gone into better build quality, including claims of tougher circuit boards loaded with bigger and better components. On a recent press trip to Tokyo, the designer described how he tweaked the power capacitors, repeatedly getting revised samples from suppliers, interrogating different materials to discover their audible differences. This is good practice.
The New Guys
The STR-DN1040 is one of two new models, also including the STR-DN840 ($450). The step-down model is also triple wireless capable, but slightly less powerful, and has 4K passthrough as opposed to 4K upsampling. The STR-DN1040 is rated at 100 watts times two, or 165 times one, into 6 ohms (versus the more universally quoted 8 ohms). Quoting at a lower impedance usually results in a higher power rating, presumably to reach 100 watts, another magic number. Our Test Bench measurements for five- and seven-channel capabilities into 8-ohm loads will dispel any confusion.
Cosmetics are austere even by AVR standards. From the top down, the front panel includes a large white display. Along its bottom edge is a row of buttons so skinny that I didn’t notice them until I examined the product with a flashlight. They include the usual listening mode controls as well as Bluetooth pairing and display dimming controls. There are volume and tuning knobs at right and a handful of jacks toward the left (HDMI, USB, setup microphone, quarter-inch headphone). The USB jack is iOS capable. If you don’t live in the Apple universe, the front HDMI jack is MHL capable, so you might stream media from an Android smartphone.
The back panel seems intentionally restrained. It’s loaded with HDMI jacks—seven in, two out—but light on legacy connectors, with only (for example) two analog stereo inputs. There’s plenty of room for more, but the accent seems to be on simplicity, on having just enough.
Sony provides an excellent remote with buttons well differentiated by size, shape, and color as well as readable legends, all of which are conventional but effective ways of making a remote easier to use. My sleeve was wet with tears of gratitude when I figured out that a half-inch lozenge-shaped blue button labeled Home afforded access to the main menu. Too many manufacturers make this crucial button hard to find. To switch listening modes (or Sound Field, in Sony-speak), you get an agreeably large rocker identical to, and located next to, the volume rocker.
The graphic user interface could not be more attractive or less intimidating (by AVR standards, anyway). The opening screen is divided into four vertical panels labeled Watch, Listen, Sound Effects, and Settings. The first two organize inputs by A/V or audio-only use.
Sound Effects and Settings include context-sensitive help. For each line item, there is an explanation designed to tell the newbie what’s going on. For example, under Settings/Speaker, the receiver explains: “You can set up your viewing environment (the speaker system in use) automatically or manually.” Some explanations still require a little AVR knowledge, but a hint is better than nothing.
GUI graphics are a treat. For manual speaker settings, you see speaker icons sitting in a khaki-walled room with hardwood floors that are detailed right down to the woodgrain of each floorboard. While I don’t recommend DSP concert-hall modes, I couldn’t help feeling slightly moved when I saw colorful reproductions of the Berlin Philharmonie, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and Vienna Musikverein. I’ve made pilgrimages to those places.
I recommend a few changes to the receiver’s default settings. Sound Effects includes a Digital Legato Linear feature designed to enhance lossy audio; turn it off for Blu-ray and other high-quality audio sources. The generic Dynamic Range Compressor should be shut off if you want the full dynamics of movie soundtracks and music. Under Settings, enable Network Standby so that the receiver can turn itself on when commanded by an iOS device via AirPlay. There is also a Bluetooth Standby that does the same for Bluetooth devices—turn it on during the pairing process. If you decide to update the receiver software, be warned that “it may take from 40 minutes to several hours for the update to complete,” so set it up before bedtime and let it run.
Sony’s auto setup and room correction scheme is DCAC, or Digital Cinema Auto Calibration. If you set your speakers to Small—as I do—be sure to check the subwoofer crossover. When I changed the speaker setting from Large (full range) to Small (limited bass), the receiver chose a sub crossover setting of 120 hertz, more suitable for small satellites than for my chunky monitors. I reduced it to my preferred 80 Hz. Aside from that, the auto setup ran quickly and measured speaker distances were as I expected.
Although the DCAC room correction has made an audible difference in past Sony receivers, in this case it made none I could detect. The auto setup worked, successfully setting speaker distances and other parameters, but the room correction did not. Whether the problem stemmed from a physical defect or another problem was unclear. Sony’s theory was that the setup mic—not packaged with the product, but sent later—worked well enough for auto setup but not well enough for room correction. My theory was that the software update I ran before demoing may have somehow disabled the room correction part of DCAC. In any event, we never got to the bottom of it, but I was more interested in the claims of improved amplification anyway and my listening focused on that.