Face Off: Budget Receivers Sony STR-DE845

Sony STR-DE845

The Sony is one of the older receivers we auditioned, not yet out of production certainly but originally unveiled in the summer of 1999. It's also the most expensive of the lot. However, your $480 will bring you some superior features, which we'll get to. The unit skimps on front-panel A/V inputs and speaker connectivity, as the STR-DE845 accepts only bare wire for the rear channels and center, with banana-friendly binding posts for the left and right front only. You will, however, find three optical digital audio inputs, one optical output, and a coaxial input. And, in addition to a CD input, an MD in/out, and a tape in/out, there's the elusive phono input, a Video 1 in/out with S-video, a Video 2 in/out with composite video only, and DVD/LD and TV/SAT ins with S-video—all in an efficient layout. A pair of "CTRL S OUT" jacks and two inputs have been included to work with S-Link control for compatibility with other Sony products. Perhaps most impressive in this feature set are the twin subwoofer outputs, unique in this roundup.

The Sony receiver costs a little more, but it also gives you more.

Despite the lack of A/V inputs, the front panel is busier than most, with an interesting indicator light for "Multi-Channel Decoding," tiny rough-edged buttons for source selection, and a snazzy jog dial to adjust the setting of the various parameters. Five channels capable of 100 watts each tied the Sony with the Sherwood for the most system power, but the ultrafunkified RM-LP204 remote control is in a class by itself. Apparently fathered by a cell phone and more sophisticated than controllers that accompany far more-expensive units, this scepter for the couch commander arrives with its own separate manual. We're talking about a three-line LCD screen (plus icons), with all your basic functions (power, volume, etc.) on the face and less frequently used buttons (test tones, the numeric keypad) behind a flip-down door.

The back panel is quite thorough.

"Bass galore!" I cried. This one was definitely more aggressive than the rest, with an in-your-face quality that suited the kung fu sci-fi flick, but I could see where it might overpower some listeners. As with the Yamaha, I found a certain pleasing sparkle to the high-frequency details. Adam thought the sound was nicely distributed and the surround effects spot-on; he could feel plenty of motion, and there was just the right amount of bass to perfectly cap the action and give it a bit of a punch. He thought it came closest to really duplicating the robust sound you'd hear in a bona-fide theater. In short, this was Adam's winner, and Mike (perhaps hoping for a free copy of FHM) sided with the newbie: "I liked the rhythm and boogie factor on techno music in the lobby" (The Matrix). Despite finding the midrange slightly boxy and recessed, Mike enjoyed its punch and the surround effects, describing the sound as "exciting," with tight bass and good image depth. During Contact, I noted an effective blending of the rear channels but found the overall performance to be just OK. Guess I was missing something.

Musically, Adam did not like this receiver nearly as well, feeling that it made the selections actually sound a bit tinny, but its cinematic execution more than made up for this shortcoming. Mike conceded that, despite an articulate and transparent midrange, the all-important boogie factor was not quite on a par with the Onkyo's. At times, the Sony was a touch bright and tizzy for his taste, but the bass was pleasingly deep and tight. The bass seemed heavy to me, at points fuzzy and often at the expense of the vocals and some instrumental detail. Still, two to one was a vote even I could count.

In the End…
Sony definitely made an impressive showing, delivering a well-featured, high-performing unit for under $500. With plenty of power and articulate reproduction from lows to highs, plus a slew of gee-whiz gewgaws, there's very little not to like here. My reluctance to make the tide unanimous comes from admittedly minor issues with the bass, plus a genuinely visceral response to the Onkyo that none of the other receivers could match on either movies or music. The $150 savings is not lost on me, either.

The single most surprising lesson I took away from this Face Off was that, despite our crew's various likes and dislikes, there was not a bad receiver in this batch. If these four are any indication, the budget receiver has not only arrived, it has thrived. Power to the proletariat.

• The other receiver with a whopping 100 watts times 5
• The most sophisticated remote control
• Compatible with Sony's other S-Link-controlled products
• Phono input and twin subwoofer outputs

HT Labs Measures: Sony STR-DE845

This graph shows that the STR-DE845's left channel, from CD input to speaker output with two channels driving 8-ohm loads, reaches 0.1% distortion at 124.7 watts and 1% distortion at 142.2 watts. Into 4 ohms, the amplifier reaches 0.1% distortion at 155.6 watts and 1% distortion at 182.2 watts. The analog frequency response was +/-0.39 decibels from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz. The response dropped to -0.14 dB at 10 Hz and -2.31 dB at 50 kHz. THD+N from the amplifier was less than 0.009% at 1 kHz when driving 2.83 volts into an 8-ohm load. Crosstalk at 1 kHz driving 2.83 volts into an 8-ohm load was -74.10 dB left to right and -73.43 dB right to left.

From the Dolby Digital input to the loudspeaker output, the left, center, and surround channels are all flat, +/-0.60 dB from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. From the Dolby Digital input to the line-level output, the LFE channel is +0.11 dB at 20 Hz when referenced to the level at 40 Hz and reaches the upper 3-dB down point at 100 Hz and the upper 6-dB down point at 142 Hz.—AJ

STR-DE845 $480
Sony Electronics
(800) 222-SONY
Dealer Locator Code SNY