Sony STR-DA4300ES A/V Receiver

The A/V receiver marketplace is a crowded world these days. At one end are low-cost models sold through retailers such as Best Buy and Circuit City, while the other end is occupied by upscale brands with upscale prices. (Interestingly, some of these upscale brands are now showing up at the big-box retailers as the average selling price of AVRs increases, due in part to the influence of Blu-ray.)

Among the premium products are those in Sony's ES (Elevated Standard) line, which celebrates 25 years of existence in 2008. In this year's crop of ES AVRs, there are three models available that range in price from $1000 to $1700. For this review, I worked with the mid-priced STR-DA4300ES, which has an MSRP of $1300. But the $64,000 question is, does this model have what it takes warrant the ES moniker? Let's find out…

In this price class, there are certain benchmarks that AVRs should meet—namely, ample power, a plethora of features, and more connectivity options than a normal human being will ever need in their home theater. In the power department, the 4300ES has seven channels of amplification rated at 100 watts per channel (8Ω, 20Hz-20kHz, 0.09% THD). The rear-channel amplification can be used to power the back-surround speakers, or it can be configured to power a second zone or to bi-amp your front speakers.

With the expectation that Blu-ray will challenge DVD for your home-entertainment dollar, AVRs in this price class should be able to decode the advanced audio codecs, and the 4300ES has this covered with Dolby Digital Plus and TrueHD as well as DTS-HD Master Audio. If your Blu-ray player can't output the bitstream from the disc directly but converts it to PCM, you are still covered, since the Sony can process up to eight channels of linear PCM.

Connectivity options are too numerous to list, but the highlights include three HDMI 1.3a inputs and one output that support Deep Color and x.v.Color. Also included are inputs for both XM and Sirius satellite radio. Sony's proprietary Digital Media Port (DMP) lets you connect an optional iPod dock or a variety of other DMP accessories, which include a WiFi client for streaming digital audio, a Bluetooth receiver, and a docking station compatible with select Network Walkman components (all sold separately). When an iPod is docked, the AVR acquires its metadata, such as playlist and song names, and displays them on the TV screen, and the WiFi client also displays metadata from the source.

The AVR includes video processing courtesy of Faroudja's Cortez Advanced chipset, which supports 1080p/60 and 1080p/24 and can upconvert all analog sources to 1080p/60. All HDMI signals are simply passed through with no processing.

One feature that has become a standard in AVRs these days is some type of automatic calibration. Sony's is called DCAC (Digital Cinema Auto Calibration)—as with most such systems, it checks the connections between each speaker and the receiver, measures the distance from the speakers to your seating area, and adjusts the speaker levels and delays accordingly. It even determines the height of the speakers, which is useful if you have speakers in the ceiling or other elevated positions. This feature also EQs your room to compensate for troublesome acoustics. All DCAC parameters can be overridden with manual adjustments if you wish.