Sony STR-ZA5000 ES A/V Receiver Review Page 2

Video features include support for the HDR10 Media Profile standard and Ultra HD at 60p, the nextgeneration BT.2020 color gamut, and 4:4:4 color subsampling. The receiver can distribute UHD video and multichannel audio to two of its three zones. As alluded to in discussion of the remote, the receiver can also generate test patterns.

Sony’s homegrown roomcorrection scheme, previously called Digital Cinema Auto Calibration, is now called D.C.A.C. EX. A newly added speaker-relocation function optimizes settings when distance and placement are less than ideal, as some rooms might require. It also performs EQ (of course) and phase matching. Perhaps most impressive is a change to the setup microphone, which now has two separate mic elements mounted on a bar, 7 inches apart.

This enables two simultaneous measurements to be made and compared, even with different speaker arrival times, to achieve what is claimed to be more accurate time alignment than would be possible with a single-point mic.

Associated equipment included five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers, four Klipsch RP-140SA Atmos elevation speakers (reviewed in this issue), Paradigm Seismic 110 subwoofer, Oppo BDP-83SE universal disc player, Micro Seiki BL-21 turntable, Shure V15MxVR/N97XE cartridge, the phono stage of a Denon PRA-S10 preamp, Lenovo Windows 7 laptop, AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 DAC, and Simaudio’s Moon Neo 230HAD DAC. Quite a menagerie. All movie and TV demos were on Blu-ray Disc.

916sonyrec.rem.jpgSherlock, Continued
This Sony receiver has a kick to it: The sound has a firm bottom end that rocked & rolled, with or without the subwoofer engaged, and with or without room correction. The top end is crisp and clean, with loads of presence and no spurious warmth (though as a general proposition, I like warmth). Voices were rendered on the vivid and communicative side. Befitting a top-of-the-line receiver, dynamics were effortless. I did all my usual mode-switching experiments, but this receiver seemed determined to deliver great sound regardless of which buttons I pressed.

Like this review, the formal demos kicked off with Sherlock. To be specific, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman reprising their roles in the BBC series for a one-off that takes the show’s taboo-breaking contemporary Holmes and Watson back to the 19th century. This was the first episode mixed in Dolby Atmos, and it lost no time in accessing the height dimension. An early scene, inspired by the first Holmes novel, has the great detective beating a corpse to see if bruises could be produced after death, and the Klipsch/Sony-delivered height channels reveled in the queasy-making impacts as they hit the mortuary ceiling. The Sony’s crisp upper midrange suited the acoustic aftershock of a shotgun blast and the roar of Reichenbach Falls, where Holmes and Moriarty have their climactic confrontation.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2 took the action from the Districts to the Capitol, making its Dolby Atmos soundtrack largely an exercise in urban warfare, with grayish sound complementing grayish visuals.

This seemed uncharacteristic of the Sony, but it was just being truthful. The height speakers came alive in airborne and outdoor scenes. The mixer let the score breathe upward, giving the music extra dimensionality and air. But in an emotionally charged scene toward the end, a line of timpani sent little or no reverb to the height channels. However, with this receiver’s weighty bass response, the drums were still a treat; the dynamically assured Sony did not flinch.

I played DTS’s 2016 Demo Disc for the first time, accessing the movie and music clips in DTS:X, the nascent challenger to Dolby Atmos. It is just becoming available in most receiver brands via software update. With the Sony and the Klipsch height add-ons operating in tandem, the whizzing animated aircraft of the DTS:X logo was a convincing demonstration of the potential for amazing height effects: It practically made me jump out of my seat. Standout clips on the disc include The Last Witch Hunter, which offered three-dimensional wraparound effects in a storm-tossed plane, and the choral vocals in the Imagine Dragons song “I Bet My Life.” I prefer height channels to be aggressive, and the Sony/Klipsch combo gave me what I wanted.

Keith with Both Hats On
The recent death of Keith Emerson had The Nice and Emerson, Lake & Palmer in heavy rotation. Keith might have liked that my orchestral selection was his Piano Concerto No. 1 from the vinyl edition of ELP’s Works, Volume 1, with the composer as soloist and John Mayer conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra. In the first movement, when the opening piano lines are doubled with a cascade of chimes, they dazzle with glittering tone color—an effect the Sony was born to reproduce. It also gave the piano the right heft, with a correct balance of the left and right hands, including passages with pounding left-hand parts. In the final movement, the strings follow the piano lines with an almost holographic vividness, to which the receiver was well disposed. Flipping the room correction on and off didn’t produce any painful trade-offs. Sony’s room correction is often subtle, following the medical principle of do-no-harm.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Trilogy is one of several early ELP albums available in Deluxe Editions with a DVD-Audio disc containing highresolution 5.1 mixes plus new and old stereo versions. (The stereo mixes are also provided on two CDs.) For this album, the new mixes are by Jakko Jakszyk, whose day job is singer/second guitarist for King Crimson. The surround mix, in high-resolution Meridian Lossless Packing, is fairly conservative. Only the Moog parts rove the soundfield, while the grand piano is fixed in back, the Hammond organ in front, and Greg Lake’s lead vocal and bass in the front center channel (where they should be).


The Sony receiver’s hi-res savviness suited the thick textures enabled by the newly expanded 24-track analog recording. When “Abaddon’s Bolero” piled on the Moog parts with a trowel, the finicky receiver and lossless surround medium combined to make each part distinct and easy to follow, including some that had previously been buried in the original twochannel mix. The receiver shot Lake’s noble voice through the center speaker with lifelike verve. The distinctive twang of his bass was localized in the center, even when its lower component traveled via sub, but they were well integrated.

Having come to trust the Sony, I used Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch! (FLAC, 192/24) to fool around with the analog outputs from my reference USB DACs. I started with the AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 stick DAC. Even downsampling the 192-kHz files to 96 kHz, the DragonFly and Sony team delivered what felt like a direct, unveiled view into the album, with rock-solid imaging and just enough sweetening to make the dissonant sax/trumpet unison parts palatable. Then I switched to the Moon by Simaudio Neo 230HAD, a full-featured preamp/DAC. The Moon/Sony team produced a livelier top end, more tone color in the middle, and a more substantial drum sound. Incidentally, having connected the DragonFly with a Wireworld Eclipse 7 mini-to-RCA cable and the Moon with an old Esoteric Artus RCA cable, I can’t entirely discount the possibility that the different cables affected the sound. However, the results were consistent with my prior perceptions of the DACs, and the Moon’s lively top end was consistent with my existing perception of the Sony.

The Sony STR-ZA5000ES breaks from the pack in pursuit of the custom integrator market. It will catch some flak for doing it so single-mindedly—but, as noted, the company stresses that the feature set is a response to the pleas of custom integrators.

One more time: No, there are no handy wireless features here, but this receiver isn’t for the average consumer. It’s for installers or CI-oriented consumers who want maximum flexibility in custom installation along with a hardkicking amp. And it achieves its goals admirably.

(877) 865-SONY

etrochez's picture

As a CI, I can tell you that No Bluetooth, AirPlay, Wi-Fi, or DLNA are actually welcome changes. These features are not needed in the CI market where a full home automation system will do most of these tasks, and it'll do them better. Not having these features avoids headaches where customers are unrealistic about their expectations. So, those are pluses, not minuses.