Here it is, the receiver that's spoiled the party for the Pioneer SC-LX81, Yamaha RX-V3900 and Rotel RSX-1550.
We knew this Sony was special, but it's taken the extra-close comparison of a Group Test to see just how special it is.
To cut a long story short, the STR-DA5400ES is so good, it's forced us to modify the ratings of every receiver around the same price.
There's nothing particularly special about the way it looks, though, with the exposed knobs and buttons doing nothing to entice the eye. But it's the specs that first hint at greatness.
Specification shines bright
For a start, this 7.1 receiver has no fewer than six HDMI inputs and two outputs.
Most people would use these for a TV and projector, but should you use the second output for a TV in another room, you'll be pleased to hear it has its own Faroudja video processor that upscales to 1080i, as well as a dedicated remote and GUI.
Of course, the first output has its own Faroudja processor (which upscales to 1080p), remote and GUI, and operating the device is a joy, thanks to Sony's XrossMediaBar.
The '5400ES also has perhaps the quickest and most efficient mic-driven set-up we've seen, producing close-to-perfect results in a matter of seconds.
This means you'll be able to sit back and enjoy your new receiver in a flash – and what a thrilling performer it is.
A thrilling performer
Play the early street-chase scene on the Slumdog Millionaire Blu-ray and the Sony ramps the excitement up to 11.
The brilliant music is reproduced in magnificently huge and punchy fashion, while the excited voices of the tearaway kids come through with crystal clarity – all of this on top of the so-real-you-could-be-there ambient hustle-and-bustle of the Mumbai slum.
What's amazing about this amp is how it takes the greatest qualities of its rivals and bundles them up into a unified, impossible-to-fault whole.
So you have the scale and most of the depth of the Yamaha RX-V3900 combined with the integration of the Pioneer SC-LX81 and the excitement, detail and rhythmic precision of the Rotel RSX-1550.
This stunning mix combines with a three-dimensional soundstage to reproduce the Foo Fighters – Live at Wembley Stadium Blu-ray with such natural spaciousness as to transport you effortlessly to the open-air concert in intoxicating fashion.
CD playback also impresses
On top of all this, this Sony machine gets closest here to matching a reasonable stereo amplifier for CD playback, and proves to be the most capable upconverter and upscaler.
So long as you're not bothered about network streaming (which requires the purchase of an expensive add-on), there's really is no way to fault the brilliant STR-DA5400ES.
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