• Sony STR-DH820
Our Verdict 
Best home cinema amplifier up to £350, Awards 2011. A fantastic AV amp for those wishing to build a separates system
Great value
exciting sound
powerful, tight bass
accurate steering of effects
No network functionality means no music streaming services
Reviewed on

In 2010, Sony’s home cinema amps blew occasionally hot, but mainly cold. A mixture of three and four-star reviews for its mid- and up-market offerings was offset by the performance of the entry-level STR-DH810.

This Award-winner proved to be the company’s amp saviour; so it is that we’re fascinated to see what the DH810’s successor, the STR-DH820, has in store.

Fine value for moneyFor the money, it’s hard to knock what the Sony offers in terms of features and specification. The DH820 is a seven channel amp, with power measured at a generous 100W per channel.

Support for 3D is included, with four high-speed HDMI inputs and one similarly certified output. Dolby ProLogic IIz processing allows you to opt for front height channels instead of surround backs.

Apple iPod and iPhone owners will be pleased to note the compatible USB input on the front panel, although file playback is limited to MP3, WMA and AAC.

More after the break

The lack of an ethernet input puts paid to any hopes of network connectivity and streaming, but at this level, you can’t expect every feature under the sun. However, the STR-DH820 still has room for full video upconversion and 1080p upscaling courtesy of Faroudja.

Sony’s Advanced Digital Cinema Auto Calibration (DCAC) system is nippier than those of rival manufacturers and after taking only one set of measurements using the supplied mic, you’re good to go.

Dynamic yet accurate performanceAnd, with the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack of Ninja Assassin in full flow, the Sony repays your faith with an exciting, powerful sound. As the Ozunu ninjas make mincemeat of the Europol officers holding Raizo captive, the Sony erupts into life, firing out a dynamic volley of weighty, tightly controlled gunfire.

As the listener threatens to become overwhelmed by the on-screen action, the amp’s ability to steer and position surround effects accurately and precisely comes to the fore. Throwing stars shoot between channels around and above the listener. You get a real sense of them shredding everything in their path.

Musical performance is as enthusiastic as you could wish for at the money. Listen via HDMI or, preferably, the Sony’s analogue inputs and the STR-DH820 times very well, unearthing a very respectable level of detail for a product of this type.

Don’t worry if you haven’t got thousands to blow on a new system. We’ve all got to start somewhere, and be assured that the STR-DH820 is brilliant piece of budget kit - and a 2011 Award winner for Sony.


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