When Sony missed out in the £500 AV receiver shoot-out last year, we were worried that might be the end of the company’s celebrated (and often class-leading) ranges of multichannel amps.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Sony is back with a belter of an AV receiver. Packed with all the latest technology and packing stunning performance to match, the new Sony STR-DN1080 is a force to be reckoned with.
It only takes a couple of minutes of listening to the Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them 4K Blu-ray and we’re grinning. This Sony amp sounds fantastic.
The subtlety and control we loved in the Award-winning STR-DN1050 is back, but there’s more to it. The Sony 1080 reaches deep into its reserves to deliver sound packed with punch, dynamism and authority in a way we haven’t heard at this sort of price before.
There’s an incredible amount of detail, from natural, expressive voices to layers of insight and depth surrounding each sound effect. As a glass window shatters under a spell, you can hear the sharp tinkling of glass as well as the deep, sonic note rippling around the effect – it’s spellbinding to listen to.
Dynamically, it’s a fun and exciting listen. Quiet moments are as captivating as huge explosions going off in every corner of the big, open soundfield - and the DN1080 handles the changing shifts with masterful control. It’s enthralling.
We’ve seen John Wick more times than we’d care to admit, but the Sony STR-DN1080 keeps us glued to the action like we were watching (and hearing) it for the first time.
Gunshots are terrifically precise, and punches hit with satisfying impact. The agile and sure-footed manner in which the Sony conducts itself around the film’s equally agile choreography is admirable.
Surround effects swirl around convincingly and you can track exactly where each noise – whether it’s a spell, a crash, a gunshot or a magical creature – is placed in the soundfield. It envelops you in a cocoon of sound, and that’s before you engage the Dolby Atmos or DTS:X 3D soundtracks.
The additional height channels are convincing, although spreading the sound out more does take away a bit of the solidity of the bass performance.
And there’s so much low-end depth and texture. It’s not quite as brawny as some Yamaha AVRs we’ve heard, but the Sony pulls each bass note taut and makes an impact.
More after the break
That rhythmic quality lends itself well to music, too, whether you’re listening to a concert Blu-ray or streaming music from Spotify.
A home cinema amp isn’t a match for dedicated stereo amplifiers such as the Rega Brio, but the Sony handles dynamic shifts and vocals in a fluid, articulate manner that sounds more musical than most amps.
High notes are reached with plenty of headroom. The sound is clear and crisp, but that vein of solidity running through the amp keeps it from sounding bright or harsh when the volume is cranked up. That’s one key criticism of past Sony amps dealt with.
Some of that solidity and dynamic subtlety is missing from the Sony’s current arch-rival, the Denon AVR-X2400H. The Sony is demonstrably more detailed, offering a bigger scale of sound with more grunt, drive and low-end depth than the Denon can muster. The new Denon sounds a little delicate next to Sony’s more robust character.
Before you start listening to the Sony amp, you’ll want to plug in the set-up mic and run the auto-calibration process to get the best sound for your room’s acoustics.
Sony’s improved DCAC EX calibration takes note of your exact speaker package configuration before emitting blissfully swift and musical test tones. You can delve into the manual settings to fine-tune the results - we are, broadly speaking, happy with the Sony’s largely accurate measurements of our test-room.
Sony’s interface is well designed and nice to use. It has helpful graphics to guide you through the set-up process, as well as the new ‘phantom surround back’ and ‘speaker relocation’ features.
The first option adds in virtual surround rear speakers if you only have a 5.1 package, and the second one ‘corrects’ the positioning of your speakers if your room simply won’t allow for best place speaker placement. How effective this is depends on your room, but the sound does shift convincingly when used in our listening rooms.
Make sure you select AFD (auto format decoding) in the sound-effects menu to fully play DTS:X and Dolby Atmos soundtracks. Pure Direct – which cuts out all digital interferences – is worth enabling when you’re listening to purely analogue sources.
The STR-DN1080 is a substantial, hefty and well-built black box. The front panel features a handful of shortcut buttons, volume and input dials that work smoothly, and a simplified display that you can read at a glance. It’s a fuss-free, easy-to-use amp.
Using the light plastic remote control is intuitive, thanks to logically placed buttons. We wish it was backlit - though you do eventually get used to the shape of the most-needed buttons after a few days in the dark.
All the interesting stuff happens under the hood: Sony has used high quality components and advanced technology derived from its premium custom-install ES range of receivers in designing the STR-DN1080.
There are too many updates to list here, but all that work goes a long way to influencing the amp’s mature performance.
The big news here is that Sony has finally embraced Dolby Atmos.
While its rivals adopted it two years ago, Sony has until now eschewed object-based 3D sound formats. That left Sony’s previous contender – the four-star STR-DN1060 – trailing its better-equipped rivals from Denon, Onkyo, Pioneer and Yamaha.
Sony is playing catch-up now, and we’re pleased to say the STR-DN1080 comes packed with all the latest AV technology.
Not only can it play Dolby Atmos soundtracks up to a 5.1.2 speaker configuration, it also supports the new DTS:X format. All six HDMI inputs at the back are HDCP 2.2 compliant, supporting full playback of 4K HDR content.
It’s worth noting the ‘video 1’ input is the only one not to support the full 4:4:4 chroma subsampling spec - all other HDMI inputs do.
There are two HDMI outputs, a handful of legacy inputs, single optical and coaxial inputs, and a USB port that can charge your smartphone.
You do get a few more connections on the rival Denon AVR-X2400H – eight HDMI inputs, for starters, and a couple more inputs across the board – which is a pretty good deal for £500. But the Sony is hardly lacking in the connectivity area – there are plenty of sockets to plug in your sources.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Sony product without some serious hi-res music support. The amp can play up to 24-bit/192kHz files in all popular formats, and will also play native double DSD files across HDMI, USB and wi-fi.
In fact, two of the HDMI inputs (titled BD/DVD and CD/SACD) are optimised for the best audio quality. Sony recommends plugging your favourite sources into these two.
The amp is further kitted out with the most popular streaming facilities – Bluetooth, AirPlay, Chromecast and Spotify Connect are all built into the STR-DN1080. The amp’s DLNA certification means you can play hi-res music files from any NAS device or laptop on the same network.
And let’s not forget multi-room: you can connect the amp to other compatible Sony products using the Music Center app (formerly SongPal) to stream music around the house.
After a gap year Sony has come back fighting, with all the specs boxes duly ticked this time. The addition of Dolby Atmos – as well as other cutting-edge features – makes the STR-DN1080 a complete AVR package for £550.
But Sony has outdone itself with a huge step up in performance - the 1080 amp is utterly compelling to listen to. Welcome back, Sony.
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