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Just because a product is new doesn’t automatically make it the best or even the right solution for you. This is why in 2021, I argue that the Sony dn1080 AV receiver is the ultimate receiver for someone just looking to build their very first home theatre. And that’s why we’re reviewing it today.
The Sony str dn1080 is a seven channel home theatre receiver and for those of you that may need just a little bit of a refresher course, a home theatre receiver is basically your home cinemas brain that enables you to connect all of your various source components as well as power your loudspeakers.
Now what makes the 1080 so enticing at this price point is the fact that it supports the latest surround sound codec which is Dolby Atmos. This enables you to use high channels in your ceiling or using Dolby Atmos modules atop your left and right main speakers. It also features auto speakers setup and room calibration which is a huge plus for anyone who’s just getting started in home theatre, and also ensures that you get the absolute maximum performance out of any loudspeaker that you connect to it.
In theory, we’re going to go over that in the performance section in a little bit. It has six HDMI inputs and two HDMI monitor outputs, why would you need two HDMI monitor outputs? Well, so that you can run multiple displays, either in the same room or in separate rooms, multiple HDMI monitor outputs come in real handy if you’re looking to use a flat panel TV and a front projection setup in the same room and yes, for those of you who may be concerned or curious, the HDMI monitor outputs are also independent.
All of the HDMI inputs are 4k enabled and they allow for the pass through of 4k 60. Sadly, there’s no 8k, or higher functionality 4k here but I argue right now in 2021, 4k and 4k 60 is still plenty good. And for those of you who may be a cable cutter like myself, the 1080 is fully equipped with all of the latest Wi Fi connectivity options; I’m talking about Wi Fi, Bluetooth , apple airplay, it even is Google Home enabled and has other features like Spotify Connect built in so for those of you that are big into the digital streaming ecosystem, this is a connected AV receiver made just for you.
PROS OF THE SONY STR DN1080 AV RECEIVER
So I just rattled off some of the features of the Sony str dn1080 but for those of you interested in more of the specs. Here they are. One of the reasons why I think the 1080 is still a valid AV receiver in 2021 comes down to just how easy it is to set up. Now I have set up a lot of home theatre receivers in my day and I have got to tell you, this one has got to be among the easiest; so if you’re a first time home theatre enthusiast or buyer, its menu system is among the best that I’ve seen and it’s a menu system that Sony has been using for a number of years but it is very good and goes so far as to entirely walk you through the process.
So even someone like myself who may not require much assistance, it’s just really nice to see Sony take the time and implement such a menu system here. Now to take some of the guesswork out of speaker setup, the Sony dn1080 also has automatic speaker setup and room equalisation software inside.
And when it works, it is fantastic. Now I’m going to go so far as to say that I don’t think that Sony needed to include so many equalisation presets. In our testing, the default setting which is engineer, is kind of Sony’s house curve if you will. It sounded the best with the widest variety of loudspeakers but it does give you a lot of options to sort of tailor the sound of whatever speaker that you connect to it.
Speaking of sound, What does the 1080 sound like because an AV receiver is more than just the brain, it is also the brawn, the power section that drives your speakers. While Sony claims that this is a 165 watt per channel AV receiver, those are well, not accurate; but it does have enough power to drive pretty much any loudspeaker that we threw at it.
For the purposes of this review we did the bulk of our listening using our Jamo Studio home theatre speaker system as well as the elac debut reference bookshelf home theatre package. And I gotta tell you, the sound of the Sony after running the room equalisation software in its engineer mode is one that favours dynamics and punch over anything else. And that’s okay.
That’s actually okay for a home theatre receiver because when we go to the movies, we want to be moved, we want to feel a part of the action and this Sony really excels here. Is it neutral or is it the most nuanced AV receiver on the market right now? No, it’s not. But it’s a lot of fun.
The bass is good; it’s taught, it’s fast, it’s firm, it may not be the deepest but I’m going to argue that in order to get the deepest base out of any AV receiver, that’s largely going to fall to how you set up in place, your subwoofer.
In terms of mid range; the mid range on the Sony is a little bit on the leaner side or the brighter side of neutral if you will. This gives dialogue, really crispy inflection, and it brings out a lot of details so maybe just maybe if you ever find yourself watching movies going “huh? What’s that?”, you might want to take a peek at the Sony str dn1080 because I found dialogue to be exceptionally clear.
But some of that clarity comes at a cost and that is in the high frequencies because there’s a little bit more high frequency information or dare I say, energy, with the Sony if pushed too hard or if paired with the wrong loudspeakers. Loudspeakers that may be inherently bright on their own, may end up with a little bit too much of a good thing giving the entire Sonic presentation and pushing it less from dynamic and punchy into forward territory.
If you like movies to be kind of more in your face and a visceral experience, then I think you’re really going to like what the 1080 has to offer. But if you’re someone that’s like “no! no! no! no! I want a home theatre that’s a lot like an audiophile system, you know, very very composed, neutral,” things like that, this may not be the receiver for you. But again, if you are someone that values dialogue or wants to make sure that you hear everything that the actor on screen is saying or you don’t want to miss any of the action unfolding on screen, then the extra little bit of detail retrieval and high frequency information present with the Sony will likely suit you just fine.
Now beyond the individual Sonic attributes of the DN1080, I know a lot of you are watching going “yes, but what does it sound like with Dolby Atmos content?” And in a word. Great! And now, while I wasn’t the biggest proponent of Dolby Atmos when it was announced and I especially was outspoken about those Atmos modules that sit on top of your left and right main speakers, but having lived now with that kind of a system for several weeks, I have to tell you, it’s effective.
It may not be as effective as true ceiling height channels but for what it is, it’s welcomed and this av receiver makes it so easy to integrate speakers like that and use them to their fullest potential. So it really doesn’t matter if we were watching action movies, dramas or comedies. Every time we had the Dolby Atmos modules in our system, it was noticeable.
It was noticeable and it was welcome. Do you have to have those in order to have a home theatre? No, of course not. We were able to enjoy our home theatre speaker system with or without them, but if you aren’t thinking about taking the leap into Atmos and those top mounted Atmos modules are all that is available to you, they work really well through the Sony 1080 and it makes it very easy to set up a system like that.
If you’re looking for additional Apple content, you know, Tidal just released a whole slew of music using Dolby Atmos and we were able to listen to it through the STR DN1080. And speaking of streaming via either airplay or Bluetooth Wi Fi or even your Google Home devices through this receiver is so easy and it stems all the way back from the initial setup of the receiver itself but once everything is dialled in and talking to one another, the integration in the communication between your smart devices; be it. Google Home, your phone or whatnot, is fantastic, and really kind of faultless.
And the last thing that I want to point out about the DN1080s performance is the speed with which it switches between video sources. So like when we had our PlayStation connected or a blu ray player connected, switching between those sources was quick and seamless. And that’s kind of a big deal because not every AV receiver locks on to a signal with the same speed as the Sony 1080.
The eaRC and ERC functionality worked fantastically and flawlessly with every display that we connected to the Sony, save for one Sony’s own OLED TV! I know that’s the weirdest thing. I was expecting the communication between Sony’s own TV and their own receiver to be the epitome of perfect, and yet it was the worst offender in terms of handshake issues but outside of the Sony OLED the eaRC ERC functionality provided your display is ERC or RC enabled is fantastic.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT THE SONY STR DN1080
Now a couple of things that I did not like about the Sony, or that I find to be just kind of misleading or confusing maybe if you’re a first time home theatre enthusiast starts with the number of channels. Yes, the 1080 is a 7.2 channel home theatre receiver. So, it can power up to a 7.2 channel home theatre system. But if you are getting into it for the Atmos capability and you want to employ those height effects channels, you use those Atmos modules on top of your loudspeakers.
This is not really a seven dot two channel receiver, it’s more like a 5.2 channel receiver because the back two channels in a seven channel setup are reconfigured and used for the height effect channels. If you wanted to have a full seven speaker, two subwoofer home theatre complete with height effects channels, then you need to step up to a nine channel home theatre receiver.
And speaking of misleading, this is not something exclusive to Sony but a lot of AV receiver manufacturers play it a little bit fast and loose with their power output ratings; but Sony claims165 watts of power in six ohms across all of its channels and this simply is false. It’s not true. In fact, the more speakers you connect to this thing, the less power it dishes out. And so a lot of AV receivers, especially in the budget realm, kind of tout the dynamic prowess of one channel driven.
And in this case it’s roughly 165 watts, except who listens to a home theatre with only one speaker? The real world power output of this receiver hovers around 50 watts a channel. But that being said, you shouldn’t be too afraid of that because it was able to power even difficult to drive loudspeakers like our concept 500 just fine.
Before you freak out on me and be like” why would you connect something like concept 500 to an AV receiver like the 1080? Because we can, and it’s good to test these things, the concept five hundreds are not easy to drive but the Sony STR DN1080 drove them just fine.
Another thing with respect to speakers and this av receiver is the auto speaker setup and room equalisation software that’s built in; it is great when it works. In fact more often than not, when you initially go to set up a new speaker system for the first time, this software flat out fails, it just does.
Now thankfully it’s easy to just reset ,start over and usually the second or third time’s a charm. And so it’s kind of a minor inconvenience, really, that it doesn’t work the first time. But when it works. The effects are noticeable. They’re welcomed and the minor annoyance that is it sometimes gets it wrong the first time isn’t enough to turn us off here.
I know I brought this up in the performance section of this review but it does bear repeating: the Sony DN1080 is a receiver that needs to be carefully paired with the right loudspeakers. If you currently have loudspeakers or are shopping for loudspeakers that you know to be maybe on the brighter side, depending on how you set up this receiver with those speakers, you may find that its Sonic presentation leans even more to the bright side of the spectrum and so you need to be careful.
It is something that we have to call attention to here because this is an incredibly dynamic and punchy AV receiver that I happen to really like. But I also understand that not every loudspeaker on the market right now is going to be a perfect fit for it. And lastly, if you’ve been reading specialty AV publications on the internet or tuning into YouTube, you’re probably well aware that people are starting to talk about 8k and the Sony DN1080 has zero 8k support; but at this price point and in 2021, I think that that’s fine because while 8k may be a topic people are talking about, we are still likely years away from its mass adoption.
SONY DN1080 VS MARANTZ SLIMLINE 1509 VS YAMAHA AVENTAGE A3080
In terms of comparable products, obviously there is no shortage of budget AV receivers on the market right now. I directly compare the Sony 1080 to my Marantz slim line, and our 1509 AV receiver and this has been updated. There’s a 1510 and a 1600 series and now I think a 1700 series and are all relatively the same but directly compared to my 1509.
It’s not really a comparison because I actually think the Sony STR DN1080 is light years ahead of the Marantz in almost every category; especially when it comes to usability, user interface and setup. I even actually prefer the sound of the Sony to the Marantz.
The Marantz definitely has a far more mellower presentation, a warm, almost romanticised sound. And that’s great for two channel listening, which is also why I hung on to the Marantz this long but for home theatre, it just doesn’t, it doesn’t excite me the way this Sony does and so yeah I do prefer the Sony, in this instance.
Now, I have also been living with a Yamaha aventage A3080; and that’s almost a $2,000 AV receiver and it is fantastic. So it’s kind of not really fair to compare the 1080 from Sony to that Yamaha because they’re really not comparable. But Yamaha does make an awful lot of receivers in and around the 1080s price point. Now I’m not going to go so far as to say that they’re going to sound the same as the Yamaha that I have.
Suffice to say that yes, if you do decide to go up market and spend a little bit more on your AV receiver, the Yamaha A3080 is a great example of, “you get what you pay fo”r. Lastly, and I know we just got done talking about 8k but it has to be noted that Denon and Marantz just released a whole slew of 8k enabled AV receivers and there’s even one that is comparable in terms of specifications and price to the 1080.
So to wrap it up, who is the Sony str dn1080 AV receiver for? I argue it is for the first time home theatre enthusiasts because while not perfect, it gets the basics right, and it is so approachable. If this is your first foray into home cinema; maybe you’re stepping up from a sound bar or a two channel system, this is probably going to be the logical first step for many of you, and it really does it, it checks all the boxes, it does everything you need, it’s not full of stuff you’re never going to use and that is why I advocate for it and why I think it is still so popular.
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