AUDIO PERFORMANCE Oh, yeah - audio. Sony claims that the 5200ES's digital signal processing for audio represents a new generation of better-sounding hardware, and I have to admit that either I'm as suggestible as the next guy (perfectly possible) or it's true. Sound quality on movie soundtracks was excellent, as were stereo CDs processed via the Dolby Pro Logic IIx/Music mode. The Sony STR-DA5200ES had ample power, playing plenty loud in my room for even fully cinema-like movie presentation via my medium-sensitivity speakers.
Sony's proprietary Digital Cinema Sound surround modes are included in all their interesting variety and also sounded fine - though, as usual, I preferred plain PLIIx or DTS for surround from most sources, as the least-colored options.
The 5200ES's auto-setup routine permits results for three different listening positions or user preferences to be stored and recalled. The routine also incorporates automatic equalization, available in three versions: to match response to Sony's own listening-room ideal, to deliver "flat" response in your room, or to normalize your center and surrounds to your main fronts. All these proved interesting, and high in intrinsic quality, but their usefulness will depend on your speakers, room, and tastes.
Sony endowed the STR-DA5200ES with a front-panel USB port into which you can jack most storage devices, including a thumb drive or other flash-memory cache. (The receiver decodes only MP3, WMA, and Sony's own MiniDisc ATRAC files.) If you had a spare 80-gig hard drive lying about (and these days, who doesn't?), you could load it up with music files and have a stripped-down music server for the $25 price of an external case: The 5200ES gives you onscreen display of basic metadata and full transport control, although no fancy playlist or sorting functions. Sony's "Portable" sound mode is a two-channel setting said to optimize compressed-audio files. This sounded to me like typical "aural-enhancer" processing; my music files sounded better to me in plain ol' stereo.
THE BOTTOM LINE The list of A/V receivers with HDMI-output scaling is short indeed, though certain to grow. The Sony STR-DA5200ES A/V receiver is, presently, unique on many fronts - notably, its 1080p capability and its graphic interface - and has the performance to back it up. At its modest-by-flagship-standards price, the STR-DA5200ES legitimately earns close consideration by any serious A/V receiver shopper.
Copyright © 2013 Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.