The Short Form
|$2,000 / SONYSTYLE.COM|
|Sony's near-flagship A/V receiver covers
all the bases with its host of performance-enhancing audio features
|• Bang-up-to-date audio processing
• Superb analog video processing
• Enough inputs to accommodate even the largest systems
|• No HD Radio
• No network connections
• No HDMI upconversion
|• 7 x 120 watts
• 6 HDMI 1.3 inputs, 2 HDMI outputs
• Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD Master Audio, and DSD (SACD) decoding
• Dual Faroudja DCDi video processors
• Automated speaker setup and calibration
• XM satellite radio-ready
• Can send HD video over CAT-5e cable (requires optional CAT-5e-to-component-video adapter)
• Compatible with 1080/24p video sources
• Phono input, (3) IR ports (2 in, 1 out),
RS-232 serial control port, multichannel analog audio input, (2) Sony Digital Media Port inputs, (3) 12v triggers
• 16¼ x 6¾ x 16 in, 34½ lb
Over the past few years, we've witnessed a seemingly endless procession of new audio and video technologies. From HDMI connections to an ever-expanding array of Dolby and DTS surround sound modes, it's gotten to the point where anyone on the hunt for a new A/V receiver needs to shop with a lengthy checklist of must-have features. But things appear to have finally settled down, with most new receiver offerings letting you tick off all of those essential feature boxes.
A good example of this new breed of fully up-to-date receivers is Sony's STR-DA5400ES, which sits one step under the company's flagship STR-DA6400ES. Both models come with similar feature sets and performance, the main difference being that the 6400ES is DLNA-compatible and can stream high-def video over a home network. Otherwise, the 5400ES has the key bases covered, with Faroudja DCDi video processing, six HDMI 1.3 inputs, and dual HDMI outputs for sending HDTV programs to two separate displays. (Picture resolution for second-zone video maxes out at 1080i.) Audio formats are fully covered, too, with onboard decoding for Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, and even DSD (SACD). While it lacks the flagship model's networking prowess, the 5400ES can distribute high-def video to another room over CAT-5e cable, and can even provide a third zone with 2-channel analog audio.
At 7 x 120 watts, the Sony receiver's rated power is a bit less than what you can get with some similarly priced competitors, although it should be plenty unless you have a huge home theater or hideously insensitive speakers. Additionally, if your plans call for a simple 5.1-channel setup - as opposed to a 7.1-channel one - the 5400ES lets you reassign those two extra amp channels either to power a second zone or as duplicate front channels for speaker biamping.
With binding posts that accept either bare wire or banana plugs for all seven channels, hooking up my 7.1-channel speaker array to the Sony was a snap. I also connected my Blu-ray Disc player and cable box/DVR by way of HDMI, along with a Sony Digital Media Port iPod dock, an XM satellite-radio tuner module, and an Oppo DVD/SACD player so I could investigate the Sony's upscaling and DSD input features.
Sony's Xross Media Bar onscreen menu is attractive, and once you get the hang of navigating it, you'll find it simple enough to step through the receiver's setup without cracking open a manual. The supplied calibration microphone is unusual in that it uses two elements spaced a few inches apart to get a better handle on speaker positioning and room reflections. Along with the normal level, phase, crossover, and frequency-response calculations, the mike allows the receiver to determine the angle between your front speakers. It then uses this information to calibrate some of the surround modes to match the front-speaker placement.
Rather than use an established system like Audyssey, Sony has its own automated setup routine that can store measurements made from three different mike positions. While some receivers calculate room correction based on readings from several points, Sony's setup only lets you select one stored "position" at a time. What's good here, though, is that you get the option to correct all speakers for a flat response, correct them to a target curve, or match the center and surrounds using your front left and right speakers as a reference. Personally, I rather like the way my PSB Synchrony tower speakers perform, so I mostly stuck with the Sony's Front Reference mode or left the equalization off altogether.
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