Sony in the middle

Posted: May 31, 2013

A LOT IS RIDING on Sony introductions like the new STR-DN1040 Multi-Channel Audio/Video Receiver.

Some high-profile Wall Street analysts and investors are calling on Sony to split off (or worse, close) its unprofitable electronics business and focus on what's making the venerable brand big money - its music and movie/TV production businesses, based in the United States, and its lucrative insurance division in Japan.

Clearly, these number-crunching jerks have no respect for Sony's tech expertise, the core foundation upon which all else was built. They argue that Sony has lost its way against gadget makers like Samsung and Apple.

Can a bold position statement like the $599 STR-DN1040 restore Sony's mojo?

It should.

Designed as the brainy core for a thoroughly modern home entertainment system, this handsome A/V receiver trades on Sony's great audio and video heritage and expertise, with lots of subtle tweaks that make a difference. It even offers 4K (Ultra High Definition) video upscaling and signal pass through - the next big thing in home video.

And, most tellingly, the receiver pays heed to where the entertainment-consuming populace is today, more often watching and listening on mobile phones, laptops and tablets.

Even this gadget freak doesn't have enough products to fill all 8 HDMI inputs on the receiver.

Most important is the inclusion of both Bluetooth and Airplay wireless streaming reception. That means you can pump your smartphone- or computer-loaded music through the Sony to a home theater speaker set, with the high-powered receiver feeding up to 7 full-range channels plus a subwoofer.

Rival receivers coming from the likes of Onkyo/Integra, Yamaha and Pioneer offer either Bluetooth or (Apple-exclusive) Airplay streaming, not both.

Switching between the two is a mite complicated on the Sony, though. My advice? Stick with Bluetooth, which sounds virtually as good and is found in every streaming product, including iPhones and iPads.

Even relatively low bit rate digital content streamed wirelessly to the receiver sounds damn good after Sony processing, with settings such as "Portable Audio" that are able to restore missing details and warmth.

Other Sony-sculpted digimodes do a fine job of converting stereo sources to multichannel surround, equalizing a soundtrack for low-volume enjoyment or revealing how the music might have sounded to the recording engineer in a bone-dry studio control room.

As a thoroughly modern A/V receiver, Sony's box also connects to the Internet to upgrade operating system software and pull in the free music streaming services Pandora, Slacker and the Internet radio aggregator vTuner, plus Sony's subscription service, Music Unlimited. The latter has a deep catalog and well-curated specialty channels.

And what makes this a Sony is the smart and easy Graphical User Interface to navigate through the music and video and sound contouring options on the receiver without ever taking your eyes off the connected TV screen, using just 10 logically arranged buttons on the companion (64 button) remote control.




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