Top positive review
18 people found this helpful
Absolutely amazing sound if you don't mind unplugging occasionally to reset HDMI problems.
on 20 May 2014
Having received this beast about 3 weeks ago from Amazon, we felt it was time to add a review since it is really hard to decide whether or not to go for it.
Having had several AVR's before (two Yamahas and a JVC) I can only rave about the sound this Sony delivers. The online reviews and awards are certainly justified on that front. It packs a mighty punch on soundtracks - so mighty in fact that anyone living in a flat will probably opt to turn on Dynamic Compression because there seems to be vast 'distance' between loudness extremes when such compression is turned off, just as would be the case in a cinema. So yes, you will feel 'blown away' when watching action movies, but also enamoured when watching a delicate movie too. It all sounds crystal clear and embued with remarkable depth. Reviews have mentioned a sense of 3D with the soundscapes this AVR presents, and I can certainly go along with that, both for music and film. By contrast, my previous Yamaha was certainly a bit lacking in highs, and the JVC veered to a grating sharpness on highs but was otherwise better than the Yamaha for clarity, surprisingly.
Tip for PS3 users: To get full HD surround sound, set sound output to HDMI and PCM to let the PS3 do the decoding as the PS3 otherwise does not output the best HD sound - and don't worry that your amp doesn't show HD sound, you will still get all channels in amazing HD sound and this is verified when checking the output sound via the PS3 display button.
Also of interest are several other audio features: Sound Optimization, Pure Direct and Digital Legato Linear. Sound Optimization is Sony's own equivalent of a Loudness button. It very successfully enriches midtones and clarifies high range sounds at low volumes, so you can continue enjoying the soundscape of an exciting film if your partner goes to sleep or whatever. It can be turned on with a Low or Normal setting according to preference. Pure Direct shuts off all digital circuits in the machine, including its front panel display, in order to boost clarity of sound by eradicating very low level hum that is associated with complex digital circuitry. It only works with analogue inputs, so I don't really bother with it too much but it does sound nice and clean. Digital Legato Linear takes a typical 44khz recording (e.g. CD or MP3) and upscales the audio to higher resolution, with the result that it sounds more airy and vital, yet has as much or more punch where needed - I have found setting 2 to be the best of the two on offer.
While the Sony is rather outdatedly aimed more to please Apple fans with Airplay whilst bizarrely omitting Bluetooth for UK Android users etc., it is worth remembering that sound quality on these methods is inferior to the wonders that will be experienced with HDMI cable connection.
And how about the auto-setup? Well, I am having to use a mix of speaker brands and none are particularly recent. The Sony comes with a mic supplied. You connect it to a front socket, place it on the listening position and then start the auto-calibration process. In a remarkably short space of time (about 60 seconds) it proceeds to first emit a few musical notes to alert that the process is starting, then a few beeps from each speaker in turn, then moves on to some subwoofer thuds at increasing volume before a few more notes close the process. Sony have done really well with this sweet and fast system which is actually quite fun. That said, as reviews have noted, it tends to set small satellite speakers to 'Large', thus significantly diminishing bass which should instead play via the subwoofer. Once you know this, you can just do the calibration then set a front speaker to 'Small'. Automatically all the other satellites will also convert appropriately. Distances were mostly accurate, but remember the detected 'distances' are actually based on the speaker's detected performance and return of sound. Thus, it would be foolish to tweak them to match the distance you would find with a tape measure. More revealingly, detected distances describe where the system's weak links are, if there are any, such as one side of the room having a wall while sound at the other side drops away because of an open-plan design etc. In most instances the sound will be so good that detected settings can be left without any need to dip into the simple bass / treble equalizer found elsewhere in menus. However, I say this with a caveat: Repeated auto-calibrations delivered very clear punchy sound that was definitely light on the subwoofer, even with the aforementioned tweaks. Then I decided to approach the process differently. Instead of placing the microphone flat on the chair as in Sony's on-screen diagram, I placed it on top of my old AVR turned on its side at the middle of the sofa, so it was at ear level. After a few goes it returned some seemingly bizarre crossovers for my speakers. So much so that the first time I ignored them. Then when it happened a few times later, I realised it was correcting a centre speaker that was a bit too light by diverting centre channel frequencies below 200hz to the sub (normally crossover is set to around 80-120 or so). It was also wanting to set my satellites at 120hz yet I knew the manufacturer stated they only went down to 140hz at best. So ... I respected the seemingly shocking 200hz centre channel setting because the sub is directly beneath anyway, and set the satellites to cover a margin of roll-off too. Their crossover was changed to 150hz. Then I listened ... and WOW was I pleased. Each speaker performed to its best capability and the bass was so rich and balanced. Of course, a system with better matched speakers would do even better, but trust me, we are talking about it seeming as effective as many cinemas. I kid you not. So, I would argue that it is worth doing repeated auto-calibrations to verify that you have the best setting, certainly if you are unsure about the sound you are getting because the AVR can perform incredibly well.
The UK 1040 sports fewer online radio services than the American version (only Sony's own subscription service or Vtuner). Thankfully, Vtuner opens the door to many great stations and I am happily hearing about pussy cats rescued from trees in New Zealand or reminiscing to Spanish stations playing hot dance music and the like. Sound quality can more or less equal CD when the station outputs 320kbps. As with MP3 files, such compressed signals benefit from a 'Portable' soundfield setting especially designed to enrich compressed audio and restore its dynamic range. Audiophiles will no doubt prefer Pure Direct listening but I have found great pleasure from hooking up two front height speakers to make use of Pro-logic IIz capability on music and movies. Opinions vary on whether this sound processing method is a significant enhancement. I would argue that those who stick with it much find that there really are some outstanding moments that warrant its use. It takes a mono channel usually used for atmospherics and ambience and plays it through a speaker three feet above your front left and right speakers. Rainfall sounds 'brighter' and more immediate. Distant storms rumble with the sense that they are further away but incredibly menacing. Water falling at the start of Prometheus sounds gigantic and disturbingly violent, as it should. Not every film is mastered for this but when it works it works wonderfully well. Out of Pro-Logic IIz the front heights lose their specificity, and it has two modes, one for music and another for movies.
The On-Screen Display interface is beautifully designed, as good as they get, but I think one of the four vertical panels could be split to include more direct entry into Audio settings. Instead the panels are titled, Watch, Listen, Sound Fields and Settings.
Generally, we noticed a modest improvement in already superb HD picture once passed through this Sony. For instance, Blu-Rays from a PS3 looked a fraction sharper with slight increase in vibrancy, probably due to the AVR's processing.
Network connectivity was EASY to set up for a BT Broadband Hub. Just enter the password on the back of the hub and all is GO.
All this raving positivity aside ... Sony's firmware updates need to tackle a glaring issue. HDMI connectivity is glitchy. Sure, unplugging for about 15 minutes resets this usually, but come on. It is a hassle and we would rather not be plunged into having to read a book for 15 minutes when we want to watch a great movie or listen to internet radio stations etc. The first time I set the AVR up, I ended up going out to spend a fortune on better insulated cables to remedy what I thought was interference, but it was just this glitch!
Even taking that into account, I am so utterly thrilled with the sound that I am hoping Sony will rectify the HDMI firmware issue. The AVR is a revelation at £500, let alone the lower amount we paid. Its sound is nothing short of spectacular. We went to a brilliant Goldfrapp concert and came home, and played favourite tracks. All the magic was there, with the superb acoustic range and tons of punch and detail. The AVR does so much that I guess glitches are to an extent inevitable. For the moment, they certainly seem paled by comparison to towering, exciting and robust sound performance.