Product: Sony 7.1 Surround 3D Receiver (STR-DH830)
Rating: Weak Recommend*
If you love the movies and are looking to bring the theater experience to your home, there are few investments better than a quality receiver. The Sony DH830 receiver delivers 7.1 surround sound, support for 3D playback, and the power to transform your living room into a cinema, but whether the DH830 is a sound investment depends upon on whether you can live with some of its limitations...
Unboxing & First Impressions:
Sony doesn't deviate from the standardized look of the typical home theater receives: a solid black plastic housing with a few dials on the front to change sources and sound modes. The construction is sturdy, with a rigid chassis, feet aligned to reduce vibration, while knobs and buttons glide smoothly.
What else is in the box:
- Remote Control with batteries
- Auto-calibration microphone
- USB cable
- iPod / iPhone dock
- FM/AM Antenna and connector
System Setup: Getting a new home theater receiver is a fun experience, but it always requires a bit of setup to get things configured and positioned the way you want. I started by first connecting my 7 satellite speakers to the receiver. I was disappointed that there were only binding posts on the Front-left and Front-right speakers. All other speaker inputs used flimsy spring clips to make a connection. This may not be an issue with most homeowners, but it was frustrating for me, as I had to remove all my banana plugs to make a bare wire connection to the spring clips. Binding posts are typically used in receivers at this price point, and are appreciated because of the stronger, more secure connections they are able to make — not to mention the ease they bring to connectivity.
After all the speakers were connected to the receiver, I proceeded to hook up all my sources. Up to 7 HD sources can be connected with output to one HD display — for this test I used only sources connected via HDMI and output to my HDTV via an HDMI cable.
With all the audio and video equipment connected, it was time to turn on the receiver and configure the audio. Calibrating the audio output to your specific space is a key step to getting the most out of your new home theater receiver. Most receivers, like this one, come with a auto-calibration microphone that you connect to the front of the receiver and place in your listening area (likely at ear-level in the center of your couch).
Calibration modes tune the speakers by setting their size and adjusting the output volume for optimal sound. Unlike most auto-calibration modes, the one from Sony is surprisingly simple and fast. A short tonal sound plays and then all your speakers are calibrated at once in seconds. This is a very nice feature, as auto-calibration typically requires two passes of a pink noise test that cycles through each speaker, one at a time — sometimes taking 10-15 minutes in total. The auto-calibration Sony utilizes is smart, and according to Sony, more accurate than pink noise, with a speaker distance precision within 2cm.
Sound Quality & Usability
Now the moment we all wait for when getting a new receiver, watching and enjoying media. As a fan of cinema, particularly action-packed demo scenes, I have a collection of Blu-Ray movies I like to use to test out equipment like this. The first one I popped in was Casino Royale — the first Parkour chase scene alone is a good test for audio and video dynamics.
I was impressed with the sound quality of the receiver, and found it vivid, bright, and comparable to a higher-end (read more expensive) Denon model that I own. I played through a variety of content — 3D Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray, DVD, HD Satellite — and cranked up the volume in big action scenes; the receiver never felt overwhelmed or under-powered. Great bass, great detail across the sound spectrum and definitely good value for the money. Sony claims to leverage their colleagues from the Sony Pictures division to create an immersive living room experience, and you can't argue with the results.
Unfortunately, normal operation usability was another story. Switching sources was slow and sometimes resulted in a blank screen that required toggling the power to correct. The biggest issue for me was the lack of any kind of on-screen overlay. For those that store their receiver out of sight behind a cabinet — or far enough away to not be able to read the small display on the front — using the receiver can become quite frustrating. You can't easily determine the volume level you're set to, nor can you easily check or change audio/surround sound modes. Typically in a receiver review you'll hear a slight mumble about the lack of a overlay on 3D content only, but the lack of one at all is a big omission.
The GUI menu is also very underwhelming. It's clunky and slow, with graphics to match. When you hit the GUI button to change any settings, you'll have to wait for a few seconds for the menu to load over a solid black screen, completely shutting you out of your content. The menus and controls lag, and are most inconvenient when trying to control music through an iPod connected to the dock. It's something that'll make you groan, and depending on your patience, may categorize it as unusable.
Speaking of the iPod dock, my first impression was that it was a nice addition. But once you hook it up via USB to the front of the device you realize how outdated it feels in the age of Airplay and network-connected receivers. To me, this basically sums up the usability aspects of this receiver — outdated, un-streamlined, and something that leaves you longing for more. Longing for things like Airplay, and network connectivity for streaming apps like Pandora.
If you have a home theater in a box system (or no surround system at all) and are thinking about upgrading your system to something more powerful, then the Sony DH830 receiver could arguably be an option. From a technical standpoint it delivers impressive audio, features all the codecs and video types you will need, and the quality fit and finish of a Sony product. At $399.99, it's also very hard to argue with the value this receiver provides.
Overall, I give this a "Weak Recommend." I could only recommend this receiver to someone who wanted all the specs it offers; 7.1 surround sound, 3D support, and the power it provides at a sub $400 price. You're likely going to have to spend upwards of $500 for an equivalent receiver, spec-for-spec. That's where I'd stop, though, since the receiver underwhelmed on setup (lack of binding posts) and on usability. I'd sacrifice a few watts of power (do you honestly push your speakers to the limit?), maybe even a few channels of sound (do you have 7 speakers?) for a more enjoyable user interface experience and network connectivity with Airplay support. The sound quality is great, yes, but I feel you can get similar quality from other receivers at this price point minus a few of the technical specs I mentioned above.
With all that said, there is a new receiver that recently became available through Sony. The STR-DN1030 supports Bluetooth, Airplay, and has network connectivity, but judging from what I've been able to read online, still suffers from a poor GUI and lack of an overlay. In this day an audio receiver is more than just a device to manage your speakers and sources. It's something that should facilitate how you use and access your media, something that's so easy you use it for more than you intended. On those fronts, to me, this receiver falls a bit short.
Sony 3D 7.1 Channel Receiver (STR-DH830)
- 7.1 Channel A/V Receiver (95W x7 @8 ohms 20Hz-20kHz 0.09% THD with 2 channels driven)
- 5 HDMI inputs (1080p / 24p capable with 3D Pass-through)
- 2 Component inputs (1080p / 60i capable)
- 2 Analog Audio Inputs
- 2 Digital Audio Inputs (Optical Tos-link)
- Audio Decoding: Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD Master Audio, Dolby Prologic II/ Iix / IIz, HD Digital Cinema Sound (HD DCS), Auto Format Direct (AFD for simulating surround sound for 2-channel sources)
- USB input
- 1 HDMI output (3D and Audio Return Channel)
- 1 Component output
- 2 Composite Video Output
Pros: Impressive Audio, Muti-tonal Auto-calibration, Value (Lots of features for an affordable price), Supports all audio codecs (DTS MA, Dolby TrueHD) and video standards (3D), Good quality build and durability.
Cons: No onscreen menu or overlay, GUI menu is slow and laggy - especially for controlling music connected to the dock, Feels outdated, Lack of binding posts for speaker connections, No Airplay, No built-in Wi-Fi, No streaming apps like Pandora, etc.
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This specific product was purchased/provided by reviewer/manufacturer for testing and review purposes.
(Images: Chris Perez)