Sony STR-DN1080 7.2-Channel AV Receiver Review
It sounds great and offers exceptional value
What is the Sony STR-DN1080?Sony have been fairly quiet on the AV receiver front recently, in fact the last AVR of their's we reviewed was the STR-DA5800ES all the way back in 2013. That earlier model was excellent, so we were rather pleased when they launched the STR-DN1080 last year at a fraction of the cost. This new surround sound receiver supports both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, with means it can deliver a more immersive experience from these object-based audio formats. To achieve this the DN1080 has seven channels of built-in amplification and can run up to two subwoofers. It supports 4K and High Dynamic Range – specifically HDR10, Hybrid Log-Gamma and Dolby Vision – as well as Hi-Res Audio and DSD native playback. Once you throw in Chromecast, Spotify Connect and Apple's AirPlay, the DN1080 starts to look very well specified indeed, and what's surprising is that all these features come in a receiver that will only set you back £459. So if Sony's STR-DN1080 can deliver a performance that matches its value then we could be looking at a real bargain. Let's find out...
Design, Connections & ControlWe're glad to see that Sony has taken a more simplified approach to the layout of the STR-DN1080's front facia when compared to their earlier AV receivers, which did have a tendency to be rather burdened with unnecessary buttons and controls. The DN1080 goes for a very minimalist approach, with a black brushed metal finish on the front and glossy strip along the top half. The display is hidden away in the middle of this glossy strip and, whilst not the most informative we've seen, it gets across the main information. In reality you'll be using the onscreen display most of the time, so the front display is largely redundant anyway. Beneath this glossy strip are some some basic controls and under those there is a power button on the left and an input selector and master volume dial on the right. In keeping with the minimalist aesthetic, the few front connections are limited to a 6.35mm headphone socket, a 3.5mm connector for the setup microphone and a USB port. Our only real area of complaint is the build quality, which is fairly light and the front buttons in particular are very plastic to the touch.
The minimalist styling is attractive but the build quality could be better
Sony have kept with the simplified approach when it comes to the rear connections, with the emphasis sensibly being on HDMI rather than the various legacy inputs. So there are six HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs, with main one supporting ARC (Audio Return Channel) and the other one supporting a second display or a different zone. There are twin aerials for the built-in WiFi and Bluetooth support, along with an Ethernet port for a wired connection. There's a coaxial and an optical digital input, three analogue inputs, two analogue outputs and two subwoofer outputs. However there's no phono stage so bear that in mind if you have a turntable. There are also two composite video inputs and a composite video out, a connector for the included FM aerial and in/out sockets of an IR remote. Finally there are binding posts for the seven built-in channels of amplification, allowing you to run 5.1, 7.1 or 5.1.2 speaker configurations. It's worth pointing out that there are no pre-outs, so you can't upgrade the amplification and nor can you expand the system beyond the seven built-in channels.The included remote control is actually very well designed and we can think of a few AVR manufacturers that could learn a thing or two from Sony's approach. The various inputs are clearly labeled at the top, whilst the navigation controls are centrally located which makes the remote well balanced. The home button is suitably large and so is the volume control, which is easy to locate even in the dark. Sony have also sensibly put the mute button right next to the volume control, rather than hiding it away in amongst a load of other controls. Overall this is a decent remote with the frequently used controls clearly identified and easily accessible, whilst also providing access to other less commonly used features. Our only real complaints are that the remote is a bit on the plastic side and it lacks a backlight but at this price point we aren't expecting miracles.
The remote control is well designed and intuitive to use but lacks a backlight
Features & SpecsThe STR-DN1080 boasts the kind of feature set that you'd expect to see on a modern AV receiver, with the main one being support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Although you can run a 5.2.2-channel system using the built-in amplification, the Sony also includes processing designed to create phantom back channels and a flexible approach to speaker placement to 'relocate' sound if you can't position the speakers in the ideal location. There's also S-Force PRO which can create a virtual surround experience from two-channels, assuming you've bought a surround sound receiver but installing a proper 5-channel setup is problematic. The DN1080 supports high resolution audio formats such as WAV, AIFF, FLAC and ALAC, as well as DSD native playback via DLNA, HDMI or USB. There's also DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) HX technology that its designed to upscale lower resolution music.
The DN1080 might be aimed at the budget end of the receiver market and it may be lacking in terms of build quality but Sony have certainly put some thought into the internal construction. There's a 32-bit digital-to-analogue converter (DAC), three digital signal processors (DSPs), a high quality surface-mounted resistor and quality capacitors. There's a precision crystal oscillator, audio grade components, class leading pre-amp volume integrated circuits, a glass-epoxy circuit board for the power amplifier and a jitter elimination circuit, along with a localised analogue power supply and a large capacity power transformer. The construction uses a reinforced frame and beam chassis, combined with a new digital circuit board and a newly designed heat sink. Finally the overall look of the receiver has been specifically designed to match the UBP-X800 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
The HDMI inputs and outputs all support 4K at 60P and 4:4:4, along with 3D, wider colour gamuts, high dynamic range (HDR10, Dolby Vision and Hybrid Log-Gamma) and HDCP 2.2. Although Sony have added Dolby Vision support to the DN1080, it remains to be seen if the receiver can also support the 'low latency' version of Dolby Vision that Sony are using on their TVs or whether another firmware update will be required. In terms of other useful features, the DN1080 has built in WiFi and Bluetooth, including NFC (Near Field Communication), along with Sony's LDAC for transmission of audio at a higher resolution than Bluetooth. There's also support for Apple's AirPlay and Spotify Connect, plus there's Chromecast built-in and the DN1080 will work with Google Home, allowing voice control. You can also use Sony's Music Centre to create a multi-room system with compatible products and if you're running the receiver in a 5.1 configuration, you also have the option to run the remaining two channels to a second zone.
The DN1080 boasts a decent set of features, especially when you consider the price point
Setup and TestingThe STR-DN1080 is a very easy receiver to setup thanks to a simplified back panel and an effective user interface that takes you through the entire process with the Easy Setup feature. There's also Sony's D.C.A.C. EX audio calibration feature that automatically optimises the speaker frequencies, phase and delays using an included stereo microphone, rather than the customary mono mic. Overall we found the audio calibration feature to be quite effective, resulting in a nicely balanced sound with well integrated bass. However if you would rather take the more traditional approach of measuring the distances and setting the levels using an SPL meter then that is also an option. The Sony offers calibrated options such as Full Flat (which measures the frequency of each speaker flat), Engineer (which sets the frequency to match that of the Sony Listening Room standard) and Front Reference (which uses adjusts the characteristics of all the speakers to match the front two) and we generally found that Full Flat was the best option.
We like the user interface that Sony provides because it's attractive to look at, easy to use and intuitive to navigate. So when you select the Home button you're presented with various self-explanatory options including Watch, Listen, Custom Preset, Sound Effects, Zone Controls and Setup. Although most of the setup options are fairly straightforward, the one area where some care should be taken is in terms of the sound fields you choose. This will largely depend on the speaker configuration you choose but the Auto Format Decoding (AFD) option will ensure that whatever type of audio signal the DN1080 is receiving, it will be correctly decoded. However with movie soundtracks the Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X up-mixing features can be very effective at creating a more immersive experience from 5.1- and 7.1-channel soundtracks.
In terms of choosing a speaker configuration you have a choice of 5.1, 7.1 and 5.1.2, although you also have the option of running two subwoofers. The DN1080 is rather limited when it comes to speaker configurations because you can only use the built-in seven channels of amplification. There are no pre-outs to allow for upgrading the amplification and the Sony is restricted to processing seven channels, so you also can't expand the speaker configuration to 5.1.4, 7.1.2 or 7.1.4. Although less popular these days, the Sony also offers the opportunity to bi-amp the front left and right speakers by using the Surround Back/Height channels to power the high frequency drivers in a 5.1-channel system.
The DN1080 does offer acoustic processing that creates phantom surround channels, which means that you could effectively run a virtual 7.1.2 system, although the rear two channels would only be delivered via psychoacoustics, rather than actual speakers. If for some reason you are limited to a 5.1-channel setup, you could also use the Phantom Surround Back feature to create a virtual 7.1 system, and the receiver can also virtually relocate speakers that are positioned sub-optimally. Finally, if you're restricted to a 2.1-channel configuration then the Virtual Surround with S-Force PRO Front Surround feature is designed to create a more immersive experience from stereo speakers. Although if you're restricted to a two-channel setup, there are probably better solutions than an AV receiver.
In testing we started with a two-channel configuration to see how the DN1080 handled stereo music and to test the Virtual Surround with S-Force PRO Front Surround feature. We then moved on to 5.2-, 7.2 and 5.2.2-channel configurations, as well as trying the 5.1-channel set up with rear phantom surrounds, which we could compare with an actual 7.1 channel setup. Finally we tried the 5.2.2-channel setup with virtual rear speakers to see what difference that made. In terms of sources we primarily used an Oppo UDP-203 universal player, which allowed us to test two-channel and multi-channel audio, as well as immersive audio soundtracks from Blu-rays and 4K discs. Although we also used an Apple TV as a source for Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks used on streaming content.
Setting up the receiver and calibrating the audio is easy but there are no expansion possibilities
PerformanceAn AV receiver can have all the features and configurability in the world but none of that matters if it doesn't sound good. Thankfully the STR-DN1080 really surprised us in this area, delivering a lively and punchy performance that belies its relatively modest price. Although we haven't reviewed a Sony AVR since 2013, their previous models had impressed in terms of their performance but did so at a hefty price tag. Considering the more budget aspirations of the DN1080, we wondered whether its performance would be adversely affected by Sony's efforts to cut costs. As it turns out Sony has done a superb job of delivering a great sounding all-rounder that is ideal for smaller rooms and those taking their first steps into the world of multi-channel audio.
First off the DN1080 proved it's worth when it comes to two-channel audio, which is just as well since one of its key features is Hi-Res Audio support. We have recently re-discovered Bruce Springsteen and as a result we have been eagerly working our way through the Boss's back catalogue. The DN1080 did a great job of both handling the more elaborate string orchestration of something like Born to Run's 'Jungleland', as well as delivering the raw and stripped down acoustic tracks like 'Atlantic City' on Nebraska. The receiver handled the up-tempo crowd-pleasers on The River just as well as the more somber and self-reflecting numbers like the title track. The Sony was equally adept with multi-channel recordings, whether it was The Flaming Lips Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots on DVD-Audio disc or Pink Floyd's Darkside of the Moon on SACD. So the good news is that if you're looking for an AV receiver but still want to enjoy music, the DN1080 has you covered. Although if you're planning on simply running a two-channel setup, then there are probably better alternatives and the Virtual Surround with S-Force PRO Front Surround feature is certainly not a replacement for a proper multi-channel system.
Assuming that you are thinking of buying the STR-DN1080 to run a full multi-channel surround sound system, then the Sony once again lives up to its billing. These days there are any number of very competent AV receivers in the £500 and below price bracket, so often the differences are marginal. However the DN1080 does manage to give a good account of itself, differentiating itself from the competition with a dynamic performance that really suits film soundtracks. Whether we used the receiver in a 5.1- or 7.1-channel configuration, it was capable of delivering a natural performance that retained detail in the sound mix whilst also steering effects around the room with a pleasing degree of precision. The receiver proved very responsive, keeping up with even the most complicated of sound mixes and delivering the higher frequencies and mid-range with a nice degree of agility whilst still retaining the underlying low-frequency foundations.
The Sony handled the 5.1-channel mix on Dunkirk extremely well, allowing us to pick out the ticking watch motif that runs through the entire soundtrack whilst still producing an immersive surround experience. The dialogue was clear, the effects were well defined and the bass nicely integrated. As a result the receiver could effectively handle the shifts in dynamic range, delivering both the quiet moments of dread and the louder moments of terror. The opening scene of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a complex 7.1-channel mix that builds from a quiet beginning to a very loud hunt, slowly layering on various sound effects. The DN1080 handled the complexity of the sound design very well, retaining the subtle details with clarity whilst also reproducing the dynamic range. There was a believability to the overall sound field that seemed to envelop you and the Sony displayed a confidence when it came to surround effects that was hugely enjoyable.
We weren't completely convinced by the phantom rear surround channels, the effect did provide a bit more presence at the rear but, when compared to a genuine 7.1-channel configuration, the use of actual speakers was unsurprisingly superior. However the Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X up-mixing features could be very effective at taking 5.1- or 7.1-channel mixes and adding a sense of overhead presence. Naturally for the best results you need to listen to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X mixes which will take full advantage of the additional overhead channels. The limitations of the DN1080 mean that you can only run a 5.1.2-channel configuration, although you could try using the phantom surround speakers to fill out the rear of the sound field. If possible we would also suggest positioning the two overhead channels towards the middle rather than front of the room, in order to even out the overhead effects, rather than have them all emanate from the front.
Our current favourite Dolby Atmos test disc is Blade Runner 2049, although Blade Runner itself is also great for many of the same reasons. Both films have important scenes of dialogue which the DN1080 handled extremely well, keeping Rutger Hauer's final monologue clear whilst rain pours down in the front and rear speakers. They also make full use of the additional channels, allowing 'spinners' to fly overhead, whilst the thunderous bass is delivered to its full impact. In Blade Runner Vangelis's haunting score is beautifully realised with a pleasing clarity by the Sony, whilst its sequel's more atonal and bass driven score is equally as effective. The result is a suitably immersive audio experience and whilst it would have been nice to at least have the option to add more channels, a 5.1.4 setup will be sufficient for most living rooms.
The sound quality was excellent, with the Sony punching well above its weight
- Great sound quality
- Lively and punchy performance
- Dolby Atmos & DTS:X support
- Decent set of features
- No expansion possibilities
- Build quality could be better
- No backlight on remote control
Sony STR-DN1080 7.2-Channel AV Receiver ReviewThe Sony STR-DN1080 is a great all-round performer that perfectly fits the bill for anyone looking for a decent sounding and feature-packed AV receiver than can also support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. We're glad to see that Sony have simplified the front panel compared to their previous receivers and that they have also kept things simple at the rear, concentrating on the important connections. The remote is well designed, although a backlight would have been useful, and the user interface is excellent, making the DN1080 easy to setup and intuitive to use. There are features galore, with everything from object-based immersive audio to high dynamic range, including Dolby Vision and HLG, covered. There's support for Sony's multi-room system and voice control via Google Home, along with AirPlay, Spotify Connect and Chromecast.
The DN1080 proved to be very accomplished in terms of audio quality, delivering a lively and punchy soundstage that retained detail whilst producing plenty of dynamic range. The dialogue remained clear, effects were steered with an impressive degree of precision and the bass was well-integrated, creating a solid foundation. The multi-channel performance in particular was excellent, making the Sony ideal for watching movies in the average living room. The addition of two overhead channels brought Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks to life, creating an enjoyably immersive experience but the DN1080 also handled two-channel music very well, although there's no phono input for those with a turntable. It's a shame that you can't upgrade the amplification or add extra channels but overall the Sony STR-DN1080 is a real bargain and you won't find better at this price point.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £459.00
Value For Money10
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