Last year, Sony's STR-DG920 was our top midrange AV receiver pick. Its graphical user interface was a step above the text-based displays of competitors and its analog video upconversion featured solid image quality--a rarity among AV receivers. The STR-DN1000 is the STR-DG920's successor, featuring a new sleek design with a glossy black finish. Much of the functionality is the same, with four HDMI inputs, onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, and a GUI-based menu system.
On the other hand, the STR-DN1000 feels like a step backward in some regards. The STR-DG920's image quality (for upconverted analog video sources) was excellent for the price, but the STR-DN1000's image quality from analog to HDMI is barely acceptable; you're better off running a separate cable for non-HDMI sources to your TV. (If your system is completely HDMI-based, this isn't an issue.) You'll also note that it's missing some of the features included on competing receivers, such as analog multichannel inputs and multiroom functionality. At the time of this review, the STR-DN1000's main draw is its price; the STR-DN1000 is available online for just $340, which is a good deal less than competing receivers. If you can live with its shortcomings, the STR-DN1000 is a good value, but it doesn't offer as complete a feature set as last year's STR-DG920.
Editors' note: This review has been modified since its original publication to include more information about the STR-DN1000's S-Air functionality.
Sony is a company known for stylish products, but generally its AV receivers have a pedestrian, matte-black look. The STR-DN1000 is a break from tradition; its glossy black front panel is decidedly a glitzy turn for Sony's AV receiver line. Like many glossy black products, it tends to look a little better in photos than in person, and the finish is easily smudged with fingerprints, but it's definitely a step up from, say, the STR-DH700.
From the front, the STR-DN1000 is largely buttonless, with a small power button on the left, a smallish LCD display in the center, plus a volume knob and input selector buttons on the right. Flipping down the door toward the bottom reveals eight additional buttons, an AV input, and the autocalibration mic input.
The included remote is a little busier than we'd like it to be, but still good overall. Input buttons at the top are relatively large and the centrally located direction pad falls easily under your thumb. On the downside, the remote is larger than it needs to be and it's difficult to transition from selecting an input to adjusting the volume all the way at the bottom. The simpler, more compact Onkyo remotes do a better job at handling ergonomic issues.
Sony has always been a leader in integrating graphical user interfaces into AV receivers, from the very first STR-DA5200ES. The STR-DN1000 includes a relatively simple GUI, stripped down from the slicker menus found on the step-up ES line. We definitely prefer making tweaks on our TV versus the tiny display on the receiver, but we found some aspects of the GUI lacking. For example, when you try to reassign inputs, you have to know to go into the input section, then hit the "tools/option" button. It would be much more intuitive to have a menu farther to the right that listed options like "Reassign" and "Rename," instead of having to remember which button does what.
On the other hand, the GUI is a helpful guide when choosing a surround-sound configuration; it's easier to look at the picture and see what speakers you have than select "3/2.1." We also appreciated that the menu felt responsive, aside from the delay it takes to initially come up. However, unlike some other AV receiver GUIs, the STR-DN1000 cannot overlay its GUI over the video you're playing.
The STR-DN1000's automatic speaker calibration offers two key advantages over competing systems from Onkyo, Denon, Pioneer, and Yamaha. First, it's fast, needing just about a minute to run test tones through all the speakers and subwoofer; and second, it offers the ability, if you so choose, to optimize the sound for three distinct locations in the room. So if you sit in the center of the couch, but your son prefers to sit in a chair on the right side of the room, and your mother-in-law over on the left, they could each get a sound balance tailored to those positions. The catch is that this only applies when they watch movies individually; if you all watch together you'd probably stick with the center-of-the-couch setting.
The STR-DN1000's autosetup system determines each speaker's "size," volume level, distance from the listening positions, and optimal crossover frequency relative to the subwoofer. After we completed the setup we noticed a significant misstep: the STR-DN1000 misidentified the sizes of the center and surround speakers in our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD reference speaker system as "Large" when they should be "Small."
If we didn't make corrections in the manual speaker setup menu the STR-DN1000 wouldn't redirect bass frequencies (under 100 Hertz) from the center and surround channels to the subwoofer. The sound from those channels would be lacking in bass. That's why we advise STR-DN1000 owners to confirm that post-autosetup information is correct. The receiver otherwise accurately adjusted the speaker volume and speaker-to-measurement mic distance settings.
We had one other concern: the STR-DN1000's factory default setting for Dynamic Range Compression is "Standard." That is, our Blu-rays' and DVDs' dynamic range and impact were reduced, so we turned the Dynamic Range Compression "Off." Why Sony would opt to have compression turned on as the default baffles us, especially since many owners will never realize it's turned on, unless they read the STR-DN1000's owner's manual or explore the manual setup menus.