Sony AV receivers can be unpredictable, going from best in class one year to mediocre the next. The STR-DN1020 is Sony's midrange model for 2011, and it's underwhelming. It has fewer HDMI inputs than all of its competitors, it lacks the built-in AirPlay upgrade available on competing Denon and Pioneer options, and its paltry selection of streaming-media services is beaten by Onkyo and Yamaha. We'd be willing to accept those shortcomings if they were made up for with outstanding sound quality, but the STR-DN1020 was a step behind other midrange receivers to our ears. The STR-DN1020 doesn't have a deal-breaking flaw, but its competitors are better in every way that counts.
Like other AV receivers, the STR-DN1020 is a large black box. Its design is cluttered, with three knobs and plenty of small buttons scattered on the front panel. Considering the fact that we hardly ever use the front-panel buttons on our AV receiver, we'd prefer a more minimalist look. While we generally don't care that much about the aesthetics of AV receivers, the design of the STR-DN1020 certainly looks less refined and thoughtful than that of the competing Denon AVR-1912.
Remote and remote apps
The included remote for the STR-DN1020 is decent, which is more than we can say about most AV receiver remotes. We liked the large white buttons toward the top of the remote. Unfortunately, those buttons also have secondary functions written in pink above them, which makes things somewhat confusing for anyone not already schooled in the language of receiver remotes. Also, the volume rocker--arguably the most important button--is placed far too low on the remote.
The STR-DN1020 can also be controlled by Sony's Media Remote application, available for both Android and iOS. While other manufacturers have created apps designed specifically for AV receivers, Sony's app can be used to control several types of Sony home AV products, which makes it not particularly suited to controlling the STR-DN1020. Whereas Onkyo's remote app is smartly designed so you almost never need to look at the graphical user interface (GUI) on your TV, Sony's app functions more like an app version of the physical remote, forcing you to frequently look back and forth between your phone and your TV. We doubt we'd use the Media Remote app frequently.
Sony was originally one of the innovators in adding GUIs to AV receivers, but the STR-DN1020 doesn't reflect that. While the STR-DN1020's GUI is decent for simple functions like assigning inputs, it's very cumbersome when using more advanced networking and streaming functions.
One of the biggest issues is that the GUI doesn't make good use of the screen space. All the menus are cramped into a small box in the middle of the screen, which doesn't leave enough room for most functions.
For example, navigating Internet radio (vTuner) functions is incredibly tedious. If you browse stations by location, you can only see a measly two locations at a time and are forced to scroll to see more choices. And even when you finally get something to play, the GUI shows a scrolling message at the bottom to "Press DISPLAY to view the information." Not only is that message somewhat cryptic, but there's no reason seeing full artist and song information should require a button press. (When you do press Display, the song and artist information is displayed in only 10 characters at a time, which scroll leftward to reveal the rest of the info.) The experience with Slacker is no better. And there's no album art displayed, as there is on competing models.
Sony's suite of streaming services is already meager compared with others, and the lousy interface makes the services that are included difficult to use.
|Key AV receiver features|
|Channels||7.1||Analog video upconversion||1080p|
|Graphical user interface||Yes||Automatic speaker calibration||Yes|
The Sony STR-DN1020 has all the key features we expect at this price level, including a two-year warranty, which is a year longer then Pioneer offers for the competing VSX-1021-K.
|iPod/iPhone features chart|
|AirPlay||No||Connect iPod/iPhone via USB||Yes|
|iOS remote app||Yes||Proprietary iPod dock||Included|
The main missing feature here is AirPlay, which is available on the competing Denon AVR-1912 and Pioneer VSX-1021-K. While we generally think AV receivers make for poor media streamers, AirPlay is one of the few worthwhile network features, allowing you to wirelessly stream audio from virtually any app on an iOS device.
Like other midrange receivers, the STR-DN1020 lets you connect an iPod or iPhone directly to the USB input. The STR-DN1020 is unique in that it includes an iPod dock, although we're not sure why Sony went through the trouble when you can also connect an iPod or iPhone directly via USB.
|HDMI version||1.4||3D pass-through||Yes|
|Audio return channel||Yes||Standby pass-through||Yes|
This year, all of the midrange receivers we've tested support the major new HDMI features, including the handy standby pass-through mode, which allows the receiver to pass audio and video signal to a TV even when the receiver is off. No midrange receiver that we've seen so far supports HDMI Ethernet Channel.
|HDMI inputs||4||Component video inputs||2|
|Composite video inputs||4||Max connected HD devices||6|
Video connectivity--or more specifically, HDMI connectivity--is a weakness for the STR-DN1020. Every competing AV receiver has at least five HDMI inputs, with most having six, so Sony's four seems particularly paltry.
|Optical inputs||2||Coaxial inputs||1|
|Stereo analog audio inputs||7||Multichannel analog inputs||No|