Sony STR-DN840 review: The best AV receiver value of the year

The Sony STR-DN840 ($ 420 street) is by far the best value AV receiver of 2013. It starts with its great wireless capabilities, serving built-in Wi-Fi, AirPlay, is Bluetooth, which no other receiver at this price can match. This allows Sony to get an instant gratification experience – select the STR-DN840 via Bluetooth or AirPlay from your smartphone or tablet and the receiver automatically turns on and switches to the correct input. In other words, you can stream to your big speakers in seconds. If your music collection revolves around your mobile devices, you’ll love the STR-DN840.

The rest of the STR-DN840 is solid too, with six HDMI inputs and solid sound quality. It may be slightly more expensive than some of its competitors (like $ 400 Pioneer VSX-823-K), but it’s worth it, especially for a component you’ll likely keep for five years or more.

There are some other viable alternatives to consider, mainly the slim Marantz NR1403, the friendly turntable Onkyo TX-NR626, is Sony’s new STR-DN1040, which adds some bells and whistles, including an impressive graphical user interface. But for most buyers, the STR-DN840 hits the sweet spot of features, performance, and pricing, which is why it earns CNET’s Editors’ Choice award for the category.

Design: large, but minimal
The Sony STR-DN840 basically looks like a traditional AV receiver – it’s a big black metal box. However, it manages to look slightly better than most, with some of Sony’s design talents clearly showing up on its minimalist front panel. The STR-DN840 doesn’t have anywhere near the sophistication of the Marantz NR1403, but it won’t look too bad in your mobile home theater either.

Sony STR-DN840

Sarah Tew / CNET

Sony STR-DN840

Sarah Tew / CNET

The STR-DN840’s remote is better than the ones that come with most AV receivers, although it’s still a bit messy. The bright white input buttons are distinct and easy to read, and the directional pad falls neatly under the thumb. On the other hand, there are still too many unnecessary buttons, not to mention the secondary functions written in pink above some buttons, which only adds to the confusion. There are also two rockers at the bottom that look like volume controls; one of them actually runs through the available “sound fields”, which is a dubious feature that certainly doesn’t deserve double billing with the all-important rocker volume. If you are investing that much in your home theater system, it would be wise to invest in a universal remote.

Features: All the wireless you could want
The STR-DN840 is arguably the most complete receiver at this price.

Sony STR-DN840
Click to enlarge.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Start with six HDMI inputs on the rear panel, which is the maximum you’ll find before moving on to Sony’s STR-DN1040, which includes eight. There is no MHL compatibility, as you will find on some competitors (such as Onkyo TX-NR626, Yamaha RX-V475, Pioneer VSX-823-K), but it’s not a big loss unless you’re planning on using it Roku Streaming Stick. The STR-DN840 has a decent assortment of legacy connections, including three digital audio inputs (two optical, one coaxial) and four analog audio inputs. There are no component video connections at all, but that’s okay with us now that most devices use HDMI.

Most impressive are the wireless capabilities of the STR-DN840. There is built-in Wi-Fi, AirPlay, is Bluetooth, which makes it really great for receivers under $ 600. It’s a powerful combination, especially the flexibility to stream audio wirelessly from almost any smartphone or tablet. Bluetooth and AirPlay work with any app on your mobile devices, so you can easily upload, for example, Spotify, stream directly to your receiver, and keep control of the playback on your phone.

The STR-DN840 is also DLNA compatible and supports several built-in streaming services, including Pandora, Slacker, Sony Music Unlimited, and Internet radio, but if you can it is best to stream from a mobile device, as the AV receivers are not the media streamers themselves are exceptional.

Sony is also smart about how wireless capabilities are implemented. Activating “network standby” allows you to “wake up” the receiver simply by selecting it as a source on mobile devices via AirPlay or Bluetooth. This means you can start listening to music on your home stereo without picking up any remote control other than your smartphone or tablet. It’s incredibly comfortable and feels like the way all AV receivers should work with modern gadgets.

The rest of the features are less important to traditional buyers. The STR-DN840 is a 7.2 channel receiver, but most buyers won’t need the extra functionality it enables: surround back channels, dual subwoofer capability, and Dolby Pro Logic IIz “height” channels. There is no analog video upconversion, but again, this is less of a concern now that most modern devices use HDMI. It’s worth pointing out that despite supporting seven channels, the STR-DN840 doesn’t have true second-zone functionality, so you’ll have to look elsewhere if you have a two-room setup.

If you’re looking for more detailed feature comparisons, check out our giant AV receiver spreadsheet, which compares the STR-DN840 to other 2013 models as we review them.

Setup: fast, but manual is better
The STR-DN840 uses Sony’s Digital Cinema Auto Calibration (DCAC) speaker calibration system. The owner’s manual recommends turning the subwoofer’s volume control to midpoint, and if the subwoofer has a crossover control knob, set it to the highest number setting – a good start. The on-screen display guides you in choosing the correct “SP Pattern” for your home theater, which in layman’s terms means how many speakers there are in your home theater and whether you are bi-amping the front speakers or using height speakers, etc. Next, you plug in the supplied calibration microphone and the fully automatic process takes about a minute to complete.

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