has a long history of producing the best A/V products with its highly regarded ES (Elevated
Standard) line and many still consider these components to be among the
best available. The STR-DA6400ES is Sony's new 7.1 flagship A/V receiver
($2500) that combines state-of-the-art audio decoding and video processing designed
to satisfy the most discriminating consumer. The STR-DA6400ES is Sony’s first network A/V receiver featuring a CAT5e connection that is Digital Life Network Alliance (DLNA) compliant, allowing the unit to stream music, photos and video from a DLNA-compliant PC. In addition, it can directly access online music content from Rhapsody® and Shoutcast® Internet Radio without a PC. The ethernet connection also provides easy access to future firmware upgrades and services.
The STR-DA6400ES is designed to provide the highest audio and video performance and is fully compatible with Blu-ray Disc™, supporting 1080/24p video signals and the latest audio formats such as Dolby® Digital Plus, Dolby® TrueHD, DTS® High Resolution Audio and DTS® HD Master Audio. The unit also decodes Direct Stream Digital (DSD) audio sources from Super Audio CD players and features Sony’s D.L.L. (Digital Legato Linear) audio scaler that is designed to improve the sound from standard definition (compressed) audio signals like MP3 audio files by upscaling them to 192 KHz, resulting in higher quality audio reproduction. The High Quality Audio Transmission System (H.A.T.S.)
is used for HDMI connections when DSD data is passed to this receiver from a Super Audio CD Player
to ensure a seamless sound transfer between the two.
Stylish looking and feature rich, the STR-DA6400ES delivers both the performance and functionality that home theater enthusiast expect from Sony's ES line. On the surface, the STR-DA6400ES looks simple with a large volume control and a smaller input selector. There are dedicated buttons for Dimmer, Input Mode, 2CH/A. Direct, A.F.D., Movie, and Music. There are also buttons for HDMI IN and HDMI OUT.
The front of the STR-DA6400ES has a flip-down panel that gives the user access to A/V connections including traditional analog composite video and two channel audio as well as modern HDMI video and toslink digital audio interfaces. Most game consoles and camcorders can be quickly connected to these front connectors for easy access. Like most of the modern high-end receivers, Sony includes their very own Digital Cinema Auto Calibration™ system for simple surround sound setup. A stereo calibration microphone is included to place at the listener's seating position. Up to three listening positions can be calibrated for optimal sound quality. Path delays and levels are automatically adjusted for the user. We found the system to be very accurate at determining the distance and level between the calibration microphone and the speaker placement. The STR-DA6400ES also has BRAVIA® Sync™ that provides an easy synchronization of compatible home theater components allowing total control of a
complete set of Sony components from a single handset.
The rear panel of the STR-DA6400ES is loaded with connectivity for analog and digital interfaces. A total of six HDMI inputs (five rear, one front) are available with Direct Stream Digital and two HDMI outputs. There are many composite and component video inputs, but no s-video inputs. There are five optical (toslink) input and three coaxial digital inputs. Two sets of front speaker connections are provided along with side and back surrounds and the center channel. A pair of DM ports and an XM port are provided. There is connections available for Zone 2 and Zone 3 audio and video. Line level preouts are also avaiable for those running an outboard multi-channel amplifier.
The receiver supports bi-amplification and allows the user to assign the Surround-Back speaker terminals to output the same audio as the main front channels. The advantage here is that low and high frequencies on the right and left speakers can be driven by independent amplifiers in the receiver, producing higher quality sound. Our PSB Imagine T tower loudspeakers supported this configuration during our review.
Dual Digital Media Ports add control and connectivity options for music playback through more than one accessory, including a cradle for iPod®, a Network Walkman™ cradle, a PC client device and a Bluetooth® adapter (each is sold separately). The models are also Sirius® and XM Connect-and-Play™ ready and offers RS-232C, 12 volt triggers and IR repeaters for custom installation solutions..
Zone 2 Video
The STR-DA6400ES has a specially designed video output for Zone 2 that enables the receiver to use standard CAT5e cable to send video up to 1080i to another location. The user needs to attach a CAV-CVB1 (component video balun) at the receiving end of the CAT5e cable. We made our own cable for testing this feature and it literally cost us about 10 cents a foot for over 50 feet of cable. The CAV-CVB1 uses a wideband differential line receiver on the incoming component video being sent from the receiver and therefore requires power through the cable. The result is improved video performance as the YPrPb signals get buffered at the receiving end. Customers need to be careful not to accidentally connect a standard network to this RJ-45 jack. Sony places a sticker over the RJ-45 connection to warn users of this potential issue. Composite video is also available for Zone 2, but we would recommend using the component video outputs(standard or CAV-CVB1) as a first option for the best video quality. The composite video output should only be used as a last resort due to limited video quality.
Zone 2 can be configured with a second dispay making full use of the amplifiers in the receiver. Users can run line level audio signals to a local amplifier as well. Using an optional IR repeater, the Zone 2 remote can be used to control the receiver functions from another room.
Sony includes two remotes with the STR-DA6400ES receiver; one to be used as the main controller and the second controller for Zone2/Zone3. The remotes are virtually identical with the second remote lacking controls for the HDMI inputs. This is because the second zone does not support HDMI content. Two "AA" batteries (included)
are needed for each remote. Only the upper selection buttons are backlit for the user. Sony has a nice remote layout with large buttons that are spaced such that functions are easy to use. Standard DVD control are located below the navigation buttons. The remote also supports some non-Sony brands and the manual has a list of supported components. .
The GUI (Graphical User Interface) is where Sony always seems to excell over most other companies. The main GUI menus available to the user are Input, Music, Photo, Video, Rhapsody, SHOUTcast FM/AM/XM/SIRIUS and Settings. Input names can be assigned to different physical inputs on the back of the unit. However, an HDMI input cannot be assigned to more than one input name. This is also true for digital audio inputs and component video inputs. Speaker configuration is flexible on this unit and it supports configurations from 2.0 up to 7.1 and anything in between. Users can also specify the crossover frequency of each of the channels from 40Hz to 200Hz in 10 Hz steps. We set our crossover frequency at 80Hz as recommended by the THX specification.
guts of the STR-DA6400ES are well organized and loaded with both state-of-the-art digital processing and more conventional power amplification. The design features 7 channels of amplification rated at 120-watt per channel into 8 ohms. The power amplifiers use a conventional design with a linear power supply and
a pair of complemetary power transistors (2SB1647/2SD2560) dedicated to each channel. The receiver
has a large power transformer with a rectifier and large 8200uF/76V filter
capacitors. Each pair of output transistors are mounted on
a large heatsink for a total of 14 power devices (2 per channel). Users can select the speaker impedance using the GUI settings. This is important in preventing output overloading of the receiver with low speaker impedances. We are not sure exactly what it does internally to accommodate this, but the unit had no problem driving our RBH Sound MC Series or PSB Imagine speakers, both of which are rated at 4 ohms.
main DSP board inside of the STR-DA6400ES decodes audio streams using
a set of Analog Devices SHARC (ADSP-21266 and ADSP-21366) chips. These audio processors are well known for their performance and are used by many of the best audio companies. Each
HDMI output uses a Silicon Image SiI9134 VastLane HDMI Transmitter chip, which is considered to be one of
the best designs from the folks who invented HDMI. The 5+1
(total of six) HDMI inputs are handled by a pair of Sony CXB1444R HDMI
multiplexer receiver chips. The selected video is then sent to a Silicon
Image VastLane HDMI Receiver SiI935CTU where the HDMI stream is converted to a standard digital video
format. Video processing is handled by Faroudja FLi8638 and FLI8668 video processors. The second Faroudja DCDi Cinema® chip allows the
GUI to be shared in both the main room as well as the second room (up to 1080i) for easy navigation and
control of source material. The Faroudja processor can also blend the onscreen GUI over 1080p
sources via HDMI and provide picture-in-picture monitoring of a second
room (zone 2) source. The STR-DA6400ES supports x.v.Color and Deep Color enabled
sources. Sony's Xross media bar™ graphical user interface (GUI) makes the AV receiver
simple and intuitive to use.
We ran through the paces with the STR-DA6400ES playing several of our favorite Blu-ray discs using our PlayStation 3. The receiver never missed a beat and produced excellent audio and video reproduction from reference source material. The STR-DA6400ES also had no problem passing 1080/24p video from movies on Blu-ray Disc™ and high resolution Dolby® TrueHD and DTS® HD Master Audio produced amazing resolution and clarity. Equal power on all channels made for impressive surround effects as well as engaging multi-channel audio recordings.
Video performance was what we expected from a flagship receiver with high performance deinterlacing and scaling up to 1080p. Video from our older analog component sources such as our Kenwood Sovereign DVD changer looked softer than direct digital DVD video produced from our OPPO OPDV971H DVD player. We have seen similar results from other receivers as well, including the $5500 Denon AVR-5308CI. There is a clear difference in quality using the newer, all digital video sources.
We spent more than two months with the STR-DA6400ES and over that period of time came to the conclusion that this is a great sounding receiver with excellent features. Sony delivers a product that offers exceptional sound quality and looks while providing the functionality needed with today's high performance components. Featuring 7.1 channels of amplification and state-of-the-art surround processing, the STR-DA6400ES has the latest codecs from Digital Theater Systems (dts) and Dolby Labs to create multi-channel sound that rivals many theaters. Supporting five HDMI sources plus an additional HDMI input on the front panel ensures users will have ample flexibility in the future as more products use this type of connectivity. Not to leave old technology behind, Sony has also provided plenty of legacy audio and video connections for older components and offers high-end video conversion to modern-day displays up to the best 1080p displays.
Sony has priced their flagship STR-DA6400ES at a price ($2500) that is considerably lower than competing flagship units. The design offers a good balance of performance, features and price making it particulary attractive for those looking to update their home entertainment systems. We highly recommand this unit based on our experience and the fact that Sony ES components carry a full five-year limited manufacturer warranty.