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Sony STR-DN1050: hands-on with Sony’s 2014 hi-resolution home cinema receiver

We get an early look at Sony's home cinema AVR line-up for 2014, starting with the mainstream high-end STR-DN1050

Sony’s mainstream high-end AVR for 2014 has all the features you would expect from a home cinema amplifier, but also carries on the hi-resolution audio legacy started by the HAP-Z1ES last year. For £500, the STR-DN1050 represents the best value AVR in Sony’s line-up, but is hi-resolution support a reason enough to buy one? We were the first UK publication to experience the system first hand in order to bring you some first impressions.

Sony STR-DN1050

Essentially picking up where last year’s STR-DN1040 left off, the STR-DN1050 might appear to be an upgrade over the existing model but is in fact so much more. According to Eric Kingdon, Sony’s home cinema guru in charge of the company’s entire AVR output, “It was hard to improve on the outgoing model.” but that didn’t stop Sony’s engineers from building on existing technologies for 2014: every amplifier component now has its own voltage regulation circuitry. The overall noise level (i.e. interference from internal components) is now lower, with timing errors and jitter reduced across the board thanks to a digital timing circuit – taken from the high-end AVRs for the first time in the Sony range.

This means that when fed with a high-end source, the DN1050 is capable of superb sound reproduction. Not only can it cope with high resolution DSD files (the digital version of Sony’s own Super Audio CD format) from a connected hard disk player, but it can also handle remastered 2xDSD when ripped from a CD and played through a compatible source. We were sat down in front of a selection of genres, including classical, contemporary jazz and modern dance, courtesy of Daft Punk. As 24bit 88.2KHz, Get Lucky certainly sounded clearer, punchier and more detailed than we’d experienced the same mix at MP3 quality or below – suggesting that if you have the equipment, hi-resolution audio can indeed make the difference.

Sony STR-DN1050

Unfortunately Sony’s Hi-res audio streaming service has yet to arrive, but in the meantime STR-DN1050 owners will be able to take advantage of Spotify, Deezer and Sony Entertanment Network (SEN) streaming on top of the usual selection of digital and analogue inputs, including 4K-ready HDMI connections. 24-bit 192 FLAC playback is possible over any network or USB connection. The unit includes both LAN and wireless inputs, and will happily play from DLNA sources or support Airplay speakers as well.

As Sony’s mainstream high-end model, the STR-DN1050 also supports second zone outputs. That means you’ll be able to stream from analogue or HDMI, Ethernet, USB or Bluetooth to a second channel output, in either fixed or variable bitrate at regular or Hi-Resolution quality, so you don’t have to limit yourself to one room for high-quality audio. There are also two MHL inputs on the front of the system, meaning you could connect a Google Chromecast and still have room to connect a smartphone or tablet directly to the AVR.

Sony STR-DN1050

AptX bluetooth is also included for the best possible wireless streaming from a smartphone, which should take nothing more than a tap thanks to near field communication (NFC) support. You’ll also be able to control the AVR from an Android smartphone or tablet using the Sony Songpal app, eliminating the need for a traditional remote control.

Sony STR-DN1050

It would be a shame to give up the regular remote altogether, however, as Sony has dumbed it down considerably for 2014. With around 50% fewer buttons than last year, the new remote is far easier to navigate and makes it much simpler to find your way around the UI. The user interface has borrowed much from last year’s ES- amplifier range, meaning it’s much easier to navigate than previous efforts, with icon-based menus and a visual scheme that borrows much from Sony’s PlayStation 3.

Having listened to a selection of tracks, including classics from Linda Ronstadt and some acoustic guitar, side-by-side with DTS Master Audio 7.1 soundtracks from Life of Pi, Oblivion and Nine (9) down-mixed to 5.1, we can safely say that the STR-DN1050 sounds fantastic when paired with the right set of speakers. We’ll have to wait until we get a review unit into the office to judge it fully, but based on what we’ve heard the AVR sounds like fantastic value. Not only is it 4K-ready for Ultra High Definition video, but it has all the hardware needed for Sony’s High Resolution Audio push too. If you’re keen to future-proof your home cinema setup, the 1050 could be a great choice.

The STR-NR1050 will be going on sale for around £500 here in the UK from this month onwards, with more details available from the Official Sony website.

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