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Listening and Conclusion

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Network Apps and USB Connectivity

Not only does the STR-DA2800ES have a large list of network features, all of them work great. In some other reviews I have spent considerable time explaining why specific network features (and direct USB connection for flash drives or iPhones) work or don’t work well, but I can largely skip that explanation with this receiver. The solid and fluid menu system makes access to and use of each app look and function great. Even simple features like hooking my iPhone directly up to the receiver, browsing Netflix, or using DLNA work as well as any other IPTV device, receiver, or Blu-ray player I have ever used. Hooking up my iPhone or flash drive via USB was especially nice because cover art is displayed. If you are looking at this receiver and wondering if the network features work well enough to replace your current network device, the answer is yes.

I only have two complaints. First, there is no AirPlay support, which will be a deal breaker for some people. Second, you cannot control the receiver directly from a web browser, which is a nice feature for multi-room installations.

iOS ES Remote App

I assumed that Sony would utilize their Media Remote app in order to control the STR-DA2800ES from an iPhone, but surprisingly they made an entirely new app to control their ES line of receivers. The new app is not perfect but it is far better than the Media Remote app used for the rest of their receiver line. 

ES iOS Remote Automation Selection  ES iOS Remote D Pad

ES iOS Remote Advanced Settings  ES iOS Remote Main Screen

The ES app essentially mimics the on-screen display from the receiver. This makes it really easy to pick up and start using. You are given full control over both the main zone and second zone, including source, volume, settings, speaker setup, and device control (ie. Cable box, Blu-ray player, etc..). It also has an intuitive directional pad where you just swipe in the direction you want to move. This prevents you from having to look down at your phone to find the right directional arrow button and makes the app very usable for controlling the receiver without having to take your eyes off the TV.

The only big issue we noticed was that it would keep defaulting to “demo” mode whenever I would completely close it out. This meant that I had to go into the app settings and reselect the receiver instead of demo. I also had a problem where the app would lose connection and fail to automatically reconnect when I switched out of and back into it during multitasking. Hopefully these two connection issues are solved with a quick update because the app was otherwise solid.

Listening Tests

For music and movies I tested the system with the MartinLogan LX16 bookshelf speakers, MartinLogan Motif center speaker, Definitive Technology BP7006 (built-in subs) rear speakers, Emotiva X-Ref10 subwoofer and Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player.

SACD: Alison Kraus + Union Station: LiveAlison Kraus + Union Station - Live
This SACD has quickly become one of my favorites because of solid stereo imaging, female vocals, and an assortment of instruments. I focused my time on tracks 1, 10, and 11 on disc 2. About three quarters of the way through the first track the musician goes into a frenzied dobro solo that will test any equipment’s ability to reproduce each quick strum or pluck and its reverb. The STR-DA2800ES did a great job keeping its composure. Track 10 is more dynamically alive than track 1 and makes you feel like you are in the crowd as you hear people whoop and holler. Again, the Sony handled this track well and was able to make me feel like I was at the show. Finally, track 11 is an a cappella rendition of “Down to the River to Pray” and really showcases Alison Kraus’ vocal ability. Her amazing voice came through the speakers sounding airy, natural, and strong. 

Blu-ray: Total Recall (2012)Total Recall (2012) Blu-ray
From the opening credits this movie is one heck of a ride both visually and audibly. There are only a few short scenes devoted to plot development. Total Recall is a classic action flick….based on another classic action flick. The movie starts with a gripping sequence that takes place within a dream (or does it?). As Douglas Quaid and Melina try to shoot their way out of a government lab, the subwoofer kicked in and provided tight, impactful bass. Each speaker lit up as electrical charges from futuristic guns crackled and bullets whizzed by. Then, suddenly, you are thrust out of the dream where distance thunder and police sirens ground you in reality. The STR-DA2800ES did a great job with fine detail, but didn’t quite have the gusto for big scenes. The overall sound was pleasant, but during big dynamic swings I felt that the receiver needed just a little bit more headroom.

The Incredible Hulk Blu-ray

Blu-ray: The Incredible Hulk
I used this movie in my initial review of the MartinLogan LX16 bookshelf speakers, so I figured it would be a good idea to listen to the same movie on the same speakers again, but this time with the new Sony ES receiver. Explosions, gun shots, a crashing helicopter, futuristic weapons, the entire hoopla is present in this movie and is part of the reason I like to use it so often for testing equipment. The sound was pretty similar to what I have come to expect from this movie. Again, like with Total Recall the detail and special effects sounded great, but the dynamic range just wasn’t quite there. Don’t get me wrong, this receiver is not weak and won’t have any trouble powering modest speakers, but it also isn’t quite on the level of some other thousand dollar receivers.

Suggestions for Improvements

I have a number of suggestions for improvement for Sony, but all of them are minor. Mostly, there are a few annoyances that can be solved with updates. I really missed having AirPlay on my system and would like to see Sony add that feature to the next iteration of this receiver. I am sure they thought about it, but Apple has some hefty licensing fees that may have stopped them. A more powerful amp would also be nice, but then again, that would likely push up the price. The remote could also use a few button placement and ergonomic tweaks to help it control all of the devices in a system. As far as automation is concerned, it would be nice to have some more customization options without needing to activate the Control4 license. For example, the ability to adjust power-on delay or IR blaster output level would go a long way in making the receiver more reliable in some installations. Sony could also step-up their game with the auto-setup mic and provide a multi-position measurement system, tripod mount, and more accurate auto EQ settings. Finally, there were a few little operational issues that were annoying. For example, every time I would start to watch something (a movie preview online, photos from my computer, or even a Blu-ray), the receiver would send the input command to the TV (which would bring up the input list) even though the TV was already on the correct input. The receiver also leaves unused equipment turned on when you leave an activity, which can take up more power

Conclusion

Sony took a bold step with the STR-DA2800ES. Is it perfect? No. Does is succeed in having a feature set that no other receiver has and spur innovation in an otherwise stale market? Absolutely! This receiver isn’t geared towards the audiophile who wants the most power and purist signal path possible. It is geared towards the installer or consumer looking for an elegant solution than can eliminate the need for a rack of equipment. Just think, you could potentially eliminate a 4-port switch, RF base station/controller, and streaming player all in one fell swoop. Not to mention that the receiver operates reliably and is easy to use. We are really impressed that Sony has pulled off such a radical design goal with the STR-DA2800ES and hope that they will continue their partnership with Control4 and blaze the way for more innovation in the industry.

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
MetricRating
Multi-channel Audio PerformanceStarStarStar
Two-channel Audio PerformanceStarStarStarStar
Network FeaturesStarStarStarStarStar
Build QualityStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStar
Ergonomics & UsabilityStarStarStarStarStar
Ease of SetupStarStarStarStarStar
FeaturesStarStarStarStarStar
Remote ControlStarStarStarStar
PerformanceStarStarStarStar
ValueStarStarStarStar
About the author:
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Cliff, like many of us, has always loved home theater equipment. In high school he landed a job at Best Buy that started his path towards actual high quality audio. His first surround sound was a Klipsch 5.1 system. After that he was hooked, moving from Klipsch to Polk to Definitive Technology, and so on. Eventually, Cliff ended up doing custom installation work for Best Buy and then for a "Ma & Pa" shop in Mankato, MN.

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Recent Forum Posts:

j_garcia posts on January 07, 2013 13:23
$1K and no preamp outs? Yes, I get that they were going for a new feature set, but still.
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