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Battle of the Sonys: TA-E9000ES vs. STR-DA4ES

by Steve DellaSala January 14, 2003
The Competitors

The Competitors

Since 1995, The Sony TA-E9000ES has held it’s ground as one of the best, most complete, Digital 5.1 Processors on the market for under $2k. Today, it continues to be sought after by some of the most refined Audioholic’s who seek something more than the norm in their Processor. The sad news for these elite supporters, is Sony’s announcement ending Software development for this powerhouse. Furthermore, Sony has no plans for developing a new Digital 6.1/7.1 Processor in the future. Since the TA-E9000ES does not have 6-channel inputs or DTS-96/24, those who have it, or are looking to buy one, are out of luck when it comes to the fast pace, growing formats such as DVD-Audio, SACD and a new, upcoming DTS Movie Sound Format. There is a Sony TA-P9000ES 5.1 Pre-Amplifier available that offers TA-E9000ES users 6-channel inputs, but Audioholics has not had an opportunity to review this unit yet. Stay tuned for a future review of this unit.

sony_TA-E9000ES2 So what alternatives do we have as we look for a complete Processor without software flaws or bugs, as typical with many US and/or Canada made Processors, and at an economical $2k or under price tag? Gene (GDS) recently found that many of the new Processors available through Outlaw, Sherbourn and Atlantic Technologies, are actually clones of the same Korean made unit, but with different front panels. Without getting into the details in this article, it would not be my first choice of Processor. My guess is that some may actually consider the processing power of a Receiver. Yes, that’s correct, a Receiver. Realizing that most Receivers in the $1k to $2k price range do not have sufficient amplification to satisfy many high end Speakers, but they do offer the processing options and completeness that those who prefer affordable separates are seeking after. One such example is the new family of Receivers from Sony, including the STR-DA4ES and the STR-DA7ES. These Receivers recently replaced the STR-DA5ES and lists at a price of $1,100 and $2,300 respectively. Both come with all the latest software decoding, 64-Bit processor, and a host of DSP Modes as well as Pro-logic II (music and movie) and DTS-Neo (music and movie). With its 6-channel inputs, they are equipped to handle DVD-Audio and SACD as well as having 6 channel outputs for connecting to any powered Amplifiers. With all this to offer in a complete package, it’s tempting to consider purchasing one of these Receivers to use as a Processor / Pre-Amplifier with whatever high current Amplifier(s) you wish. In addition, most users with mid-price and mid-range speakers, will even consider these two units as their primary Receiver for their Home Theater System.  Prior to making such a leap of faith and replacing a Sony TA-E9000ES Processor or using the Sony 4ES or 7ES Receiver, it is helpful to have a better understanding of these units.

Being a Sony TA-E9000ES owner and user for two years, it’s hard for me to consider the idea of replacing such an awesome unit with an ordinary Receiver just to obtain 6-channel inputs, a Tuner, and the ability to acquire and play the latest formats. Before charging ahead, I thought it be beneficial to have the two units (TA-E9000ES and STR-DA4ES) in a side-by-side battle. I must point out up front that this article currently focuses on the STR-DA4ES as a point of comparison. As of now, Audioholic’s understanding of the STR-DA7ES is that it has a larger power supply, and a more expensive remote control, but the pre-amp and processor are the same. On that note, it is safe to say that the technical information presented about the 4ES holds true for the 7ES. Another key element about this review is that the STR-DA4ES was tested as a Processor only. Both the TA-E9000ES and the STR-DA4ES were set up with the same 5-channel amplifier for comparing sound quality.

Sony TA-E9000ES vs. STR-DA4ES: Build Quality and Power Supplies

Before plugging either unit in and turning them on, it’s worth taking a peak at ‘what’s under the hood.’ The following pictures clearly show that, although both the TA-9000ES Processor and the STR-DA4ES Receiver have respectable build qualities; there are obvious features on the TA-E9000ES that do not exist within the STR-DA4ES.

Inside the Sony TA-E9000ES

Inside the Sony STR-DA4ES

Power Supplies

Perhaps the most important feature of any Pre-amp/Processor or Receiver is the power supply. The power supplies ability to provide ‘noise free,’ clean power with ample current, is one of the keys to creating a quality unit. Characteristics of quality power supply are found in the transformer, capacitors and its isolation with respect to other electronics within the unit.

Sony TA-E9000ES Power Supplies

For a unit that contains no power-amplifiers or tuner, the Sony TA-E9000ES is filled to the top with electronics. Upon first glance, there are many tell tale signs that Sony “dotted their I’s” with this design in order to assure a clean, low noise Power Supply. To accomplish this, they use a Sony ES Stress Free Linear Rap Core Power Transformer for low distortion, coupled with two Nichicon ‘Gold Tune’ 35V x 6800uF Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitors. These Capacitors are specifically designed for high-grade audio equipment with a priority on high fidelity sound quality. The Gold Tune offers superior tone quality by using new materials that are designed specifically for pre-main amplifiers. Sony uses other variations of these Nichicon Capacitors such as the ‘Tune Gold’ and other assorted sizes of ‘Gold Tune’ throughout their circuitry, indicating that they made an aggressive attempt at selecting high quality Components.

Sony STR-DA4ES Power Supplies

The STR-DA4ES has more generic components and elements to make up the power supply. It contains a Bando Brand Power Transformer and two 71V x 15,000uF generic Capacitors. Interestingly, the capacitors used in the 5ES are of the same value, but they are the Nichicon Gold Tune models similar to the ones used in the 9000ES.

Sony TA-E9000ES vs. STR-DA4ES: Chassis

Upon review of the Chassis designs, both the 9000ES and the DA4ES have something special to offer.

Chassis of the Sony TA-9000ES

Chassis of the Sony STR-DE4ES

Sony TA-9000ES Chassis

Once again, Sony went out of their way to “dot their I’s” on the 9000ES to assure that the chassis is shielded and isolated vibration and other potential external and internal noise elements.  For example, non-conducting strips are bonded along the perimeter of the chassis to isolate it from the cover. This makes the cover completely sound dead when vibrated. The tell-tail sign this works is when you flick the cover and it doesn't ring, but instead, is quickly muffled.  The reason behind this addition is simple.  In certain Home Theater environments, it is possible for the sound of a movie/music, especially with bass, to cause components to vibrate and create an annoying sound when listening to a sound track.  This is especially true of furniture and TV cabinets.  By making the cover of the 9000ES sound dead, it is one component in a Home Theater rack that you can be assured will not vibrate.

Other quality refinements include copper strips located on each sides of the front plate to assure it is properly grounded to the chassis. This is likely done to help reduce/eliminate any grounding cross talk that may occur between the digital panel and the processor.

In an effort to reduce noise and cross talk, additional internal features help isolate key internal assemblies. For example, there is a non-conductive aluminum plate down the entire length of the chassis that is likely added to help isolate the power supply from the processing boards. It would have been more effective in this role however, if the plate was solid and did not have cutouts where EMI can leak through. In addition to this plate, the main DSP board is isolated from the analog pre-amp boards with thick, non-conductive film. Furthermore, the analog board has 10 Transistors (2 per channel in a push-pull configuration), each mounted to oversized S-Fin heat sinks. These units can be seen at the very front of the Processor, located just behind the front panel.

“S-Fin” is a term used to describe a series of ribs running the length of each fin of the heat sink, staggered incrementally in the shape of an ‘S.’ This is done to prevent the fins from cumulatively adding resonant frequency vibrations to the boards. Each staggered rib creates a unique harmonic frequency for a specific fin, which is dependent on its location. The net result is that no two fins are alike, and therefore, cannot resonate at the same sound frequency and create unwanted noise.

Another interesting, yet simple feature added to this design is a thick putty material on the top of most of the IC’s. This is done to help damping vibration of the IC’s from external noise. It’s not an expensive addition, but it does continue with the overall theme of noise reduction that Sony has designed into this unit.

The entire internal design of the chassis, the location of key assemblies and their respective shielding, the size and build quality of the heat-sinks, and the added damping materials are all designed around isolation and noise reduction, thus assuring the cleanest, purist sound from this Processor.

Sony STR-DA4ES Chassis

The basic Frame-and-Beam design of the STR-DA4ES chassis is similar to that of the 9000ES, but it lacks most of the detailed isolation and grounding features.

Still, there are some redeeming qualities of the DA4ES chassis that are worth pointing out. Given this Receiver does contain amplifiers, unlike the 9000ES, Sony created what’s called a ‘Horizontally Opposed Chassis.’ For signal purity, left and right signal elements are apposed channel by channel on two separate, large S-Fin heat sinks that run down the length of the unit. Sony also optimizes their layout in this large chassis by mounting the DSP and Analog boards on the side and rear of the unit. In addition, they cleverly located the power op amps in the middle of the unit and use the long length of the aluminum fins on the heat sinks as basic shielding for the processing boards. This technique is somewhat effective, but does not exhibit near the level of isolation as what’s designed into the 9000ES.

Some of the refinements found in the TAE-9000ES are not included in the STR-DA4ES. For example, the chassis cover of the 4ES is not dampened.  Again, in certain Home Theater setups, it is possible to get a ringing noise from components when the frequency of the audio sound matches the harmonic frequency of that chassis. The 9000ES eliminates the possibility of vibration noise by dampening the cover.

In addition, there is no damping foam on the IC’s, and the electronics are missing the non-conductive film that helps isolate the boards from one another.

Sony TA-E9000ES vs. STR-DA4ES: MODES (DSP, Digital and Two Channel)

DSP Processing Essentials

Prior to discussing the difference between modes, it’s important to cover two common methods of creating DSP within a Receiver or Processor/Pre-Amp. One method implements a SHARC (Super Harvard Architecture) based processor, as found in the Sony STR-DA5ES and the TA-E9000ES. Another uses RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) Processors as that found in the STR-DA4ES and STR-DA7ES. Many HiFi Enthusiasts believe SHARC Processors are superior to RISC. To debate this issue is beyond the scope of this article. Provided instead, is information on how the differences apply to the units within this article.

DSP Processing for the Sony TA-E9000ES

At the heart of the Sony TA-E9000ES DSP Board are three separate 32-Bit Digital Signal Processor IC’s. The multi-channel digital and audio decoding is done by an Analog Devices SHARC KS-160, 32-bit floating point DSP Chip. This processor uses “Super” Harvard Architecture to enable all variety of real-time embedded applications. The unique memory architecture consisting of two large, on-chip, dual-ported SRAM blocks, coupled with a sophisticated I/O processor, gives the SHARC the bandwidth for sustained high-speed computations. This allow the SHARC Processor to provide parallel-processing all within a single unit. Please note that a SHARC Processor was also used in the STR-DA5ES, but information on this unit is not within the context of this article.

DSP Processing for the Sony STR-DA4ES

At the heart of the Sony STR-DA4ES and STR-DA7ES DSP Board are three RISC Processors. RISC Processors are arithmetic-logic units that use a minimal instruction set, emphasizing the instructions used most often, and optimizing them for the fastest possible execution. Software for RISC processors must handle more operations than traditional CISC [Complex Instruction Set Computer] processors, but RISC processors have advantages in applications that benefit from faster instruction execution, such as engineering and graphics workstations and parallel-processing systems. Parallel-processing is the necessary method of creating DSP Modes in any Receiver or Processor/Pre-Amp. Unlike SHARC, where parallel-processing takes place in a single unit, RISC requires two or more interconnected processors, each of which executes a portion of the task. In the STR-DA4ES and 7ES, Sony uses three RISC Processors to implement these tasks. Two of them (labeled as LHC and 2nd RHC) are the Toshiba TC927 (no information available). The other (labeled as 1st RHC) is totally unidentifiable as it is on the bottom of the board. These processors access data through shared memory. The efficiency of parallel-processing is dependent upon the development of programming languages that optimize the division of the tasks among the processors.

In general, RISC Processors tend to be less costly to design, test, and manufacture then SHARC and CISC Processors. In the mid-1990s RISC processors began to be used in personal computers instead of the CISC processors that were used since the introduction of the microprocessor. RISC Processors are also used in applications such as Cell Phones and other, commercial microprocessor based products.

For more information on RISC and SHARC Processing, feel free to review the following sites:

Sony TA-E9000ES vs. STR-DA4ES: The Many Modes of The TA-E9000ES

The DSP Table highlights the extensive number of Processing Modes available on the 9000ES with the Sony VUCD-E9000A upgrade V2.01. Its important to point out that even though Sony created the VUCD-E9000A upgrade (including the firmware and remote), they are oblivious to its existence. If you doubt it, call Sony Style and ask for this kit, and they deny it exists. Yet, when you order it, and receive it, it’s clearly marked, “Sony” all over the box, remote control, CD and everything else the kit includes. Go figure! This upgrade kit is well worth the investment for any Sony TA-E9000ES user, and it can be acquired on-line at a reasonable price (around $150).

In general, as with any other Processor or Receiver, the average user will hardly use most of these DSP modes. The reason being is they are extremely dependent on room acoustics and some of the modes have such subtle differences, that the average echo-room will prevent the listener from discerning the differences. That being the case, I will elaborate on what I consider to be the ‘best’ and most useful modes found with this Processor.

Jazz Mode

For normal two channel CD’s, my personal favorite DSP Mode is the ‘Jazz Mode.’ Just about every Receiver/Processor offers some form of ‘Jazz Mode’, but to me, the 9000ES does a tremendous job of adding life, vibrancy and ambiance to any ordinary 2-channel CD. Even though the 9000ES does not allow you to have the subwoofer on in this Mode when the fronts are set to large, it’s OK. With a powerful amplifier and quality speakers, I don’t always want a sub when listening to my favorite 2-channel recordings. Besides, if I want a sub in a DSP mode with large speaker settings, it’s easy to just switch to ‘Disco Club Mode.’

Disco Club Mode

As much as I dislike the name, this Mode has its usefulness. For example, when you are having a party and not really concerned with the overall fidelity as much as the amount of sound, this Mode is perfect. It increases the music coming from the rears to about the same volume as the fronts, and allows for the subwoofer to be on with the fronts set to large. It’s perfect for filling a large room with music, even though you may wish to cover up the ‘Disco’ name on the front panel.

Virtual Matrix 6.1 Mode

To me, the Virtual Matrix 6.1 Mode makes the 9000ES Processor. The Marketing description in the table above does no justice in explaining the usefulness of this additional Mode. If you own a Digital Satellite or have “Digital” Cable, and watch a number of movies that are broadcasted in 2-channel stereo or Dolby Surround, then this Mode is ideal. Because of the enormous processing power of the 9000ES, it is capable of taking that 2-channel, stereo/surround signal and splitting it up into near separate 5.1 channels. It is so good that for movies, voices appear to come clearly from the center channel and effects noticeably originate in the rears, as if they were produced in 5.1 Channel. I have impressed a number of Audioholic’s with this mode when watching 2-channel Movie Channels on TV. There are times when most people believe it is actually a Dolby Digital Source before realizing it’s really a result of the enormous processing power of the 9000ES creating the separation.

Natural Surround; Non-DSP

The Natural Surround Mode minimizes the processing of the original source. The end result is as close to a perfect representation of the source as achievable with any Home Theater Equipment. When this Mode is selected, the Processor automatically detects the signal and defaults it to Dolby Digital, DTS or Dolby Pro-logic for two channel recordings. Very rarely do I ever leave this Mode when watching DVD Movies or DVD Concerts, as the minimal processing leaving the sound track unaltered and pristine.

2-Channel Stereo; Non-processed

In 2-channel stereo, the stereo signal completely bypasses the sound field processing and multi-channel surround formats and are down-mixed to 2-channel. The end result is a clean, pristine, unaltered 2-channel signal that does perfect justice to any quality 2-channel source. It is important to point out that when in 2-channel stereo, the subwoofer is not available when the front speakers are set to large. Once again, this isn’t a problem as most Audioholic’s listen to 2-channel stereo without a sub anyway. Besides, Sony does compensate for sub in 2-channel as listed in the following mode.

Auto Format

Even though this is not a mode per se, it is an awesome feature easily overlooked in most of Sony users. Auto Format allows the Processor to default the signal to it’s native format, albeit Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Pro-logic or 2-Channel Stereo. What interests me most about Auto Format is that it allows the subwoofer to be on in 2-channel stereo (listed as Audio Decode) when the speakers are set to large. So those who still wish to use a sub with a 2-channel source have the option when selecting Auto Format.

Sony TA-E9000ES vs. STR-DA4ES: The Many Modes of The STR-DA4ES

Once again, Sony offers a plethora of Modes, more than the average user can handle. As with the 9000ES, there are some good and some that will get very little use. Instead of expanding on each one, I will compare the same modes as the ones mentioned above, and toward the end of this section, include a write-up on the new DSP modes found in the 4ES offers. It is important to point out that the new 4ES and 7ES both offer 7.1, which means the addition of two rear center speakers. Although these two rear centers have their own, discrete amplifiers, they are NOT discrete channels. The signal sent to the two rear centers are in mono. The purpose of having the two rear centers really only comes into play with extremely large/wide rooms. If you are in a typical 18’ wide or less room, two rear centers may be a bit overkill.

As indicated earlier, the STR-DA4ES, 7ES do not use a SHARC Processor as do the 9000ES and the 5ES. Although the trend is to believe that the SHARC is a ‘better’ processor, it is not to say that Sony hasn’t improved on this RISC system by optimizing their firmware to this technology. Debating the SHARC vs RISC processing system is beyond the scope of this article and is something that can be done within the appropriate Audioholics forums.

Jazz Mode

Once again, this mode satisfies my 2-channel CD playing needs, but all in all, it lacks the sound quality of that produced in the 9000ES. This difference can be attributed to the SHARC vs. RISC debate, and/or it can be a function of a lesser quality pre-amplifier. The nice feature about the Jazz Mode, even on the 4ES, is that it does not over saturate effects into the sound stage of the music. Instead, it offers an ambiance of surround by including the rears as part of the music, not as an echo maker. It remains one of my favorite modes in the 4ES even thought it lacks some of the vibrancy found in the 9000ES.

Disco Mode

Yes, it still exists, and still has the same name. There is really not much to say about this mode, as music fidelity goes out the window. Simply put, this Mode allows every speaker is alive with power and sound. Once again, it’s a great mode for parties and gatherings where you want to maximize the music in your room.

Dolby Pro Logic II Movie and Music

These new modes are sought after by many Audioholics. They are used for processing 2-channel movies/music into an apparent 5.1 channel sound. Although these modes are effective in this reproduction, it is my opinion that the Virtual Matrix 6.1 Mode found in the 9000ES does a much better job. I find the Dolby Pro Logic II modes a bit fake sounding in their 5.1 sound recreation with an over abundance of echo.

DTS Neo Cinema and Neo Music

Once again, these modes are also sort after by those seeking to make the best of their 2-channel recording. The DTS Neo modes do sound a bit more accurate in sound stage then the Dolby Pro Logic II, as the echo, and acoustics seem more natural. But again, if you consider the Virtual Matrix 6.1 found in the TA-E9000ES, although the name is different, the processing ability is far beyond the DTS Neo and Pro Logic II found in the 4ES.

Other Modes and Settings

Natural Surround, Auto Format, 2-channel stereo and other modes/settings, are very similar in functionality between the STR-DA4ES and TA-E-9000ES. For that reason, I will not elaborate on them in detail as the DSP Table< provides a good overview.

Sony TA-E9000ES vs. STR-DA4ES: Key Features and Inputs/Outputs

This downloadable Table depicts the key features of each unit side by side for comparison.

Main Assembly Board IC Guide

These downloadable Tables offer an item-by-item description and detail of the DSP chips and DA Converters found in both units. In some cases, where there are dashes (-), it means the information is not available or is proprietary to the Manufacturer and not discernable during our intensive investigation. These Tables may be revised in the future as Audioholic’s uncovers more information.

Sony TA-E9000ES

It is worth pointing out that the TA-E9000ES uses three 32 Bit Floating Point Processors for it’s DSP multi-channel digital audio decoding. These units are identified in this table.


This receiver employs two 32-bit processors for decoding Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES, DTS Neo:6, DTS 96/24 and Dolby Pro Logic II, and Sony's Digital Cinema Sound modes.

Input/Output of Front and Rear Panels

Rear Panel of TA-E9000ES
Note the real optical connections and ample Coaxial connections

Rear Panel of STR-DA4ES
Note all the ‘Trap Door’ connections on the left

Comparing Inputs and Outputs


The Sony TA-E9000Es supports 5 audio source products and 6 video source products. The control amplifier supports both composite and s-video switching on all video product inputs.

Input and Output Notes

Audio products: Phono, Tuner, CD, MD/DAT, Tape
Video products: TV, DVD, LD, Video 1, Video 2, Video 3
Digital audio inputs: CD (optical/coax), MD/DAT (optical), TV (optical), DVD (optical/coax), LD (optical coax)
Digital audio outputs: MD/DAT (optical)
AC-3/RF input: for Dolby Digital from LD
Analyzer/Mic input: (not supported yet)
RS-232C connector for firmware upgrades
Video Processor in/out loop
Pre out: Front (left/right), Rear (left/right), center (2x) and subwoofer (2x)


Sony uses a new 'trap door' design for the optical connections in the 4ES and 7ES.  Although this form of connecting is easier then pulling out the plug in the older style, I question it's reliability.

Sony switched to what I like to call a ‘Trap Door.’ Although, upon first glance, this ‘Trap Door’ appears to be easier to use (i.e., you just put the cable in, the door opens, and the cable is attached), care must be used during installation of the cable.   Unfortunately, the door itself is required for compressing onto the cable and holding it in place. If you are like me and connect/disconnect your Optical Cables more than one time per year, you stand an extremely high risk of breaking off the very cheaply/poorly made ‘Trap Door.’ I have done this on my Sony SAT-T60 TiVo Satellite Tuner, so I know it to be true. Once that ‘Trap Door’ is gone, the Cable has no support and therefore, falls out from it’s own weight. That being the case, the Digital Output with the broken door is no longer useable.

I don’t understand why Sony, and other manufacturers are switching to this method of connection, unless it is driven by cost. Unfortunately the 4ES only offers two Coaxial Digital Connections but there are a number of these Optical ‘Trap Door’ connections running down the back panel of this unit.  Since this design is becoming unavoidable, be careful when installing and uninstalling your cables.

Inputs and Outputs Notes

On-screen Display: The on-screen display is not passed through the component video monitor output, only the S-video and composite video monitor outputs.
Speaker Outputs: There are binding post connectors for the left front A, right front A, left front B, right front B, center, left surround, right surround, left surround back, and right surround back speakers. The binding posts are not 5-way because a plastic collar prevents their use with spade lugs.
Control A1 II: The Control A1 II Control System was designed to simplify the operation of audio systems composed of separate Sony components. Control A1 II connections provide a path for the transmission of control signals, which enable automatic operation and control features usually associated with integrated systems. This receiver has a single Control A1 II mini-jack output.
Control S: This receiver has two Control S mini-jack outputs and two mini-jack inputs for use with compatible Sony components.
RS-232C Port: This unit features an RS-232C port for software upgrades.
Two 12V Triggers: The two 12V trigger outputs, labeled Main Room and 2nd Room, allow you to send a 12V turn-on signal to compatible components in your system.
IR Repeater: The one mini-jack input and 2 mini-jack outputs allow you to connect optional IR repeaters to this receiver.

Sony TA-E9000ES vs. STR-DA4ES: Remote Controls

To me, this is where I sort of lose it with Sony. There is no doubt, that they are making major leaps in technology with respect to their remote controls, but it’s my opinion that they are so intensely concentrated on the LCD, that they forget the user interface. This holds true for past designs, and is holding true for the new 4ES.

TA-E9000ES Remote Control

TA-E9000ES Original Remote

TA-E9000ES Remote VUCD-E9000A upgrade
Note the Sony name on the remote

Do you see the remote control on the left? If you have it, take it outside and roll over it with your car, presuming you haven’t already. It is, by far, the absolute worst remote control I’ve ever had to encounter. I won’t get into all the details, but if you own it, you know its true. Aside from the fact that it hurts your eyes to look at, it kills batteries faster than you can buy them, and it is not very user friendly, it is also challenging to use and impossible to use for programming a Master Home Theater Remote. The end result is that you’re stuck with it. Here’s the good news, you can replace it with the handy remote that comes with the VUCD-E9000A upgrade.

Do you see the tiny remote control on the right? Now, believe it or not, this is one of the best, well thought out, remote controls I’ve ever encountered from Sony. It comes as part of the VUCD-E9000A upgrade, and it is like the miracle remote for any TA-E9000ES user. Look closely and you will notice there aren’t hundreds of buttons, there’s no LCD, and no back-light. Never-the-less, it is fully capable of setting up and operating the TA-E9000ES, even without on-screen displays. All the functions you need, such as speaker volumes, surround modes, function selection and so forth, are at your disposal. In addition, these buttons are easily learned in a Master Home Theater Remote whereas the original Remote is not.

To me, this mini remote shows proof that the fancy Marketing gimmicks Sony and others put in their expensive remotes, are not worth the money. I would rather see Sony spend this budget on improving the pre-amp, instead of creating a non-user friendly, fancy remote with bells and whistles.

STR-DA4ES Remote

STR-DA4ES Remote Control

OK, I admit, Sony’s getting better with aesthetics, but I’m still not a big fan of this hybrid remote either. For starters, you cannot access speaker volumes on-the-fly. You have to go through menus to figure out how to do it. Furthermore, when you place the unit on “Test Mode” to set speaker volumes, it’s a pain in the %^$ to turn it off, and get back to source mode. In addition, most of the buttons required to operate the unit is located in the bottom portion of the remote, and it’s not back-light. If you want to go to the main menu, on screen, or use the joystick for example, you have to hunt and peck in the dark to find them.

The LCD is nice, but the buttons that operate it are not back-light either, nor do they glow. Once again, if you need them during a movie and while in the dark, good luck trying to find them.

Granted, the STR-DA4ES remote is easier to use when you access the “on-screen display” of the STR-DA4ES, but you still have to go through multiple menus before accessing important parameters, that should be available on-the-fly. The upgraded remote for the TA-E9000ES, even with no “on-screen display,” is infinitely easier to set up and use.

General Remote Control Suggestions

If you’re really looking for an all-in-one remote control that is user friendly, does not cost tons of money, is backlight and makes sense, check out the Home Theater Master SL-9000. This is a 5-year old design, but still works everything in my Home Theater System with ease. Universal Remote also has many new models that also appear to be well thought out and user friendly. These Remotes are used by many ‘high end’ Processor Manufacturers, such as Aragon and others, as Universal provides them directly. It’s a shame that Sony didn’t just outside source their remotes to Universal and redirect their attention to improving their ES Receivers.

Be on the look out in the very near future for an in depth Audioholics review of universal remote controls.

Sony TA-E9000ES vs. STR-DA4ES: Overall Impressions and Conclusions

In an effort to provide a baseline comparison of the Sony TA-E9000ES and the STR-DA4ES (used as a Processor only), we decided to use the Aragon Soundstage. There is a detailed review on this $3k Powerhouse for your additional reading pleasure. Prior to writing this section, we spent several hours switching back and forth between the TA-E9000ES, the Aragon Soundstage and the STR-DA4ES, with a host of different recordings. We carefully listened to 2-channel CD’s in analog mode, 5.1-channel DVD’s and SACD’s and compared the overall sound characteristics of each Processor. I was surprised and happy to find that the TA-E9000ES is fully capable of going up against even a ‘high end’, expensive Processor

Sony TA-E9000ES

2-Channel Mode

When comparing the 9000ES to the Aragon Soundstage in 2-channel, there’s no doubt that the Soundstage had a slight edge. When listening to a host of different CD’s and the vocals, instruments, drums and so forth, it became obvious that the Soundstage had a much warmer sound then the 9000ES. There were a few times that female vocals sounded a bit over-bright with the 9000ES.

Digital Mode

I believe this is where the 9000ES stood up and flexed its’ mighty processing power. When listening to movies, SACD’s and DVD-Audio tracks in digital, the 9000ES provided finer detail than the Soundstage. The processing power of the 9000ES provides crisp separation, with attention to details, not as obvious to hear in the Soundstage. The over-brightness of the 9000ES is still apparent in digital mode at times, but with the enhanced equalization features, I’m sure it can be nicely adjusted to compensate. Overall, the 9000ES produces a life-like ambiance and sound presence in analog and digital mode, even when compared to a far more expensive unit.


This same point cannot be made with the STR-DA4ES when compared to either the Soundstage or the 9000ES. Although the unit has a true analog bypass and provides good separation, clean sound presence and sufficient processing capabilities, it does not produce near the level of detail in analog and digital.  But given it's price range, especially compared to the Soundstage, it does process well enough to fill a moderate Home Theater System.

The reverberation found in studio room acoustics in some of the SACD’s we listened to, disappeared with the STR-DA4ES. We listened several times, and verified this level of audio detail in the 9000ES and the Soundstage, but the STR-DA4ES lost it.

When using the STR-DA4ES as a Receiver, I have to admit, the power supply is much cleaner than I expected. Hiss and Hum are not present, even at high volume with no source.   In general, the STR-DA4ES is a great receiver with many redeeming features.  If you can handle the user interface and are interested in a host of DSP modes, then this is a good unit to consider.   Keep in mind that, there are many other Receivers to chose from and consider prior to making a final decision.

For those of you that are considering replacing your 9000ES in order to obtain 6-channel input, or ES rear center speakers, I suggest holding off and seeing where these formats end up prior to making such a leap.