Home Cinema Joy Can Be Yours - Just Seek Out Some Cheap Thrills (Part 2) : Sony STR-DH820

7/18/2013 5:57:36 PM

Sony STR-DH820

Price: $533

Rating: 4/5

Sony has had mixed success with its AV amplifiers in the past few years, but with the release of the STR-DH820 as the successor to the excellent, Award-winning STR-DH810, it seemed things were finally looking up. Following in its predecessor’s footsteps, the DH820 won our 2011 Award for Best Home Cinema Amplifier under $622, and remains one of Sony’s go-to options.

However, a lot can change in two years. Knocked off its Award-winning perch by its group test buddy, the Yamaha RX-V373, does the now cheaper STR-DH820 still remain a keen option for the entry-level home cinema market?

On paper, it’s certainly an impressive package for its price. It offers seven channels where many competitors offer only five, and there’s a generous 100W of power behind each channel. There’s Dolby Pro Logic IIz on board too, so you’re able to swap out your surround back speakers for a front height option, should you wish.

Sony STR-DH820

Sony STR-DH820

3D support is on board, as is 1080p video up scaling, and you’ll get four high-speed HDMI inputs for connecting all your equipment – not particularly generous but about par for the course at this price. With no Ethernet port you can forget about network connectivity or any sort of music streaming through the Sony, though there is a USB port on the front for hooking up any iPad, iPhone or iPod and playing either video or music.

Set-up of the amp is simple for home cinema newcomers: Sony’s Digital Cinema Auto Calibration (DCAC) worked quickly, and largely accurately, with the included microphone to get our speakers calibrated easily. We felt the subwoofer needed turning down a few dB from the suggested setting though, so it’s worth keeping an eye on that.

The Sony in action

We watch the opening scenes to Quantum of Solace, and the DH820 does a good job of conveying a growing sense of uneasiness from the edgy violin soundtrack, before the weighty roar of the Aston Martin’s engine punctuates the start of a tense car chase. The sound of gunfire flies around with a fair sense of space, though it’s not the most natural spread of sound that we’ve heard at this price. And, while it does well at the big show-stopping moments where power is key; it’s not the last word in detail or dynamism compared with some of its newer competitors.

Switching to a music Blu-ray of Beyoncé in concert and, in Halo, Beyoncé’s voice powers through the mix with strength and enthusiasm. It can, though, feel somewhat removed from the live instruments beneath it, leading to a less engaging sound than with other amps on test. Conversely its CD performance shows good timing and a respectable level of detail for an enjoyable all-round sound.

Our budget amp Award winner from 2011 has a battle on its hands with new rivals on the scene

Our budget amp Award winner from 2011 has a battle on its hands with new rivals on the scene

The years since the DH820’s release haven’t been the kindest. Some excellent competitors have entered the market, as well as higher-specified options dropping into its price point, which means its performance is not the revelation it was in 2011. That said, it’s extremely affordable and it makes for a solid, capable option if you’re looking for a very affordable seven-channel amp.

Speaker matching

This Sony needs care with speaker matching. Its sonic balance is a little brighter and harder than the Yamaha and Pioneer, so make sure the partnering speakers have well-behaved treble and plenty of refinement. The Q Acoustics 2000i 5.1 package makes a perfect match for the 820.

This Sony needs care with speaker matching

This Sony needs care with speaker matching

Rating: 4/5

For: Great value 7.1 channel amp; 3D support; 1080p video up scaling; easy to set up; power

Against: No network functionality; lacks detail compared with rivals; not a ‘big’ sound

Verdict: A capable, if not faultless, option for those looking for a budget 7.1 channel amp

Sony STR-DH820 specs

·         Channels/power: 7/100W

·         HDMI in/out: 4/1

·         Component in/out: 2/1

·         Optical digital in: 2

·         Ethernet/Wi-Fi: No/No

·         Tuner/presets: FM/ MW/LW/60

·         Video Up conversion: Yes

·         Auto set-up: Yes

·         3D/4K capable: Yes/No

·         Weight: 8.5kg

·         Dimensions (H x W x D): 16 x 43 x 32cm


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