Our last exposure to the Sony’s ES (Elevated Standard) A/V line was with their BDP-S1700ES Blu-Ray disc player, and the experience left us happy with its over-all performance, but a little bit boggled by the apparent loss of robust build quality that we’re used to seeing with ES gear. Here, we’ll take a look at Sony’s STR-DA4600ES A/V receiver and see how it holds up to the legacy of the ES.
Out of the Box
The 4600ES receiver came packed with most of the usual accessories. We found a power cord, calibration microphone, IR repeater, a full size remote, a small zone 2 remote, batteries for the remotes, a PC set-up disc, AM and FM antennae, a quick set-up guide, a graphic of the menu tree (nice touch) and a pair of full size manuals in both English and French.
The receiver weighs just over 28 lbs with most of the weight leaning toward the power supply. Measurements are roughly 17” x 6.2” x 15.25”. The 4600 is entirely black and has a small window in the very center of the front face flanked by two control knobs on each side. The multiple knobs, window location and finish of the front face give this receiver a sort of dated look that isn’t quite “retro” and not entirely high-end looking either. There’s nothing blatantly unattractive about it, but the design doesn’t really fit the ES legacy of looking brawny yet refined.
The 4600ES receiver is generically rated at 120 watts per channel x 7 channels. Closer inspection of the specs on Sony’s product page for the receiver reveal that the ratings vary from 130 wpc in stereo to 120 wpc in stereo, depending on the testing method. Conspicuously absent are the muti-channel power ratings, a curiosity made more intriguing considering some of our experiences with the receiver’s sound quality in surround mode…more on that later.
The surround output is fixed at 7.1. A user can choose to have surround back channels or front height channels, bi-amped front speakers or zone 2 speakers but not more than one at a time. The Sony does offer a “Speaker B” output for a remote set of speakers and can send zone 2 audio out via cat-5 if you like.
Video features on this receiver are considerably more advanced than its audio capabilities. The receiver has 6 HDMI 1.4 inputs and 2 outputs. The HDMI ports support pass-through in standby mode and audio return channel. The second HDMI output can be used for zone two and does take advantage of a second, dedicated Faroudja upscaling chip so that it provides up-converted video to the second zone. That’s pretty slick.
The 4600ES offers some pretty good network media access. We have to give Sony props for putting a four port Ethernet switch on their three ES receiver models. Why hasn’t everyone done this? The feature allows the receiver to share its internet connection with up to 3 other devices. That could feed an Xbox, PS3 and Blu-Ray player all at once and eliminate another black box from an entertainment center.
The network menu provides access to Rhapsody, Shoutcast and audio/video files shared on a network. It does not, however, have an internet radio client. Generally speaking, the network music access is no better or worse than any other manufacturers. That is to say, it is marginally usable at best. Scrolling slowly through a massive music collection sucks the fun out of the experience and, therefore, doesn’t get a whole lot of attention during our reviews.
Here’s an oddity we noticed during setup: The remote control has input buttons for BD, DVD etc, it also has input buttons for HDMI 1, HDMI 2 etc. What’s odd is that HDMI port number 1 cannot be assigned to the BD input. In other words, if you only connect a Blu-Ray player via HDMI, you’ll have to punch HDMI 1 to see your Blu-Ray player, not BD. It’s counter-intuitive and had us searching the manual for a solution only to find there is none. Weird.