This is a great year to buy a home theater receiver. Many of the home theater receivers released in 2014 are discounted. Even midrange receivers like the Sony STR-DN1050 are pushed to entry-level prices. The popular ones don’t disappoint in audio quality and features as long as you don’t mind a few compromises. Knowing what compromises you want on a sub-$550 is very important as different brands take different approaches. The STR-DN1050 made a couple of choices that seemed pretty odd at first but putting the receiver through its paces left a very positive feeling.
About the Sony STR-DN1050
Sony announced the STR-DN1050 back in April 2014 and served as the direct successor to the highly-acclaimed STR-DN1040. The Sony STR-DN1050 has the same front panel design as the older one and maintains its 7.2-channel specification and 120 watts RMS per channel (6 ohms). Since the STR-DN1040 was Sony’s first consumer-level receiver with 4K upscaling, it isn’t surprising for the STR-DN1050 to continue that trend. Prices of Sony 4K TVs are dropping too so it is a pretty good time to upgrade.
Comparison with the Sony STR-DN1040
Many top audio critics praised the STR-DN1040 for its amazing sound quality and built-in wireless capabilities. However, there wasn’t really much you can do with the receiver other than playing back audio files locally from computers and smartphones, accessing vTuner radio or using the Sony Entertainment Network. The Sony STR-DN1050 tackles these minor shortcomings while introducing a couple of different ones. The good news is that the audio quality remains top notch.
The STR-DN1050 no longer has vTuner support as Sony wanted to promote its own Sony Entertainment Network service. The problem is that Sony recently shut it down. Fortunately, there is at least support for three of the most popular streaming services – Spotify, Pandora and TuneIn. The online streaming options aren’t many as competing home theater receivers but it is certainly better than having just vTuner only.
Wi-Fi support is a must-have for any home theater receiver these days and the STR-DN1040 delivered in that area. However, the STR-DN1040 didn’t have Bluetooth so owners of older MP3 players and feature phones couldn’t stream wirelessly. The Sony STR-DN1050 not only has Bluetooth to catch up to the competition but also has NFC effectively putting the receiver a step ahead. This actually makes the Bluetooth functionality more useful as NFC-enabled Android phones no longer need to launch the SongPal app to stream. Just a single tap and the device is instantly paired.
The STR-DN1040 was also praised for its 8 HDMI inputs. It may have been overkill for some but it did open the possibility of plugging in a bunch of gaming consoles along with a Blu-ray player and other components. Apparently, Sony thinks that 6 HDMI inputs for the Sony STR-DN1050 is the magic number for a midrange receiver although it shouldn’t have any negative effect for people that own fewer gaming consoles. On the upside, Sony added a third HDMI output which is entirely dedicated to supporting the second zone. This allows you to set up a full stereo system complete with separate TV in another room and assign its own source. Even connected USB and Bluetooth devices can use the second zone if needed.
The STR-DN1050 also comes with a different remote control than the older model. The refined remote control is smaller, less intimidating to use and the buttons make better use of the limited space. You can easily switch to an HDMI source by pressing its corresponding button and there are 3 assignable presets.
Below is the back panel layout. Click on image to enlarge for a clearer view.
There are other popular brands that make pretty good receivers in the $500 to $600 price range too but the Sony STR-DN1050 paid close attention to detail with the user interface and overall appearance. The front panel looks pretty stylish with two knobs of different sizes placed on the right side for selecting inputs and adjusting volume. There is only a single row of buttons to pay attention to so operating the receiver from the front is just as simple as using the new remote control.
The user interface is equally friendly with quick access to common settings and you can use the SongPal app from your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet to remotely control the receiver via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Sony uses its own calibration technology called Digital Cinema Auto Calibration. It is pretty basic but easy for anybody to use as you only need to put the microphone in one spot.
The Sony STR-DN1050 is capable of 4K upscaling which is useful if you have a 4K display and you are not satisfied with the poor selection of 4K content. This Sony receiver does a pretty good job in making older 1080p and lower resolution content look good in big 4K TVs. HDMI 2.0 is supported too so 4K videos look great at 60p. HDCP 2.2 is absent but it isn’t much of a big deal for its price and there still isn’t much 4K content that take advantage of the new standard.
Sony decided not to make any serious audio improvements to the Sony STR-DN1050 but it can still hang with the competition. Playing new Blu-ray movies like Interstellar sound true to life and the receiver can play back various genres of music very well. Sony deserves credit for carrying key design elements like the custom heat sink and frame and beam concept from the high-end ES models.
• Unique design that matches other Sony home theater components.
• Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and AirPlay all built-in.
• Excellent surround-sound and stereo performance.
• Very friendly user interface and improved remote control.
• Full second zone control.
• Can be found for under $500.
• Only 6 HDMI inputs.
• No HDCP 2.2.
• Online streaming options only limited to Spotify, Pandora and TuneIn.
The minor shortcomings of the Sony STR-DN1050 are easily excusable for most people especially if it costs under $500. It is simply a perfect 7.2-channel receiver for the budget crowd and those with a budget TV still have room to upgrade to a 4K display without needing to change receiver. It will take a couple of more years before HDCP 2.2 is a big deal.