|Sony STR-DA7100ES Receiver|
|Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Sunday, 01 January 2006|
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When you think of consumer electronics, one of the first names that comes to mind is Sony, and rightfully so, as Sony remains a formidable leader in CE technology. Under the Sony moniker, there are several offshoots, such as their new flagship Qualia line of products, as well as Bravia LCDs and the long-established “ES” lineup. Sony ES, which stands for Elevated Standards, is Sony’s brand name for their higher-end consumer electronics. The ES line of products includes several SACD and DVD players, as well as audio/video receivers. One of their latest product offerings, the STRDA 7100ES receiver, features a number of today’s modern connections, as well as a new digital amplification section.
Out of the box, the STRDA 7100ES is rather striking in its sleek aluminum skin. It actually feels more like a product from the likes of Krell than a mass-market giant. The 7100ES is substantially smaller than some of the receivers that have graced my theater recently. At 17 inches wide by six-and-three-eighths inches high and a little over 15 inches deep, the 7100ES is a lot more manageable than, say, the Harman Kardon AVR 7300. However, at 52 pounds, it’s not anywhere close to lightweight. The 7100ES retails for $1,999.99 and can be found at select ES retailers, including several online.
The front panel features a slight protrusion just below the LCD display that lists the various inputs by name, as well as by small LED lights. There are four small buttons that control audio settings like stereo, multi-channel audio and surround sound effects. Smack dab in the middle of the 7100ES is a relatively large LED light to show you and everyone in your room whether or not the receiver is decoding a multi-channel signal or not. It glows a cool blue for multi-channel signals and amber when you utilize some of Sony’s own surround sound decoding software. Not to be outdone in the “my volume knob is bigger than yours” category, the 7100 features two such dials, one for master volume, the other for input selection. Like most receivers, the 7100ES hides the majority of its manual controls behind a small trapdoor located at the center of the receiver’s faceplate. A simple push on the lower right corner drops the door down to reveal several push buttons and control dials, as well as a few audio/video inputs. While giving you full manual control over the 7100ES’s numerous functions, I’m guessing most users will opt for the remote. Without getting into the minutia of what every button does, it is important to point out that there is a full set of composite audio/video inputs, an optical audio input and a headphone jack for those late-night listening sessions.
Turning my attention to the rear of the 7100ES, I found the usual suspects of audio/video connections. Most of us try to set up our gear to facilitate the cleanest wiring possible and most receivers tend to lay out their connections with that in mind. For instance, it’s not uncommon to place your DVD player and/or other source components above the receiver with separate amplifiers and speaker cables resting below. Well, the 7100ES seemingly follows this logic, but it throws quite a few oddities into the mix that can make connecting your gear a little tedious. Starting from the top of the 7100ES’s back panel, you’ll find a series of 12-volt trigger and IR remote inputs, as well as your options for FM and AM radio antennas. Directly below rest the three component inputs, two of which are assignable by the user and one that serves as a monitor out. Next to the component inputs are the seven composite and S-Video inputs. Technically, there are only six standard inputs, since one pair serves as an additional monitor out. Below the video inputs rest the 7.1-channel pre-outs, flanked by the 7100ES’s multi-channel inputs. The 7100ES also has 14 standard RCA connections resting off to the right of the receiver’s back panel. I was pleased to see that Sony managed to work a phono stage into the 7100ES, but its placement among the various inputs might make for a difficult connection. Running below the audio inputs are nine five-way binding posts that will accept either bare wire or banana plugs. Now, here’s where the otherwise standard layout becomes a bit unique. Below the binding posts are the 7100ES’s HDMI and iLink inputs. The 7100ES features full video switching and conversion through its HDMI output, provided the originating signal is 480i, which the 7100ES will then output it as 480p. However, if you are passing, say, a 720p or 1080i HD signal from your cable box’s component outputs, then you’ll have to use the 7100ES’s component monitor out. So the dream of a single cable to your video source may remain just that. Staying with the digital theme, the 7100ES also features thee coaxial inputs and five optical inputs located flush against the far left edge of the back panel. The 7100ES has a detachable power cord, as well as two AC outlets for your other gear. Lastly, the 7100ES has an impedance selector switch that can toggle the amp’s load into either eight or four ohms.
Under the hood, the 7100ES features a seven-channel Direct Drive Digital Amplifier pumping out an impressive 170 watts across all seven channels into four or eight ohms. The 7100ES can decode the most current surround sound formats, such as Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital ES, DTS, DTS ES, DTS Neo6 and Dolby Pro Logic II.
The remote is a departure in style from the 7100ES’s otherwise good looks. It’s rather compact and fits nicely in hand, featuring a large LCD screen that glows pale amber in low light settings. The remaining controls are pretty standard, as far as remotes go, and spaciously laid out, but not intuitively so. The 7100ES’s remote doesn’t have backlighting for any of its controls, opting instead for a glow in the dark approach which, sadly, is more dark then glow.
The 7100ES replaced my Denon AVR 4806 receiver for the time being as the big dog on my rack. I connected my Denon 3910 universal player via its HDMI and component outputs. I experimented quite a bit with connecting the audio portion of the 3910 to the Sony 7100ES and ultimately ended up using a more traditional coaxial connection due to the sheer day-to-day ease of use. I ran my JVC D-VHS deck through the Sony’s component and optical inputs, with my satellite cable box following suit. I chose to connect my Panasonic HD projector to the 7100ES via its HDMI and Component monitor outputs. My trusty Definitive Technology ProCinema 80 system filled my speaker needs for both music and movies, with all cabling, both audio and video, coming from Monster.
Firing up my projector, it was time for the set-up menus. Wow – I’ve been playing with home theater gear for a while now and rarely consult the manuals when setting up new components. However, the 7100ES is one of those components that will make you want to have the manual handy and maybe also your dealer’s cell phone or tech support number. First off, I was never able to smoothly navigate my way through the onscreen displays with the remote and, after almost an hour trying, I opted to use the controls located on the 7100ES’s front panel instead. Getting through the set-up menus wasn’t an impossible feat, but there was an awful lot of trial and error before I felt I had things right. I did like the 7100ES’s speaker set-up interface, which made things easier and also a bit educational in terms of where to place your speakers in your room. After four hours of experimentation and setting things up, I was satisfied enough to begin my audition.