I recently had the opportunity to get an in-person and in-depth overview of Sony’s new ES AV receiver lineup at an event that happened in an atypically frozen-over Austin, Texas. Fortunately, the power remained on long enough – icy rains had knocked it out for 120,000 Austin customers during my stay – to get a thorough demo of these impressive models, the first new receivers to emerge from Sony in five years.
There are five new models in total: four ES receivers aimed at the professional custom installation channel, and one consumer model. All receivers share many of the same features, including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding and multiple HDMI 2.1 ports with 8K, 4K 120Hz, Dolby Vision HDR, and IMAX Enhanced support.
They also support Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), making them a future-proof option for gamers. Sony TV and PlayStation 5-specific perks include pass-through of Auto HDR Tone Mapping and Auto Genre Picture Mode, features meant to optimize picture quality for specific PS5 games on compatible Sony Bravia TVs.
The ES models are designed to fully integrate with many of the key whole-house control systems on the market such as Crestron, Savant, and Control4. Furthermore, they are Works with Sonos certified, which lets them connect up to a multiroom wireless Sonos system.
- STR-AZ7000ES: 13.2 channel ($3,299.99)
- STR-AZ5000ES: 11.2 channel ($2,099.99)
- STR-AZ3000ES: 9.2 channel ($1,699.99)
- STR-AZ1000ES: 7.2 channel ($1,099.99)
- STR-AN1000: 7.2 channel ($899.99)
All receivers are available now for presale and come with a 5-year warranty.
ES series power output specs range from 100 watts-per-channel on the 7.2 model to 150 watts-per-channel on the 13.2 flagship. The 7.2-channel STR-AN1000 consumer model is rated at 165 watts. Sony’s new receivers all sport a range of design changes meant to improve both sound quality and reliability, with new 32-bit DACs, large capacitor power transformers, and a frame buffer board chassis. The ES offerings have also been beefed up with a 200% thicker bottom panel and 120% thicker side walls than previous models.
A new processing feature for Sony’s 2023 receiver lineup is 360 Spatial Sound Mapping. Previously used in the company’s HT-A9 wireless speaker system this can work to fill in sonic “gaps” in a typical 5.1.2 or 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos speaker configuration. 360 Spatial Sound Mapping is enabled via the company’s new Digital Cinema Calibration IX, a feature that uses a stereo microphone to do variable height measurements of distance, angle, and sound pressure of each speaker and create a 3D sound map of the room. Once that’s done, you press the 360SSM button on Sony’s remote control and 360 Spatial Sound Mapping generates phantom speakers between the system’s actual speakers to deliver an enhanced sense of immersion.
Along with phantom speakers, Sony’s new receivers also support wireless ones. The company’s SA-RS5 and SA-RS3S wireless models can optionally be added for use as rear-channel speakers, and the same option applies to its SA-SW5 and SA-SW3 wireless subwoofers.
New audio options
Streaming music to Sony’s receivers is made easy with ChromeCast, AirPlay 2, and Spotify Connect support. Works with Sonos also means you can integrate the receiver with your home’s wireless multiroom system and control music playback using the Sonos S2 app when a device like that company’s Port is connected.
The new receivers are also Sony’s first models to support 360 Reality Audio. Music encoded using Sony’s proprietary Spatial Audio mixing format can be found on services like Tidal and Amazon Music Unlimited, and you can stream it to the receiver via Chromecast or play it from apps on a connected Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K or Apple TV 4K.
Analysis: A/V receivers are finally ready for the future
It’s been a minute since we’ve heard about a new Sony AV receiver, but these latest models appear well worth the wait. That delay might actually have been strategic on the company’s part, since HDMI 2.1 hardware supporting the full range of HDMI 2.1 features like 8K and 4K 120Hz pass-through wasn’t readily available to manufacturers, some of whom pushed through half-baked products with a promise of enabling more features in a “future firmware update.”
The best AV receivers now ship with comprehensive HDMI 2.1 support, making them perfect home theater companions for next-gen PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X | S consoles. Sony’s latest models fit exactly into this category, and they offer a whole range of tech-forward expansion options on top, including Works with Sonos and other whole-home integration features.
At Sony’s Austin event I had the opportunity to listen to music encoded in 360 Reality Audio (Come Through, by H.E.R. and Chris Brown), and the adventurous object-based mix made generous use of 360 degree space. Two-channel music can also be upmixed to 360 Reality Audio, so it’s a feature that can be applied to legacy sources as well.
The home theater demo room where I watched movie clips and listened to music was powered by Sony’s new STR-AZ7000ES flagship, and the 9.6.4 presentation – using KEF speakers and subwoofers, no less – was powerfully immersive. There were so many speakers on tap that the receiver’s 360 Spatial Sound Mapping wasn’t needed!
I’m sure that 360SSM will improve the performance of my own 5.1.2-channel system, and since Sony sent me an STR-AN1000 to test, I’ll soon be able to report back on that.
email@example.com (Al Griffin)