I recently had the opportunity to get a personal and in-depth look at Sony’s new ES AV receiver lineup at an event that took place in an atypically frozen Austin, Texas. Fortunately, the power stayed on long enough — icy rain 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 Sony released in five years.
There are a total of five new models: 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 supporting 8K, 4K 120Hz, Dolby Vision HDR and IMAX Enhanced.
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 benefits include the pass-through of Auto HDR Tone Mapping and Auto Genre Picture Mode, features intended 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 leading whole home control systems on the market, such as Crestron, Savant and Control4. Plus, they’re Works with Sonos certified, which means they can connect to a multi-room wireless Sonos system.
- STR-AZ7000ES: 13.2ch ($3,299.99)
- STR-AZ5000ES: 11.2ch ($2,099.99)
- STR-AZ3000ES: 9.2ch ($1,699.99)
- STR-AZ1000ES: 7.2ch ($1,099.99)
- STR-AN1000: 7.2ch ($899.99)
All receivers are now available for pre-sale and come with a 5-year warranty.
ES Series 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 feature a series of design changes intended to improve both sound quality and reliability, with new 32-bit DACs, large capacitor power transformers and a frame buffer board chassis. The ES range has also been bolstered with a 200% thicker bottom panel and 120% thicker sidewalls 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 sonic “gaps” in a typical 5.1.2 or 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos speaker configuration. 360 Spatial Sound Mapping is made possible through the company’s new Digital Cinema Calibration IX, a feature that uses a stereo microphone to take variable height measurements of distance, angle and sound pressure from each speaker and create a 3D sound map of the room. Once that’s done, press the 360SSM button on the Sony remote and 360 Spatial Sound Mapping will generate phantom speakers between the system’s actual speakers to give an enhanced sense of immersion.
In addition to 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 the SA-SW5 and SA-SW3 wireless subwoofers.
New audio options
Streaming music to Sony’s receivers is made easy with support for ChromeCast, AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect. Working with Sonos also means you can integrate the receiver with your home’s wireless multi-room system and control music playback with 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 with Sony’s proprietary Spatial Audio mix format can be found on services such as 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 heard about a new AV receiver from Sony, but these latest models seem well worth the wait. That delay might actually have been strategic on the company’s part, as HDMI 2.1 hardware that supports the full range of HDMI 2.1 features, such as 8K and 4K 120Hz pass-through, was not readily available to manufacturers, some of whom spent half-baked products with a promise to enable more features in a “future firmware update”.
The best AV receivers now come with expanded HDMI 2.1 support, making them perfect companions for the next generation of home theaters PlayStation5 and Xbox Series X | S consoles. Sony’s latest models fit right into this category and also offer a range of technical expansion options, including Works with Sonos and other whole-home integration features.
At Sony’s Austin event, I had the chance to listen to music encoded in 360 Reality Audio (Get through, by HER and Chris Brown), and the adventurous object-based mix made generous use of 360 degrees of space. Two-channel music can also be upmixed to 360 Reality Audio, so it’s a feature that can be applied to older sources as well.
The home theater demo room where I watched film clips and listened to music was powered by Sony’s new flagship STR-AZ7000ES, and the 9.6.4 presentation – with KEF speakers and subwoofers no less – was powerfully immersive. There were so many speakers available that the receiver’s 360 Spatial Sound Mapping was unnecessary!
I’m sure 360SSM will improve the performance of my own 5.1.2 channel system, and since Sony sent me a STR-AN1000 to test, I’ll be able to report on that shortly.