STR-DA3100ES

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Price Paid: $700

Purchase at: Abe’s of Maine

Strengths
If your looking for a one unit solution with very nice sound for Audio/HomeTheater, this would satisfy just about everything anyone would possibly need. If it isn’t enough power then just use the pre outs and it can function as a very nice pre-amp. I especially like the 5.1 inputs so I can finally hear my SACD’s the way they were supposed to be mixed to the correct channels.

Weakness
Took a while to figure out all the capabilities and controls. This thing at first seemed like it did TOO MUCH. I still am not totally satisfied with the way it handles the crossover for the subwoofer, but for most normal setups it would work fine. Illuminated buttons would be nice on the remote.

Comments/Review
For starters I will have to say this is the first piece of Sony ES equipment I have bought for HOME audio. I came to appreciate the ES line of equipment from my endeavors as a car audio enthusiast. Now that I am home more often, (Not in my vehicle on the road 80% of the year anymore) I am working on building my home setup. Before this, all I had was a pretty basic Stereo set up. In fact this is replacing a Sony STR-D365.
The most obvious thing is that this unit has just about any option anyone could ever want. 9.1 channel surround sound, if you really need NINE channels. (The 7.1 Channel output is rated at 120 watts RMS @ 8 Ohms, with 0.05% THD by the way). It has a Second room capability with a separate remote control for the second room. And by the way, you have to sacrifice that second room if you want to use that 9.1 capability.
It does have a 5.1 channel INPUT for SACD use, as well as a 7.1 channel Pre-Out. You can use the 2nd room stereo pre out as the other two channels to make it 9.1.
The only options this unit does NOT have that I’ve noticed is a microphone, like the Yamaha units have, to let the unit itself optimize the balance and sound. So that is up to you. And I have to say, the numerous menus and abbreviations I had to learn to do this took me a couple weeks to get used to. The remote control is not very intuitive for navigation either. Reading the manual to get it right is pretty much required. Another thing lacking in my opinion, is for tone controls, you don’t have any parametric equalization controls. Just simple bass and treble for the front, surround, and 3rd zone. The center channel has Bass mid and treble.
The part of the setup I found disappointing was the control for the crossover for the subwoofer. I use four large speakers for a 4.1 setup, and when you set it up in the unit as four LARGE speakers, the unit will not let you control the low pass crossover to the subwoofer AT ALL… Only the volume. In order to use the Crossover for the sub you HAVE TO set either the Fronts or center speakers to SMALL. (I don’t have a center channel so this doesn’t work too well, If you use a center channel then this won’t be a problem I guess.)
How does it all sound?? Well my tastes are I like it LOUD and CLEAR. My utopia would be a sound that rivals LIVE concert in feel and impact, without the distortion.
The first time I set it up I just used the integrated amp and the onboard speaker outputs. My 4.1 setup would have included a pair of B&W 602 S3’s up front, two Cerwin Vega AT8’s for the rear and a Cerwin Vega 15″ front firing Subwoofer. First impression was… Way better than my old system, and almost better than my car system. As I mentioned I like to listen loud at times and I honestly had to say I liked my car system better for the impact at higher levels. I would say the power was way more than enough than most people would ever use, but like I said, I like that live impact, and on the occasions I cranked it up, I felt the sound was not quite as clean at the highest levels as it could be. But don’t get me wrong, this baby had more than enough power to wake up the neighbors when you are watching those special effect movies with the jet planes, explosions and such. For a stand alone unit this would be great for the family entertainment room. I can really appreciate the Fuller mid range sound that is extremely hard to get out of car audio systems. This system definitely had great imaging and clarity at, what I would call, normal and above normal listening levels.
But I like to rock hard when I am alone, and that led me to go the component route and get some amps and try it. So I acquired a couple TA-N55ES amps rated at 110 Watts per channel @ 8 Ohms, and 0.05% THD. After hooking these up to the pre-outs performance was much better and the sound even cleaner at the highest levels. At the normal levels vocals and wind instruments were much cleaner. With the extra juice, my Cerwin Vega AT8’s had a sound that I think was better than my B&W’s up front. For fun I just bridged both the amps for just two speaker stereo and it was very NICE. My craving for live sound was just about satisfied. I put the only shortcoming on my B&W’s only being 6″ speakers.
Then for more fun I went for a 2.1 setup bridging one of the amps to the 15″ subwoofer and bypassing the sub’s built in amp. BIG WOW, I had things shaking off the wall. I’m not kidding, when a couple pictures and a clock fell down, it was like, “OK I think that’s enough.”
Back to reality though and in the 4.1 setup using the amps in stereo mode on the front and rear, and the subwoofer’s built in amp. I was pretty satisfied normally listening to music in the “Multichannel Stereo” mode. The “Neo 6 Music” mode I felt was just a bit too bright for my taste, and lacked bass. Then one day I finally discovered the 5.1 channel inputs for my SACD player. I tried it before with the “Analog Input” mode and never thought much of it. But then a couple weeks later I realized the mistake I made. The correct input mode is one called “Multi Input” which was a totally different button from the other buttons you normally hit for the selecting the music mode. When using multi-input mode, the signals from the SACD player’s 5.1 output, through the 5.1 inputs are played channel for channel with very little if any processing. NOW I was satisfied. Before this I was ready to sell it since I was beginning to feel all I really needed was a good pre-amp. But this feature is the one that makes this a keeper now. Hearing the 5.1 SACD sounds race around the room through the dedicated speakers as it was supposed to sound was a totally new experience. The SACD track that brought this out the best for me was “On the Run” also known as the Travel Sequence on Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
Oh, one other slight concern is the unit does heat up quite a bit so keeping it well ventilated would most likely be a wise thing to do.
So general conclusions, GREAT stand alone Home Theatre piece, and functions quite well as a pre-amp also if you so desire. The 5.1 inputs for the SACD player made it a definite keeper, and a feature I will look for from now on anything I may look for in the future. Negatives, to get the most out of it you HAVE TO READ the manual and learn all the adjustments and functions which are not very intuitive. The remote doesn’t have illuminated buttons, Not very happy with the subwoofer crossover control, (For my set up), and heats up a bit, even if you are not using the built in amps.

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