Digital Surround - and toys, too!
By Jim Bray
Sony's line of mainstream
audio/video receivers offers a lot of features in a variety of price ranges
for those who want lots of toys on a reasonable budget.
By mainstream, I mean
the lower to middle end of the market, which is where most average human
beings find themselves when it comes to spending money on home electronics.
Sony's STR-DE835 makes Dolby Digital and DTS decoding affordable for the
masses, while throwing in enough interesting gadgets to amaze and confuse
at the same time.
The 835 sells for
$485US ($650 Cdn), which is darn affordable considering all the stuff
crammed into the box. It
comes complete with Dolby Digital and DTS (Digital Theater System) decoders
built in, so it'll play any DVD's or CD's audio you care to throw at it
with the exception new audio standards (like DVD Audio) that are bound
to remain in the realm of the high end anyway.
There are inputs
and outputs galore on the STR-DE835, including twoS
Video inputs and 1 "S" output to send signals to your monitor.
You also get
a total of 3 optical digital inputs (1 output), and a coaxial digital
for other A/V components include Phono, CD, MD (MiniDisc)/Tape deck, TV/Satellite,
DVD/LD, and 2 Video I/O's, and there are also separate 5.1 channel inputs
for those who want to use the AC-3 decoders they already have.
This latter is a
nice touch, and it was interesting to try it out with my reference DVD
player - but it makes me wonder why consumers who already have an AC-3
decoder don't just buy a "Dolby Digital-Ready" receiver and
be done with it.
Once I'd tried all
the analog and digital hookups (and ensured that they all worked fine),
I stuck with the optical digital input from my DVD player and was very
happy with it.
Power is rated at
100 watts x 5 in surround mode, and the same in stereo mode, at 8 ohms
from 20 - 20,000 Hz, and with 0.09% THD (total
The owner's manual
gives extensive and well illustrated advice for hooking up and tweaking
all manners of A/V components for all manners of room configurations -
utilizing the mind boggling array of adjustments crammed into the microchips
of the 835. You can set adjustments for your speakers' positions, distances,
heights, and sizes, and the standard test tone generator (all of these
are accessible from the remote control) lets you set the speakers' volume
right from your favorite listening or viewing spot.
When I first looked
at all this stuff I thought you'd need some kind of college degree to
figure it all out, and you probably would if you just used the 835's front
panel display or remote control and plowed ahead, but the manual walks
you through things quite well. After all you are just setting up a receiver and not installing a custom elevator in your home!
There are far more
adjustment than the average person needs, and you'll probably only have
to do the adjustments once (If you even choose to do them at all) - but
it's nice to have choices and be given the opportunity to play around
with all the wonderful gadgets this receiver provides.
You can also make
most (if not all) of the adjustments, including the different surround
modes, from a jog/shuttle wheel/cursor control button combination on the
front panel - as well as from the remote - but in my room that required
actually getting up from the easy chair and expending energy walking over
to the receiver. Guess which was my preferred method of adjustment...
Surround modes are
in abundance. Not only do you get regular Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby
Pro-Logic, but there are enough parameter adjustments to make your head
spin - about 30 in all. These range from "normal surround" to
a variety of "cinema studios" tweaked for different genres of
movie. There are also interesting settings like "night theater",
which is meant to give you a good, theater-like environment without keeping
the kids awake, and "headphone theater," which as its name suggests
is for personal listening with the world shut out.
You can use other
settings to "virtually" reproduce your surround speakers - or
give you surround sound with only front speakers, and there are also the
usual concert hall/sport stadium venue effects that have become common
over the years.
Call me silly, but
though I tried all these settings (and some of them are indeed kind of
cool), I prefer a WGIIWYG ("What Goes In Is What You Get" -
hey, I've created an acronym!) configuration and, fortunately, Sony has
taken care of this, too.
Once the "messing
around with the gadgets period" was over, I discovered that the vast
majority of my listening was with the 835 set to "AFD," or Auto
Format Decoding. This sets the receiver to automatically sense the type
of signal coming in (AC-3, DTs, Pro-Logic, or standard 2 channel stereo)
and govern itself accordingly.
Sure, I messed with
the concert hall settings when watching some concerts, but even there
I mostly stuck with the AFD setting once I'd tried the gimmicks a time
As far as other toys
are concerned, Sony includes its "S Link" controller for hooking
in other Sony components and controlling them all at once. I hate this
type of thing, however (though it's really a matter of personal choice),
and prefer operating each component separately. I don't mind having a
pile of remotes on my coffee table.
My wife, however,
Which brings me to
Sony's Remote Commander remote control, by far the weakest link in this
For a company that
makes one of the all time great remotes (a lovely, LCD unit that comes
with its highest end components), the model included with the 835 is not
one of Sony's proudest achievements. It's complex and confusing; it even
comes with its own owner's manual - and chances are you'll need it.
But it wasn't even
the relative difficulty of use that really annoyed me; it was the silly
labeling of the component control buttons that turn on and/or switch the
receiver to your DVD player, TV, or what have you. They're of the light
green "glow in the dark" type that's becoming common (and extremely
welcome) on many remotes - but where Sony blows it is in labeling the
buttons in light green as well, thereby rendering the labels virtually
The remote itself
has lots of features, and can be programmed via codes to operate a wide
variety of "other brand" components. This programming is easy,
but I found overall use of the controller difficult to get a handle on.
I preferred to have the other remotes handy by which to control individual
Sound quality of the
835 is good. The receiver uses discrete output transistors (which offer
high speed, high current capacity and low distortion), and for this segment
of the market the performance is up to snuff. Still, in order to offer
that much bang for the buck, something has to go and while this receiver
runs rings around some, it falls down in audio quality when compared with
admittedly much higher end receivers like the Nakamichi
AV-10 reviewed elsewhere in TechnoFILE.
To be fair, though,
both receivers are aimed at different segments of the market - and are
priced about a thousand Canadian dollars apart. Besides, I'd defy the
average consumer (who generally has more on his mind than comparative
audio quality) to really tell the difference without hearing the two side
by side (which, fortunately, I had the opportunity to do).
On the whole, I can
see Sony selling truckloads of this receiver and its kin. It's affordable,
offers just about everything one could want from a mainstream audio/video
receiver, and has Sony's reputation for quality and innovation behind
If you'd like a glimpse
of how Sony handles its higher end toys, try our (admittedly very short
term) review of its ultra high end TAE9000es preamplifier
and TAN9000es amplifier. They really rock!
Features and Specifications:
- Stereo Mode Power
Output, both channels driven, 20 -- 20,000 Hz, 0.09% THD: 100 w x2 into
Surround Mode Power Output, all channels driven, 1000 Hz, 0.80% THD:
100 w x5 into 8 W 4-ohm/8-ohm
- Switching Enables
reliable operation with low-impedance speakers.
- Dolby Digital
- Fluorescent Display
- AM/FM Random Presets:
- Station Memo display
- Digital Signal
Full 24 bit + 32 bit DSP Acoustic Environments, 27 Digital Cinema Sound
- Audio Inputs/Outputs
- A/V Inputs/Outputs
- S-Video Inputs/Outputs:
- Optical Digital
- Subwoofer Outputs
- Frequency Response
Phono, RIAA: ±0.5 dB Line: 10 -- 50 kHz, +0.5/-2 dB
- IHF Sensitivity
11.2 dBf 50 dB
- Sensitivity, Mono/Stereo
18.3 dBf/38.3 dBf
- FM Alternate Ch.
Selectivity 60 dB
- FM Frequency Response
30 -- 15 kHz, +0.5/-2 dB FM THD @ 1 kHz, Mono/Stereo 0.30%/0.50%
- FM S/N Ratio, Mono/Stereo
76 dB/70 dB
- 27 lbs 8 oz 17"
x 6 1/4" x 14 7/8"
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