STRDA555ES A/V Receiver
Duty Digital Delight
By Jim Bray
If you like Sony's
mainstream audio/video receivers, but want something a little more high
end, the DA555ES receiver may be your cup of tea.
Sony's "ES" series
is the company's "flagship" line of products, much as their best TV's
carry the XBR moniker. The 555 is the middle model of its ES receivers,
and it's a fine product that offers abundant features, good quality and
- best of all - good sound.
The 555 ($1000US)
competes head to head with such receivers as the Nakamichi
AV10. I don't think it sounds quite as good as the Nakamichi, but
it's a close call - and the Sony has an abundance of features and digital
toys not found on the Nak.
The DA555ES pumps
out 120 watts into all five of the home theater channels, which should
be ample for most reasonably mainstream installations. It also comes with
built in Dolby Digital (AC-3) and DTS surround decoding (It also does
Dolby Pro Logic, of course), and a complete set of inputs and outputs.
Those inputs include
TV/Satellite, DVD/LD, two sets of VCR inputs/outputs, phono, CD, MD/DAT,
and Tape. There's also a bunch of digital inputs, four optical and one
coaxial. Add them all up and there isn't a lot you can't patch into this
receiver. There's even a set of "5.1 Channel inputs" through which you
can plug future 5.1 digital technologies that may come down the pike.
All the video inputs
can use either regular RCA jack or "S-Video" connectors.
Likewise, there are
"S" and regular video out terminals for two video sources (which I called
"VCR I/O's" above) and the video/TV monitor. There's even an optical digital
output, which is labeled as for a minidisc or DAT player.
Speaker outputs are
of the big binding post variety, which is as it should be. There are two
sets of "front" speaker terminals and one set each of surround and center.
The 555 has the nice
capability of being able to split the preamplifier off from the amp, for
people who want to take advantage of Sony's digital technology but would
rather power their speakers with a different amplifier.
This is a wonderful
bit of flexibility that I used during the review period when a higher
end amplifier also arrived for testing. I used the Sony's five "preamp
out" terminals and ran patch cords to the inputs on the other amp, which
gave me the best of both worlds.
I don't make this
"splitup" point to denigrate the Sony's amplifiers. In fact, most people
will undoubtedly be very happy using the Sony's built in power amp. There's
nothing wrong with them; the receiver has a rich, full sound that, if
you ran it side by side with a lower end Sony receiver, will show you
just why you may want to spend the extra money for an ES unit.
But you can get even
better sound by using a different, separate amplifier, and this is what
some people will choose to do. This nice bit of flexibility also lets
you upgrade your system down the road - adding whatever quality of amplifier
you can afford - without rendering the rest of your digital surround system
The front panel is
rather handsome, and about half of it's covered by a door that hides most
of the buttons and other controls that operate and tweak the multitude
of settings. With the door up, visible controls are limited to the large
volume control knob, the function controller (with the nearby "mute" and
"mode" buttons), the power button, speaker control switch, headphone jack,
and a cluster of four buttons that switch between AM and FM and control
Open that door, however,
and you're greeted by an intimidating array of controls that run the gamut
from "sleep timer" and input mode to cursor mode and cursor controls,
sound field, and equalizer on/off. There's lots more, but most people
won't do a lot of fiddling with them once the intial setup is completed.
The owner's manual
gives extensive and well illustrated advice for hooking up and tweaking
all manners of configurations using the almost ridiculous number of adjustments
Sony has crammed into 555. You can set adjustments for your speakers'
positions, distances, heights, and sizes, and the standard test tone generator
(all of which are accessible from the remote control) lets you set the
speakers' volume right from your favorite listening or viewing spot.
It's a complicated
setup, but Sony does a good job of making the manual understandable.
Surround modes are
in abundance. Not only do you get the aforementioned Dolby Digital, DTS,
and Dolby Pro-Logic, but there are enough other digital adjustments to
satisfy the most jaded toy aficionado. These range anywhere from "normal
surround" to "cinema studios" for different genres of movie and settings
like "night theater" (which lets you run your home theater at a relatively
satisfactory volume without keeping the kids awake).
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 settings I ended
up using the most were "Normal Surround" and "Auto Format Decode," which
recognizes the incoming signal and sets the receiver to the proper configuration
As with the last Sony
receiver we reviewed, the weakest link in the chain is the Remote Commander.
In this case, it's a particular shame, since the idea behind the remote
is terrific; unfortunately, it's hamhandedly executed.
Sony includes a programmable
LCD unit that, at first glance, seems wonderful. Unfortunately, the screen
is dim (even with its backlight on), its operation's confusing, and the
"Standby" power button is mounted so that you're likely to shut the receiver
off merely by picking up the remote.
The remote itself
has lots of features, and can be programmed via codes to operate a wide
variety of "other brand" components - and you can program macros that
make it do several things at once.
I quickly discovered
it was easier to get up and use the receiver's front panel controls -
which makes the remote rather pointless.
Sony makes an excellent
LCD remote (the $180 RM-AV2000), so I don't understand how they could
blow it with this one.
Still, it was the
only shadow over a nice home theater component and, on the upside, not
using the remote could help you get some exercise!
Jim Bray's columns
are distributed by Creators
Syndicate Inc. Copyright Jim Bray.
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