Sony DA5600ES In Depth Review and Hands On.

This review was made possible by our friends Julie @ CePro and Greg @ Sony. Thanks guys, this was fun!

This is a pretty in depth review of the new awesome Sony DA5600ES. Many hours were spent to try to convey as much info as possible on this receiver. If you have any further questions please leave a comment and i will try to get you the answers you need! Hopefully you guys enjoy this review. It was a blast to do, and and it really let me nerd out on this one.

The Setup:

Using the System Setup Disc that came with the receiver was easy. However I will note for all you non Windows 7 adopters that this disc does not run on vista and there is no compatible version on Sony’s site.

The first icon in setup will excite all users of audio calibration tools and software! There are 31 sliders between the frequencies of 20 Hz and 20 KHz. Sony’s help section states:  You can display and adjust the frequency characteristics to be used during the Auto Calibration. If you select [User Reference] as the speaker compensation type using the menu of the AV receiver, the adjusted frequency characteristics will be applied in Auto Calibration. This is a great feature for those installers that actually take the time and care to properly configure sound in a theater environment! I am personally glad Sony made sure this feature made has been included.

The second icon is The Speaker Setup Icon. As I am writing this I think back to the day when this had to be done on the display screen, or even worse, the front panel of a receiver! There are a couple of nice features in this setup menu. The first and my favorite is to be able to setup multiple sweet spots. This means that you can set 3 different perfect sound environments for 3 different seating positions. This feature is perfect for large theater rooms or rooms with multiple seating areas like a rear bar or pub setting. Another nice feature is to be able to change the impedance from 8 ohm to 4 ohm. Nice. You can also set the speaker pattern form 2.0 to 5/4 . 1 taking advantage of the ability to use 4 speakers up front for right and left or some really great bi-wire’s!

The third icon is for basic surround settings. Here you can adjust gain height and HD-D.C.S effect type. The three choices here are dynamic, theater, and studio.

The forth icon is another one that is nice for those who want to get the sound just right. This EQ setting page is nice because it lets you adjust the bass and treble for front, back, center, and front high. Something I will definitely play with in different speaker configurations!

The fifth icon is the Multi Zone setup page. This allows you to configure your zone 2 & 3 for control, zone, or main. It also lets you choose whether zone 2 is variable volume and lets you set a preset volume for the main zone and zone 2.

The sixth is the input setup. Not much to say here except that this wizard makes setting up this beast easy. I found this useful also for documentation as I could make a screen capture and print it right up!

The seventh icon is all about tuner based radio. Here for fm, am, and Sirius you can select up to 30 presets for each band. Really nice for those that use broadcast radio.

The next is Shoutcast Internet radio. I have been using this a lot since it was added native in Control4 systems so this is an added bonus for me. I won’t go into the set up to much, but I will say that Sony has made it easy. On this setup page you will find a help button that tells you how to set it up AND a link directly to shoutcast to find your channels.

The ninth icon is interesting, though I could never see myself using it. This one is quick click settings. It basically turns your receiver in to a universal remote. You can select different device types and manufacturers and code keys for the devices. And it will let you set up to 20 macros. I was surprised to see lutron and x10 in the lights listing. Will we see Control4, centralite, and others in the future?

Next and important to me is the network setting. Since I believe in static IP addresses on everything in a network this is a key page. Here there are a couple key features I must point out. If you are going to control this receiver over IP you must turn external control to on. Also you need to turn network standby to on so that the network card does not turn off when the receiver is in standby mode.

The final icon is the System Icon. This page has a couple of key features to point out. One is the ability to turn rs232 control on or off. You can also set standby to auto or manual. The most important is what I hope will bring future goodies. This is the software update tab. I hope there will be more to come in software updates like more streaming services and maybe some control system logic.

Setup manager was a breeze to go through. It had a lot of useful tools and made everything easy. It also gave me the chance to back up the configuration for emergencies which is always nice.

The Installation:

This receiver is like many today as far as connections so there is not much to go to there, except for a couple of differences. One of them is the 4 port network hub which I will go into further, and the other is something I wish all manufacturers would change (some have). This is the fact that the powered Zone2 is on the surround back outputs. For many consumers this is very backward thinking. Almost all consumers that use this receiver will want 7.1 surround. My guess is that somewhere between 25%and 50% will want to use the Zone2. But very few will be using the front high speaker configuration. With this being said A LOT of consumers may pass this item up.

The Magic Of The 4 Port Hub:

Here is my quick low down of this hub. I started with my incoming lan connection from a switch. From there I connected several devices (not all at once – in multiple configurations) a Control4 hc300, a Sony Playstaion3, a Control4 Media Player, a Netgear EVA9000, a Control4 ipod dock, a Control4 7” touchscreen, and even a Dell pc. To test out how well this worked I ran control over the incoming cat5E while I ran the rest to different sources in different rooms all playing something at the same time. Not a hiccup!!!! This was great as I was a little concerned about robustness – after all, one doesn’t expect a network hub built into a receiver to be high quality and rather just a marketing “checklist” item. I will go as far to say that I was playing Shoutcast on the receiver, Netflix on the PS3, a stored movie on the Control4 media player, and typed some of this article while using Remote Desktop to a pc in another room. So from my point this is an instant winner for those single room setups that have only 1 incoming lan connection and multiple devices that need data at the receiver end. Additionally,  I did hook up another small switch to the  hub on the receiver with little noticeable loss of streaming and control, though I wouldn’t recommend going crazy stacking networking equipment.

Now it is time to play. I have separated this portion of the review into sections to make it easier to browse.

Audio:

Quality is far above what I would expect from a surround receiver at this price point. We tested the audio portion with speakers both large and small, in-wall and free standing. We tried brands including Sunfire, JBL, Phase Technologies, Sony, Dali, Totem, Jamo, TruAudio, Energy, and my personal favorite sub company Velodyne. This receiver had the clarity to make bookshelf speakers sound amazing, and enough power to rock some freestanding towers. The fun thing was to adjust the EQ on the fly with the setup manager on my laptop. During movies I felt immersed in all the sound. I was impressed on the improvement in surround modes over past models.

With DCAC “digital cinema audio calibration” this piece was easy to tweak to any listeners mode. Did I mention the funny looking new calibration mic? It is now a bar with 2 mic’s labeled right and left. To my surprise when I held this up to look at it I realized the mic’s were spaced about the same distance as my ears! Good thinking! Now if they could figure out a way to compensate for my acoustically unfriendly head being in the room we’d be set! I will say with these to features the set up was easy, complete, and dare I say FUN!

AM/FM. Who still uses this? With the lack of built in HD Radio I first thought WHY? Well not being a fan of broadcast radio I was surprised in the sound quality. The tuner was impressive bringing in some stations I am not used to being able to tune in around these parts. I could never call AM/FM radio crystal clear, but this was one time I actually stopped to listen for a while.

Shoutcast: Big plus as I am already using this on Control4. The setup was easy in the menu, and navigation was easy with Sony’s GUI. Sound was as to be expected with this Internet streaming service so nothing too fancy. It is a nice inclusion for sure.

Rhapsody: Seems like every device imaginable is adopting Rhapsody nowadays. This receiver is no exception. Rhapsody is another streaming audio service that is easy to setup and easy to navigate. Audio quality is one of the best I have heard for Rhapsody.

Media Server: You can set up a streaming service by installing a media server on a pc around the house. This is of course accomplished with DLNA servers. This will give you access to your home collection of music. This is extremely nice for those of you with .mp3 collections and would like to play them directly from your receiver.

Streaming services in general: The included streaming music choices are nice, but I would like to see more choices. Slacker and AIM’s music services are a couple I would’ve liked to see, especially slacker. Pandora would be another great option.

Zone2: The sound from Zone2 is great! For bookshelves or in ceiling (even outdoor speakers as I tested) this receiver works. I would’ve liked them to have put the zone2 on the front high speakers so I could still get 7.1 at the same time. But for what it is it does work well. (Note that this suggestion from our review was taken by the head of the ES division and will be sent in as a request for future models)  Discreet audio selection is awesome. With the iPhone control application, Zone2 works like a dream,  as well with control systems with the proper config. I will explain these further in the control section. Also, I will note that Zone2 audio must be supplied to the receiver via analog inputs.

Video: “The future is so bright I gotta wear shades”….. 3D shades that is.

Let me start this off by talking about the 3D pass though. This feature is awesome and works as advertised! I was impressed and could not tell with my eye the difference on going through the receiver or directly to the display! I was so amazed at the 3D quality and with it the enjoyment of the 3D quality sound. A jaw dropping experience at this price I must tell you!

Then there is Faroudja. Who is this you may ask? It is not a person “at least I don’t think it is” it is a what. Faroudja is the awesome DCDi 1080p upscaling process used in this receiver. It does a flawless job with upconversion to get rid of those pesky jagged edges on your old VHS collection! Yes I know you have them, and sadly yes I tried this. I won’t go to deep into DCDi because I could write a whole wiki on the subject, But DCDi “directional correlation de-interlacing”  is a genius method of taking the jagged edges and adding brand new information to fill the gaps. What this does is makes all those lines in your video crisp and clear. Nice to see this in a scaler that is inside a receiver! If Sony keeps getting these things right we may actually find an acceptable all in one solution yet!

HDMI is exactly as advertised so I won’t go too far into a standard we are used to having to speculate about. But I will say the ability of HDMI 1.4’s audio properties is pretty nice. This is great when using an ARC (For those of you not in the know this is audio return channel which lets you send audio the reverse direction in HDMI 1.4) compatible set that you are using broadcast video, or better yet YouTube, Netflix, blockbuster, or other streaming services.  The built in video scaling on this device is great and a sure signal from Sony’s Studios (who lent a hand in the design of this receiver) that there are big things to come. BIG THINGS.

And for those of you that delved into that Sony 12 output video switch….. well, the same balun works on the zone2 rj45 video output. This was nice try since I had one of these baluns laying around. Tried this idea out and it works like a charm. So to play with it further I hooked the zone2 speakers to some in-ceiling speakers in a room that already has a display with a Sony balun on it. Model CAV-CVB1 by Muxlab. And presto! A full Zone2 video and audio solution. I will note here that this receiver does not down convert any HDMI signals to component video, which is expected with an HDMI licensed device.

Other than 3D, HDMI 1.4, and the really cool features of a good zone2 video output there’s not much different here than we are used to for video.

Max resolution on Main zone 1080p

Max resolution on Zone 2 is 1080i

Control Options:

The receiver comes with 1 infrared emitter and has 2 infrared outputs, so you can add another device. You can set up control of your other devices through the setup manager and thus your receiver becomes a universal remote. This is a pretty cool feature for consumers just starting out and lets this receiver play nice on both ends of the installation spectrum.

Control from iPod touch or iPhone. Ok the app is really good. Probably one of the best device control apps I have seen for the Apple platforms to date. You have complete control of the main zone, zone2, and zone 3. You can set your surround mode, adjust volume, pick your input, browse your shoutcast channels, control the display of photos from your media server, have direct control of the receiver, and much more. Oh, and did I mention that if you have the IR set up to control something like lutron lighting you can control that from this app too? So this Sony did right and will impress a lot of consumers.

Control4 Certified:

This is the first driver I have ever seen that zone2 works flawlessly. No tricks, no programming workarounds. If you set this receiver up correctly the Main zone and zone2 work separately with no issues. I don’t know how many times to repeat this, but this is a fix to one the hugest complaints from dealers around the globe. And Sony and Control4 finally fixed it!The good… Serial control works great and is solid. IP control is very nice and extremely stable. Make sure to leave the receiver on the navigators this time guys, cause when you press it you have discreet selection for a lot of sound fields and surround modes! This is sweet. I was actually curious to see headphone 2 channel and head phone direct. With 2.0 the Sirius tuner and am/fm  control pages on touch screens work really nice and give you a lot more control that new have seen in the past. Now the bad.  You get all the solid functionality you would expect from a certified driver with some surprises.

Control4 has an app store, and yet, no app exists for this receiver! Why couldn’t we get a device control app, exactly like the one for the iPhone for Control4. Seriously, this would immediately sell more Sony receivers! A potential client see’s the free app , downloads it because they are curious, looks at all the glorious functions, AND BAM! They buy a Sony 5600ES with a big grin on their face. But as Bryan (president of the soho shop) said “the driver integration is without flaws in our testing. we would have liked to see a control app foir the app store, but with a driver this solid who need’s an app? C4 IQ is going to make life much easier for field techs and designers.”

Other than this one complaint this receiver has found a place in my heart and in my rack! Everything about this receiver from an installation point and a user perspective is a cut above the other choices out there.

So all in all I love this receiver. It sounds great, does everything most of us need for video, and is budget conscious in a land of overpriced receivers. Would I suggest this to my customers? Absolutely. As a matter of fact I will be putting one in my personal equipment rack! From this point on, for this price point, this will be the first receiver I recommend. This receiver makes installation, setup, programming, and use as easy as it could get.

Sony Style combined With Control4’s Everyday Easy is Easy Style Everday!