As with the DA9000ES, this receiver’s dominant characteristics are its topto- bottom transparency and lively, authoritative dynamics. However, the DA7100ES does not have just one signature sound. Instead, a menu-driven DC PHASE LINEARIZER control gives the receiver six finely graduated voicing settings. Purists may cringe, but the PHASE LINEARIZER works beautifully, giving the receiver six precisely repeatable voicing options that range from transistorlike definition, snap, and sheen to almost tube-like warmth and bass richness without sacrificing transparency. No other receiver I know offers anything like this level of voicing flexibility.
On multichannel DVD-A and SACD material, the receiver demonstrates power and finesse, revealing subtle differences between source components. The Sony also does well on twochannel discs, offering the option of traditional surround-decoding modes such as Dolby PLII Music or DTS Neo:6 Music. During general listening, the Dolby PLII Music mode yielded the most tonally uncolored and spatially coherent results.
The DA7100ES sounds best on direct DSD bitstream data from an i.LINK-enabled multichannel SACD player, such as Sony’s SCD-XA9000ES. i.LINK dramatically improved the sound of SACDs by providing a lift in overall clarity, definition, and smoothness, and by bringing greater focus and precision in surround-sound imaging. On Gary Burton’s Like Minds [Concord Jazz, SACD] the Sony made the presence of the musicians so vivid I felt like walking over to ask for their autographs.
Although it’s extremely transparent for an AVR, the Sony falls short of the clarity offered by top-tier stereo components and multichannel controllers. Also, Sony should provide an expanded set of bass-management options for its 7.1-channel analog and i.LINK digital audio inputs so that it would be possible to set separate subwoofer crossover points on a channel-by-channel basis. Finally, this receiver should have automated speaker set-up and room EQ capabilities—something Sony has the DSP know-how to provide.
In short, no AVR I’ve heard in this price range beats the STR-DA7100ES when it comes to power or clarity. It gives you nearly all the power and flexibility of the flagship DA9000ES, and matches its sound quality.