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Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen
Easy to set up and use
Decent sound performance
Clear markings for 5.1 and 7.1 channel use
Rear speakers can be used as A/B instead of surround
Automatic setup with included microphone
Great pricing for the features
Most speaker terminals use spring clips
Lacks Wi-Fi or ethernet connectivity
Poor user interface
No phono input
The Sony STR-DH790 is a highly capable 7.2 channel receiver that’s perfect for home theater newbies and anyone looking to put together a decent setup on the cheap.
The Sony STR-DH790 is a 7.2 channel receiver that packs in a lot of great features at a fairly affordable price point. The STR-DH790 represents a significant improvement over Sonly’s earlier STR-DH770. While they have the same number of channels, the STR-DH790 makes a number of changes to its outer design, making it more streamlined, and packs in a bunch of new features like support for Dolby Atmos, a more advanced automatic calibration system, and an enhanced audio return channel (eARC) HDMI port.
Curious as to how well this affordable 7.2 channel amp performs in real-world conditions, I hooked one up in my own home theater setup. Over the course of a couple weeks, I tested how well it works with Dolby Atmos content, sound quality for listening to music, how easy it is to set up and use, and more.
The Sony STR-DH790 has been streamlined compared to its predecessor, losing the USB port, sliding the calibration input over to the headphone jack, and moving the button labels from the display to the actual buttons. I’m a fan of the overall effect, but the front of this unit is still a little too busy. The twelve thin buttons that line the bottom of the display feel dated, and the tiny labels are too difficult to read.
The Dolby Atmos functionality was especially impressive out of such an affordable unit.
The brushed metal face looks gorgeous, and the two adjustment knobs on the front are big and smooth. The overall package ties together quite nicely and looked great on my media shelf.
The one real issue I have with the overall design unit is something I’ll touch on a little later. In what I can only assume was a cost-cutting measure, this unit uses a strange mixture of binding posts and spring clips. Not really impressed there, Sony.
The setup process is wizard-driven, which is accessed through an on-screen display (OSD) on whatever television or monitor that you hook up to the receiver’s HDMI output. The options on the OSD are pretty sparse, with a watch option to select different HDMI inputs, a listen option to select between Bluetooth, FM radio, and CD, the easy setup option that starts the wizard, and a couple of options to adjust your speakers manually.
The easy setup option is the one you want for the initial setup process, as it works with the included calibration microphone to automatically tweak settings under the hood like speaker sizes and distances, speaker levels, and equalizer settings.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints about Sony’s automatic calibration, but the process worked pretty well with my setup. I did have to go into the settings to tweak a few things manually, but it was a lot easier and faster than setting everything up from scratch.
The STR-DH790 isn’t a premium AVR, so I didn’t go into the testing process expecting miracles. What I ended up experiencing was pretty decent sound across all of the different types of media that I tried, including Blu-ray movies, streaming video, streaming audio, and streaming music over Bluetooth. The Dolby Atmos functionality was especially impressive out of such an affordable unit. It didn’t sound quite as good as I’ve heard from more expensive units, but there’s a massive price gap between this receiver and some of the premium AVRs I’ve used.
Atmos functionality is limited to some degree by the reality that this is a 7.2 channel receiver, and further muddied by the fact that you can run it as a 5.1 channel receiver, but I found the overall experience to still be a significant improvement over similar non-Atmos receivers.
I had pleasant experiences listening to both CDs and Bluetooth-streamed tunes during my time with the STR-DH790.
Music plays just fine, with decent sound reproduction across the various genres I threw at the unit. You are a little limited in terms of music inputs, which I’ll touch on later, but I had pleasant experiences listening to both CDs and Bluetooth-streamed tunes during my time with the STR-DH790.
One minor quibble is that Sony really seems to like their bass. The first thing I noticed after unhooking my receiver and replacing it with the STR-DH790 was that this unit pumped out the bass at a significantly higher level given similar sound-field settings. I’m not sure why they go so heavy on the bass, but it’s easy enough to tweak if you’re coming from a different brand and appreciate a more subtle approach.
The STR-DH790 looks and feels like a more premium unit than it is at first glance, which is a testament to Sony’s dedication to build quality. I’ve no doubt that this unit is built to last, and I wouldn’t hesitate to install one of these units in a 7.2 home theater setup if the budget was running a little tight. However, I do have some issues with some of Sony’s cost-cutting measures.
The biggest issue becomes apparent the moment you turn the unit around. The front speakers use binding posts, which is great, and the subwoofers use RCA connections, but every other speaker is connected through cheesy spring clips. They do accept pretty thick speaker wires, but this still seems like a blatant attempt to cut costs at the expense of quality. In any case, putting cheap spring clips next to decent binding posts is just a bad look.
The other issue is that Sony really skimped on the input options, which I’ll dig into in the next section.
Sony claims that the STR-DH790 is capable of putting out 145 watts per channel, based on testing at 6 ohms, 1kHz, with 0.9 percent total harmonic distortion (THD), and driving one channel. With a wider frequency range and 8-ohm speakers, that number is going to be lower. Additionally, the receiver isn’t rated to run 4-ohm speakers. If you have 4-ohm speakers, stay away from this one.
In terms of video, the picture is rosier, as this unit is capable of passing HDR signals, and it’s compatible with HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision. Unfortunately, you may end up needing an HDMI switch, because the inputs on this unit are fairly limited. You only get four HDMI inputs, labeled for a media box, Blu-ray or DVD player, satellite or cable TV, and a single game console.
If you have 4-ohm speakers, stay away from this one.
Analog inputs are similarly limited, with only four provided, and none of them set up for a phonograph. So if you want to plug your turntable directly into your receiver, this isn’t your unit. It does include both coaxial and optical audio inputs, and it also has an FM antenna input, but the antenna input isn’t coaxial.
The STR-DH790 packs in a lot of great features, starting with Dolby Atmos and support for 4K HDR video, which I’ve already gone over. It also has built-in Bluetooth connectivity, which allows you to stream music wirelessly, and you can even turn the receiver on remotely from a paired phone or tablet using the Bluetooth Standby feature.
If you’re coming from a basic stereo setup, you can add rear speakers, a center channel speaker, and a woofer, and get going with a 5.1 setup very quickly.
One of the most useful features, especially for a lot of people who are just getting into home theater, is the ability to use it as a 5.1 channel receiver or a 7.2 channel receiver. If you’re coming from a basic stereo setup, you can add rear speakers, a center channel speaker, and a woofer, and get going with a 5.1 setup very quickly. Then if you want to upgrade in the future, you can add height speakers and suddenly you’re enjoying the immersive experience of Dolby Atmos without having to upgrade your receiver.
The graphic interface is technically a feature, but it’s one that I’d frankly rather Sony had left in the oven for a little while longer. I wasn’t expecting a premium-level experience at this price point, but the interface leaves a lot to be desired. Even something as simple as more sensible names for the options you use to adjust speaker settings would be welcome.
This unit is limited to Bluetooth connectivity, which is one of the only major let downs. That said, the Bluetooth works just fine, and I was able to stream music over the connection with no problems. I was even able to wake the receiver up in the morning by playing music from my phone, which is a pretty handy feature.
The lack of Wi-Fi and no wired network connectivity is a limiting factor. You can stream from your phone, and most other Bluetooth enabled devices, but you won’t be able to pull music off your networked computer or network-attached storage (NAS) with this receiver.
With an MSRP of $350, but usually on sale for $199-249, the STR-DH790 is priced to sell. Despite a handful of misgivings on my part, and shortfalls on Sony’s part, this is a decent price for anyone looking to dip their foot in the world of 7.2 channel surround. It’s also a great way to hear what Dolby Atmos is all about without breaking the bank.
The Sony STR-DH790 shares a lot in common with the Onkyo TX-SR494. They’re both 7.2 channel receivers that are capable of being configured in 5.2, and they’re both aimed at the entry-level home theater consumer. They both support most of the same formats, like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and 4K HDR video.
The Onkyo unit also shares the weird choice to use a combination of binding posts and spring clips, and it has even fewer inputs. Both units feature four HDMI inputs, but the Onkyo has one fewer set of analog audio inputs. The Onkyo does have preamp outputs for Zone B speakers though, which is something the Sony unit lacks.
These units run pretty much neck and neck, but I have to give the edge to the Sony receiver due to a lower MSRP. The price of this Sony unit is usually in the $200+ range, while the Onkyo TX-SR494 has an MSRP of $397. The Onkyo is typically available for a little less than that, but the Sony still beats it on price, making the STR-DH790 a better choice for anyone looking to get into home theater with an Atmos-compatible receiver.
A great little receiver with a few minor issues.
The Sony STR-DH790 is a well-equipped receiver that’s perfectly capable of providing a decent surround sound system. If you’re looking to dip your toe into the home theater world, then this is a great starting point. You have your choice of hooking it up in a 5.1, 5.1.2, or 7.2 configurations, and you’ll really appreciate Dolby Atmos the first time you load up a compatible movie. I’m not a big fan of how many spring-clips this unit uses, and the input options are definitely lighter than I’d like to see, but it’s still a great little receiver for the money.
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