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2023 Sony ES 8K AV Home Theater Receivers - Review & Comparison
Sony STR-AZ7000ES, STR-AZ5000ES, STR-AZ3000ES, & STR-AZ1000ES
Sony has just announced four incredible new receivers that we have all been waiting on for quite some time! The last new ES receivers were launched well over 5 years ago and a lot of things have changed in the home theater world since then. ES home theater receivers from Sony have always sounded great and are built like tanks with an outstanding 5 year parts and labor warranty.
In this article, we will start by reviewing some features that all of these new receivers share and then dive into the differences between them to help you make the best decision for your home theater. They do have a lot in common and are also a pretty cool feature we have never seen before in how you measure speaker distances.
The four new Sony models include the STR-AZ7000ES, STR-AZ5000ES, STR-AZ3000ES, and STR-AZ1000ES. Sony sent us a preproduction AZ5000ES back in December of 2022 and we were able to run through its paces for this article.
Sony ES Receiver Audio Features
First, we like the fact all of these are rated with the FTC power spec for both channels driven from 20-20,000 Hz at a low distortion number. Sony has made the jumps from each model very logical with the AZ1000ES starting out at 7 powered channels and maxing out a whopping 13 powered channels for the AZ7000ES.
All four have Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Chromecast built-in, Spotify Connect, and Apple AirPlay 2. Google Assistant works with them all and they all now have the “Works with Sonos” official certification for seamless integration with a Sonos whole house music system.
You can set them up using a web interface, the great on-screen display, or just the front panel.
For immersive surround they all support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. To help those who may not want to run cables for some speakers, they all support adding Sony’s wireless SA-RS3S and SA-RS5 Wireless Surround Speakers, as well as SA-SW3 & SASW5 Wireless Subwoofers. While we feel you would much prefer to add speakers that match your main brand of speakers, this is a pretty cool option for apartments or living spaces where it is impossible to run wiring for surrounds and you could use either of the wireless surround speaker options to at least get more immersion than you would without them.
In that same vein, they also all let you use the speakers in a compatible Sony TV for your center channel. We would not really recommend this unless you do not have any space for a true center channel speaker.
They also all have a phantom rear speaker mode that you can turn on to simulate rear speakers. This is not a simulation of your main surrounds, but the rears in a 7-channel bed layer system.
Another neat feature Sony receivers have had for a while is an adjustment if your fronts, center, or both are in the ceiling. This uses DSP to pull the image down so it sounds less like an in-ceiling speaker.
Finally, they all have a new feature called center channel lift. You will need to have both front heights turned on for this, but once we thought about this one, it's another reason all those distance measurements make perfect sense. Our favorite home theater systems have the center speaker directly behind an acoustically transparent screen so the voices sound like they are coming right out of the screen but most people have to place their center speaker under the TV or screen. When you turn on center channel lift it will use both your center channel and front height speakers to effectively move the center channel image up higher. More on how this actually worked in the performance section.
Sony ES Receiver Video Features
For video, you get 8K & 4K/120Hz HDMI Connectivity with HDMI 2.1 and HDCP 2.3 with support for HDR, Dolby Vision, HDR10, Hybrid Log Gamma, and IMAX Enhanced. Gamers will love that the 4K/120 inputs support ALLM and VRR for the best in low latency gaming.
The on-screen menu for setting up the inputs is a home theater geek's dream come true. It is a big grid that lets you assign video and audio to any input with the ability to create similar ones using the same video but different audio. This is cool for those of you who like to watch sports but hear the local announcer. They also have offset levels and default surround modes for each one. Plus you can store two configurations. You can take lip sync up to 300 milliseconds and assign this to each input as well. In another pretty neat touch, you can turn on or off the subwoofer for each input and even give it a 10db boost for that input if you wish.
Then you’ll get to the speaker settings which is by far the best setup we have seen. Here is where you will be scratching your head wondering why you have to input all these numbers. Like all home theater receivers, you input the distance from your speakers to your main listening position. Then, you jump to another screen where you input the speaker distance from the screen. Next, you go to another setting where you input the distance each speaker is from the floor. You also input the distance your ears are from the floor and the ceiling height of your room. All this extra data allows Sony’s Digital Cinema Auto Calibration IX and 360 Spatial Sound Mapping to work more precisely. In theory, this should allow them to better place the immersive objects within the surround field.
Another thing we love in the interface is the visual graphics under the speaker pattern section. With all of the possible speakers out there that can be used for height and surrounds, menus can get confusing when you have to choose the type without a visual reference. With these models, Sony makes it perfectly clear whether you have an in-ceiling speaker, an upward-firing speaker, or a free-standing speaker mounted on the ceiling aimed at the listening area. The menu lets you set up any possible combination of these. This just takes away any possible confusion, which is great!
So those are the core features shared by all four, along with the 5-year parts and labor warranty and the premium quality components we are used to seeing in Sony ES receivers. Let’s take a look at each model.
Sony STR-AZ1000ES 7.2 Channel 8K AV Receiver
At Audio Advice, we have always liked the entry-level Sony ES receiver model as it packs in a lot for the money and sounds very good. The new STR-AZ1000ES follows in those same footsteps. It has 7 powered channels with several possible configs for channels 6 and 7. They can be your surround backs, your height channels, a powered zone 3, or can be used to biamp the fronts. That is pretty darn flexible! You also have preamp outs for zone 2 and 3 as well.
For HDMI there are 2 connectors that support 8k and 4k/120 and 4 others for 4K. You get two HDMI outs with the main having eARC and the other for zone 2. Other inputs are a single Coax and Toslink digital with three analog audio inputs. Two of these have composite video you can link with them, but the unit does not upconvert this to HDMI so you would need to use the video out to go to a composite video input on your TV for old VCRs and such.
The AZ1000 will be a great receiver for a lot of systems and we see this one being used the most to take advantage of the ability all of them have to add the wireless Sony surround speakers. We should point out it does not have any expansion capability as there are no preamp outputs.
Sony STR-AZ3000ES 9.2 Channel 8K AV Receiver
When you jump from the AZ1000 to the STR-AZ3000 you get a unit that weighs over twice as much as the AZ3000! It comes in at just shy of 43 pounds, which is incredibly massive for a 9-channel AVR. With the AZ3000 you move up to 110 watts per channel, but there is more to it than the additional power. The top three models all have a far superior power supply and amplifier section. These units can produce serious sound as we found from our listening tests with the AZ5000. You will not have any issue pushing even hard-to-drive speakers with these models.
You will step up to 4 8K inputs along with 2 4k .It also adds one more analog input for a total of 4 with 2 Toslink and 1 Coax digital.
For automation, it adds a trigger output you could use for a drop-down screen.
With 9 powered channels you could do our most popular Dolby Atmos configuration of 4 Atmos height speakers along with a pair of surrounds, then turn on Sony’s Phantom surround tech to simulate 11 channels. Channels 8 and 9 give you the same great flexibility as you get in the AZ1000 for systems where you are not using all 9 channels for your home theater.
We do wish Sony would have put 11 channels of processing on board with preamp outs so you could just add a power amp later on down the road to take it to 11, but that is one good reason to step up to the next model, the STR-AZ5000ES.
Sony STR-AZ5000ES 11.2 Channel 8K AV Receiver
The STR-AZ5000ES gets you a slight bump up in power to 120 watts per channel with 11 channels built in.
It has all of the great features of the AZ3000 with a couple of more nice options. This model does give you preamp outputs for all the channels so you could add a bigger power amp later for any of the channels. It ups the trigger count to three, which you could use to turn on any additional power amps you might add to it. The AZ5000 and AZ7000 add a 4K HDMI connector on the front.
You also get another feature related to getting that center channel image to come directly from the center of your screen called Dual Center Channel. With this one, you will need two center channel speakers, one above and one below the screen. But with the receiver knowing all of the specific distances, this should work well to make it sound like the center stage is right in the middle of your screen.
The catch is to do this, you will give up a pair of height channels and we wonder about comb filter issues for off-axis viewing but we did not get a chance to test this.
The AZ5000 is the unit we did our testing on and there is no question in our minds that it has extremely good-sounding amplifiers inside. For people looking at a more serious speaker count, this model offers a whole lot.
Sony STR-AZ7000ES 13.2 Channel 8K AV Receiver
Finally, we get to the top of the line, the STR-AZ7000ES. You might ask, what could be above an 11-channel receiver. Well the AZ7000 has 13 powered channels you can configure in a variety of ways. But, it also bumps up the power to 140 watts per channel and comes in at almost 50 pounds with an even bigger power supply than the AZ5000. The two additional channels can be front wides or a third pair of height speakers.
If you like the idea of the Dual Center Speaker, you just lose the middle-height speaker option to make that happen, which might be a better choice in a lot of rooms.
All of the amp channels have preamp outs as well so you could add extra power if needed down the road, but with the big amps inside you would probably never need it.
It could also be the heart of a whole house audio system as you can configure height 3 to power zone 2 and surround backs to drive zone 3 and still have nine channels for your home theater.
The STR-AZ7000 is one heck of a beast of a home theater receiver that will be able to give you a super immersive experience with its 13 channels built in and be able to drive just about any speaker you can throw at it.
When we first lifted the AZ5000 out of the box and felt its heft and then looked inside and saw what looked like a really nice amp section, we could not wait to test it out in a two channel audio system to see how it sounded. The result was stunning! The AZ5000 had a very open and effortless presentation with a warmth that almost reminded us of a tube sound. The Sony engineers did a great job of making this super musical. While it did not have the ultimate bass control of the McIntosh amp we had in this system, it was extremely good for a receiver. It will also not outdo the rhythm and pacing quality you get with British integrated amps, but we did not expect that out of a home theater receiver anyway.
When you get into the price range of the 5000 and 7000 we do wish Sony had given the option for multiple subwoofers. There are ways to get around this we go over in our subwoofer setup & calibration video, but this feature is becoming more prominent. We did suggest to Sony they could through software use the zone outs for this and we will be interested to see if they figure out a way to do it.
We set the STR-AZ5000 up in one of our demo theaters to test out. This is an all B&W CT series 5.1.4 system. In this room the screen is up pretty high and we have no rear speakers. This enabled us to check out both the phantom rear tech and the center lift. We first went through all of the distance measurements manually. The one screen guide was great as it even throws up green lines on your display when you are measuring from there to give you a guide. We then set up the included microphone, which has two wings with a clearly labeled left and right mic. Even the auto calibration will ask for some of the measurements we did earlier. You do two passes with two different points for the microphone that are impossible to mess up as the little stand has cut outs for the Sony mic. We also like the fact the whole little assembly had a threaded insert for a tripod stand.
After all of these are done, you get a choice of some interesting EQ settings. You can go for flat, Sony Engineer, or Front Reference, where it tries to match the surround speakers more to your fronts. After that, if you do not choose Front Reference there is another screen that asks if you want to match the right and left speakers together. We wound up going for Engineer for most of our listening. As we expected, we did have to go back in and redo the distances the auto calibration system came up with as some were off by several feet, but this is no surprise as most systems like this do not nail the distances. It also changed our midsized surround and Atmos speakers to full range which we flipped back to small at 80 Hz.
We played a few scenes for Atmos effects we were very familiar with and the Sony did just a fantastic job with these. We were especially impressed with how things tracked across and above us. There is no doubt, the surround sound processing power inside and all the data you give the receiver really enables it to lay down an incredibly immersive sound field. The great soundfield, how good it sounds in two channel, and the very high end build quality put this as one of the better AVR’s on the market.
However, we were not as impressed with the center lift as we had hoped. There are different levels of effect you can add, but even with the smallest amount turned on, the processing made it sound like the dialog was out of phase. The dialog did move up into the screen, but if you are sensitive to phase accuracy, you will not like it on.
The phantom rear tech was a bit more interesting. This did give us a bigger sense of sound behind us, but with some added phasey effects. Most people will probably like this turned on if they do not have rear speakers though and it gives you two settings you can flip between, one for concerts and one for movies.
We wish we would have had a way to test out the dual center technology to hear how it worked. This could be very interesting for systems with tall screens and we will try to give that a test in the future.
The wait has been long for new Sony ES receivers, but it looks like it was really worth it. These units, especially from the STR-AZ3000 and up, are built like tanks, sound amazing and with all the information you can feed it about your speaker distances put out one of the most immersive sound fields we have heard.
Custom Home Theater Solutions
If you are reading this and want to learn more about home theater in general, check out Home Theater Central. Here we have lots of articles on how to design your dream home theater. We even have a free 3D design tool so you can visualize how the screen and speakers should be placed for optimum performance in your room.
If you have any questions about building a theater or choosing a projector, give us a call at 888.899.8776, chat with us, or stop by our award-winning showrooms. We live and breathe audio and home theater and love to help our customers find the right products for their situations. Once you have your receiver in place, you can use our free guide for perfecting and calibrating your home theater audio.
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