Sony recently announced that their ES line will only be available through specialty audio/video retailers and custom installers. This is a decision that has baffled some, but to Sony's credit, they've embraced this segment of the market by working closely with home automation companies such as Crestron, Control4, Savant and others. They've also included home automation-friendly features such as IP, IR and RS-232 control. While the jury is out on the decision to remove their ES line from mainstream retail outlets, I think it makes sense to attack different segments of the market with specifically tailored products. If this was the right decision, the end result will be a higher percentage of specialty installers recommending Sony ES gear, due to the performance, the exclusivity and the fact that it's pro installer friendly.
The STR-DA3600ES weighs in at 28 pounds and measures 17 inches wide by six and a quarter inches tall and just over 15 inches deep. It has seven channels rated at 100 Watts per channel and it's truly bleeding edge in terms of its feature set. It's DLNA compliant, which will allow you to access your videos, photos and music from a compatible computer or other DLNA device. It has an Ethernet port, allowing access to music services such as Rhapsody and SHOUTcast. Of course networking capability also means access to firmware updates, which are becoming increasingly important in the home theater realm. If you're considering 3D, which I recently experimented with and came away impressed, this Sony is your huckleberry as it's fully 3D compatible. Another notable feature is a four port Ethernet switch, which allows you to connect your various network capable devices (television, video game system, Blu-ray player, etc.) to your home network through the receiver. For those of you with a great deal of distance between your gear rack and your router, this is a game-changing feature; it's also a boon to custom installers looking to avoid long cable runs. For you Apple fanatics out there (count me among your ranks), Sony has created a dedicated iPhone app to control the STR-DA3600ES - how cool is that? The Sony also features an Audio Return Channel or ARC, which sends audio signals from your television (useful for network capable TV's) back to the receiver. For Blu-ray owners, full lossless audio in the form of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio is supported.
I found the Sony to be packaged well, with everything laid out intuitively in the box. It's also conveniently packaged with a second, smaller remote offering basic functionality - a nice touch. I used HDMI cables to connect the Sony to my DirecTV HD DVR, Sony PS3, Oppo DV-980H (for SACD playback) and Optoma projector. Using Oasis 6 speaker cables from WireWorld, I connected my reference Bowers &Wilkins 600 Series speakers. I'm happy to announce that the STR-DA3600ES is a true plug and play receiver, as everything fired right up with no tweaking necessary. Although, as I'll explain in more detail later, to get your money's worth you'll want to fire up Sony's Auto Calibration and get a taste of their well designed GUI (Graphical User Interface) as well. It's also worth mentioning that connecting the Sony to my home network via a powerline Ethernet adapter was a breeze. Some products are finicky about these adapters, which connect to your home network via a power outlet. Not so with the Sony.
The selection of inputs should be more than enough for the average, and maybe even the above average user. In addition to the four HDMI inputs I mentioned earlier, there are also three component inputs, three optical inputs, three coaxial digital inputs and a multi-channel output. With the resurgence of analog, I'm also happy to see that Sony has included a Phono input as well. As is typical with Sony products, the manual is well laid out and provides solid information for both novices, as well as those with experience setting up home theaters.
The Sony sounded just fine out of the gate, possessing more than adequate power and finesse. Generally speaking, I prefer to calibrate a receiver or processor myself with a tape measure and sound level meter, although in the case of the Sony, their Auto Calibration produced notable sonic improvements. It's also worth noting that my experience in running their Auto Calibration was by far the smoothest, fastest and also one of the more accurate (in terms of gauging speaker distance) I've ever had with a receiver. Their GUI is also very well designed, it's just plain pretty actually and it's really easy to navigate. You don't necessarily need home theater setup experience to work your way through their on-screen menu. I know people who have probably lost a month or two on their life span due to poorly designed on screen menus; kudos to Sony for getting it right where so many others have gotten it so, so wrong.