At least on paper, Sony's newest entry-level AV receiver, the $279 STR-DH590, is designed for someone like me. Who am I, you ask? Well, I'm someone who loves my home theater system but is more of a videophile than an audiophile. I'm on the cutting edge when it comes to video--with a 4K/HDR-capable display and source devices--and I absolutely demand surround sound to go along with them. However, I have no real desire to expand beyond a 5.1-channel speaker setup. I'm not going add rear surrounds or make the jump to Atmos and DTS:X. I just want a good, easy-to-use AV receiver to complete my home theater experience.
The STR-DH590 does exactly that. Here, Sony has done a nice job of assembling a value-oriented package that delivers the essential technologies while omitting many features that are nice but not necessary.
The STR-DH590 is a 5.1-channel receiver (it has two subwoofer pre outs, but they are treated as one) with Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding, as well as onboard DSD decoding. The website and box pronounce a power rating of 145 watts, but that's at six ohms, 1 kHz, 0.9 percent THD, one channel driven. Visit the specifications page in the owner's manual, and you'll find a more real-world listing of 90 watts RMS with six-ohm loads, 20 Hz to 20 kHz, 0.09 percent THD, two channels driven.
On the video side, the DH590 can pass through a full 4K/60p 4:4:4 signal, with support for 3D, HDR10, HLG, and Dolby Vision. That last one is a big selling point for me, as someone who wants full compatibility with all the latest video formats.
One way that Sony saves money is by eliminating the network functionality built into many higher-priced AV receivers--and all the licensing costs that go along with it. It costs money to integrate technologies like AirPlay, Chromecast, and DTS Play-Fi, as well as services like Spotify, Pandora, TIDAL, and TuneIn. What you do get with DH590 is Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity, so you can stream those services from a computer or mobile device, if you wish.
Those are basic specs. Now let's dig deeper into the DH590's setup and performance.
Not surprisingly for an entry-level model, the STR-DH590 is more petite than your average AV receiver--most certainly, it's smaller and lighter than my reference AV receiver, the Onkyo TX-RZ900 (which is way more receiver than I really need). The DH590 measures just 17 inches wide by 11.75 deep by 5.25 high. I was actually a little surprised by the receiver's decent heft when I first picked it up: 15.75 pounds isn't a ton, but it's more than you would think, given the product's dimensions.
The front panel has a simple but elegant design with a brushed black finish, two knobs for input and volume, a headphone output, one long row of black buttons for various tasks (speakers on/off, FM tuning, sound mode selection, Bluetooth, Pure Direct mode, etc.), and a medium-sized LCD located near the top.
The back panel sports a modest amount of inputs and thus is cleanly laid out. The only video input option is HDMI, and you get four HDMI 2.0a inputs with HDCP 2.2, plus a single HDMI 2.0a output with Audio Return Channel. The DH590 passes through a video signal as is, with no upscaling ability (which is standard in this price range).
HDMI inputs 1 and 2 are labeled Media Box and BD/DVD, which lines up exactly with my source types. I relied primarily on a Sony UHD Blu-ray player for movie and music playback (switching between the X800 and the new X700 that I just reviewed). I also used an Apple TV, and I streamed music content via Bluetooth from my MacBook Pro and iPhone 6S. I had no trouble pairing my Bluetooth devices with the receiver (there's a pairing button on the remote), and I never lost the connection once paired. When you switch to Bluetooth, the receiver remembers the last paired source. And when the receiver is off, the act of connecting to it via your Bluetooth device will power it back on and switch to the Bluetooth input. It was seamless.
The back panel also sports one coaxial and one optical digital audio input, plus four stereo audio ins, two subwoofer pre outs, and an FM antenna input. A single Type-A USB port is available to power a connected mobile device, but it does not support media playback.
In terms of speaker connections, you get a pair of five-way binding posts for the main left/right channels, but only small spring-clip connectors for the other three channels. This worked out okay for me: for my main left/right channels, I use SVS SoundPath Ultra speaker cable that I ordered pre-terminated with banana plugs, so I was able to stick with that. For my other channels, I use Monster 12-gauge speaker cable to which I added my own banana plugs, so I just pulled the plugs off, twisted the wire, and inserted it directly into the spring clips. The 12-gauge cable just barely fit into the connectors with the tightest twisting I could muster.
My all-RBH speaker system consists of MC6-CT tower speakers for the left/right channels, an MC-414C center, MC-6C bookshelf speakers for the side surrounds, and a TS-12A subwoofer. Needless to say, I was a little concerned about how well an entry-level receiver could drive my towers, but we'll talk more about that in the next section.
The DH590's onscreen setup process could not be easier, mostly because there's just not that much to do. Once you connect your speakers, sources, and display, power on the receiver, and select your language of choice, you're instructed via the onscreen menu to connect the supplied microphone cable to run Sony's DCAC automatic setup. In this entry-level model, DCAC takes less than 30 seconds to run: it measures from just one location and quickly runs through test tones to determine speaker channels, size, distance, and level. That's it. Once it's done, you can go into the Speaker Settings menu from the OSD's home page and check to see how it did.
In my case, DCAC set all my speakers to large, which always happens with my RBH system. I left the tower speakers set to large, and it was easy to manually change the size of the center and surrounds to small and select a crossover (it ranges from 40 to 200 Hz in 10-Hz increments). The distances looked about right. The only level setting that caught my eye was for the subwoofer, which was boosted 9 dB. I suspected that was going to be way too much bass, but I left it alone to start, just to see if the Sony receiver knew something I didn't.
The receiver comes with a small remote, pretty much the same size as the one that Sony sends with its Blu-ray players. It lacks backlighting but has a clean, logical layout--with source buttons grouped up at the top (including a dedicated Bluetooth source button), sound modes just below that, then the navigation/display/home buttons, and volume control and transport controls (to control other set-top boxes) at the bottom.
Hitting the home menu brings up a basic black-and-white OSD with five options: Watch (to choose an HDMI source), Listen (to choose an audio source), Easy Setup (to run initial setup again), Sound Effects (to select a listening mode), and Speaker Settings (which I described above).
The remote features an Options button that pulls up a toolbar with a few adjustments: Pure Direct on/off, Sound Field selection, Night Mode on/off, Dual Mono, and AV Sync. There's no onscreen menu to perform advanced AV adjustments, but you can tweak a few parameters using the front-panel LCD and the "Amp Menu" button on the remote. You can launch DCAC directly, adjust speaker size/level, rename the HDMI inputs, reassign the digital audio inputs, adjust bass and treble, perform AV sync, and make HDMI adjustments, such as setting up ARC and setting each HDMI input to pass either a Standard or Enhanced signal. All four HDMI inputs are set to Standard by default, but you should set BD/DVD and perhaps Media Box to Enhanced to send a full 4K/60p 4:4:4 HDR signal.
That's about it. Not a whole lot to set up. Not a whole lot to adjust. I was up and running in a few minutes.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competion, and Conclusion...
I began my evaluation with some casual music listening via Bluetooth, streaming AIFF, AAC, and MP3 files from my iPhone and MacBook. As I said above, pairing devices was a snap, and I didn't experience any signal dropouts with the higher-quality AIFF files. For music, the DH590 offers Direct, 2-Ch Stereo, and Multichannel sound modes, as well as DPL II Music, Enhancer (to improve lower-quality files), and modes like Hall, Jazz, etc. The Direct mode delivered a 2.1-channel presentation with the sub, while 2-Ch Stereo delivered audio only through my left/right tower speakers.
Obviously the sound quality varied a lot based on file type. In Direct mode with the subwoofer in play, my suspicions about that 9-dB level boost were immediately confirmed; there was just way too much bass for my musical taste, so I knocked the level down to about +1.5 dB, and that was more to my liking. Still, I preferred the 2-Ch Stereo mode with my towers. With AIFF files like "1979 Semi-finalist" by The Bad Plus and "Seasons" by Chris Cornell, the receiver delivered solid power to the stereo pair, and imaging and vocal clarity were excellent. I find that Sony audio products generally have a cooler sound profile, and this receiver was no different. It was precise and clean, without adding its own warmth.
I played a 128-kbps MP3 version of "Sympathy for the Devil" specifically to test the Enhancer mode, and I liked what I heard. The difference was subtle, but in Enhancer mode the soundstage was bigger and there was more of a sense of air around the instruments, without sounding artificial. In comparison, the 2-Ch Stereo mode sounded darker and more muted with this low-rez song.
For serious music evaluation, I moved away from Bluetooth and popped my Test Tunes CD-R into the Sony X800 player and fed it into the DH590 via HDMI. I returned to Chris Cornell's "Seasons" and could immediately hear the improved dynamics and sense of space that you get from the uncompressed signal. The sound was crisp and clean, with a respectably large soundstage--again it had a more straightforward, upfront sonic signature.
With Peter Gabriel's very dense track "Sky Blue" from his album Up, I decided to push the volume to see how this receiver would fare with my tower speakers. For the record, my towers are four-ohm, and this receiver recommends six to 16 ohms--so they would not be an ideal long-term match. Still, I was impressed with the Sony's ability to keep control over the tower speakers at much higher volume levels than I would normally listen to music. It did a nice job of bringing through the many elements of this track across the full frequency spectrum.
With songs like "Back to the Earth" by Rusted Root and "Goodbye" by Steve Earle, in the Direct mode with the sub, the receiver exhibited solid control over the bass, keeping it from getting too boomy. But I could tell that sometimes I was losing bass volume in nulls--something a higher-end receiver with good room correction could help tame.
Next it was time for some movie demos. Naturally I started with "Lobby Shooting Spree" (chapter 29) from The Matrix in plain old Dolby Digital off the DVD--because it's probably the audio demo scene I know the best. Again, I pushed the volume harder than I normally would listen, and the DH590 did a nice job of maintaining the energy of the techno soundtrack while still providing a clean, clear portrayal of all those bullets, shell casings, and punches around the soundfield.
If you haven't watched Bladerunner 2049 yet (Blu-ray, Dolby TrueHD), take care not to have the volume set too high at the very start of this film. The deep bass rumble that explodes out of nothing will certainly get your attention, and the first few minutes move back and forth between these deep, pulsing booms and the wide-open, atmospheric music.
The Sony handled it well, flinching far less than I did. It kept solid control over the bass without burying the musical subtleties. Then, when the story moves into the house where K talks with Sapper Morton (Drax!), the dialogue and the quiet sounds like the bubbling pot came through with precision and clarity.
The 3:10 to Yuma BD has a multichannel PCM soundtrack, and I skipped to chapter 15: the arrival of the train and the ensuing shoot-out. The receiver presented a clean, cohesive soundstage, but what jumped out at me was one small piece of dialogue tucked between the train engine's deep huffing and the ringing bell, when the train station manager instructs Christian Bale's character Dan on which train car to deliver Ben Wade to. His words "first car, sliding door" have been barely discernible through several receivers I've owned, but they came through clear as day here.
At the end of my testing period, I decided to unhook my tower speakers and move the RBH MC-6C bookshelf speakers from the surrounds to the main left/right channel for a 3.1-channel configuration. I figured these six-ohm bookshelf speakers were really a more logical mate for the DH590, and indeed the receiver seemed very at ease driving them to room-filling levels when I went back to same demos I described above.
I also wanted to experiment with Sony's S-Force PRO Front Surround mode, designed to simulate a surround sound experience from a 2.1-channel setup. With both movie and music demos, S-Force PRO did a surprisingly good job of broadening the soundstage and bringing sound effects out to the far sides of the room. I didn't care for it with music, as it results in a less natural sound where vocals have that echoic, "singing in the shower" quality. It was much more appropriate and effective with movie soundtracks, although you do lose a bit of that dialogue clarity that comes from a dedicated center channel.
Finally, I tested the DH590's ability to pass through 3D and HDR10, and it had no problem doing so. (I did not have a Dolby Vision-capable display on hand to test DV pass-through.) With Ultra HD Blu-ray signals being fed from the Sony players, the DH590 could pass 4K/24p HDR with the HDMI input configured for Standard mode; however, with Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, which is presented at 4K/60p, the BD/DVD input needed to be set to Enhanced mode to pass HDR.
As you may have gathered from the comments above, the DH590 lands more on the upfront or cool side, sonically. It's not going to hide or soften any harshness or brightness that exists in a piece of music; so, if you tend to prefer a warmer sound, this may not be your cup of tea.
While the DH590 showed solid prowess with my tower speakers, it's a better match for a set of bookshelf speakers and subwoofer, ideally in a modest-sized room.
This receiver doesn't play hi-res content directly, through USB or network audio streaming. You have to feed it hi-res content through another source, like an SACD player or DAC.
Since there's no networking, there's no IP control or other advanced control options like RS-232. This is really designed for a one-room system, to be controlled perhaps by a universal remote. Pair this receiver with a Sony UHD Blu-ray player like the $200 UBP-X700, and you can enjoy intuitive HDMI-CEC control. Anytime I powered up the X800 or X700, it automatically turned on the receiver and switched to the BD/DVD input. Easy peasy.
Comparison & Competition
Most of the big names in AV receivers offer a model with similar specs at a similar price. Denon's $279 AVR-S540BT and Yamaha's $279 RX-V385 are five-channel offerings with Bluetooth (no network features) and HDR10/Dolby Vision/HLG pass-through. They both add a USB input that supports hi-res audio playback, and the Denon adds an extra HDMI input.
Onkyo doesn't offer a five-channel model, but the company very quickly dropped the asking price for its new 7.2-channel TX-SR383 AV receiver from $399 to $249. This model may have more amp channels, but it still lacks Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding, as well as Dolby Vision pass-through. Like the DH590, it omits network functionality and relies on Bluetooth, adding aptX to the equation.
In the intro, I said that the STR-DH590 is designed for someone like me, "at least on paper." After putting this receiver through its paces, I can say that it's also true in practice. Okay, maybe it's not ideal for me literally, since I already own large four-ohm tower speakers. But if I were crafting a 5.1-channel HT system from scratch, built around bookshelf or modest floorstanding speakers, I would take a serious look at the STR-DH590. It's very easy to set up, it's very easy to use, and it supports the AV technologies that matter to me. Most importantly, the STR-DH590 doesn't skimp on performance like some run-of-the-mill HTiB receiver unit--it can provide a solid backbone for your 5.1 home theater system.