Sony has a reputation for turning out attractive kit, but the company has excelled with the DAV-SR4W. This is an elegant yet imposing system, able to blend into its surroundings at the same time as it catches the eye. If it performs half as well as it looks, we're in for a treat...
The floorstanding satellite speakers are the main attraction. Although they only house a 70mm woofer and 25mm tweeter, they are more substantial than most floorstanding sats we've seen. Far from being a mere cosmetic attribute, this sort of robustness should assist in limiting cabinet vibrations, helping to produce a clearer sound.
The centre speaker, carrying exactly the same drivers, sits horizontally and looks good either under or over a TV. Meanwhile, the meaty subwoofer is industrial in its design and promises to deliver a substantial wallop from its 160mm driver. However, Sony remains coy about specifications for these speakers. No frequency response or power handling figures are quoted.
The S-Master digital amplifier built into the main unit delivers 114W to each of the five satellite speakers, with 115W going to the subwoofer. The main unit remains svelte and streamlined, despite housing all the amplification, thanks to its digital nature.
Connectivity at the back is fairly poor. There is a Scart socket, which can output RGB signals, so most people will be content, but there is no component output. This is a blow for those with suitably equipped monitors - the absence of progressive scan images will effectively rule this system out for them. It's a strange omission considering the overall quality of this system.
Audio inputs for hooking up external equipment come in digital optical and stereo analogue forms, and there are colour-coded speaker terminals for connecting the loudspeakers. There is also a pre-out for connecting a surround back channel. This is a bit of a tease from Sony. The DAV-SR4W provides the decoding for 6.1-channel sound (Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES) but you have to add extra amplification and the actual surround back speaker yourself.
As it's a Sony system, the unit accepts SACD discs, although as with the provision of DVD-Audio playback on other sub/sat systems, it is doubtful that the satellite speakers will be up to the job. The colour-coded speaker sockets and matching cabling make things straightforward when connecting the system. The rear speakers do not need to be hooked up to the main system because they receive an infrared signal from a transmitter that plugs into the amplifier.
The rear left speaker has a discreet infrared receiver at the top for picking up this signal and it passes the rear right speaker's signals through conventional cable. This limits the amount of wiring running across your floor and makes the rears considerably easier to site.
Another highlight is the Quick Setup option that you get when you first switch the system on. This quickly guides you through the most important setup options and even performs calibration of the speakers based on your room size: small, medium or large. If you want to, you can also delve into speaker settings manually to fine-tune performance, but most people will be happy with the Quick Setup results.
Next in line for praise is the wonderful remote control. In keeping with the design of the rest of the system, it is a delight to hold in your hand and keeps things simple by hiding most of its buttons behind a silver flap. Various sound modes are offered, including Cinema Studio EX options, Hall, Jazz Club, Live Concert, Game, Sports and Mono Movie settings, but for most of the time you will be using conventional multichannel decoding.
Two further sound options are offered. Night mode acts as a dynamic range compression feature, limiting the impact of loud noises while retaining clarity in dialogue and quieter passages, while DSGX boosts bass output. Playback options include program, random and repeat play, as well as slow-motion, but there is no zoom.
The first thing you'll notice with this system is the excellent picture quality, closely followed by the impression of a tight, coherent and full soundstage. Images on our test discs are as good as we've seen on an all-in-one. Scenes from The Return of the Jedi are bold and bright, with often dazzlingly sharp clarity and near three-dimensional detail.
It's hard to know what else to say about a picture that is largely perfect, but it would have been a treat to see this quality translated into a progressive scan image. The audio performance is equal in terms of quality. Steering is effective and the wireless surround speakers do a great job. The subwoofer thumps and rumbles, but the satellites add a surprising amount of mid-range, helping the overall aural image to hold together. There is solidity and warmth to dialogue, and quiet passages (where the sub is not called upon) remain rich and full.
The only complaint concerns quantity, not quality. The top end volume is not very impressive, but is perhaps a sensible one for these satellite speakers. There would be no point in Sony drowning the speakers with excessive power. The system can handle whatever the amp throws at it - however, it would have been nice to have a little more, and action movie fanatics may find this a turn-off.
SACD playback is, as expected, not good enough to be a selling point, but hints at the possibilities of multichannel music. A couple of faults keep this system out of Best Buy territory. The lack of progressive scan and limited volume mean this isn't a perfect system, but it will be perfect for many. If you don't have a prog scan monitor and don't need window-rattling volume, then this classy system will be ideal.