There’s a stack of things Sony does with more style than most – think Walkmen, think PSP, think Aibo – but just recently it’s been a bit off the pace when it comes to serious home cinema hardware, with its AV receivers losing out to the likes of Denon and Yamaha in a big way. Clearly that’s been ruffling a few feathers in the huge Tokyo high-rise where the Sony audio engineers do their thing, and the result is an all-new ES (Extremely high Standard) range designed to take the fight to the competition.

Masters of the new-school

The £400 STR-DA1200ES looks like a smaller version of Sony’s massive range-topping AV amps – it’s all to do with that kinked ‘waterfall’ front panel – and comes in a choice of silver or black to please new-school chic or old-school beardy machismo. But the big surprise is that for these new models the Sony guys have turfed out their own S-Master Pro digital amplification – which we thought they said they were going to use in everything audio – in favour of good old analogue amps all round.

The story is that analogue was the way to go to get the best sound quality at this price level. And you won’t find a digital radio tuner here: the STR-DA1200ES is built to sell around the world, and DAB isn’t a global priority. They’ve got a point: who buys an AV receiver to listen to the radio.

What you do get is 7x100W output, HDMI switching and video upconversion to component to keep the cabling tidy, and by far the slickest automatic set-up and calibration system in the business. Plug in the microphone supplied, hit the button, and two Tokyo tube train jingles and a few seconds later, the Sony’s set-up and ready to go.

The Sony people say this one was designed to have serious bass, and that’s certainly what you get: there’s enough clout here to keep even the most fanatical Star Wars fan happy, and this combines with bags of detail and unflappable power to ensure this receiver sounds superb even when you’re sharing your lightsabre duels with the neighbours.

Add in enough ins and outs to get your DVD, TV, games systems and even the video recorder – we won’t tell if you don’t – hooked up, and this is clearly both bonkers value and capable of serious performance. Is Sony back on a roll?

Stuff says... 

Sony STR-DA1200ES review

You’ll either love, or hate the distinctive looks, but get beyond this and you’ll find a great sounding, stylish performer.