PLAYBACK 23: Onkyo TX-SR607 A/V Receiver

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PLAYBACK 23: Onkyo TX-SR607 A/V Receiver

Over the years I’ve become something of a student of Onkyo A/V receivers, largely because I’ve been impressed by the overall value they offer, their ease of use, and—especially—by their much better than average analog audio sound quality (a characteristic that has also made a favorable impression on many of my friends and colleagues at Playback’s sister magazine, The Absolute Sound). Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that Onkyo’s $599 TX-SR607 A/V receiver provides no multichannel analog audio inputs or outputs. Huhh??

My initial reaction to this discovery, I must admit, was to shake my head in dismay and to mutter, “What was Onkyo thinking?” But after a few seconds of reflection it occurred to me that perhaps analog audio-oriented enthusiasts are perhaps not the intended audience for this receiver in the first place. After all, not all that many consumers (or even A/V enthusiasts) know or care about high-quality multichannel music (as offered in SACD, DVD-Audio, and other formats), nor do they necessarily care about seemingly subtle differences in analog audio quality between various models of disc players.

Instead, I think the TX-SR607 (along with Onkyo’s other “07-series receivers such as the TX-SR307, TX-SR-507, TX-SR707, and TX-SR807) is designed to cater specifically to customers who plan to use digital connections both for audio and video signals. Rather than fussing over multichannel analog inputs (or lack thereof), customers who will appreciate the TX-SR607 are those who seek receivers that promise relatively high power output with low distortion, advanced digital features, and overall ease of use. And judged by those criteria, the TX-SR607 is both a capable and very affordable machine.

As I see it, the TX-SR607 represents a digital fork in the road of sorts. On one hand, it is not a receiver that makes sense if you’re an avid enthusiast of multichannel music recordings who has invested time and money in choosing a multi-format, multichannel universal disc player with killer analog audio sound quality (the TX-SR607 gives you no way to tap into that quality). For analog audio-minded enthusiasts, Onkyo’s recently announced “007-Series” (the TX-NR1007, TX-NR-3007, and TX-NR5007), would arguably be a better choice. On the other hand, if you seek a receiver that’s geared toward accepting digital audio and video data streams, and on handling those internally and in the simplest manner possible, then the TX-SR607 could make perfect sense for you.

OVERVIEW

Consider this AVR if: You want an A/V receiver that is powerful, provides a rich and clear core sound, and that is geared primarily around using digital audio inputs to feed its internal surround sound decoders and DACs. Consider this receiver, too, if you think you might like to experiment with Dolby ProLogic IIz processing, which allows adding optional front “height” channels to a traditional 5.1-channel system (this is the first Onkyo receiver to support Dolby PLIIz).

Look further if: You are a confirmed multichannel audio enthusiast and think that the analog audio section of your disc player might sound better than the DACs in the Onkyo (the TX-SR607 can play multichannel audio material, but via digital inputs only). Again, bear in mind that this receiver provides no multichannel analog audio inputs whatsoever, which may or may not matter to you. (But note: many competing AVRs in this price class do provide multichannel analog inputs, increasing your available options.).

Ratings (relative to comparably priced AVRs)

  • User interface: 9
  • Sound quality, music: 7
  • Sound quality, movies: 9
  • Value: 8

Features:

  • 7 x 90 Watts per channel with discrete Onkyo WRAT (Wide Range Amplifier Technology) linear (not class D) amplifier circuits.
  • Dual subwoofer pre outputs
  • Unused amplifier channels can be re-routed to bi-amp main loudspeakers.
  • Audyssey 2EQ automated room/speaker EQ system with support for Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume functions.
  • Video Processing: Faroudja DCDi Edge processor provides 1080i upscaling for all video sources (including component video sources) via HDMI.
  • Tuners: The receiver provides standard AM/FM reception and is Sirius satellite radio-ready.
  • HD radio functions can be added via an option Onkyo HD radio module.
  • Six HDMI inputs (one front panel mounted)
  • Provides support for optional Onkyo iPod dock.
  • Supports Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS Surround Sensation surround sound processing modes.
  • Supports Dolby ProLogic IIz mode, which allows adding options “height” channels.
  • Provides extensive Onkyo Game surround processing modes.
  • Supports DSD and high resolution multichannel PCM bitstreams for those who love listening to SACDs or DVD-Audio discs via HDMI inputs.

 

User Interface

The TX-SR607 features a simple graphical user interface (GUI) and setup menu that is highly intuitive and easier to navigate than the menus found on some of Onkyo’s high end receivers.

Because Audyssey’s 2EQ room/speaker EQ system is a vital, integral part of the TX-SR607, its setup and control procedures should be part of our User Interface discussion. My finding was that the Onkyo (GUI) guides you through Audyssey automated speaker setup in a simple, foolproof manner. But here are three important hints for best Audyssey results:

  • Make sure you place the included calibration mic at ear level for a seated listener (ideally by mounting the mic on a camera tripod that you can move from one listening seat to another).
  • The 2EQ requires that you take three sets of measurements (other Audyssey systems require six, eight, or even more sets of measurements). For best results, take the first set of measurements from the most central listening position in the room (typically the position you would use most often). Then, take the second and third sets of measurement from the next two most frequently used listening positions.
  • Do the Audyssey setup when your room is dead quiet; the system is very reliable, but in my experience it can be thrown off by spurious room noises, such as footfalls, cars passing by, household HVAC fans, etc.). For this reason, I sometimes do Audyssey calibrations late at night or early in the morning.

If you’ve never heard the Audyssey system in action, I can only say that it greatly simplifies system setup and adds readily apparent sonic benefits. Contrary to what some audiophiles might suppose, Audyssey does not blur or diminish even the subtlest of sonic characteristics in good speaker systems; instead, it leaves the core sound of speakers intact, while smoothing and balancing their in-room frequency response.

That said, I would recommend approaching Audyssey’s Dynamic EQ and—especially—Dynamic Volume functions with some caution. I have a running disagreement with the Audyssey folks on this point, but I personally find that the Dynamic EQ function, while offering some worthwhile benefits for those who listen at low-to-moderate volume levels, does seem to undercut clarity a bit (which the basic Audyssey EQ system does not). The Dynamic Volume function, in turn, can be very useful for those listening in apartments—especially late at night—but seems to undercut clarity even further. My recommendation: try these two functions for yourself and make your own judgment.

Remote Control

The TX-SR607 comes with a non-backlit remote that is smaller, simpler, and (I think) easier for newcomers to use than any of the previous Onkyo remotes I’ve tried. One particularly cool feature is a row of four buttons labeled Movie/TV, Music, Game, and Stereo. The buttons are designed to offer application-specific options for playback modes; if you repeated press the Music mode button, for example, you will only be offered choices that would be appropriate for music listening. The same goes for the Movie/TV mode, and so forth. Having watched many first time system users get lost in labyrinthine surround mode menus, I think the TX-SR607’s menu system is much simpler and more intuitive to use.

Video Performance

The Onkyo’s Faroudja DCDi Edge processor does a generally good job of upscaling lower resolution sources to 1080i levels. However, on the full battery of tests from the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD I found that the Faroudja processor did not perform quite as well as the Silicon Optix HQV Reon processors used in some of the more expensive Onkyo receivers, nor could it match the exemplary performance exhibited by the Anchor Bay Technology VRS processor as used in the Oppo Blu-ray player.

On many of the tests on HQV Benchmark DVD the Faroudja performed beautifully—especially on the disc’s notoriously difficult jaggies tests. But three areas where I noted shortcomings involved Motion Adaptive Noise tests, where the Faroudja processor produced a noticeably softer image than some competing processors do, the Film Detail tests, where the Faroudja had significant problems with moiré patterns, and the Cadence tests, where traditional film (24 fps) and Video (30 fps) cadences looked fine, but other cadences (animation and DVCAM in particular) seemed a bit shaky.  

Sonic Character

The TX-SR607 exhibits a good measure of natural clarity and a surprising degree of dynamic punch and “swagger”—especially in light of the fact that this is, after all, a mid-priced receiver.

The receiver sounds good with its EQ options turned off, but even better when built-in Audyssey EQ system is brought into play. As I mentioned above, one of the most impressive characteristics of the Audyssey system is that it preserves the basic, underlying voicing or “character” of the speaker systems with which it is used, while removing room-based acoustic anomalies that would otherwise mar the sound.

The TX-SR607’s HD surround sound decoders work beautifully, giving renditions of soundtracks that are exceptionally nuanced and three-dimensional. With good speaker systems, it is not uncommon to hear sound effects that appear to originate from the far left or right side of the soundstage—almost as if sounds are coming from directly beside the listener (and not from the front or back of the room). In short, surround imaging through the Onkyo can be spooky good, if the soundtrack is up to the task.

Does the Onkyo’s lack of multichannel analog audio inputs mean it cannot play multichannel music recorded in SACD or DVD-Audio formats? No, because it turns out that the Onkyo is fully capable of decoding both DSD bitstreams (the native digital audio output format of SACD discs) as well as high bit-rate PCM audio data (the native digital audio output format of DVD-Audio discs). In fact, the Onkyo automatically detects and decodes high-resolution bitstreams (provided your disc player can output them in the first place).

The only caveat I would mention is that, for music playback, the Onkyo’s digital front end does not necessarily sound as good as the high quality analog audio outputs of a good disc player. To test this, I listened to the analog audio outputs of my reference Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray/universal player through the Onkyo’s stereo analog inputs (the only analog inputs the Onkyo offers), and then ran the same musical material, but delivered in digital form and decoded through the Onkyo’s onboard DACs. The comparison proved eye opening.

At first, I found the sound of the Onkyo’s digital front end seemed very crisp and exciting, but as I listened more closely it became apparent that Onkyo—good though it was—sounded a little less smooth, rich, detailed, and three-dimensional than the Oppo did. Granted, the sonic differences were subtle (and I could see how some listeners might have preferred the sound of the Onkyo’s digital front end), but they left me wishing that Onkyo had provided a traditional set of multichannel analog inputs. 

Movie/Soundtrack Performance:

One of favorite test discs is the Blu-ray version of U-571, a WWII submarine drama where U.S. submariners attempt to capture a top secret Enigma encryption machine from a crippled German U-boat. The film has many scenes—some of them quite unexpected—that make astonishingly subtle and effective use of surround sound effects. One such scene occurs at the Captain’s table in the U.S. submarine, which is being tossed about in heavy seas. As dinnertime conversations progress, we hear the sound of silverware and dinner plates sliding ominously back and forth across the table as the boat pitches heavily from port to starboard and back again. Through the Onkyo, those sound effects are so vividly reproduced and so perfect integrated that it almost made me feel seasick just to listen to them.

Later, the U.S. sub creeps up on the disabled German U-boat in the midst of a rainstorm, and the sound of the rain striking the decks and conning tower of the sub, along with the softer but more pervasive sound of the rain rustling against the ocean waves becomes completely enveloping. Rainstorms in movie soundtracks often sound indistinct—almost as if you were hearing your system reproduce the generic “sshhhh” sounds of pure white noise. But not so in this case; instead, the Onkyo preserved the sound of individual raindrops—some nearer and some farther away—striking various surfaces, giving the entire scene an unforgettably cold, clammy, bone chilling feel.

Music Performance:

To see what the Onkyo could do with a really first-rate high-resolution music recording, I put on “Mood Indigo” from the Joe Wilder/Marshal Royal Quintet’s Mostly Ellington [Blueport/NuForce]. One of the most interesting things about this recording is that it is delivered in two formats—a traditional CD and an ambitious DVD disk complete with a 24-bit/96kHz soundtrack. I used the 24/96 DVD for my listening tests.

What impressed me was the way the Onkyo captured the intimate, up-close feel of Royal’s opening sax solo, the melancholy sweetness of Wilder’s answering solo, and—above all—the stunning though very subtly rendered sonic cues that made the recording venue (the Lyceum Theater in San Diego) sound like a real, three dimensional space. Put these factors together and you have a receiver capable of highly involving playback.

While we could quibble over whether the Onkyo’s digital front end sounds as good as would the high quality analog outputs of a good disc player, the fact is that it sounds vivid and intensely alive on this brilliant live recording, producing a sound I think many enthusiasts—even pretty finicky ones—would find highly satisfying.

Bottom Line:

Onkyo’s TX-SR607 represents a fork in the road of AVR development, taking a path that presumes customers will for the most part choose to use digital connections (and specifically HDMI connections) to carry both audio and video signals. Old-school audiophiles (and I proudly admit I am one) will lament Onkyo’s decision to omit multichannel analog inputs, but even so the fact remains that this receiver offers very good sound and some very advanced technologies (including support for Dolby PLIIz) for its modest asking price.

SPECS & PRICING

Onkyo TX-SR607 7.2 channel A/V Receiver

Power output: 7 x 90 Wpc @ 8 ohms
Decoding formats:Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital, and Dolby Pro Logic IIz; DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, DTS Surround Sensation, and DTS; DSD bitstreams; multichannel PCM (up to 7.1 channels at up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution) 
Video inputs/outputs: Composite video (5 in, 2 out); Component video (2 in, 1 out), HDMI (6 in—1 on front panel, 1 out)
Audio inputs/outputs: Stereo analog (7 in, 3 out—1 as Zone 2 output), 2 subwoofer line-level analog outputs, digital audio (2 optical in, 2 coaxial in), HDMI v1.3a Repeating/Switching (6 in, 1 out), Sirius satellite radio (1), AM/FM/HD Radio tuner (1), headphone output (1)
Other: universal port (1 in), auto calibration mic (1)
Dimensions (HxWxD): 6.94" x 17.125" x 12.94"
Weight: 23.8 pounds
Price: $599

Onkyo U.S.A. Corporation
(201) 785-2600
us.onkyo.com 

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