TESTED: Onkyo TX-SR876 THX Ultra2 Plus-certified 7.1-channel A/V receiver

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Onkyo TX-SR876
TESTED: Onkyo TX-SR876 THX Ultra2 Plus-certified 7.1-channel A/V receiver

 

I’ve reviewed a number of Onkyo A/V receivers over time (see my review of the TX-SR705 from Playback 3) but never one of the really large models and I’ve always wondered how one of the “big guys” might perform. Partly to satisfy my own curiosity, partly to continue the Playback review series on sub-$2k AVRs begun in issue 11, I decided to try Onkyo’s second biggest receiver—the $1,799, 7-1-channel, THX Ultra2 Plus-certified TX-SR876. As you’ll see in a moment, this receiver is powerful (7x140 watts per channel), flexible, incorporates a great video processor (the HQV Reon VX device from Silicon Optix), and provides one of the most sophisticated room EQ systems on the planet (Audyssey MultEQ XT). On paper, the TX-SR876 looks excellent, but the key question is whether its real-world performance lives up the potential promised in the specifications sheet. And the answer, in a nutshell, is that it does.

OVERVIEW

Consider this AVR if: you want an A/V receiver whose performance meets or beats the best in its class—a receiver that, though not inexpensive, is well priced for what it is and does. Look at this model if you prize excellent sound and picture quality, terrific flexibility, and advanced features you will not soon outgrow. One small caveat: to tap this AVR’s full potential, you’ll need and want to read its manual. It’s not overly complicated, but it does offer layer upon layer of sophisticated options.

 Look elsewhere if: you crave that “nth” degree of performance that only truly great (and typically very costly) separate A/V controller/amp combos can provide (though this Onkyo can handily outperforms some controller/amp combos I’ve heard). Also look further if you require truly “dirt simple” set-up and operation procedures. While the TX-SR876 is by no means hard to use, it is a multi-faceted product whose rich features set requires a certain amount of study and experimentation for best results.

 Ratings (compared to other sub-$2k AVRs)

  • User interface: 8
  • Sound quality, music: 9
  • Sound quality, movies: 10
  • Dynamics: 9

FEATURES

  • 7x140 watts per channel with Onkyo WRAT (Wide Range Amplifier Technology) linear (not class D) amplifier circuits.
  • Unused amplifier channels can be re-routed to bi-amp main loudspeakers.
  • 7.1-channel analog pre-amp outputs mean the receiver can drive a standalone multichannel amplifier, if desired.
  • THX Ultra2 Plus certification ensures that power specifications are the “real deal”—not “paper tigers.” With THX certification comes a wealth of additional sound processing options, such as THX Loudness Plus.
  • Audyssey MultEQ XT automated room/speaker EQ system with support for Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume functions.
  • ISF (Imaging Sciences Foundation) Video Calibration function (for use by qualified ISF technicians).
  • Video Processing: Silicon Optix HQV Reon VX processor provides 1080p upscaling for all video sources (including component video sources) via HDMI.
  • Tuners: XM and Sirius satellite radio-ready, with AM, FM and HD radio as standard
  • Extensive range of A/V inputs (see Specifications, below), including a moving magnet phono input (a boon for vinyl fans) and optional Onkyo RI iPod dock.
  • High quality parts: HQV video processor (as above), Burr-Brown 192kHz/24-bit DACs, and three Texas Instruments 32-bit Aureus DSP engines
  • Supports all contemporary surround sound codecs including Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and THX Neural Surround.
  • Supports DSD Direct mode for those who love listening to SACDs.
  • Beefy construction (all 53.1 pounds worth), featuring a massive, “high power” transformer, and “high current power supply.”

USER INTERFACE

The TX-SR876 features a sophisticated new graphical user interface (GUI) and set-up menu that is even more intuitive than that of the already good TX-SR705 I tested last year. Be aware, though, that there are lots of menu options, not all of which are completely self-explanatory. Let me emphasize again that to understand and use all the features this AVR has to offer you’ll need to read the manual (just do it; you can thank me later).

Because Audyssey’s MultEQ XT room/speaker EQ system is a vital, integral part of the TX-SR876, its set-up 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 four 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).
  • Be sure you start your measurements in the most centrally located listening position in the room.
  • 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.
  • For optimal results, take the full set of eight room/speaker measurements that the system allows. Note that the Audyssey system’s “model” of your room and speakers becomes more accurate and sophisticated as additional measurements are taken.

There are two small criticisms I would offer regarding the TX-SR876’s Audyssey controls. First, I’d like to see Onkyo provide onscreen graphs to show the EQ curves Audyssey applies for each speaker. Second, I wish the TX-SR876 offered the option of applying either “standard” or “flat” Audyssey EQ curves (the Onkyo provides the standard curve only). Both features are offered on some of the other Audyssey-equipped AVRs now on the market.

REMOTE CONTROL

The TX-SR876 comes with a backlit remote that, in most respects, is a model of clarity and intuitive operation (the surround mode controls are particularly nicely done and easy to use). One change I would suggest, however, would be to provide an Audyssey control button to allow toggling through various EQ options on the fly.

 

VIDEO PERFORMANCE

The Onkyo’s HQV Reon VX processor does a good job of upscaling lower resolution sources to 1080i/p levels while producing very smooth, film-like images. Not surprisingly, the processor performs very well on tests found the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD—especially on that disc’s difficult jaggies tests. This said, however, I found the HQV processor’s overall image sharpness was not quite the equal of the Gennum processor used in our lab’s reference Anthem A/V controller. Small details, such as the louvers or vents seen in the concert hall ceiling in the Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City Music Hall Blu-ray disc, look much sharper through the Gennum/Anthem combo than through the more softly focused HQV/Onkyo system. But the tradeoff is that the HQV processor never exhibits jaggies or flickering motion artifacts, which is a great blessing.

 

SONIC CHARACTER

The TX-SR876 takes the basic elements of Onkyo’s house sound—namely, a good measure of clarity and articulacy coupled with smooth, unexaggerated natural warmth—to a higher level of refinement than I’ve ever heard from any Onkyo receiver. But what also sets the TX-SR876 apart from many receivers in its class is its ability to serve up serious dynamic wallop without ever breaking a sweat. The Onkyo exhibits a kind of confident swagger, no matter how demanding the program material may be (though the TX-SR876, like all Onkyo AVRs of recent memory, does tend to run pretty warm).

The receiver sounds very good with its EQ options turned off, but for many speaker systems—even for some very revealing ones—bringing the built-in Audyssey EQ system into play can elevate performance to an entirely different level. Specifically, Audyssey gets rid of room/speaker response anomalies while preserving the subtle tonal and textural qualities that give each speaker system character. The net effect is of hearing your chosen speaker system sound better than it ever has, with most “problem spots” (hey, all speakers have them) either removed or mitigated and with markedly improved surround sound imaging. Audyssey MultEQ XT is one of the few EQ systems that passes muster even by the finicky standards of veteran audiophiles.

There are, however, two Audyssey caveats you need to know about. First, Audyssey’s Dynamic EQ function, which is meant to preserve optimal tonal balance and imaging characteristics at reduced volume settings, sounded somewhat imbalanced in my tests, imparting an overly heavy degree of bass boost while occasionally making upper midrange frequencies sound strident (though you might achieve better results than I did). Second, note that Audyssey’s Dynamic Volume settings are mostly meant to help control overall volume levels for late night use; turn Dynamic Volume off for critical listening.

MOVIE/SOUNDTRACK PERFORMANCE

Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers Blu-ray shows off the power and subtlety of the TX-SR876 in dramatic fashion. In the main Iwo Jima beach invasion scene, the Onkyo reproduces battles sounds—Japanese machine gun fire, artillery shells exploding at close range, or the throb of radial aircraft engines in Corsair fighter planes overhead—with a great combination of brute force and timbral purity. When shells go off, for example, you’ll feel palpable shock waves rattle your chest cavity. Yet in a later sequence, you will also hear even the smallest, most subtle vocal details clearly reproduced, as U.S. soldiers urgently whisper to one another in their foxholes at night, trying to avoid detection by the Japanese. It’s this ability to go “big” with power, yet to play “small” with delicacy and finesse that makes the TX-SR876 so special.

 

MUSIC PERFORMANCE

Like many reviewers, I’ve come to use the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack of the Dave Mathews & Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City Music Hall Blu-ray disc as a benchmark test of sorts, and it proved to be a test that the TX-SR876 passed with flying colors. On this disc, many receivers give Tim Reynolds’s Martin guitar a clear yet thin, “jangly,” and almost brittle sound. But the Onkyo, happily does not, partly owning to its smooth and naturally warm sound, but also because the Audyssey EQ processor helps the receiver get rid of edgy-sounding artifacts that don’t belong. As a result, Onkyo simply nailed the righteous sound of Reynolds’s Martin acoustic guitar, revealing its big, clear, penetrating voice while deftly avoiding the “clangy,” metallic sound that other receivers so often impart. Better still, the front surround image was terrific, giving a beautiful sense of the interplay between Reynolds’s guitar on the left and Matthews’s guitar and voice on the right of the stage. The TX-SR876 shows that Blu-ray has tremendous, though perhaps as yet untapped, potential as a music medium—provided you own a receiver as capable as this one is.

BOTTOM LINE:

This is one of the best, if not the best, sub-$2K AVR I’ve heard. Beyond rich features and functions, Onkyo’s TX-SR876 pays close attention to video and audio fundamentals, offering very good levels of clarity and resolution, plus a rich yet natural-sounding tonal palette backed by plenty of muscle. The receiver, though not cheap, offers excellent value for money. Heartily recommended.

SPECS & PRICING

Onkyo TX-SR876 THX Ultra2 Plus-certified 7.1 channel A/V receiver

Power output: 7 x 140Wpc @ 8 ohms
Decoding formats: Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Digital, and Pro Logic IIx Music/Movies/Games; DTS-HD Master Audio and High Resolution Audio, DTS 96/24, DTS Express, DTS-ES Discrete and Matrix, and DTS Neo:6;  THX Neural Surround, THX Surround EX, and THX Ultra2 Cinema/Music/Games
Video inputs/outputs: Composite video (6 in, 3 out); S-video (6 in, 2 out); Component video (3 in, 1 out), HDMI (4 in, 2 out)
Audio inputs/outputs: Stereo analog (8 in, 3 out), 7.1-channel analog (1 in, 1 out), moving magnet phono (1), digital audio (3 optical in, 3 coaxial in; 1 optical out), HDMI v1.3a Repeating/Switching (4 in, 2 out), XM satellite radio (1), Sirius satellite radio (1), headphone output (1), AM/FM/HD Radio tuner (1)
Other: RS-232 port (1 in), IR input/output (1/1), 12V trigger output (1), auto calibration mic 1)
Dimensions (HxWxD): 7.625” x 17.125” x 18.062”
Weight: 53.1 lb.
Price: $1,799

Onkyo U.S.A. Corporation
(800) 229-1687
www.onkyousa.com

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