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February
2008

Reviewed by
Jeff Van Dyne
REVIEWERS' CHOICE


Onkyo
TX-SR805
Audio/Video Receiver

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: TX-SR805

Price: $1099 USD
Dimensions: 7.6"H x 17.1"W x 18.1"D
Weight: 50.9 pounds

Warranty: Two years parts and labor

Features

  • THX Ultra2 certified
  • High-current power supply
  • Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Pro Logic IIx
  • DTS, DTS-ES, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD High Resolution, DTS 96/24, DTS Neo:6

Features (cont'd)
  • THX Surround EX, THX-Neural, Cinema Re-EQ
  • 24-bit/192kHz D/A converters
  • 7-band EQ on 7 channels, 5-band EQ on subwoofer channel
  • Zones 2 and 3 output
  • 3 HDMI 1.3a inputs, 1 output
  • Upconverts composite, S-video, and component sources to 720p
  • 3 optical, 3 coaxial digital inputs; 1 optical output
  • 3 component-video inputs, 1 output
  • 6 S-video inputs, 2 outputs
  • 7.1-channel input
  • 7.1-channel preamp output
  • ready for XM and Sirius satellite radio
  • Audyssey MultEQ XT room-correction software

Onkyo has been a leader in quality mass-market electronics for many years now. Their products have traditionally been reliable, capable, and solidly engineered. Their receivers generally lack the multitude of surround formats of a Yamaha or the high styling of a Harman Kardon, but make up for it with superior build quality. I have some experience with this -- the Onkyo TX-DS696 audio/video receiver in my small home theater has seen heavy daily use for six years now, and it’s never missed a beat.

So when I learned that a new line of Onkyo receivers was on the way, I was very curious. While most people were talking about the TX-SR605, it was the TX-SR805 that caught my attention almost from the beginning. This model specs out more like the competition’s flagship receivers, at a much lower price of $1099. The feature list is short on flash but long on usefulness, with a THX Ultra2 rating, three HDMI 1.3a inputs, the ability to decode the new high-definition surround formats (including DTS-MA), and automated setup with Audyssey MultEQ XT. One spec that immediately caught my eye was the TX-SR805’s weight of 51 pounds -- a good 20 pounds or so more than the competition. Most people will tell you that weight has nothing to do with sound quality, which is true, to a point. However, the Achilles’ heel of most mass-market A/V receivers are power supplies that run out of steam when pushed too hard. The power supply is the heaviest component of a receiver; a dramatically higher overall weight generally indicates a much-larger-than-average power supply. While a big supply doesn’t by itself guarantee better sound quality, it’s a good sign.

The front section of the TX-SR805 is devoted entirely to a very large and heavy power-supply transformer with space for cooling (but see below). Behind that stands a bank of 14 Toshiba A1962 output transistors (two for each of the seven channels), attached to a large, central heatsink. Behind that lie the beast’s brains, though these were too densely packed with circuit boards and associated conduits to explore without resorting to serious cranial surgery. The rear panel is imposing but logically arranged: HDMI connections at the top, digital audio connections down one side, speaker connections across the bottom, and everything else neatly arrayed in between.

Setup and features

Setting up a complex home theater can be daunting. The automated Audyssey MultEQ XT program greatly eases the task by calculating speaker distances and levels, crossover points, and some degree of room-correcting equalization (EQ). The process requires that you use the supplied microphone to measure three to eight listening positions in the room, for each of which MultEQ XT runs a series of test tones. It’s simple, painless, and provides a good baseline from which to begin tweaking the many settings.

My results were mixed, however. With conventional speakers such as the Aperion 533 system, I achieved very close to perfect results. But with my own Magnepan MC1 speakers, while the distances and levels were perfect, the crossover points and EQ were way off -- and different -- in three separate runs with Audyssey MultEQ XT. If you have low-impedance speakers, like my Maggies, then you must change the power amp’s impedance setting before running MultEQ XT. Also, because the supplied microphone is somewhat sensitive to background noise, make sure to turn off phones and loud appliances, and put the dog and any small children outside before starting.

Among the TX-SR805’s more useful features is its ability to reconfigure the rear surround channels to either biamp the main speakers or power a pair of speakers in a second zone. However, this reduces the main system’s surround capability from 7.1 to 5.1 channels. The Onkyo also converts composite video and S-video sources from 480i to 720p. Unfortunately, it doesn’t upconvert to 1080i or 1080p; for that, Onkyo makes the TX-SR875.

This brings me to an odd compatibility problem I encountered between the Onkyo TX-SR805 and my Hitachi 46F500 HDTV. The Hitachi is an older, 1080i, CRT rear projector with a DVI input. Both my Panasonic DMP-BD10a Blu-ray player and Toshiba HDA1 HD DVD player refused to pass a 1080i signal through the Onkyo, though both work fine when hooked up directly to the TV with an HDMI-to-DVI cable. After much experimentation, it appeared that the players were unable to retrieve the resolution capabilities from the TV itself, and went instead to the Onkyo. Forcing the Onkyo receiver to output 720p seemed to solve the problem, though it softened the picture from these players. My DirecTV HR20-700 DVR, and my Oppo 971 and Panasonic S97 upconverting DVD players, exhibited no problems passing a 1080i signal through the Onkyo TX-SR805. This problem seems to be extremely rare; Onkyo was unable to reproduce it with a different 1080i TV. Chalk it up as another of those odd HDMI handshake problems.

The TX-SR805 put out more heat than any other receiver I’ve encountered in recent years. It wasn’t excessively hot, but needed plenty of space around it for ventilation. If you enclose it in a cabinet, I strongly recommend installing active cooling fans.

Those caveats aside, the Onkyo TX-SR805 was a joy to set up and use. With conventional speakers, the automated setup system was simple to use, and the Audyssey EQ settings actually produced useful improvements in sound quality.

Listening

You’ve probably seen, or at least heard about, the Blue Man Group. While I find their showmanship and the novelty of their PVC instruments entertaining, these tend to mask the fact that behind all the hype is a pretty decent rock band. A case in point is their reinterpretation of Donna Summer’s "I Feel Love," from The Complex [CD, Lava/Atlantic 83631]. Annette Strean’s haunting vocals came through the Onkyo TX-SR805 with pristine clarity, and the bass track was more powerful and dynamic than anything I’ve heard in my house outside of the highest-powered separates.

If you want something a little off the beaten trail, John Zorn will usually suffice. A 1984 effort, The Big Gundown [CD, Elektra/Nonesuch 79139], is a collection of music written for films by Italian composer Ennio Morricone. Zorn transforms the title track, originally written for the Italian western La resa dei conti (released in the US in 1966 as The Big Gundown), into something very different while retaining the character of the original. It’s the bells at the beginning of this track that have always attracted my attention, and the Onkyo’s ability to place them perfectly in a three-dimensional soundstage caught me by surprise. Never before had I heard this level of soundstage depth and detail from a receiver.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is one of the best reference titles on Blu-ray, and it’s truly spectacular; the video and the uncompressed PCM audio track are top drawer. (I just wish Disney hadn’t felt the need to force me to skip through more than ten minutes of previews.) Scenes aboard a ship at sea are almost always good fodder for surround-sound reviews, and the scenes in Dead Man’s Chest are no different. The increased detail of the PCM soundtrack, coupled with the TX-SR805’s superb processing, produced far more realistic backdrops of ambient ocean sounds than I’ve ever heard from the SD DVD edition.

Although 300 is one of the more graphic movies I’ve seen in a while, it’s done very well, and its Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is second to none. I would have loved to have had a Blu-ray player that could pass Dolby TrueHD directly to the Onkyo, but that was not meant to be. I’ve ordered a Panasonic BD30, but the Onkyo is already past due for return. No matter -- the Panasonic DMP-BD10a converted 300’s TrueHD track to PCM for transmission to the Onkyo, and the result was stunning. The sense of space as the Spartans clashed with the great Persian army was palpable. I find it hard to imagine that a more realistic sense of space could be produced by any other processor at this competitive price.

Comparison

My Onkyo TX-DS696 was a very respectable receiver in its day, and listed for $830 in 2002. Six years later, the TX-SR805 is available for a mere $269 more -- not much more than would be accounted for by the rate of inflation in those years. But from there the products diverge. The TX-SR805 was in every respect more substantial and refined than its predecessor. Its power supply is far larger, and provides juice for an additional two channels of amplification. And the TX-SR805’s inclusions of HDMI switching and audio processing for the latest hi-def audio formats render the TX-DS696 largely obsolete.

However, the real difference was the new model’s great leap forward in overall sound quality. Even with standard CDs, the improvements in detail and clarity over those of the TX-DS696 were beyond the minor or the merely evolutionary. The TX-SR805’s bass response was more powerful, its dynamics were better, it had better clarity and detail, its surround processing was better, its placement of images in the soundstage was improved, and there was a greater sense of depth. While the TX-SR805 wasn’t up to the level of my reference Anthem electronics, it certainly narrowed the gap. In short, the TX-SR805 came closer to approaching high-end ideals than any mass-market receiver I’ve heard at or near its price. It may be time to replace my TX-DS696.

Conclusion

The Onkyo TX-SR805 would be an excellent-sounding receiver at twice the price. At $1099, it’s an absolute bargain. The caveats of high heat output and HDMI handshake problems are unlikely to be problems for most people; for everyone else, there’s little on the market that offers these levels of features and sound quality for the price.

At the end of the review period, when I learned that I’d soon be moving halfway across the country, I declared a moratorium on buying new equipment until I’m settled in my new house. Had it not been for that, I would almost certainly have bought a TX-SR805. It’s that good.

Review System
Speakers - Magnepan MC1 (mains, surrounds), CC3 (center); Athena AS-P4000 (subwoofer)
Receiver - Onkyo TX-DS696
Sources - Panasonic DMP-BD10a Blu-ray player, Toshiba HDA1 HD DVD player, Oppo OPDV971H DVD player, Panasonic S97 DVD player, DirecTV HR20-700 HD DVR
Cables - Analysis Plus, Monster Cable
Display Device - Hitachi 46F500 CRT RPTV
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Onkyo USA Corporation
18 Park Way
Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
Phone: (201) 785-2600

Website: www.onkyousa.com


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