Onkyo Professional PR-SC885 Preamp/Processor
Many audiophiles won't settle for the all-in-one solution of an AVR (audio/video receiver). Instead, they usually go for a separate preamp/processor (pre/pro) and power amplifier. This splits the duties of the AVR into two components: the pre/pro handles all the low-voltage duties of sound and video processing and sends the resulting signal to the power amplifier, which powers the speakers. By separating these components, you keep the heat and noise from the power amplifier away from the electronics, which, in theory, results in better sound quality.
Another benefit of separates is that you can pick an amplifier that brings out the best in your speakers and a separate pre/pro with the feature set you desire. In the AVR world, you may find the desired feature set, but the power section might be lacking or vice versa.
But there is no such thing as a free lunch. Going with separates generally requires a greater investment of cash. Fortunately, that dynamic has changed with the introduction of the Onkyo Professional PR-SC885 preamp/processor, which comes with an impressive feature list and an affordable MSRP of only $1800.
A similar pre/pro is also available from Integra, which shares a corporate umbrella with Onkyo Professional. The Integra DTC-9.8 is aimed at the custom-installation and home-automation markets, and it is sold through independent custom installers for $200 less than the PR-SC885. The Integra sports a significantly different front-panel layout with no included rack ears, and it has no Pure Audio mode, though it does have a Bypass mode.
The PR-SC885 is a THX Ultra2-certified 7.1-channel A/V processor that delivers state-of-the-art features suitable for any home-theater environment. The connection options offer more than you will probably ever need, but in this price class, Onkyo Pro doesn't want to leave anything to chance.
Highlights include stereo balanced audio inputs as well as eight balanced outputs, which lets you run a 7.1-channel system or 5.1 channels plus bi-amplification for the front L/R speakers. For amplifiers with only unbalanced RCA inputs, the Onkyo Pro includes eight RCA outputs.
On the video side, you get four HDMI 1.3a inputs along with two outputs, one for your main display and the other for an additional display in the room. Only one output can be active at a time, but if you use a plasma or LCD for everyday TV watching and only fire up your projector for movies, the second output is a nice addition.
The Onkyo Pro can decode virtually every flavor of audio codec, including Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD Master Audio via HDMI. Three Texas Instruments 32-bit DSP chips handle the audio processing, and the digital-to-analog conversion is performed by Burr Brown 192kHz/24-bit DACs on all seven channels. The unit also includes Audyssey MultEQ XT, which helps automatically compensate for troublesome room acoustics. The system lets you measure up to eight positions in the room and provides both frequency- and time-domain corrections.
There are three different audio modes for 2-channel playback: Pure Audio, Direct, and Stereo. Pure Audio turns off the front-panel display and all video circuits except the HDMI outputs. It also defeats all audio processing (including bass management) and resets the front left and right channels to full range. Direct mode is virtually the same as Pure Audio, but it leaves the video circuitry on. Finally, Stereo mode drives the front left/right speakers without defeating the subwoofer, which was my preferred mode for listening to 2-channel music.
Video processing is handled by the Reon-VX HQV chip from Silicon Optix, which provides deinterlacing and video scaling to 1080p for all sources, which are sent to the HDMI output. If you have a legacy display that will not accept HDMI, the Onkyo Pro can transcode your composite and S-video sources and send them from the component output, though they are not upconverted in this case.
Catering to the custom-installation market, the PR-SC885 also includes a wide range of integration features, including an Ethernet port, RS-232 port, IR in/out, and three assignable 12-volt triggers with adjustable delays. Not to be left out is Onkyo's RIHD (Remote Interactive over HDMI) system-control protocol, which, according to the company, allows many control functions to be integrated via HDMI between compatible components from Onkyo and many other manufacturers. This is Onkyo's implementation of CEC (Consumer Electronics Control); an addendum to the manual lists Panasonic's EZ Sync and Toshiba's CE-Link as being compatible, but I had no opportunity to test this capability.
Other features include HD Radio, inputs for both XM and Sirius satellite radio, and an optional iPod dock (purchased separately). Strangely missing is any type of network functionality found in other Onkyo products, such as Internet radio, home-network audio via Microsoft's PlaysForSure, or JPEG photo viewing over your network. Also lacking is a USB port for accessing media files on USB storage devices.
Multi-zone functionality is a must in this price class, and the Onkyo Pro doesn't disappoint. Zones 2 and 3 each have their own 2.1-channel audio pre-outs (yep, two main channels and a subwoofer channel for each zone) that connect to external amplifiers. You can also send video (component or composite) to Zone 2.