Onkyo TX-SR575 A/V Receiver
Having hefted more than a few surround receivers into the spare berth on my equipment rack, I've earned the right to be blasé. This feeling usually turns to annoyance when I have to figure out which button on the remote control will get me into the setup menu. But all of these predictable emotions vanish when I hit my universal disc machine's play button and music starts coming out of five speakers (and a sub) in the Dolby Pro Logic II music mode. As someone who was weaned on stereo, surround still seems like something of a miracle. By the time I get around to playing a movie, I feel like a kid again.
If the average surround receiver is capable of thaumaturgy, a budget model that does the job well is an even bigger miracle. The Onkyo TX-SR575 has a list price of $479. For that price, you get seven channels of amplification, Audyssey 2EQ auto setup and room correction, and HDMI 1080p passthrough video switching. Oh, I almost forgot—this is also the first Onkyo receiver that's compatible with both of the satellite-radio networks, Sirius and XM. Of course, there are a few tradeoffs, mainly in the areas of power and connectivity.
Basic Black with Auto Setup
Weighing less than 23 pounds, the TX-SR575 didn't exactly break my back when I lifted it out of the box—not that I'm complaining. The aesthetics are unremarkable; it's just a basic black box with a blue fluorescent display.
If you choose to take advantage of the auto-setup feature, you'll plug a supplied microphone into the front panel, trail the wire to the seating area, and activate the program. In a moment, the unit emits test tones, sensing the presence, size, and distance of speakers, and setting equalization to compensate for your room's acoustic shortcomings. Onkyo has licensed the Audyssey 2EQ system, one of the best of its kind. It takes measurements from three points in the room and processes them together to arrive at settings that will often make for good sound throughout the entire room (or at least generally better than without the processing).
For manual settings, you'll have to rely on the front-panel display, because the receiver has no onscreen menus. You can key in commands at the front panel or via the remote.
You may prefer to set your large speakers to small to route all bass to the sub. For this review, however, I set my Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers to large. Given enough power, they have decent bass, and I wanted to see how much of it the Onkyo could get out of them. (Incidentally, the speakers have a rated sensitivity of 87 decibels; if your speakers are rated considerably lower, and you listen at more than modest levels, you probably shouldn't run them full range with this receiver.)
Rated power is 75 watts times seven into 8 ohms. While this is less than most receivers' 100-plus watts, it was enough to drive my speakers in my room. See our lab measurements box at right for further enlightenment.
The connectivity suite, as I already mentioned, includes dedicated jacks for both Sirius and XM antenna/mini-tuner kits. It is also missing a few things, notably a set of 5.1-channel outputs (to drive an external amp) and any form of digital audio output. None of this affected my use of the receiver.
The remote control is a small and modest preprogrammed type. My disc player is an Integra DPS-10.5—from Onkyo's bleeding-edge sister brand—so I used the remote for both the receiver and the disc player without any need for manual programming. It's smaller than the remotes that come with Onkyo's and Integra's pricier products, and it lacks the joystick used for menu navigation in those larger remotes. But it works fine.
In general, the TX-SR575 got the midrange right, and it was revealing enough to mirror my own long-time preferences in familiar recordings. It also had pretty good bass for a modestly priced product. Until now, I've tended to avoid running receivers full range, but, now that I've got speakers that sound good that way, I'm going to be doing that a lot more. The Onkyo performed very well when confronted with the Paradigms' quintet of 7-inch woofers.
A weekend-long XTC festival gave the receiver its first serious workout. It was part of a long-term vinyl reclamation project in which I've been transferring LPs (and EPs and 45s) to CD-RW en route to MP3. The highlight was English Settlement, the most beautifully recorded album in an inconsistent discography. This was the first XTC album to have a spacious sound, with enough air to fully set off the gorgeous 12-string acoustic guitars.
The guitar sound came through with plenty of touch and texture. But it was the power of the rhythm section that surprised me, with deep bass and a lean, but not too lean, drum sound. I congratulated myself on my decision to run the speakers and receiver full range. This album never sounded so good. That's as much a tribute to the Paradigms as it is to the Onkyo.
Pianist Daniel Barenboim, violinist Pinchas Zukerman, and the legendary cellist Jacqueline du Pré went to Abbey Road Studios to record their complete set of Beethoven piano trios. The receiver delivered these recordings of the stringed instruments with plenty of warmth and no stridency. I found the piano to be a bit more soft-focused and phasey than usual, faintly emphasizing an existing characteristic of the recording. I wouldn't characterize this receiver as excessively vague or gauzy, as budget receivers can sometimes be. It just doesn't have the transparency of higher-end models from Onkyo and other brands. No surprise there.
Duke Ellington's soundtrack for the Otto Preminger film Anatomy of a Murder was at its best during quiet moments. I didn't blame the receiver for this—my 1987 CD of the 1959 recording has always rendered Ellington's brasses a little abrasively. But, when the composer turned down the volume, he created transcendent night music. The interplay of tinkling celesta and almost subliminal clarinet in "Midnight Indigo" was as elegant and moody as movie music ever gets.
My movie auditions couldn't have gotten off to a better start than with the exploding ferry of Deja Vu, a Denzel Washington sci-fi/action pic. Not so much a single explosion as a long succession of them, it gave the Paradigms a great workout, and it didn't stint on the heartbeat-like synth pulse that builds tension throughout the movie. A boat horn filling a harbor in five channels is my idea of a good time.
Vocal reproduction was especially striking in The Last King of Scotland, animated by Forest Whitaker's Oscar-winning performance as Ugandan despot Idi Amin. Knowing that Amin murdered 300,000 of his own people gave the actor's velvet baritone a riveting menace. It came through full and deep but not boomy. The cheerful African traditional and pop music that enlivens the first half eventually gives way to an orthodox orchestral soundtrack. The Onkyo played it big, filling the soundfield with a spacious (if somewhat bland) string texture.
The Queen, with its largely muttered script, required a higher volume setting than everything else I viewed. Perhaps the soundtrack was just passive-aggressive. The orchestral score had a lovely presence, and that was as it should be, with the London Symphony Orchestra recorded (once again) at Abbey Road Studios.
The performance of Onkyo's TX-SR575 in my listening room would have been decent for any receiver. For a budget receiver, it was superlative. This is now my top pick among budget receivers.
• First Onkyo receiver to be compatible with both Sirius and XM satellite radio
• Pretty good bass for a budget receiver
• Power on par for the price