Onkyo HT-S9300THX Integrated System Page 3

Armored details mischief and betrayal among a group of security guards entrusted with a huge shipment of cash (actually my payoffs to the THX and Audyssey people). The aggressive soundtrack persuaded me to drop the sub volume from 30 percent to 25 percent. After just a few minutes of crude buzz-saw guitars and cheap synthesizers, I also decided to adjust Audyssey Dynamic Volume from Medium to Heavy. There were no dynamic subtleties worth preserving; I just wanted relief from the screaming highs and upper mids that were characteristic of this movie. Much of the action is set in a warehouse, and the timbre-matched system did a brilliant job of integrating gunshots and other resounding effects into a solid soundfield.

Space Buddies shoots five golden retriever puppies into space, proof that Disney will do anything to entertain your children. The cast also includes a Jack Russell terrier, and lest you think it relies entirely on talking dogs and humans too dumb to know what they’re saying, there’s also a talking ferret. The soundtrack’s relatively modest, toddlerfriendly dynamic range moved me to dial down Dynamic Volume from Heavy to Medium; in retrospect, I could probably have gotten by with Light or Off. The quasi-symphonic score was actually quite attractive. Bass was in proper proportion just in time for a meteor shower that sent low-frequency effects zooming and whizzing around the soundfield.

More Mode Shuffling
For the music demos, my tweaking took a different form, as I hopped around the listening modes. These didn’t include Audyssey Dynamic EQ, Dynamic Volume, or THX Loudness Plus because I preferred to keep musical dynamics and frequency response intact for foreground listening. Instead, for stereo-to-surround rechanneling, I used the Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode, with and without an overlay of additional THX Music processing. When I cut back to two channels, I used both (plain) Stereo, which preserves the Audyssey 2EQ settings, and Direct, which delivers an unvarnished signal with no room correction and no bass management (which means no sub).

Plain Direct didn’t last long after I dropped the needle on the second Talking Heads LP, More Songs About Buildings and Food. The Onkyo speakers didn’t have enough bass to deliver Tina Weymouth’s bass or Chris Frantz’s mighty kick drum without a sub. In Stereo and the various surround modes, the rhythm section clicked on, although the overall bass weight still wasn’t right. My makeshift analog rig may have been responsible. I adjusted the sub from 25 percent of its volume control’s range to 50 percent. Once the bass was dialed in, I was free to get lost in the glittering, shimmering textures of the first Talking Heads album to have been produced by Brian Eno.

A CD called Mi Alma Mexicana (or My Mexican Soul) celebrates the bicentennial of that nation’s independence from Spain. It features 13 homegrown composers from the 19th to 21st centuries, with Alondra de la Parra conducting the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas. Despite a fine Sony Classical recording, the strings were a little hot—perhaps lossless Blu-ray Discs and vinyl have spoiled me. The THX Music mode, combined with DPLII, gave solo violin slightly more prominence than plain DPLII. But all of the surround modes moved the lead instrument in a guitar concerto too close to the surround channels. To restore order, I cut back to Stereo.

Return to Forever Returns: Live at Montreaux 2008 (Blu-ray Disc) defaulted to its two-channel LPCM soundtrack, but I switched the disc to 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio. It was mastered loud and only needed about half of the AVR’s volume control’s range except in some of the quieter all-acoustic moments. The multichannel source could be channeled in several ways: unprocessed, THX Music, All-Channel Stereo, Full Mono, Direct, and Stereo. None of these improved on the original DTS-HD Master Audio signal, although THX Music altered it so subtly that I couldn’t develop a preference. The sub gave me a little more of Stanley Clarke’s bass than the mixer intended—for once, the THX sub volume position was the right one. The music in this long-awaited reunion is transcendent, with plenty of solo space for each member of the mega-talented quartet.

The Onkyo HT-S9300THX HTIB has a lot of useful features. Audyssey 2EQ makes it easy to set up. Audyssey Dynamic EQ and THX Loudness Plus will make it easy to live with if you prefer to listen below the reference level (and that’s most people I know). Tweakers will love the variety of listening modes—but those who prefer to set and forget will also find what they need. This system isn’t just a repository for logos but a solid performer at a reasonable price.

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