Onkyo TX-SR608 A/V Receiver Page 2

I preferred to run the Onkyo in a standard 5.1channel configuration. 2EQ correctly discerned the setup, although it classified my five identical Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v4 speakers in slightly different ways—the front channels were full band, while the center and surrounds were 40 hertz.I also used the OPPO BDP-83SE universal disc player. All movie selections were on Blu-ray Disc. Incidentally, this AVR accepts a DSD signal directly from an SACD-compatible player, so I didn’t have to instruct the OPPO to convert DSD to high-resolution PCM.

810onkrec.rem.jpgMinisters, Saints, and Slashers
I introduced the TX-SR608’s arsenal of options gradually. The Ministers—with John Leguizamo in dual roles as twin religious vigilantes—comes, somewhat disappointingly, with just a lossy Dolby Digital soundtrack. I switched on 2EQ after the first few minutes, and I was gratified to hear how bass weight improved in what my notes called the “drama drums.” Effects were painless either way.

The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day is another urban vigilante tale, this time with Irish accents. Its DTSHD Master Audio soundtrack became the platform for experimentation with THX Loudness Plus and the Audyssey Dynamic EQ/Volume combination. Although it’s not as eye-poppingly flamboyant as the first Boondock Saints movie, it comes close. The Celtic-metal assaults were brash enough to merit some volume processing. I’ve had impressive past results from both THX Loudness Plus and Dynamic EQ/Volume, but this time I preferred the latter. THX Loudness Plus was noticeably blander and offered only a basic on/off choice. Dynamic EQ/Volume seemed closer to (albeit gentler than) the original, with more detail. I also liked that it had settings for light, medium, heavy, and off. I started with medium and, as the evening went on, switched to heavy. True, the movie lost some of its rambunctious spirit, but that’s a choice listeners must make for themselves. It’s great that we not only have a choice in this AVR, but several choices.

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer’s slasher-versus-teens plot is predictable enough. But the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, with score by John Frizzell, is well above par. Musical scare effects are interestingly orchestrated, with drama drums preceded by threatening gongs. When the embattled teens are stranded on a Caribbean island amid a howling storm, there’s plenty of surround-friendly rain and thunder, and at times the thunder actually integrates with the music into a seamless whole. Here, 2EQ showed how useful it could be, as set up in my sub-less system, by equalizing the bottom end. I also invoked Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume, with the latter at its light setting. This made only modest adjustments to this excellent soundtrack’s dynamics. Seconds after I set it, I forgot about it. It never called attention to itself with pumping or any other obvious effects.

The Multichannel Orchestra Never Lies
Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 arrived on multichannel SACD courtesy of Paavo Järvi, the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, and RCA Red Seal/Sony BMG. The 19th-century Austrian composer’s symphonies are cathedrals of sound: religiously inspired and massive, with movements often running more than 20 minutes. Among my demo pieces, this freshly recorded high-resolution orchestral material was the most ruthless in showing this modestly priced AVR’s limitations. The string sound wasn’t badly balanced, but it lacked the lushness that the best orchestral SACDs can muster. It also provided little depth. All of the orchestra members sounded as if they were arranged in a straight horizontal line along the front edge of the stage—not seated in rows of varying depth, as they must have been.

Monty Meets Sly and Robbie mates jazz pianist Monty Alexander with Jamaica’s most famous rhythm section, Sly Dunbar on acoustic and electronic drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass. They cover a variety of popular tunes from the 1950s and ’60s in an attractive stylistic mixture of dub and jazz. But this 2000-vintage multichannel SACD was showing its age, with percussive elements so decentralized—so arbitrarily flung around the soundfield—that the grooves just didn’t lock in.

The piano also suffered, seeming to float around the soundfield without any corporeal presence. So I did something I’ve never done before: I rejected the 5.1-channel mix entirely and switched the OPPO’s default SACD setting from highresolution multichannel to still-high-res stereo. Suddenly the grooves were concentrated and potent, and the piano sounded like, well, a piano.

The Oysterband’s Meet You There is a CD release that showcases the band’s vigorous folk-rock, with emphasis on the rock. Unfortunately, this was another victim of the loudness wars, and the gorgeous layers of voices, guitars, and fiddle were viciously compressed—especially compared with some of the band’s earlier albums. I found that a dab of Dynamic EQ did a lot to restore the presence of John Jones (the best male voice in folk-rock). It also gave the congested mix a slightly stronger ambience in the Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode. Dynamic Volume stayed off because the unvarying volume level didn’t need additional leveling.

The Onkyo TX-SR608 A/V receiver offers a definitive feature set at an amazingly low price. It’ll probably make competitors plenty uncomfortable. No, it won’t run power-hog speakers, but mated with speakers of appropriate sensitivity, it can work wonders. This is the AVR of choice for a starter system as well as any surround buff living on a tight budget.


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