Onkyo TX-SR806 A/V Receiver Page 2

Like most of its peers, this receiver offers auto setup and room EQ. You know the drill—plug a microphone into the front panel, run the tones, and the receiver handles the settings and levels. Onkyo licenses Audyssey MultEQ room correction, which can measure from up to six positions in the room and evens out variations in response.

This receiver’s Audyssey suite also includes Dynamic EQ, which, according to the press release, “adds moment-by-moment refinement to the receiver’s frequency response and surround levels in order to compensate for volume-dependent deteriorations in the listening experience.” That may sound like THX Loudness Plus, but there are differences.

Audyssey Dynamic EQ uses its own proprietary perceptual curves. It measures playback levels, analyzes each channel, and then applies loudness correction. And of course it benefits from MultEQ room correction, which minimizes seat-to-seat variations in the effectiveness of the loudness correction.

If you could engage Loudness Plus and Dynamic EQ simultaneously, you’d get double processing. That would be bad, so the receiver doesn’t allow it. Some listeners may also prefer to rely on their own ears’ natural dynamic and frequency response characteristics and listen with basic surround processing and nothing else. You can choose to run one mode, the other, or neither, but not both.

Associated equipment included five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 speakers run full range, Pioneer’s BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player, and Integra’s DPS-10.5 universal player. I initially auditioned movies in the THX Cinema mode, without THX Loudness Plus or any of the Audyssey stuff engaged. I wanted to get a sense of the AVR’s intrinsic qualities before I moved on to the fancy stuff. I experimented with the new THX and Audyssey modes separately later.

Beethoven, the Governator, and Disco Disco
I knew I was on sonically friendly turf when the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack of The Fall starts with the somber, noble, slow movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The story is an extended bedtime story told to a little girl. It turns into a vast fantasy filmed in picturesque locations all over the world and involves exotic figures who band together to defeat a Dr. Odious. The movie uses typical action movie sound effects sparingly, but there’s a good right-to-left panned detonation, some whizzing arrows, and other stuff. Various solo instruments (including oud) embellish the orchestral score. The receiver had a field day with the beautifully recorded music. If this were a music-only release, I’d have been well satisfied. Dialogue, though often hushed, was clear.

My old Blu-ray player placed the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack of End of Days at a slight disadvantage. It had to fall back to a DTS core signal at 1.5 megabits per second. But I didn’t find it especially edgy or fatiguing. This is pretty remarkable considering it’s an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie with all the high-volume action you’d expect. The receiver didn’t have any dynamic problems with the most cataclysmic effects: collapsing buildings, roaring subways, machine-gun-like chase-scene tympani, etc. It also did fine with enveloping rain and the near silence of a deserted street at night.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan stars Adam Sandler as an Israeli secret service agent turned New York hairdresser. His battle cry is, “Disco disco,” so the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack got a chance to strut the likes of Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam.” Like many comedies, this one has a relatively subdued dynamic range with the kind of evened-out dialogue you’d expect from a TV program. That’s probably a good thing. A light-hearted Sandler comedy shouldn’t be as loud as a Schwarzenegger movie.

Fun with Audyssey and THX
Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, in the performance by Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, became the hapless victim of my experiments with various listening modes. First I ran the Audyssey auto setup routine.

Its speaker-distance and other settings were impressively accurate, especially considering the extreme asymmetry of my listening room, which has confused lesser algorithms. I started listening to the CD in the Dolby Pro Logic II stereo-to-surround mode. With Audyssey MultEQ on, Bell’s world-class violin sounded better focused. The soundfield and the midrange character of the other strings changed little.

I chose the slow movement of “Spring” as a low-volume test and examined the Audyssey and THX circuits that are devoted to manipulating that kind of quiet mate-

rial. With Audyssey MultEQ still on, I engaged the Dynamic EQ. This resulted in a dramatic increase in fullness, especially in the surround channels. The surround-left speaker was more localized than the surround-right, which was possibly a flaw of my room setup. (That speaker is closer to the wall than its right companion.) When I turned off the circuit, it collapsed the back (only the back) of the soundfield and refocused its attention on the front soundstage. With Dynamic EQ on, I was practically on stage with the performers. I felt sound pressure all around me. With it off, I was back in the audience and felt sound pressure coming mainly from the front. Neither effect sounded bad, but the difference was noteworthy. Whether you’d like it would depend on your subjective reaction to the spatial shift—just where would you prefer to sit, on stage or in the audience?

I turned off Audyssey entirely (both Dynamic EQ and MultEQ) to listen to THX Loudness Plus. The solo violin remained at the same low level. However, the other strings surrounding it changed their position. Without Loudness Plus, the orchestra seemed to be slightly behind Bell, as it probably was in real life. With Loudness Plus, the orchestra had moved up on either side of Bell, as though all the players were sitting at the front edge of the stage. It fascinated me that both THX and Audyssey circuits toyed with my expectations about how a concert hall is arranged. My expectations would have been different with movie material—I’d have had fewer of them.

David Gilmour has followed his Remember That Night concert video with Live in Gdask. With no Blu-ray version yet, DVD and Dolby Digital had to suffice. Unlike the previous live set, this outdoor concert brought a full orchestra to the Polish shipyard where the Solidarity movement (and Eastern European democracy) was reborn. Without the reverberant walls of a concert hall, the string sound was soft-edged. It was often submerged beneath the layers of electric instruments. But when the band fell away to leave Gilmour soloing on acoustic guitar over the orchestra, the sudden burst of beauty was exhilarating. The mix showed a good ear—Gilmour’s Stratocaster had some bite but didn’t shriek. It was an authentic rock ’n’ roll thrill to watch those powerful hands bending metal strings.

Energy by Fourplay on SACD delivers light jazz in a multichannel mix. I used this best-case high-resolution material as a vehicle to arrive at a final opinion of Audyssey MultEQ (minus any form of loudness compensation). For the first time ever in my experience with equalized receivers, I preferred that the room EQ be engaged. However, the difference was extremely subtle. There were no disorienting shifts in tone or texture. The main distinction was that the soundfield firmed up slightly, in a way I didn’t hear so much as sense. Or feel. Whatever it was, I liked it. If I owned this receiver, I’d probably use MultEQ as a default setting.

More Research Needed
The most useful and candid thing I can tell you about my experience with the Onkyo TX-SR806 is that it was too brief. Oh, I’m pretty certain that Audyssey MultEQ is the gold standard in auto setup and room correction, at least in technology licensed to A/V receiver manufacturers. And THX Loudness Plus and Audyssey Dynamic EQ are far from crude. But it would have taken me months to fully absorb all their implications. If you’ve got this receiver or another one with these new features, feel free to help me by posting your impressions at blog.HomeTheaterMag.com/markfleischmann/loudness. In any event, THX Loudness Plus and Audyssey Dynamic EQ are a tacit admission that home theater surround processing requires more finesse at lower volume levels. As someone who flinches at mega-decibel public demos, I take that as a personal vindication. If you’re like me, the advent of improved low-decibel surround may change your life for the better.

Onkyo U.S.A. Corporation
Onkyo U.S.A. Corporation