- Written by Tyler Stripko
- Published on 24 September 2009
Music and Surround Sound
I always start evaluating any new component with music, as I firmly believe that if a piece of gear can do 2-channel music well, it will sound great with all music and surround sound formats. After disabling the Audyssey equalization, I started my listening session with some of my favorite CD tracks. Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances" (Reference Recordings, RR-96) sounded very good on the 607. Overall tonal qualities were neutral, with the 607 leaning towards neither the bright nor warm side of things. Soundstaging was fairly expansive, with the Onkyo providing a solid idea where each instrument was placed on the stage. The midrange was very smooth and balanced nicely with the treble. Massed string instruments cut through the mix without being overly harsh. Next, I moved onto "Azucar" (Avalon - B00000J6Z0) and cued up track 4, "Dusk." The drum kicks were tight and accurate, and the Spanish guitar remained smooth and balanced. The winds that come in later in the track sounded beautiful.
As I've experienced with other Audyssey equipped devices, enabling the Audyssey 2EQ improved all aspects of 2-channel listening. Overall frequency response became more balanced, soundstaging and imaging improved, and bass performance tightened up. The only gripe I have with Onkyo's Audyssey implementation is that they do not allow a user to access the "flat" equalizer curve. This equalizer curve is expressly designed to present a completely flat frequency response at the primary listening position. For 2-channel listening, this has consistently proven to be my personal favorite, though that could be a result of my room's acoustics. Onkyo does allow for the creation of a custom Audyssey EQ curve, but without being able to see the equalizer results recorded during the Audyssey calibration it is difficult to figure out where to start. Putting aside the lack of Audyssey "flat," I was extremely impressed with the 607's 2-channel performance and am simply amazed that this level of sound quality is available today at the $600 price point.
Moving into surround sound, I ran through a battery of blu-ray test discs, including "Ratatouille," "The Fifth Element," "The Matrix," and "Mad Men: Season 2." The lossless surround tracks on each disc sounded great, particularly with Audyssey enabled. I also preferred keeping Dynamic EQ turned on, which increases bass impact and surround sound levels when you are listening at less than reference level. Dialog intelligibility was excellent, as was the overall surround sound envelopment. Bass impact was solid without bloating and there was a very neutral presentation in the midrange and treble. The 90 watts of advertised power at 8 Ohms seemed to be spot on, and the 607 had no trouble driving my system to satisfactory volume levels.
One thing I did notice was that if you feed the 607 a 192 kHz signal, Audyssey correction is automatically disabled. It turns out that the Onkyo lacks the processing power to decode the 192 kHz signal and apply Audyssey processing simultaneously. As we are starting to see more music only Blu-ray discs with 192 kHz tracks (like 2L's fantastic sounding "Divertimenti"), I hope that Onkyo addresses this problem in their next generation of products. Despite this minor criticism, the 607 once again seemed to perform above its price range and I can't imagine any buyer being disappointed in its surround sound performance.
How about those Height Channels? As I'm sure I've annoyed quite a few readers by not yet mentioning the height channels, let me give them their own separate section. This was my first experience with height channels and Dolby Pro Logic IIz, so I spent a good deal of time experimenting with speaker placement and setup. At least from my own testing, I found that I preferred keeping the height channels at least two feet farther apart than my front mains. This seemed to increase the amount of "ambiance" that the height channels produced, and kept the height channels from "smearing" the sound coming from my front mains. I tried a few different speaker heights as well, eventually settling on about 24 inches from the ceiling in my media room. This put the height channels about 3 feet above the tops of my front tower mains.
Also, I found that I had to add 3-4dB worth of additional volume to the height channels to get the best effect. Anything more than +4dB seemed to create a little too much ambiance, almost like turning on the "reverb" feature on a guitar amplifier. I highly recommend a user experiment with the positioning and level of the height channels, as every room will produce different results. Using speakers that are voice-matched to your front mains and center channel is highly recommended as well.
Once I had the height channels set up to my liking, I enabled Pro Logic IIz processing and tried out my demo CDs again. I will be upfront and state that I've never cared for Pro Logic IIx processing with stereo sources, and Pro Logic IIz did nothing to change my opinion. Yes, the height channels helped to produce a wider soundstage with more "air," but it just sounded way too artificial for my taste. I also noticed a definite loss of musical detail and clarity with IIz engaged, almost like I was listening to the music through a "haze."
Moving on to movie soundtracks, I found myself torn about the height channels' effectiveness. Pro Logic IIz really adds a neat effect to movie scenes where there is rain or running water in the mix. For example, during the introductory scene of "Ratatouille" I really liked how IIz helped make the falling rain sound almost like the real thing. During "The Matrix," the sprinklers going off as Neo and Trinity attempt to free Morpheus sounded awesome. However, I didn't think that all surround tracks benefited from IIz. Dolby recommends the well known "Diva" scene from "The Fifth Element" as a great way to hear the benefits of IIz. While the height channels expanded the front sound stage, I once again heard a bit of "haze" over the sound, similar to what I heard when applying IIz to stereo music sources.
Switching back and forth between IIz and the Dolby TrueHD listening mode confirmed this for me. There was a subtle loss of clarity in the front three channels with IIz processing enabled. Going back to my earlier test scenes from "Ratatouille" and "The Matrix," I was able to hear the same thing. Granted, the differences in sound were minor, but they were audible if you listened closely. I can only venture that the additional processing was responsible for this slight loss of detail and clarity. In summary, the height channels work really well with certain material and I'm intrigued by the potential for expanding the front sound stage and ambiance of surround soundtracks. I'm also now very interested in hearing how Audyssey's forthcoming DSX processing will handle height sounds. I'm even more excited in seeing truly "discrete" height/ambiance channel effects. Can anyone say "DTS-HD High Master Audio" or "Dolby Truly High HD?" Someone make sure I get my royalties on these.