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Onkyo TX-SR603X 7.1 A/V Receiver

Part II

March, 2006

Jared Rachwalski

 

Function

One thing about this receiver that really impressed me was the second zone feature. You can run an analog stereo line-out to a second amplifier in another room, or even configure the rear surround channels to power a second set of speakers. This does partially make up for the unfortunate omission of pre-outs. While you are not able to add another amplifier to upgrade your theater down the road, you can set up another room with tunes and it only requires two more speakers.

Another option on this receiver I liked was the source customization. Not only can you set the default volume by source, you can also configure the stereo and surround settings. My DVD player happens to do double duty as my CD transport, and I prefer to listen to CDs in Source Direct mode (bypasses all processing and tone controls). The Onkyo will automatically change to Source Direct when a two-channel source is detected, and then Dolby Digital when a DD encoded DVD is detected. This, of course, can be set to your own preference.

Remote controls often receive poor marks in reviews. The remote control supplied with this receiver is no exception, as there are some problems with it. The unit does not have specific DVD or VCR buttons, which requires you to press multiple video buttons until you hit the right one.

As well, there are no specific TV volume buttons, and strangely I kept trying to use the remote upside down. Let me not forget to mention that the supplied RC codes did not work with my three-year-old Panasonic DVD player or four-year-old Panasonic VCR. However, they did work with my eleven-year-old Proscan RPTV, allowing me to operate most of the TV's controls.

Fortunately, the learning abilities of the remote allowed me to program in all the necessary functions of all my components. Big points are given to the fact that it has three macro buttons. These have quickly become known as wife-savers around my house.

Auto Calibration

One big problem with any receiver these days, because they area all rather complicated, is proper system set-up. The average user is required to set speaker size and distances, determine optimal crossover frequencies, and assign source inputs. One wrong setting and "poof" you can't get it to work, and the the fun's over. Fortunately, the TX-SR603 simplifies most of the connection conundrums with its Auto Calibration feature. Using the supplied microphone, you choose Auto Calibration, and in a matter of minutes, your speaker levels, distances, and even equalization are set for you.

For the most part, the Auto Calibration does a fine job. However it did seem a little over-zealous when it came to applying equalization. While EQ can correct some room issues, it can also mess up the sound if too much boost is used. I prefer to only cut frequency peaks with equalization, rather than to raise the dips, but the Onkyo receiver applied more boost than cut. Fortunately, you are able to defeat (or change) the EQ settings and keep all other auto calibration settings. One other strange problem was the unit's inability to handle distance differences between the front speakers. While my left and right speakers had less than 12 inches of differences between them the unit still had difficulties, continually displaying a "Distance Mismatch Error".

It is very nice to see such advanced auto calibration features even with their shortcomings. It shows that manufactures and concerned about how the consumer uses the product. It seems they now realize that unless it is easy to set up the equipment, the average user will not get the most out of the product. If you get stuck, there is an Onkyo toll-free help number sticker on top of the unit.

The Sound

Features and options can only take a receiver so far. The whole reason you slapped down your hard earned cash was to play movies in glorious surround sound and music in sweet two-channel. This is where the great receivers separate from the herd. Many receivers in the $500 class do a decent job with movies yet tend to have troubles with music.

Throughout my time with this receiver, I had four pairs of speakers at my disposal. This allowed me to test the Onkyo's performance with different styles and speaker designs. I used a monstrous sized tower, a slim revealing floor-stander, a highly transparent MTM, and my trusty Paradigm Focus bookshelves. It was apparent with the range of speakers used, that this receiver definitely puts movies first. While this receiver doesn't do anything special with music, it does do a great job with movies on DVD.

With movies, the unit constantly delivered great dynamics and a believable soundstage. I threw many different types of movies at it, and each time I was impressed.

With music, the TXSR603 was great at low to mid volume, with lots of detail and a nice warm sound. At higher volume, the unit was fatiguing regardless of the speakers used. With the more revealing speakers, it felt as if there were a veil over the music. This was most noticeable with more complex music such as The Melvins and Primus.

If music at high volume is more important to you than movies, I suggest you spend some time playing your favorite CDs through this receiver to ensure that is sounds good to you before you make the purchase. However, in general, receivers in the entry-level (budget) price class will all likely tend to have problems at high volume. Their power supplies have limitations because, in that low price, they simply cannot be built to sustain constant high output. So, if you are an Onkyo fan, and you like to play your music loud, then consider one of the higher performance models in their line.

The Onkyo receiver has optional connectivity for your iPod, through a product called the DS-A1, and XM Satellite Radio (you purchase the antenna, which plugs into the receiver, along with a subscription service).

Conclusions

Home theater consumers have many good receivers to choose from. It is improbable that there will ever be one which has all the best features along with an incredible sound quality. At $499, though, the Onkyo TX-SR603 does pack in lots of great features for the price, including an iPod link and XM Satelite Radio capability.

Most notable, for this low price, you get Zone 2 capability and Auto Calibration. Even given my disappointments with music reproduction at higher volume, and the unit's lack of pre-outs, there are enough quality features to make this a strong contender as a pretty good entry-level receiver.


- Jared Rachwalski -

Associated Equipment:
Marantz SR5300 A/V Receiver
Panasonic RV32 DVD player
Paradigm System 3 Speakers
Raw Acoustics RA8, HT3, and HT2 Speakers

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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