Reviewing the impressive Teufel System 9 THX Ultra 2 speaker system threw up a requirement for a THX Ultra 2+ certified receiver in order to power them and apply the THX post processing that is the final piece in the THX jigsaw. It’s a while since I’ve tried an AV Receiver in my system, so when Onkyo offered up their brand spanking new, range topping TX-NR5007 receiver in response to the plea for help, I was very pleased to put it mildly.
And what a machine it is! I think it’s safe to say that if there is a feature currently offered on a receiver, then it’s probably here and there are far too many to mention every single one individually. I’ll stick to what was pertinent to my use and the time spent with it in my rack. That comment probably sums up the way most people will use an AVR like this: They will buy it for the features they need, or (think) they want and ignore the rest, but implicit should be the understanding that the basis of its performance is a good sound. Lest we forget, the primary feature of an amplifier is to amplify sound. If it doesn’t do that well in spite of the phenomenal ‘system hub’ role AVRs now perform, it’s moot as to whether it’s a good product or not, in my book. Certainly if density (25kg) and size (435x199x464mm) are any indicators of quality, you’re certainly getting your materials worth and I recommend careful use of a tape measure prior to purchase; I can see some people with enclosed cabinets struggling for depth, never mind whether they can achieve enough height to ensure adequate ventilation. Be warned.
Looks wise, it follows the now familiar Onkyo concave fascia comprising of three panels, the bottom of which hides manual controls and extra inputs. The drop down action is both satisfyingly heavy and well damped and whilst not necessary, this is a nice touch. The bright blue light surrounding the large volume knob can fortunately be turned off and the clear LED display dimmed which then creates a malevolently dense black hole in your rack. Perfect. Or you can buy one in silver.
A peak under the bonnet reveals three hefty transformers, each dedicated to its role of amplification (the big one being a toroid in the 5007) audio or video processing. It's the number of these, plus the discrete power supply stages hanging off them that differentiate the 5007 from the 3007 and 1007 below it, the latter sporting only a single frame transformer for all functions. A reminder that amplifier basics still cost money in this day and age. Working down the range, a few features disappear along the way, as does some of the ultimate power output, but all are DNLA 1.5/Windows 7 network compatible via the Ethernet Port, so along with internet radio, the three receivers can stream just about every audio file (MP3, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, AAC, LPCM, WAV, WMA and WMA Lossless) going. Apple iPod compatibility is ensured courtesy of the optional extra UP-A1 dock which connects via the Onkyo 'universal' port, as does the optional UP-DT1 DAB+ radio module, which can be daisy-chained from each other.
All audio channels sport Burr Brown PCM 1795 32-bit/192kHz (24bit in the 1 & 3007) DACs, with DSP carried out by a trio of 32-bit TI 'Aureus' chips (1 x DA830, 2 x DA788). Video processing also seems uncommonly potent for a receiver containing a Silicon Image HQV Reon-VX video processor (Faroudja DCDi for the 1007) and ISF video calibration controls for all video inputs which can all be unpconverted/upscaled to 1080p through an HDMI 1.3a output.
On the audio front, the headline grabbers are not only the THX post processing modes, but Dolby Pro Logic IIz which generates and extra pair of front height channels and Audyssey DSX which generates an extra pair of height and width channels to be positioned outside of you main front speakers. The idea in both cases is that as your attention is very much focused on the front of the sound field around the screen, you are much more likely to benefit from an extra solidity and precision of effects steered within this area. This is contrary to the previous idea (which may yet still come to fruition if the manufacturers get half a sniff someone will buy it) that extra rear, and possibly overhead channels are the way forward. Hell, someone even postulated a 'Front 'Forward' speaker to cope with the image depth of 3D. Sheesh!
To my mind the extra front speakers make more sense, although how many will go the extra mile of mounting all of the extra speakers is another matter. I could see my getting away with a pair of height channels at the top left and right of the projector screen, but try for more than that and I may as well leave home now.
Other new technologies implemented are Dolby Volume, designed to take the sting out of overly loud (if you think that way) film passages and ad breaks, the differences in volume between one channel and the next and different sources. It also incorporates an equalisation curve that progressively adjusts for the human hearing insensitivity at the frequency extremes as volume decreases and seeks to maintain audibility of the subtler sounds across all channels. Also included is Audyssey Dynamic Volume (incorporating Audyssey Dynamic EQ) which claims to do much the same job, albeit using Audyssey's take on the issues addressed. Finally, there's THX Loudness Plus which as well as having the closest name to the actual effect imposed, also claims to equalise the tonal balance to increase audibility of the frequency extremes across all channels at all listening levels. If I'm painting a picture of triple feature redundancy, then it's not quite that bad as that as depending on which listening mode you're using, then only certain variants of this feature can be applied; They can't all end up fighting each other, assuming you like their effect
Finally we have the networking capabilities which I utilised to run an instant firmware update and investigate the world of internet radio. This proved extremely easy to set-up and in no time I was searching through a globe's worth of output using vTuner, most of which was at bit-rates unable to rival the output from my Sky HD box, never mind a really good FM transmission. No matter, there was some good comedy to be found and it’s more than good enough for a continuous stream of background music.
Like I said, the 5007 has virtually every notable feature under the sun although my stringent efforts to prove otherwise came up trumps when checking the installation features. Although 12V triggers and an RS232 port can be found to aid integration in a pro installer set-up, Crestron AMX compatibility is reserved for the PR-SC5507 Processor. Considering the shared architecture, this omission from the 5007 (if not it's smaller siblings) seems a touch odd.
So, back to dealing with the amplification, the most notable feature is that this is a 9.2 channel amplifier. That is nine channels of power amplification plus two independent subwoofer pre-amp outputs. Looking to the rear of the 5007 actually reveals eleven pairs of speaker terminals. Not only is it possible to use the extra channels over and above the usual seven in conjunction with the Front Height or Width surround channels as mentioned, but it is also possible to configure the extra channels to, draws breath: Either power another zone (another two in fact and one with video), power a separate pair of stereo only floor-standing speakers, power a pair of rear mono-pole speakers for surround music, passively bi-amplify (or bridge mono - 5007 only) four channels to the front left and right stereo pair and, breaths again, not have to disconnect the extra speakers when running some permutations of the above. As I had neither the speakers, not the will to drill extra holes in my walls, I restricted myself to the six speakers positions currently wired into my room. Less of an issue was testing the provision of two independent subwoofer outputs. Whilst the omnidirectional nature of bass theoretically means the difference between stereo and mono bass should be neither here nor there, having the pair independently equalisable is a different kettle of fish, but more on this later.
How was it used?
Listening was split between my usual (non THX) set-up of XTZ fronts, M&K surrounds , plus custom built subwoofers and the Teufel System 9 THX Ultra 2 system reviewed previously. The Audyssey MultEQ XT automated set-up and room equalisation routine was employed with all eight measurement positions utilized each time. As per usual, I found that if time was taken to ensure absolute silence in the rest of the house and measurement positions were kept within the width of the front three speakers, the results were both consistent and reliably accurate. Once run, I reset all speakers to “Small” with an 80Hz crossover as is the THX norm. The automated calibration process sets the channel levels so that '0dB' as displayed on the amp equates to Dolby/THX reference level. Handy for those with a rubbish memory like mine.
After listing that lot and having had a short lie down, I shall remind the editor that I signed up to review speakers and subwoofers! To be fair, in future a lot of these features will become the norm and less worthy of note. Where will it end?
It's somewhat difficult to subjectively separate the sound of an amplifier from that of the speakers to which it is attached. The combination of the tightly specified THX Ultra 2 speakers, matching Ultra 2 Plus amp specification and finally, Audyssey MultEQ XT to take the room issues out of the equation results in a sound that is, unsurprisingly best described as neutral. It does not tend toward lean, forward and bright, nor laid back, warm and comfy. It does convey a sense of confident ease through having plenty of grunt on tap that was ample for any of the speaker packages I had to hand. Reference level was easily achieved (and a fair bit more) before an edge of hardness started to set in and the soundtrack start to sound hard and busy. Again, I draw attention to my sub-Ultra 2 Plus sized room but with the big Teufels in tow, +6dB on the dial was a non-issue and even +3dB on the XTZs sounded fine for all but the most bombastic sequences.
It wasn't all about sheer dynamic SPL blasts as was proven by the excellent 'The Hurt Locker' that turned up late in the review. The fine details of distant city sounds were portrayed in an entirely convincing manner, accentuating the tense silence of whichever street the bomb in question was residing in all of which helped to build tension. When one went off, you were left in no doubt about the concussive force of the detonation and it was all the more sudden because of the delicacy of the background out of which the explosion leapt.
To be fair, a £2500 AV receiver shouldn't struggle with multichannel movies as it's their raison d'être and the 5007 clearly was in it's comfort zone. Movie prowess aside, I have heard any number of AVRs that sound so UN-involving and devoid of musical emotion, you are left wondering if the designer(s) actually even bothered so much as to spin a CD. This quality, or rather lack of, has afflicted some surprisingly well thought of AV receivers as far as this pair of ears are concerned; Class leading with movies and yet dull as dishwater with 'simple' two channel audio. This bothers me as someone who listens to as much music as movies and whilst I was excited at the idea of the 5007 turning up for movies, I was pretty sure that once it had done that, I'd be fumbling around for something nice to say in musical terms.
The 5007 doesn't need excuses. Sure, the same money spent on a dedicated two channel amp would result in greater ultimate levels of detail retrieval and a greater definition to the depth of sound-stage and the positioning within it, but the musical fundamental of timing is present and correct and the bold, clean, dynamic presentation with movies, transfers to a thoroughly engaging listen with music.
I tended to prefer the plain 'Stereo' listening mode that allowed bass management to keep the subwoofers in play, rather than the 'Pure Direct' mode which I found made little difference. Anybody with truly full range fronts (and there's not many) might err the other way, but my system is configured to take advantage of large EQ'd subs and the benefits that can derive in lightening the speakers bass load and lowering distortion and so the advantages of turning off video processing, etc is off-set. And although someone somewhere will shoot me down for this, I preferred music with Audyssey off. To be fair, as the subs are EQ'd (which makes the mother load of the difference) and I've wasted stupid amounts of time, fine tuning speaker positions by measurement and by ear to give the flattest response I can manage, turning Audyssey on doesn't quite make the night and day difference I've heard it make elsewhere. If your room/speaker combination is one where that sort of difference is apparent, then you'll probably prefer it on to the theoretical advantages of removing an extra level of DSP from the signal path. To my ears at least, the music just seems to feel a little more lively and up tempo with Audyssey off.
It may be a comment on the 5007s uncomplicated presentation, but I found myself wandering toward large scale rock music. Pink Floyd's 'The Wall – Live' and Renaissance's 'A Song For All Seasons' and Living Color's 'Stain', all work room swellingly well, maybe because of the gusto on offer and perhaps because it's smooth and unfussy nature was forgiving of less than perfect recordings at all volume levels. This may be a flattering way of saying it's not revealing enough for true monitoring duties, but not everybody wants to dissect their recordings and everybody should be more concerned about the music. Here, the big Onkyo does well and indeed, it remained in my system for a good deal longer than I expected. This is sad, but 'The Brazilian' by Genesis off 'Invisible Touch' which is a wall paper stripper of an album was so good and so loud, that the sternum resonating bass almost transported me back to Wembley Stadium (the real one!) in '87. Like I said, sad; But music sometimes connects for non hi-fi reasons.
I did mention earlier that I was running two subs and that the 5007 could treat them as separate entities in terms of treating them as stereo, as well as EQing them separately. As I'm a bit of a speaker/sub fetishist, I took the time to try the difference between driving both subs from a mono output and independently, to see if the dual output is a box ticking exercise or a useful addition to the panoply of features. I can take or leave (and did for the most part) a lot of AV receiver features, but this one is a genuinely noticeable upgrade, although there is a caveat. That is that there's no point in using two inferior subs in place of one better example. There is obviously a law of diminishing returns to take into account, but I'd generally suggest that unless you really can't fit anything bigger in the room and already have enough power and driver area to comfortably manage reference levels into sub 20Hz territory, then you may be better looking at better, rather than more subs. If that criteria is met, then you're in for a real treat where recordings contain real (in so far as recording engineers with multiple mics can deliver real) spacial information.
The total information is theoretically the same, but I was quite taken aback at how much larger the acoustic of the hall on my Bach organ sampler sounded with stereo subs. It was all level matched and each sub EQ'd via the BFD, so it was only a matter of a quick lead swap and a menu change, but the difference was quite definite. The physical impact of the drum rolls in Dire Straits' 'Private Investigations definitely started impacting from the right and finished hitting from the left. In mono, they sound the same and retained their scale, but the shift from extreme right to left lost it's width. When (if?) .2 LFE soundtracks start to appear on Blu-ray, then it's going to interesting to see if the sound engineers utilize the physical directional cues this enables and even then, whether they choose the front/rear or side/side split. Il throw my hat into the ring on the stereo left/right split to benefit the maximum number of users.
- High Power
- Movie Performance
- Rewarding with Music Playback
- Every current feature under the sun
- Unit size and depth, measure your AV Rack
- Almost too Complex
- Movie excitement doesn't quite translate to music
- Runs warm, not for enclosed cabinets
Onkyo TX-NR5007 AV Receiver Review
We've already shown that in terms of facilities and settings, there's more than one person can possibly need or is likely to use. Paradoxically, there are facilities that that are made full use of by 26 year old technology like CDs (stereo subs), but not by the modern technology (Blu-ray) without the promises of which the second sub output would never have appeared. I'll stop short of saying the 5007 is future proof, because that statement has made fools of enough people already and anyway, HDMI 1.4 is already a reality, but not catered for here.
In movie terms, I found myself wanting nothing considering the price, even if I could find myself tied in knots working out what mode I was listening in and with which features were engaged. I did frequently find myself with the (actually quite good) instruction manual in hand to see if I was trying to double up settings, or couldn't understand why a mode wasn't available, or was unsure what a feature did if I couldn't hear a difference either way. Like most I imagine, I settled on what sounded best (the least extra features engaged) and quickly forgot about the rest. I will mention that I did rather like the effect of THX Neural Surround as opposed to the usual Dolby PLII/DTS:Neo 6 efforts at creating believable surround from a stereo (read Sky HD) source.
If I were forced to go back to a receiver, at least I now know that I wouldn't be committing musical Hari Kiri and this was my most pleasant surprise during the 5007s stay. It's a genuinely entertaining music maker, the proviso being that it has a enough features to completely stuff up this ability if you so desire. That wouldn't be the Onkyo's fault though – you don't have to use every feature it offers and less, sometimes really is more. I do note with some interest that rumours on both the internet and printed press mills, talk of a stripped out 'audiophile' receiver from Onkyo. Perhaps someone in Japan has noticed that there is a market for a more music-focused-with-films-attached receiver, but waiting for such vapour-ware is often a fruitless game. Shame, I would be genuinely interested in hearing that one based on the current showing.
In the mean time, the TX-NR5007 is a technical tour de force that hit's all of the currently required marks asked in it's price class and sounds great across the board. It's value for money will largely depend on how many of the features, for which you are paying, will actually be of use, but the big Onkyo is deservedly going to find itself finding a place in many homes on the basis of it's audio performance alone.
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