Onkyo PR-SC885P Preamplifier/Processor Review
Date: 9-10-07 By: TimfrommassIntroduction
It's been 4+ years since the brain of my home theater system has been replaced. It was then that I took the leap into the world of separates, and it was no small leap at that. I purchased what is considered to be a pretty high end surround sound processor and amp combo from Parasound's Halo line. The C2 and A52 amp were paired with three different sets of main speakers and were housed in two different listening rooms while I owned them. They performed stellar in every way they were asked to, and became a great benchmark for other components to compare to. However, with the advent of HD DVD and Blu-ray, HDMI, and all kinds of new features it was only a matter of time before something came along to take their place. I sure didn't think it would be a $1800 A/V controller from Onkyos Professional line. However, the features, internal components, and price of this sister to the Integra DTC-9.8 were too good to pass up. So with all that said, how does it compare? Let's find out.Description
The main reason for choosing the Onko Pro model over Integra was the looks. Once I removed the piece from its very large well packed box it was apparent that I made the right choice. With its smooth black finish, clean curved front line, and flip down face plate to cover most of the main buttons it is a very nice looking piece of electronics. The looks are enhanced once it is plugged in and you see the sexy blue glow around the volume knob.
The connections in the back of this thing are more than plentiful. It has 7.1 channel inputs and pre-outs (one full set of balanced and unbalanced connections on the output stage). There are a bevy of legacy analog inputs, 3 optical digital ins, 3 digital coaxial digital ins, 3 component HD ins with 2 outputs, and finally 4 HDMI digital ins and 2 outs. Long story short there is no connection missing on this piece from Onkyo and there are plenty of each.
The connections are not the end of the impressive feature list for this product. From the quality of the Burr Brown DACs, to the video processing from Reon, to auto room set up/calibration from Audyssey the 885 is built with quality parts. What these parts come together to do is simpleeverything. It handles pretty much every audio format out there including the new lossless audio signals from the latest HD disks. This controller is full of features, built with quality components, and is a great looker. Now, how does it perform once it's up and running?Set-up
With all those ins and outs I only used a small few. Currently all three of my major source components use HDMI connections for both video and audio. So once I got those three HDMI connections made the only other things left to do was connect the front and surround L&R pre-outs to my new Parasound Z-amps and make the connection from the SVS sub to the Onkyo. That's it, I'm done! Or so you would think.
Once you get everything connect the real fun begins with setting up the sources and the incredible amount of options the 885 has for set up. I won't go into all of the different output options involving HDMI from the source equipment, but let's just say with these new digital connections and all of the different decoding options, getting a source component to work properly is not as easy as it used to be. Past that though, there is a lot to tweak in the Onkyo, and through a very easy to navigate nice looking menu system I might say.
The video section, as mentioned, is handled by the HQV Reon processor. Using this built in scalar you can choose to do a few different things with the incoming signals. You can set the output resolution to any of the typical options (480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p), or choose auto or pass through. The auto option is for those who don't want to get involved and just let the Onkyo choose the best options. The pass through option is for those who feel they have superior source equipment and want to bypass the Reon chip all together. In order to truly achieve that result though you have to go into the miscellaneous menu and turn off immediate display. I experimented with this quite a bit and I'll get into this later.
As far as audio set up goes, one could spend a week here if they wanted. You can set the x-over for each speaker individually and you have 5hz increments to move through. The speaker delays and level adjustments are equally adjustable, and there is also an option to manually go through and adjust 15 different bands of EQ for each set of speakers. For those who don't have the savvy or know how and just want to keep it simple, the Onkyo features the famed Audyssey XT set up/EQ system that lets you sit back and watch the controller do all of the work. For the listening sessions mentioned here I did the measurements on my own using a Radio Shack SPL meter. I set the front speakers to a 40hz x-over point, and the surrounds to 80hz. I don't have a center channel in my system so that was obviously set to none.
Now that the system is set up we can make with the evaluation!2ch & Surround Sound Music
I started my evaluation, as usual, with 2-channel music. I sat through a few of my reference recordings which include Con Te Partiro by Andrea Bocelli, Say Goodbye by Dave Mathew's Band, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, and Forgiven (acoustic) by Alanis Morrissette. What I heard was very pleasing! Overall the tonal balance of the music was exceptional, possibly a bit more smooth and natural than even the Halo C2. The image presented was wide, deep, and everything had pinpoint placement. From that standpoint it was everything you could ask for. The system as a whole was a bit more quiet than it was previously. This could be attributed to the lower powered amps I'm now using on my ultra efficient speakers, or it could be that the noise from the Onkyo is actually lower than the Parasound. I don't have the test equipment to find out why, but the result is a cleaner edge around each instrument and player. For example in Con Te Partiro there is a slight echo that can be heard at the end of each line by Bocelli. This was far more apparent and there was a more natural decay with the Onkyo and the Z-amps in place than there was with the C2 and A52.
With that said I don't believe that the 885 has that last bit of resolution that the C2 had. During the Andrea Bocelli track there is a drum played by a brush, and while it was there during my most recent listening session you had to listen for it a bit harder than when the C2 was in place. Or, when there is a shaker used by Alanis in Forgiven the details of the beans striking the their enclosure was not as apparent. However, over all the sound was very impressive. There were areas where it had been bested by the Parasound, but there were also areas where the newer Onkyo was superior. Not necessarily an upgrade for me, but certainly not any worse over all.
Now, where I have no basis for comparison is surround sound music. I had a few DVD-A disks and SACDs, but never enjoyed listening to them much more than regular Cds. I long since gave up on both of those formats. However, with the advent of Blu-ray and HD DVD we have new lossless audio formats, one being Dolby True-HD. Due to set up constraints with the C2 I was never able to experience the new formats on that processor. This was one of the major reasons for the desire to change to the 885. The first experience I chose for the new format was the acclaimed Blu-ray disk, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Live at Radio City. There was a lot of hype around this disk, and it didn't disappoint. The quality of this recording was unlike anything I've ever heard in my system before. The resolution of this recording made the performance so life like that it was unbelievable. There were a few occasions where I got goosebumps from the realism of the dueling acoustic guitars. If I didn't know any better I would have thought that there were two guitars being played in my room. The clarity and character of Dave's vocals were better than being there live. I'm sold on True-HD as the most superior audio reproduction format ever created (while I havent listened to anything in DTS-MA). It takes concert disks and music listening in general to an entirely new level, and I wait with great excitement while this format is explored further to achieve even greater levels of musical enjoyment. In this regard I couldn't be happier with my choice to change my a/v controller.SD & HD Movies
This is where I took the opportunity to experiment with the video processing options. I played a few scenes on Blu-ray trying the two different processing options that would fit my system. I first tried the complete pass through as documented earlier in this review. What I found was interesting, in that I got crushed black levels pretty severely. I was not getting this effect when the PS3 was connected directly to the projector. I then tried the 1080i output which proved to give superior results. The clarity was just as good, but the black levels and color were much better. That is the setting I will continue with.
For SD DVDs the Reon did a very good job of up scaling the picture. Both the PS3 and Toshiba HD-XA1 are regarded as excellent up converting players, so I didn't notice a huge difference with the Reon. I do think I preferred it, but it wouldn't kill me if it weren't there. The sound was also good from these disks, everything I've come to expect from a good Dolby Digital soundtrack.
Next I got my first shot at a lossless audio sound track from a movie. I watched A Knight's Tale on Blu-ray, which was a reference DVD of mine for both picture and sound. I chose the uncompressed PCM soundtrack from the menu and then let it play. This track was playing at a lower data rate than the True-HD track on the Dave Mathews disk, and the difference was apparent. It didn't have that stunning jaw dropping clarity of the music performance, but it was noticeably superior to the DTS soundtrack that was on the superbit version of the same film. A movie that has a soundtrack like A Knight's Tale really benefits from the uncompressed sound, and the music sounded phenomenal. The bass was also great, and small details like the clanging of armor, crickets in the back ground, and the rustling of fabric were all far beyond any SD DVD I've every watched. The clarity and smoothness of the dialog was also a benefit of the new HD surround sound formats. All in all, I've learned that there is no going back from lossless audio and the fact that the Onkyo provides me with the ability to enjoy it is reason enough to own it.The Cons
I really can't find too much that's bad about this unit. Some people have complained about the lack of menu options for the Reon processing. Apparently these missing options are standard on most products equipped with the Reon chip. I don't have too much use for it, so it doesn't bother me too much, but I think it is important to at least make mention of it. The only other thing one could possibly gripe about could be the simple remote. I find that it is a pretty easy remote to use, but it doesn't do anything fancy. Again for me, my Harmony 1000 handles the task of acting as the interface between the user and the system, so this is a non factor. There really is very little to complain about with this piece of equipment.Conclusion
I still can't believe what Onkyo/Integra have come up with here. A fully featured a/v controller with all of the modern trappings AND sound quality that rivals a $4,000 processor for the price tag of only $1800. That's what the Onkyo Pro PR
-SC885P is, and I would find it hard not to recommend this piece to anyone looking for an upgrade to their system.Components
-Pre/Pro: Onkyo Pro PR
-Amp: (2) Parasound Z-amp
-Protection: Monster HTS-3500Video
-TV Provider: Comcast Motrolla HD-DVR
-Blu-Ray Player: Sony Playstation 3
-HD DVD Player: Toshiba HD-XA1
-CD/SACD Player: Sony Playstation 3 with 500GB hard drive
-Projector: Mitsubishi HC-3000
-Screen: Carada Precision Series 80" Diagonal 1.78 to 1Speakers
-Main Speakers: Modified Speakerlab K-Hornes
-Surrounds: Speakercraft AIM8-Three
-Subwoofers: SVSound 20-39PC+Remote
Harmony H1000 with RF extender