Onkyo PR-SC5508 9.1 SSP and PA-MC5509 Nine-Channel Power Amplifier


In Use

When the Onkyo arrived, the NCAA Basketball Tournament was just getting started. The opening weekend is easily my favorite sports weekend of the year, and with their new cable agreement this year, you were able to switch between every single game. The first night I was watching there were three great games on at once, so I was constantly switching my cable box between CBS, TNT and TBS. Every time I would switch a station, I would hear two loud relay clicks come from the Onkyo.

It seems that when I would change channels, as the digital audio bitstream was lost and then recovered, that caused the Onkyo to click twice. It also has a much louder click than I was used to with a receiver, and I found myself bothered by it for the first time. While the Onkyo was doing a great job of scaling the image to 1080p60 for my display, and the sound of the games was great, the clicking was a very large annoyance. I found the same behavior when I was watching a Blu-ray film as when I would pause it, the signal would stop and so it would click off, and then click on when I hit play again. I now understand why readers would always ask me after a receiver review if there was relay clicking or not, since it can be a bit of an annoyance. 99% of the time it wasn't an issue, but I do wish it was quieter, or that there was a 1-2 second delay before clicking off so you could change channels without having it occur.

Aside from that, the Onkyo did a stellar job on HDTV, with the scaler doing well to handle 720p and 1080i content when converting it to 1080p60, without introducing any artifacts that I saw, and without combing on the text at the bottom of ESPN or other common issues. Once the basketball was done, I sat down with my wife to watch the most recent Harry Potter film on Blu-ray. Unfortunately this led to another small issue that I had with the Onkyo. Perhaps 4-5 times while we were watching the film, the Blu-ray player (a Pioneer BDP-43FD) and the Onkyo would lose sync for a second or two. We would get a black screen and no sound, and then it would come back a second later. While this isn't my usual Blu-ray player, it also happened with the OPPO BDP-93 on a couple of occasions, though not as often. I haven't run into this with either of these players on a different preamp or receiver, or with the HDMI cable that I used, so it must have been an issue with the Onkyo itself.

Harry Potter did sound wonderful when we watched it. Audyssey keeps improving and the soundstage from the Onkyo was smoother and more enveloping that even with MultEQ XT I thought. Channels were brought down or up to the correct levels, and there was a very seamless pan all around you it seemed. While I found with another review that my AV room does seem to have some excessive bass, Audyssey did a good job of correcting this and I didn't notice it during the film at all. Aside from the sync issue that I ran into while watching the film, the Onkyo performed brilliantly on films.

If you've read my processor or receiver reviews in the past, you know that while I've been a huge fan of Audyssey for surround audio, I absolutely hate it for stereo. I think it always takes a good, detailed album and makes the sound very unfocused. This is why I got front speakers that I could run full-range for music and bypass all bass control in my processor. I have to say that with the improvements that Audyssey made in XT32, I could be converted over.

No longer was the soundstage large and unfocused, but instead it almost mirrored the sound of running the speakers in Pure Direct mode. The one change that I did notice was that the bass tightened up with Audyssey and was no longer a little bit fat at the bottom because of my room. While I might still skip it with analog sources, as I don't like introducing the ADA conversion that Audyssey requires, I would no longer bypass it with my digital sources. Using my Squeezebox Touch to feed the Onkyo digitally and enabling Audyssey gave me fantastic sound, and fast access to all of my music.

With analog sources, I thought that the Onkyo did a very nice job as well. The one criticism that I had read with the earlier models of the preamp is that the analog section suffered in comparison to the digital section. I never had a chance to use one of those so I can't verify those claims, but I found the analog section of the 5508 to be up to the task of working with very nice sources. Using a McIntosh MVP881 over the balanced inputs produced a deep, wide soundstage and wasn't muffled or fuzzy at all. The OPPO BDP-83SE also sounded great over the standard RCA inputs, so I really found nothing to complain about with the Onkyo at all in this regard. It didn't seem to add it's own sonic signature to the analog section, but someone looking for that would more likely be after a tube preamp and not a multichannel component anyway.

Finally, the MC5509 Amplifier managed to perform ably in all of my use. I exclusively used the balanced inputs for five channels with no issues to be had. There is a good chance the amplifier actually ran cooler than the SC-5508 did during most daily use. Going back to favorite audio demos, including Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds at Radio City, I had no clipping or distortion from the amp at all. My main concern with it would be its ability to handle much heavier loads for a long period of time, but most home theater speakers I've used recently at 8 ohm loads and should be fine.