Onkyo has been on a roll with their professional line of preamps recently. Starting with their 885 model, and continuing through the 886 and 5507 they have managed to hit a previously weak area in the home theater market. The current model PR-SC5508 includes all of the features you would expect in a top line receiver, such as Audyssey MultEQ XT32, a Reon VX video scaler, individual input settings, and networked audio playback, and then adds features you might only expect on a far more expensive model: balanced inputs and outputs, THX Ultra2 Plus certification, and ISFccc calibration controls. To try out the fully THX certified setup, Onkyo sent along their PA-MC5509 9 channel amplifier to use as well.
- Design: 9.1 Surround Sound Processor (SSP)
- Codecs: All, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio
- Connections: 7 HDMI In, 2 HDMI Out, RCA In, RCA Out, XLR Out
- Dimensions: 7.8″ H x 17.1″ W x 17.5″ D
- Weight 30.9 Pounds
- MSRP: $2,199 USA
- Onkyo PA-MC5509
- Design: Nine-Channel Power Amplifier
- Power Output: 150 Watts RMS into 8 Ohms (0.05% THD, Two Channels Driven)
- Video Connections HDMI 1.4a (7 rear in, 1 front in, 2 out), Component (3 in, 2 out), Composite (5 in, 1 out), S-Video (4 in, 1 out), PC Input
- Audio Connections RCA Stereo (9 in, 2 out), Balanced Stereo (1 in), Optical (3 in, 0 out), Coaxial Digital (3 in, 0 out), Multichannel (7.1 in, 9.2 unbalanced preout, 9.2 balanced preout), USB (1 front, 1 rear), Phono (1 in)
- Other Connections Ethernet (Internet Radio, Firmware), 12V triggers (1 in, 2 out), RS-232, IR (2 in, 1 out), 2nd Zone (Component Video, Stereo Audio + Sub), 3rd Zone (Composite Video, Stereo Audio + Sub), Headphone Jack (6.3mm)
- Dimensions: 7.9: H x 17.1″ W x 17.9″ D
- Weight 50.7 Pounds
- Price $1,699 USA
With all of the features that are built into the 5508 you would assume it might take up a good bit of space, and you would be correct. The 5508 is nearly 8″ high and weighs close to 31 lbs., so it is certainly not the smallest preamp on the market. Having that much size gives Onkyo room to shove every connection you could possibly need onto the rear panel without being too cramped.
All of the connectors on the rear are gold plated, and there are more than you could possibly need: 7 HDMI inputs and 2 outputs, 9.2 channels of balanced and unbalanced audio outputs, a balanced stereo input, a multichannel input, an MM phono input and all the legacy analog inputs you could need. There are also plenty of connections for integrating it into any home system: Three 12V trigger outputs, an IR repeater, an Ethernet jack, and an RS232 port. Unless you’ve kept every component you’ve collected for multiple decades, I imagine the 5508 will have you covered.
The front of the 5508 is very simple and clean. The input selectors are visible to make it easy to quickly jump to an input, or quickly switch back and forth between them. The volume control is a large, heavy knob that feels very nice to use and not at all loose or flimsy. Most of the controls are hidden behind a door that drops down to revel a large selection of controls and inputs. Overall, it is a very nice looking unit on a rack that doesn’t draw attention to itself but has everything you need close at hand.
The matching 5509 amplifier is even more basic up front, with only a power button and a blue LED to indicate that it’s been turned on. The 5509 is rated for 150 watts per channel at 8 ohm, and has both balanced and unbalanced connections for each channel. Compared to the preamplifier, the amplifier is sparse on the rear, with inputs and binding posts for each channel, as well as a 12V trigger input and an impedance switch for the speakers. If you can’t use the 12V trigger there is a switch to enable Auto Power Down, but as I was using the 5509 I did use the 12V trigger. The binding posts will accept bananas and bare wire, but they will not accept spade lugs.
When you go to setup the 5509, I hope that you book away a large block of time and make sure to keep the manual handy with you. Even with as many receivers and processors as I have setup over the past few years I still needed to look things up before I had it configured correctly. The easiest way with any system to configure your speakers is to use Audyssey and see how close it comes to correct. This was my first time using XT32, which adds the ability to independently configure two subwoofers in the system. My Definitive Technology Mythos STS front towers allow the option of using standard speaker inputs alone, or using them in conjunction with LFE inputs for their internal powered subwoofers. I typically stick to the speaker level as then Audyssey can configure them as independent large speakers and deal with bass management that way, but since XT32 would allow each to be it’s own subwoofer with it’s own settings, I decided to use the LFE inputs as well.
When running Audyssey, it detected all 5.2 channels correctly and the distance was within an inch, which is as close as you can get. Sometimes I find that Audyssey thinks that a speaker is out of phase, but I didn’t run into that here. After it went through and measured all 8 listening positions, I made sure all of the settings were correct for crossovers and distance again, and then began to work on assigning my inputs. I do wish that Onkyo had included a way to view the corrections it made on a per-channel basis as my Marantz AV7005 does, as I find that useful, though not essential.
Configuring inputs was a fairly standard procedure except when it came to the multichannel and balanced inputs. These are the inputs I typically use for doing my bench testing, since the multichannel input virtually never has an A-D conversion step, and with balanced inputs I can bypass it and use the balanced output from my PC without an adapter. What I found is that even if you assign the multichannel or balanced jacks to a certain input, that doesn’t automatically enable them. You then need to switch to that input, hit the Home key, and under the Audio submenu you can choose which analog input you want to use. Until I did this, I couldn’t get them to work and was worried my analog section might actually be broken. Thankfully Onkyo tech support was quick to help me out with this, but I made sure to keep the manual close at hand after this.
Another tricky thing on the Onkyo was that when you configure the video section, there is an option under resolution that is labeled “Through”. This indicates to me that the processor is going to pass through the video signal without performing any sort of modification or adjustment to it. However, it actually means that the resolution won’t be affected, but it still needs to pass through the video scaler. I’d prefer that Onkyo name this something else, such as Native, that doesn’t imply that the signal will bypass the scaler. The one other option I would like to see on video sections is to allow you to set it to 1080p60 but have a pass-thru mode for 24p content. The main use for this is with Blu-ray material, where if you have 24p content and a 24p display, you probably want that to go directly to the display and not be altered at all. However, for 1080i60 concert Blu-rays or 480i DVDs, you might want those to be converted to 1080p60 instead. While this seems to be a feature that only I might want, I do think that it is an option that they should include.
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.
On The Bench
When I first tested the Onkyo on the video bench, the results were not great. There was a lot of chroma detail being lost in multiple colorspaces, with only RGB Video working correctly. When I ran it through my Marantz processor, I found that the Onkyo was taking an 8-bit input signal and converting it to a 10-bit signal on output. Because of this, fine chroma detail was no longer making it to my display but getting lost along the way. There is no option to disable this in the menu system, but there is a hidden menu option you can access from the front panel to turn Video Convert to Off. This affects all of the inputs, but it only turns off the video conversion from 8 bit to 10 bit. You can still switch resolutions, and you can still convert Component video to HDMI. If you input YCbCr 8-bit (4:2:2 or 4:4:4 format) you will now get YCbCr 8-bit output, instead of being converted to 10-bit. I’d highly recommend to Onkyo that they add this option in the menu system somewhere instead of hiding it, and disable it by default, since it makes the default behavior of their video section worse than it should be.
After testing the video section of the Onkyo, I tested the pre-outs from the 5508 using the balanced input in Pure Direct mode.
With both 1 kHz and 10 kHz test tones, the fundamental was around 100 dB or more above the noise floor, with distortion right around 0.004% for each.
On both of the IMD tests the Onkyo did very well, with no B-A peak to be seen on the 19 kHz and 20 kHz test, and an IMD reading of only 0.0017% on the 60 Hz, 7 kHz test. Both of these had a noise floor around 100 dB below the tones as well, showing fantastic performance.
To test something new with the Onkyo, I performed the same tests but instead of feeding it the test signal over the balanced inputs, I used the coaxial input and fed it digitally. This let me also test the performance of the DAC section of the Onkyo. All tones were fed from an Oppo BDP-95 using a 24/192 PCM signal.
The THD+N values are very close to those of the analog test, though on the 1 kHz test you can see some 2nd and 3rd order harmonics that are around 90 dB below the fundamental. On the 10 kHz test there is a 2nd order harmonic that is around 85 dB below the fundamental.
With the 19 kHz+20 kHz IMD test, we now see a small B-A peak, as well as very small 2nd order harmonics visible on the test data. These are all still around 90dB below the fundamentals which is still very good performance. On the 60 Hz + 7 kHz IMD test the IMD value is up to 0.0028% but the noise floor is still very low with no harmonics visible at all, which is very impressive.
After testing the 5508 I moved on to testing the matching amplifier. We can look at the 4-ohm test data first.
The THD+N numbers on the amplifier drop as the power output goes up, as you would expect from a Class AB device. As power is increased you can see more odd and even order harmonics appearing, with the odd order going out to at least 13 kHz and the even order stopping around 8 kHz. They are all 90 dB or more below the fundamental harmonic however.
With a 10 kHz tone, the THD+N doesn’t drop as much as power output increases, and the 2nd order harmonic is only around 70-75 dB below the fundamental. The noise floor is still overall very low.
Both these tests were only run at 2V of output as I would overload my test device if I went much past that. The 19 kHz + 20 kHz IMD output has a very small B-A peak, and a few harmonics that drop off sharply, providing at least 75dB of headroom over the secondary harmonic. The 60 Hz + 7 kHz test is not as clean with large peaks at 19 kHz and 20 kHz that only provide around 50 dB of headroom, as well as 2nd and 3rd order harmonics at 14 and 21 kHz that are 80dB or more below the fundamentals. The IMD value of 0.01% is a bit higher than I would expect to see from a separate amp as well. Next we have the 8-ohm data for the same tests.
Performance here is almost identical to how it was at 4 ohm, though the THD+N drops even more as the amp handles an easier load.
10 kHz performance at 8 ohm and 4 ohm is virtually identical, with the THD+N dropping slightly as power increases, and that 2nd order harmonic around 75 dB below the fundamental.
Once again, it’s virtually the same as with 4 ohm loads, though the 19 kHz and 20 kHz peaks on the 60Hz+7kHz IMD test are 60dB below the fundamental instead of 50dB below. Otherwise the performance is almost identical, though the IMD value of 0.02% with 2V output for an 8 ohm load is higher than on 4 ohm, showing that the performance increases with power output as you’d expect with the amplifier design. The amplifier shows adequate performance in testing, though how it would respond with all nine channels driven instead of the two I used for the bench test I am not sure.
Aside from a couple of issues I ran into, I found the Onkyo 5508 to be a fantastic preamp. Audyssey finally might have made a convert out of me with XT32 and two-channel audio, and every feature that I could want was present on it. I certainly would recommend that anyone looking for a new processor go out and give it a serious audition. Onkyo has found a winning formula for affordable home theater processors, and the 5508 continues in that line.