For years, my home theater holy grail was to find a THX processor I could actually afford, and in the SR800, I found exactly that. You see, when THX Select was introduced, it dawned on a few of us that while power and output levels were cut back, nothing else was, meaning that a THX Select receiver's preamp and processing sections have to meet the exact same criteria as a THX Ultra processor. Say hello to "value".
New this past year is THX Select2, which inherits some processing features from THX Ultra2 and takes the audio performance up a notch. It follows then that the 803 is a natural progression for Onkyo into Select2.
Is this the second coming, or more of the same? As it turns out, a bit of both.
While not an obscene amount of I/O jacks, the 803 has enough to appear intimidating to an initiate of this hobby. The phono (vinyl record) input aside, there are in fact only seven addressable inputs, but they can be customized in so many fashions that it appears there are more. Three of them have accompanying line-outs for their respective rec-ins, five have composite and S-Video I/0 tied to them as well. There are no less than four optical and two coax digital audio inputs which can be assigned to any of the core six inputs, ditto for three component video inputs, ditto again for two HDMI digital audio/video inputs! Got that?
The DVD input doubles as the 5.1 analog input, and the full 7.1 pre-out set is included for connection to outboard amplification. Monitor-outs in all video formats are present, as well as audio for Zone2. Like the 800 it is not a full Two-Zone A/V control center in that it does not have enough amp channels go around: You have to choose between having power for Zone2 and having center-surround channels. It does however have enough DAC channels for everything, so if you use a separate power amp in Zone2, you can still have 7.1 in the main room.
Lest I forget, there is an optical digital output, connections for the radio antennas, 1/8" IR jacks, and a special connector for attaching an XM Satellite Radio outfit.
The build quality is for the most part on par with its predecessor. It is based on a strong bottom, the front is machined aluminum, and the top is not too thin (which was one of my few complaints about the 800). Unfortunately, like the 800, the rear plate is not as sturdy as I would like, and it can flex quite a bit when attaching or removing a tight RCA plug or even a decent speaker banana plug.
Speaking of the speaker jacks, like the multi-channel line-level jacks, they are nicely and comprehensively color coded. I preferred their orientation on the 800 though, where the left channel jacks were to the left and the right channel jacks to the right. Here you have to remember that left is on top, with rights below them.
The speaker binding posts are not very large, they won't take a spade, but they work famously with my speaker wire termination of choice: the venerable banana.
Mouse-over photo to open panel
On the front there is the requisite volume knob which has a nice solid feel and smooth motion. Buttons for direct input selection are all in a row, and at far left is a "Pure Audio" button which shuts off all digital processing, as well as the display panel, the intention being to turn the 803 into a pure analog preamp.
Under the drop panel are all the goodies for setting it up, tuning the radio, as well as a headphone jack and the seventh input (analog stereo, optical digital, composite and S-Video). There is also the mic jack for the auto set-up and EQ function we'll talk about at length in a moment.
Under the Hood
The internal layout is definitely cleaner than the 800 and could explain why it's a few pounds lighter than it predecessor. Gone are the congested two heat sinks in favor of a single one stretching 2/3 of the width at the front. Curiously, the 92mm on-demand fan is positioned at one end of the heat sink which seems counter intuitive, but during our entire evaluation, it never powered on anyway.
Onkyo quotes the DACs as 24bit/192kHz, but as usual gives no details beyond that.