And so it began
. . .
While he gave the salesperson a hard time, I wandered the rows of keenly displayed electronics, my eye taken with a certain logo I recognized from my love affair with movie theaters: the LucasFilm name.
"I didn't know they were into home theater," I mumbled to myself.
A dapper gent in the telltale corporate shirt and name tag must have seen that look in my eye and, I'm sure more out of boredom than a belief that I was a legitimate customer at that time, invited me into one of those more often than not messed up "demo rooms".
This one was in no state of disarray though: A truly "end to end" THX setup aligned by someone who actually knew what they were doing. I won't drag you down with the hyperbole of the experience but suffice it to say I walked out somewhat sheepish, overwhelmed by my encounter with that which would soon drive my life: the pursuit of one such setup.
I fell in love with Home Theater that night in paradoxical fashion. One look at the exorbitant prices on any of the several THX pieces on display sent a deep sigh through me.
"I'll never be able to afford that," I thought. That was then . . . .
In the coming years, my preoccupation with that which (I thought) I could never have drove me to learn everything I could about the technology. Hobby became passion. Passion became involvement and, thanks to an Editor who decided to take a chance on an obscure movie lover from East Coast, Canada, I became a writer and actually got a foot in the industry's door.
Over the ensuing years, I - sometimes through good fortune, sometimes hard work (sometimes both) - have enjoyed (albeit temporarily) some of the best equipment out there, and yes, I even own a couple THX pieces.
It seems anticlimactic then that today I'm writing, nevertheless with most enthusiasm, about a THX A/V Receiver, the proverbial Home Theater cornerstone, which even the likes of I, that evening so many years ago, could actually have afforded.
Welcome home wanderer.
The Onkyo Gambit
If you follow my writings (not that you do but if you did), you know I am pretty picky about reviewing A/V receivers and Surround Sound Processors. No quick takes here. No "It sounds good." short cuts.
It hit me one day, while day dreaming with fellow perfectionist Stacey Spears about what constitutes the ultimate surround sound processor (SSP), that very few magazines were taking a genuinely critical look at this stuff, and we started discovering that all sorts of things which can be done wrong, were being done wrong . . . at least, in our opinion. Some of it I kept to myself, some of it got aired here at Secrets either as part of reviews or whole articles, but always praise where praise was due.
In 2001, I reported to you on the Anthem AVM-20 SSP, a product which is to this day, along with its successors, a template for all others to follow. In 2004, I found another gem at a substantially lower cost: Onkyo's TX-SR800, a $999 THX Select A/V receiver. Here, for a lousy kilobuck, we had a processor which got almost everything right for its time, and some modest amplification to boot.
Years clicked by, and I waited for something new to sweep me off my feet. The 800 was updated several times, and I even reported on it in its 803 iteration, but really that was just a freshening up of what was already there. Meanwhile, I continually hammered Gordon Sell, Onkyo's PR go-to guy, about why there was such a gap between the "thousand dollar-ish" models and the (somewhat) over the top $4000+ NR1000 with its bodacious card cage design.
"Stuff is coming you are going to be VERY interested in," is all he would say.
Now, my ego would like to think manufacturers actually care about what I have to say, and I know one or two who at least make me feel like they do, but Onkyo was mum. They had cut me right out of their proverbial loop.
But, I have to forgive them because when the press release came across my virtual desk, I literally didn't believe it: A new A/V receiver, dubbed the 805, which has ALL the latest goodies and was THX Ultra2 certified. Not Select2. ULTRA2 . . . at only $1,099 MSRP. What a coup!
If you haven't read our in depth (yet in layman's term) paper explaining THX and all the stuff that entails, you should stop what you are doing, read it, and come back so you will understand what I am going to tell you.
Suffice it to say, at this juncture though, that the difference between Select2 and Ultra2 is amplifier power. Since inception, THX caliber power amplification has been held in very high esteem, and while you can find a decent five-channel power amp for a grand, up till today it was unheard of to get an audio processor (AND video processor) to boot, not to mention all the goodies we're going to explore here in a moment.
After confirming it was not a typo, I contacted John Dahl at THX and said, in so many words, "Level with me: is this for real?" How could they do it?
Oh please, let me show you!