Onkyo DV-SP800 Universal Player Reviewed

Onkyo DV-SP800 Universal Player Reviewed

Onkyo pulled out all the stops with this player, and it carried a price showing that. While it was a well-built unit about a Pioneer chassis it never became very popular

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I love high-resolution music. I mean I really, really enjoy it. The format war between DVD-Audio and SACD has left both gasping for breath, with not enough software, not enough promotion, and definitely not enough market penetration. The real hope for wider acceptance of high-resolution music, in my humble opinion, is universal players.

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Those of you who read the Marantz DV8300 review in our Oct/Nov 2002 issue will remember how much I enjoyed that player (suggested retail $1,599-a notable $599 more than this Onkyo); it still occupies a welcome space in my equipment rack. That player was based on the Pioneer OEM kit from which the DV-47A springs. Onkyo has picked up on this and brought us its vision of the universal player, the progressive-scan THX Ultra-Certified DV-SP800.

Unique Features
The $1,000 DV-SP800 comes in black, and has an attractive, but busy, look. It continues the trend toward the use of blue LEDs, and has quite a few of them. The disc drawer is in the center, and above the white lettered display. To the right of the display are the menu and cursor pad, pleasant additions to the front of any player. On the left side of the player are the power and standby switches (a separate standby switch is a very nice touch), and several other controls including a video off button and a dimmer button. The right side of the player has the transport buttons, and blue LEDs that surround the open/close and pause buttons, as well as blue LEDs that are above the play and stop buttons. Overall, this player has a very nice look cosmetically, and, although it looks a bit busy, the layout is extremely functional, and demonstrates Onkyo's commitment to the enthusiast. There is also a headphone jack and level control on the front.

The rear panel continues to impress. Besides the pre-requisite video outs there are goodies such as coaxial and two digital Toslink outs. Some of you may say, bah, Toslink is for posers. Try hooking up the AudioQuest Optilink-5 glass fiber Toslink cable and amaze yourself at what Toslink can do. Besides the 7.1 outs, there are also two extra sets of front analog outs. This is very handy for testing cables back to back as I have done with my Marantz 8300. The player can send surround information to two sets of rear speakers, and the switch in back can select this. Audio is automatically lowered 3 dB when four surrounds are selected, a very intriguing feature when used in a 7.1 system.

Read more about the DV-SP800 on Page 2.
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The remote control is large, black, and standard Onkyo fare. It can
control three other devices and, due to the presence of buttons such as
volume and channel, can control an Onkyo receiver or, in my case, an
Integra Research RDC-7. It is backlit in green, which is also a nice
extra, and has shaped buttons for transport controls making them easier
to find in the darkness of your home theater.

Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
Upon entering setup, I found the exact same menus as on the Marantz
8300, as they are based on the same unit. They are very
straightforward, allow for lots of tweaks on the video side, and easy
to use. From my prior experience, I already knew there was no bass
management for DVD-Audio, but it is present for SACD (the manual
mentions the lack of management for DVD-A, but says nothing about
SACD). Time alignment works only for Dolby Digital and DTS, and it is
mentioned in the manual that it is unavailable for SACD, but nothing is
said about DVD-Audio. Gain is also adjustable for all speakers. I used
full range settings for all testing.

Equipment used to test the SP800 included: a Pioneer Elite 520 RPTV,
Integra RDC-7 processor, Classé CAV-150 amp, B&W Nautilus
804/805/HTM2 speakers, and REL Strata III subwoofer. Connections to the
multi-channel input were made using Tributaries cable, analog 2-channel
via AudioQuest Python, digital coax via AudioQuest VSD-4, Tributaries
for S-Video, and Bettercables for component connections.

First tested was 2-channel performance. Through the analog
connections, the Onkyo sounded pretty good. In comparison to the
Marantz 8300, the soundstage was not as large nor as deep. The midrange
was clean and clear, the highs had a hint of grain, and bass response
was excellent; more copious, but not quite as tight as the Marantz.
Two-channel SACDs manifested the same sort of sonic signature, but as
expected, sounded better than regular CDs. Multi-channel SACDs
increased the soundstage, as they should, and sounded pretty good. At
this point, the hint of grain in the upper end seemed to decrease with
the increased quality of recording, and this remained true during
DVD-Audio playback also. The best performance by the player was during
DVD-Audio playback. This sounded the clearest and smoothest, while SACD
playback quality sounded just a bit more compressed. I am nitpicking
here, as the overall performance was very good for this price range,
and deficiencies appeared only in comparison to a more expensive
player. One of the nice features of this player was the section next to
the drawer on the front panel that tells you by (blue) -LEDs whether
you have inserted an SACD, DVD or CD. Very simple, and very elegant.

Progressive scan video performance was very similar to the Marantz,
as it uses essentially the same video section. The Pioneer sourced
de-interlacer is good but not quite the match of best chipsets such as
the Faroudja. On most film-based material it does a pretty good job,
but a few artifacts pop up here and there on tougher material. The
picture is also just a bit softer than the best players in this price
range. The SP800 does have the chroma bug, which I find quite annoying,
as it really should be fixed in all players by now. The interlaced
performance was excellent, and the SP800 produced a good, detailed
image.

Final Take
After everything is said and done, this is a lot of player in one
package. The cosmetics are nice, and the extra controls on the front
panel are very useful. It plays just about every kind of 5" disc out
there, and does it without problems or issues. I really wish it didn't
have the chroma bug, and I can wish for a Faroudja de-interlacer but,
hey, this is still a good universal player for a thousand bucks. If
this keeps up, I just might see more people enjoying SACD and
DVD-Audio, and might even see a faster title release schedule. The
format war might end, and peace, love, and music will bloom. I just
love the endless march of technology, don't you?

Suggested Retail Price
$1,000

Additional Resources
• Read more source component reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Find a receiver to pair with this source.
• See more about the audiophile world at AudiophileReview.com.
• Discuss all kinds of gear at hometheaterequipment.com.

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