Ken Taraszka M.D. is an anesthesiologist by trade based in Tampa Bay, Florida. Ken is also a professional audiophile and home theater writer specializing in AV preamps and all facets of the audiophile market. In the past, Ken has been a staff writer and editor at AVRev.com. He has also at times been a frequent contributor at AudiophileReview.com.
The modern receiver has become one of the fastest evolving and technologically advanced elements of a home theater. Receivers can network with your LAN (local area network) for music and video streaming, decode a multitude of audio formats, many that have only existed for a few years, scale video, and even cook you breakfast. Okay, maybe not the last one but you get the idea. What about those who don't need all those bells and whistles and want to save a few bucks? Onkyo has just released their new TX-SR608 receiver, which is designed to fill this niche without making its owners left wanting for more. This is the first in a line of new receivers with HDMI 1.4a switching to handle the new 3D TV standard, and comes to market for $599.
While situated in the lower third of the Onkyo line, the TX-SR608 offers a host of features sure to please the modern home theater fan, including Audyssey 2EQ speaker setup and room equalization as well as Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ to make low level listening more enjoyable. Audyssey DSX and Dolby Pro Logic IIz are included to allow one to add front height channels. The TX-SR608 boasts seven channels rated to output 100 Watts apiece, and if you only run a 5.1 system you can set the extra two channels to bi-amplify your front speakers or power a second zone, it even has an extra set of speaker connections to allow switching between a standard 7.1 or height or wide channel application or a second zone. Each channel is stable into speaker loads down to six Ohms. The TX-SR608 is THX Select2+ certified now when the prior Onkyo TX-SR607 was not. In order to meet THX specs the old 90-w amp section was replaced by a new more refined and more powerful amplifier 100 watt per channel section including discrete components and a three-stage inverted Darlington topology. The audio DACs were also upgraded to digital converters from Burr Brown.
The TX-SR608 offers a total of six HDMI 1.4a inputs, one front mounted, and one for output, all of which meet the new standard for passage of 3D content. This technology may be the next big thing in home theater, but to date it's far too early to tell. I am an extreme early adopter of technology and even I don't have a 3D TV, nor does anyone I know. Perhaps the lone Blu-ray (Monsters vs. Aliens) just isn't enough to get me to buy a new TV and 3D capable Blu-ray player. Ironically I went to a local Best Buy to see if it actually did pass 3D content, only to find their display system was broken, so I can neither confirm nor deny whether this passes the new 3D standard but by all logic it should. Video is rounded out with composite (five in, one out) and component (two in, one out) S-Video doesn't exist on this unit. Video sources are transcoded and scaled up to 1080p via HDMI thanks to the Faroujda DCDi Cinema chipset.
There are seven stereo analog inputs, one front mounted and a tape and zone 2 preamp output, as well as two subwoofer outputs. Dual coaxial and optical digital inputs as well as an Onkyo universal port for connecting an optional HD Radio tuner or iPod dock are there too. A Sirius• radio port, AM and FM antenna ports and a PC input round out the connectivity. There is no multichannel analog input or preamp output on the Onkyo TX-SR608. The on board AM/FM tuner allows up to 40 presets in its memory. Seven pairs of large screwdown speaker binding posts and another two click-on style are there as well. The unit weighs 25 pounds and measures just over 17 inches wide, roughly seven inches tall and 13 inches deep.
Unpacking the TX-SR608 was pretty easy, thanks to its relative lightweight form factor. The unit came solidly packed and all included accessories were present, including a programmable remote, albeit not backlit, both AM and FM antennas, the calibrated Audyssey microphone, manual, list of remote codes for the learning function of the remote. One thing I have grown to love about Onkyo is the included label sheet for your speaker wires. Sure, if you plan to set up your system once and never touch it again, you likely don't need them, but I would still recommend using them just in case.
The unit has a solid aluminum face except for the large display across the middle of the face. The large volume knob is on the right, with a track pad for tuner presets and setup control. Buttons representing each source run across the front under the display, and above them, directly beneath the display are discreet surround mode buttons. On the left of the face is the power toggle, sixth HDMI port and headphone jack. On the bottom of the right side of the face is the Aux input with stereo analog, mini-jack, and composite video ports as well as the input for the Audyssey microphone. There are no hidden controls or drop down panels on the 608: what you see is what you get. The chassis is stamped steel, and the rear connectors are not gold plated.
I swapped this unit into my bedroom system and thanks to the labels on my speaker wires (from one of the previous Onkyo receivers I've had) was able to quickly and correctly connect all the speakers of my KEF 5005.2 speaker system. I ran the subwoofer to one of the two subwoofer outputs, connected my Denon DVD-2500BTCi and Scientific Atlanta 8300 HD DVR via HDMI, and ran the stereo analog outputs of my Oppo BD-83SE to one of the analog inputs and another HDMI cable for Blu-ray. I then connected both the AM and FM antenna and powered the unit up.
During my connections, I followed Onkyo's labels for the HDMI inputs, so once I powered up the unit, it worked perfectly. I did go into the menu's and renamed my sources to meet my preferences, but I could have left them as they were and been satisfied. My next mission was to run the Audyssey 2EQ room correction and setup program. Onkyo has sort of automated this system, so once you plug in the included microphone to the front port it goes straight to the Audyssey menu. The Audyssey 2EQ is Audyssey's basic room correction solution. As such it checks only three positions, and uses only basic resolution filters to the surround speakers and doesn't provide any correction for the subwoofer. It does quickly and effectively set speaker distances, levels and performs room correction if only more basically than their higher solutions such as Mutli EQ or the best, Multi EQ XT. Once all this was done I let the unit burn in for a few weeks before doing any critical listening.
I started off listening to Jimi Hendrix Live at the Filmore East (Experience Hendrix - CD) and was pleased with what I heard; from the start of "Stone Free" the guitar was lively and the bass lines well controlled. I started out using the subwoofer as a 2.1 system but the bottom end was a bit boomy so I switched to straight two channel, and until pretty high volumes where the bass got a bit muffled and the highs edgy, the 608 did a good job reproducing this classic album. The more bluesy riffs of "Hear My Train a Comin'" were well textured and the vocals clear. Separation was not as good as the top of the line Onkyo I reviewed a few months back, and there was less weight in the bass and guitar, but the 608 gave me about 85 percent of the sound for a lot less money.
I have been using Maynard Kennan's Puscifer, V is for Vagina (Puscifer Entertainment) as a test disc as the music is insanely fun, really well recorded and the tracks can project a huge soundstage. On "Momma Sed" I got a good taste of the music, if only a smaller soundstage than I am used to from the top of the line receivers. The bass was surprisingly well handled until higher volumes where the sound compressed a bit. On my favorite torture test track from this album "Rev 22.20 (Dry Martini Mix)" the Onkyo held it all together very well at low to even moderately high volumes, while offering a pretty large soundstage.
I switched over to some blues to see how it would handle the likes of Son House's Original Delta Blues (Columbia). From the start of "Death Letter" I was impressed with the richness of the guitar and vocals were clean and clear. The guitar sounded true to life and had a lively attack. The acoustic solo of "John the Revelator" had me tapping my feet in time to the voice of Mr. Son House and let me get lost in the song, making me totally forget I was reviewing a receiver.
For films I cued up "Avatar" (20th Century Fox) to see how the TX-SR608 would handle the perpetual bass and spacious sound of the film. I had previously watched this film on both my reference rig and with my current reference receiver in this system, so had a good idea what was possible of the film from both my systems. While I will not try to tell you my bedroom setup with either receiver came close to what my main rig can do, I still enjoyed the film in both systems, and with the Onkyo TX-SR608 I didn't feel I lost much to my reference receiver, which costs three times as much. The spaciousness of the film was well demonstrated, though the bottom end was a bit boomy, which I suspect was due to the Audyssey 2EQ incorporated in this receiver, which does no correction of the subwoofer. Still the Onkyo did a solid job drawing you into the film and handled all but the most powerful dynamics easily.
I was pleased to see the annoying 'click' I found when switching TV channels seemed to have disappeared from this newest generation of Onkyo receivers, and it also switched between different HDTV resolutions much quicker than the prior generation. My only complaint when watching TV was due to the space restrictions of my bedroom, I can only place my subwoofer in a limited area and it does definitely benefit from EQ, which the Audyssey 2EQ in this unit doesn't provide. The AM and FM tuners worked well pulling in all my local stations with ease.
Read The Downside and Conclusion on Page 2
This is a relatively inexpensive receiver that boasts HDMI 1.4a, so it isn't flush with the big bells and whistles of some of its bigger brothers like the TX-NR5007 I reviewed only a few months back. The chassis is stamped steel instead of copper, the RCA connectors aren't gold plated, the remote isn't backlit, and it won't network to your home computers and stream your music and videos without the addition of extra components. It will require an optional dock (and can utilize only one at a time but more than one can be plugged in) for either HD Radio or iPod interfacing or you must use the mini-jack analog out of your iPod directly to the front input. This receiver also lacks the ISF calibration for each video input found on higher up models and RS-232 control though at this price point I suspect few, if any are using control systems that use this connection so it is a pretty moot point.
The amplifiers in this receiver are only rated to handle speakers with impedances down to six Ohms. Should you have something that is less, you'll need to look elsewhere, and those expecting to progress into the world of separate components will be limited as this unit doesn't offer preamplifier outputs other than the two subwoofers.
The Onkyo TX-SR608 offers a lot of utility for an entry-level price. Fea
turing the most newest HDMI 1.4a spec ports will ensure you'll be current for a long time and gives you the ability to pass the latest and greatest 3D TV signals as well as receive the Audio Return channel from your TV should it directly stream from Hulu or Netflix. The six HDMI inputs ensure you'll have room to connect all your HDMI sources, likely with some to spare. The Audyssey EQ2 does a great job setting your speakers levels and distances but falls short of Audyssey's upper level algorithms by not equalizing the subwoofer, the one place that needs it most, and offering only limited EQ of the surrounds. I like, nay need, EQ on the subwoofer in the system I reviewed this piece in, as my placement options are limited. For those of you who have more flexibility in subwoofer placement, and are willing to work on this, you can likely overcome this shortcoming. Also many of today's subs have their own EQ.
What the Onkyo TX-SR608 does offer is a solid performing receiver that is sure to stay current for long time to come with its ability to decode all the latest codecs of Blu-ray. It offers very good video scaling as well as transcoding for your legacy components. You can use the seven channels of amplification offered to bi-amplify your front speakers to enhance their performance, power a second zone or add front height or width channels for Dolby PLIIz or Audyssey DSX surround processing, or of course power a 7.1 system. The amplifiers in this Onkyo are only rated to be stable into speakers with at least a six-Ohm load, so should you have something with less, you should look elsewhere. Those who need to control more than two zones or network to their home computers will need to spend another $300 for the Onkyo TX-NR708 (which should be shipping by the time you read this) or do so with add-on components