Since the DVD format was launched in 1996, DVD players have been introduced with progressively better audio and video performance, improved features, and vastly lower prices. The first players were well over $1,000, and now DVD players far below $100 have been spotted in the grocery store! Onkyo's $299 DV-SP502 universal player continues the trend toward providing more performance per dollar, though we can safely guarantee you won't find it next to the frozen foods section. In this review, I'll compare the features and performance of the Onkyo player with that of other comparably priced players and with the performance of a much higher-priced unit—the awardwinning Yamaha DVD-S2300 universal player.
The Onkyo DV-SP502 is the firm's first universal player (though Onkyo's high-end Integra division has offered many over the years). The DV-SP502 supports DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD, MP3, WMA and JPEG still picture playback, plus other formats listed at the end of this review. DVD-Audio and SACD playback capability separate this Onkyo player from the company's entry-level model. Leading features include built-in Dolby Digital and DTS decoders, 192kHz/24-bit audio DACs and progressive scan video output with 108MHz /12-bit video DACs.
I connected the six analog audio outputs of the Onkyo player to the multichannel analog inputs of my Yamaha RX-V3300 A/V receiver to evaluate the digital to analog converters and decoders in the player, bypassing those in the receiver. I also connected the coaxial digital output for CD audio.
I played several two-channel and multichannel SACD recordings and was initially impressed with the overall sound quality of the Onkyo player. One of my favorites is Bela Fleck's Drive [Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs], a great combo of banjos, guitars, fiddles, and bass. On the "Slipstream" track from that album the Onkyo revealed tight, articulate bass response that quickly had my feet tapping with the music. Midrange reproduction was clean, although I noted a lack of high frequency detail, which created a slightly veiled presentation. Monica Mancini's beautiful voice in Ultimate Mancini [Concord Records], a hybrid SACD, sounded very good both in two-channel and multichannel mixes, but I again noticed a similar lack of high frequency detail and openness. The multichannel mix produced a very full, three-dimensional soundfield, but with just slightly less high-frequency detail than I'm used to hearing. Similarly, James Taylor's Hourglass SACD [Sony Records] had very good bass with clear, open midrange but fairly subdued treble response. The lack of high-frequency detail also reduced imaging precision. After comparing the sound quality of the same discs played on my reference player I would describe the SACD reproduction of the Onkyo player as fair.
Steely Dan's "Shame About Me" and "Jack of Speed" from the Two vs. Nature [Giant Records, DVD-A] had full, tight bass response, with midrange and high frequency response that sounded much more open and detailed than any of the SACDs I tried. Likewise, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours [Warner Bros. Records, DVD-A] sounded detailed, open and clean, with exceptional bass response, while Linda Ronstadt's What's New [Elektra, DVD-A] sounded as good as I've ever heard it, capturing Ronstadt's voice with all of the dynam - ic range and clarity I'm used to hearing. My conclusion: This player does a significantly better job with DVDA playback than it does with SACD material.
I tried Diana Krall's "Let's Face the Music and Dance" from When I Look in Your Eyes [Verve Records], through the DV-SP502, and although playback was enjoyable in most respects, I found the player made Krall's voice sound somewhat distant—not veiled or obscured, just slightly distant. I might have overlooked this characteristic had I not listened to this disc extensively on my reference universal player. However, when I listened to Alison Krauss and Union Station's New Favorite [Rounder Records], the "distant quality" was gone. In fact, the Onkyo demonstrated exceptional clarity, detail and midrange presence on this recording. As with DVD-A playback, bass response on CDs was excellent, very quick and tight. I would conclude that the Onkyo DV-SP502 performs very well with CD and DVDA material, but is only fair on SACDs. Overall, the player does a good job on both two-channel and multichannel playback.
I performed video tests using a video test disc from Silicon Optix—the HQV Benchmark DVD. However, since I have an interlaced television, most of the tests do not apply because they are intended to evaluate progressive scan displays. In all of the tests I connected the player to the monitor with an S-video connection. Two of the relevant tests are “Picture Detail,” which can be used to evaluate both interlaced and progressive scan displays, and the “Color Bar/Vertical Detail” test. Before performing the detail test I ensured that the sharpness controls on the player and the display were set in the default position. The “Picture Detail” test revealed that the Onkyo player produced excellent detail, in fact, better than my near-$1,000 reference player.