In my “The Long View” column for The Perfect Vision Issue 70, I suggested that advanced digital signal processing techniques could, in the future, help resolve complicated room acoustics and speaker equalization problems. Well, now that I’ve auditioned Onkyo’s $799 TX-SR674 receiver, which incorporates Audyssey Laboratories’ fuzzy logic-driven 2EQ auto-calibration system, I think it’s fair to say the future is now.
At first glance, the 7x95Wpc TX-SR674 appears to be a conventional, albeit very nicely equipped, mid-priced AVR. But as you look more closely, you’ll find technical details that set this receiver apart. For example, the XM radio-ready TX-SR674 provides built-in Neural Surround processing to take advantage of XM broadcasts of surround recordings or live surround sound events. In turn, the TX-SR674 supports Onkyo’s secondgeneration DS-A2 iPod dock, which can handle video iPods and provides its own remote and onscreen display. Next, the receiver provides two HDMI inputs and one output, with full HDMI repeater functions that make the interfaces more useful. Finally, the receiver up-converts composite, S-video, and component video signals for output via HDMI.
The biggest news, of course, is the onboard Audyssey Laboratories 2EQ auto-calibration system, making the TXSR674 one of the first sub-$1k receivers to include the feature. Unlike other auto-EQ systems, 2EQ optimizes loudspeaker response curves to create multiple good listening positions within the listening space—not just one central “sweet spot.” Accordingly, the system takes multiple measurements, first at a central listening position, then at the seat farthest to the right, and finally at the seat farthest to the left. Then, the system applies proprietary Audyssey algorithms to calculate speaker-specific EQ curves and subwoofer crossover settings to optimize response across the room. Does this whiz-bang technology actually work? You bet it does. In fact, after 2EQ setup was complete and listening tests began, the TX-SR674 could in many ways hold its own relative to an expensive 200Wpc reference receiver, and in some respects the Onkyo actually sounded better. Here’s why. The Onkyo’s 2EQ system simultaneously smoothes frequency response and improves image focus, taming room acoustics problems that would typically have colored the sound. As a result, I heard across-theboard improvements in clarity and dialog intelligibility. One side benefit of these improvements was that the Onkyo also made the system sound more articulate at lower volume levels.
But the biggest differences became apparent when I moved to the far rightand left-hand listening positions. Suddenly, what had been the worst seats in the house became enjoyable, complete with stable surround sound imaging and center channel information that was crystal clear. Purists might ask if the system imposes a layer of DSP-induced haze, and the answer is that the system probably does reduce very low-level detail, though to a barely noticeable extent. But the sonic gains the 2EQ system brings, which include dramatically improved tonal balance and image focus, plus a greatly expanded listening area, far outweigh whatever minor losses in transparency there may be. The Onkyo did a fine job at revealing dynamic contrasts, such as the contrasts heard in Open Range, where a whispered conversation between protagonists Boss (Robert Duvall) and Charlie (Kevin Costner) precedes the mind-numbing uproar of a freewheeling gunfight. At first, I wondered if the Onkyo’s 95Wpc power output might be a limiting factor, but in general the TX-SR674 sounded just as lively as our 200Wpc reference receiver. Only at extreme volume levels did the bigger receiver’s power advantage become apparent.
The Onkyo was also a solid performer on music. Unlike mid-priced receivers that sound lightly balanced and thin, the TX-SR674 strikes a good balance between natural clarity, on the one hand, and easygoing organic warmth on the other. On highresolution DVD-A and SACD material, the Onkyo sounded extremely well-balanced, though it was perhaps not the last word in transparency. As I listened closely to Kenny Rankin’s voice on “’Round Midnight” from Because of You [Chesky, SACD], for example, upper harmonics sounded just slightly rounded off. But this minor tradeoff is easy to accept, given that the Onkyo’s overall tonal balance is excellent, as is its ability to reproduce spatial cues in music.
The partially lighted remote was a model of clarity and simplicity. I would observe, too, that the Audyssey 2EQ system made the receiver sound so fundamentally right that I was much less inclined than I ordinarily would be to make on-the-fly tuning adjustments. This receiver is easy to control when the need arises, but it typically invites you to sit back and just listen. The TX-SR674 is a wonderful midpriced receiver, and a terrific value. It’s so good, in fact, that it might push some flagship AVRs to step up their games.