SMR logoOnkyo TX-DS777 A/V Receiver Review
The Onkyo TX-DS777 surround receiver sits at the heart of Onkyo's 2000 home theater range.  Offering to the budget-conscious Dolby Digital and DTS processing as well as being a THX Select certified receiver, the Onkyo is an attractive package...  But have the problems associated with previous models been addressed?

Many thanks go to Miss. Sue Morgan at Nicoll Public Relations for her help and for providing the review sample.

Onkyo TX-DS777 Audio/Video Receiver Specifications
105watts 5 into 8ohms
Dolby Digital and DTS Decoding
THX Select Certified
Linear 96kHz 24-bit D/A Converter
26 "DSP" Processing Modes
Back-lit Learning Remote Control
Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.08%
Damping Factor: 60 (8ohms)
Frequency Response: 20Hz - 100kHz +1 -3dB
Tone Control +/- 10dB at 100Hz and 10kHz
3 Analog Audio Inputs
5 Analog Audio/Video Inputs
5 Composite and 5 Y/C (S-Video) Inputs
6 Pre-outputs
5.1 External Decoder Inputs
4 S/P-DIF Digital Inputs (2 Coaxial, 2 Tos-link)
1 Digital Output (Tos-link)
Dimensions: (W D H): 435mm 175mm 453mm
Weight: 16.3kg
(All specifications as per manufacturer)

 

First Impressions:

Onkyo TX-DS777
Click for a larger image.

When I unpacked the Onkyo TX-DS777 my first thought was that I was going to have a little trouble fitting it into my entertainment center.  At 17" wide, 7" high, nearly 18" deep and tipping the scales at roughly 35 pounds this is no bantamweight... a good thing!  At the very least it means Onkyo didn't skimp on the construction.  Partly because of this, I had to wait to put the Onkyo into my system until a day when I could perform a little minor surgery on my relatively shallow entertainment center.  As that surgery had to be put on hold for one reason or another, the Onkyo spent some time on my coffee table so I took the opportunity to pop the cover and look around inside.  There's a good size copper shielded power supply, reasonably large filter caps and extruded aluminum heat sinks to help dissipate heat from the amps.  The input boards at the back of the chassis all arise from a main circuit board and everything appears to be generally solidly constructed.  Even the front panel is relatively uncluttered and the main part of the display is easily read from across a room.  The Onkyo has the look and feel of a quality piece of equipment.

 

Features:

Oh my, but do we have features!  The first glance you're likely to notice the grouping of logos on the front panel.  Of course, the now standard issue Dolby Digital and DTS logos are there but the one that immediately caught my eye was the THX Select logo.  This is the first receiver I've reviewed that has THX Select certification.  But what does that mean?  In short, this means the receiver gives you all the benefits of normal THX (now THX Ultra), but within the reduced power requirements of a room of 2,000 cubic feet or less.  For more detailed information about THX see Stuart Robinsons article on the subject - Surround Basics, LucasFilm THX.

On the back panel there are 5 video inputs, all of which include S-Video connections, 3 audio only inputs, 4 digital inputs (2 coaxial and 2 optical) and 1 optical digital output (for use with a MD or CD recorder).  The digital inputs are all assignable to a given source name.  There is a full compliment of preamp outputs for all channels; main ins for the left and right front channels and 5.1 inputs to hook up an external decoder from something like a DVD-Audio player.  The speaker terminals are all heavy binding posts that accept standard dual bananas or bare wire, but not spade lugs as they have collars around them.  There is a second set of binding posts for another pair of stereo main speakers.

Also included in the feature list are several DSP modes, amplifiers rated at 105 watts for all five channels, on-screen displays, a learning remote and 96kHz 24-bit DACs.

 

Onkyo TX-DS777 Remote Control
Click for a larger image.

Setup and Use:

Since I hadn't yet put the receiver into my system, I decided the first thing I would do would be to try to program all of my existing remote codes into the universal remote Onkyo packages with the receiver. The TX-DS777 remote is of the learning variety but is only setup to control other Onkyo equipment straight out the box, commands for any other gear must be manually "learned".  Luckily the process for this is relatively simple and painless, involving putting the Onkyo remote in learn mode, pressing the button to which the new code will be assigned and then hitting the corresponding button on the original remote.  It took me about 45 minutes to program the bulk of the useful functions from four other remotes into the Onkyo.  However, if the rest of the family is watching their favorite sitcom you just might want to undertake the task within another room or risk their ire when you accidentally change channels in the middle of a punch line.  Oops.

The Onkyo's is one of the better universal remotes I've come across, it provided enough versatility to enable me to control nearly every component in my system on a daily basis.   It refused to learn a handful of commands for my Proscan TV and wouldn't learn any commands for my Adcom CD changer but otherwise worked flawlessly.  I've been using a version of the Home Theater Master SL-8000 for the last few months but its lack of dedicated transport keys is a major oversight, in my opinion.  The Onkyo remote control resolves this situation and more.  Two thumbs up!

Setup of the receiver itself was about as straightforward as is possible for a product this complex.  Once I was done making all the connections to my various equipment and speakers I set about the task of configuring the system for use.  I pulled up the OSD, went to "Input Selection" and set the digital input for DVD to Coaxial 1.   Next, the "Speaker Setup / Level Setup" whereby I calibrated the levels of all five loudspeakers and the sub-woofer with the help of a Radio Shack SPL meter.   The test noise stays on a channel until you press a button to make it move to the next one, making calibration a quick process.  Then I dropped Armageddon in the DVD player and let 'er rip!  Oh sure, there are ton of other settings to be tweaked but, hey, I just got a new toy and I wanted to play!

And play I did, over the course of the next four hours I watched parts of 'Armageddon', 'Cutthroat Island' and 'Days of Thunder'.  I also listened to a number of cuts from half a dozen CDs all the while changing surround modes and tweaking parameters.  The OSD, while not particularly pretty, is easy to navigate and I quickly found my way into the submenus I required to change settings.

Onkyo TX-DS777

While I was wandering through the menus I took the chance to check out the bass management settings.  The Onkyo TX-DS777 arrives pre-set to "All THX", which basically sets all five speakers to "Small" and crosses them over at 80Hz sending the low frequency information to the sub-woofer.  By changing this setting to "No" you get the option of setting the size of the main, center and surround speakers to either "Large" or "Small" individually.  This should work quite well for most people.

There are a plethora of additional settings available from within the OSD.  They include settings for distance from the speakers to the viewer (time alignment), relative LFE levels in Dolby Digital and DTS modes, digital input assignments, audio input assignments and individual adjustments of applicable parameters for each DSP mode.   In short, this is a highly configurable piece of equipment.

Setting up the tuner wasn't terribly difficult either, though I couldn't find any way to manually tune a station from the remote.  But after a quick trip to the receiver I had all of my usual suspects programmed into the presets and then they can be selected from the remote.  At first I thought the tuner was pretty much standard issue FM until I started trying to find some distant stations.  As a former St. Louis native living over three hours away I often find myself wishing I could pull in some of my old favorites here among the corn and bean fields of central Illinois.  I've managed this on occasion in my car outside the city limits but have never picked up any St. Louis stations at home... Until now.  There was a lot of noise but at night I was able to receive two or three stations on a fairly regular basis.  This is no small feat; especially considering just how bad FM tuner performance is in most new receivers.  I therefore have to rate the Onkyo tuner as a clear notch above average.

The user manual is well organized and happily free from a large amount of the poorly translated English prevalent in the manuals of so many imported electronics.  On the other hand, it lacks clarity in some areas and could use some in-depth explanations in others.  It would really be commendable if all user manuals explained what each setting does so the owner has some idea what effect changing a given option will have, but unfortunately so many don't.  The manual for the TX-DS777 is no different from many others I've seen in this respect.

Overall, there are few things I would change in the general operation of this receiver.   If I had my way, I'd like to see direct access to the Re-EQ and Late Night listening modes rather than having them buried in the OSD, but that's a relatively minor quibble.  The easy to navigate menus and unusually well thought out remote should serve to make this a receiver that the whole family will find easy to operate.

 

Movies:

One of my favorite demo movies these days is 'Contact' starring Jodie Foster.  My wife came home right in the middle of the drop sequence... and I had the receiver turned up to the THX "reference" level.  She commented that she could hear the movie all the way out in the garage, inside her truck with the doors closed and the engine running.  Loud enough?  Yeah, I guess so!   If you were wondering whether the Onkyo has enough power to do the job in an average room, I think you may have just found the answer.

Onkyo TX-DS777
Click for a larger image.

Over the course of a month or so I ran the Onkyo through its paces with a variety of movies.  It never disappointed and frequently surprised me. From the dynamics of the cannon shots in 'Cutthroat Island' to the detailed background noises in 'Six Days, Seven Nights' it always performed as expected.  But mostly it made me forget that I was supposed to be reviewing a receiver and allowed me to enjoy the movie, and isn't that what it's all about anyway?

This being my first hands-on experience having THX Select gear in my own home theater, I wasn't really sure if the lesser THX modes would offer all that much.  While there were some subtle differences in processing, the biggest improvement came from Cinema Re-EQ, which I found extremely useful to tame many overly bright soundtracks.  While I didn't use it all the time, it was probably engaged during about 30% of my movie viewing.

 

Music:

Being something of a purist, the first thing I did when I started listening to music was to switch the system into Direct mode.  This bypasses the DSPs and tone controls completely and should provide somewhat cleaner sound.  But my immediate reaction was that something wasn't quite right.  And then it hit me!  Not only does Direct bypass the tone controls but it also bypasses the internal crossovers and disables the sub-woofer output.  Suddenly my speakers were running full range with no sub-woofer, a mode I hadn't tried in several months.  No wonder it sounded strange!   Depending on your speakers this may or may not be an issue - if you run small speakers or satellites that require a sub, then Direct mode will be useless for you.   The good news is that all you have to do is switch back to Stereo mode to activate the internal crossovers and sub-woofer output.  I spent a fair amount of time swapping back and forth between the two modes and outside of the fact that the Onkyo switched the sub in and out I couldn't detect any readily apparent differences.

I listened to several cuts from a number of CDs.  The soundstage was a little wider than my normal setup on "Mining For Gold" off of the Cowboy Junkies 'Trinity Session' CD where the background and ambience of the mineshaft was more apparent.  Wanting to test the amp sections bass control, I put the Onkyo back into Direct mode and dropped in Shelby Lynne's, 'I Am Shelby Lynne'.  The bass on "Life Is Bad" should be deep and tight.  My home theater sub-woofer handles this, albeit without distinction, but my own Newcastle receiver driving just my mains doesn't fare at well.   It was here the Onkyo TX-DS777 really showed what it's made of - the bass was as deep and as tight as I've ever heard through my main L/R loudspeakers.  Impressive indeed!

I'm not a big fan of "DSP" music modes but my old Fosgate surround processor had a mode or two I liked so I thought I'd run through the Onkyo's just to see what I thought.  Straight out of the box the "DSP" modes are pretty hard to listen to, in my opinion, but some of them are configurable enough to be deemed "not too bad".  I found the Orchestra and Unplugged modes showed some promise when one turned the reverb and reflection settings down and I know some people like the 5-Channel stereo mode.  They're still not quite my cup of tea, but they're far better than the completely unlistenable modes provided my Newcastle.  Check them out, you might like them!

 

Final Thoughts:

Onkyo TX-DS777
Click for a larger image.

When learning that I was going to review a surround receiver I wasn't sure quite what to expect.  It's been a few years since I've used a receiver without an external amp and my early experience with surround receivers led me to believe that their amplifier sections often left something to be desired.  In this case, nothing could be further from the truth!  Much to my surprise, I found that I could live quite happily with this receiver as the sole source of processing and amplification in my system.

Just as important, a surround receiver is something the whole family is going to have to live with.  Unlike a stereo audiophile system, a home theater receiver can be an incredibly complex piece of equipment.  Therefore, it's extremely important that every effort is made to insure the component will be as simple to operate as possible.   Onkyo has obviously done their homework in this area, from the simple ergonomic remote to the easy to follow on-screen displays.  My wife was completely comfortable with the interface and never once had to ask me how to change a mode or setting.  As a matter of fact, I think she'll be sorry to see this one go.  And that, my friends, says it all!

In a class with some pretty tough competition Onkyo has produced a real contender.   It's well-built, has plenty of inputs, ample power, is easy to use and sounds great.  In addition, this is the only receiver I know of in its price range that offers THX Select certification and surround modes.  Good job, Onkyo!

 

2000.

 

More information about Onkyo products can be found upon the offical Onkyo web site

Text Jeff Van Dyne; HTML SMR Home Theatre and Images Jeff Van Dyne, Onkyo & SMR Home Theatre cannot be reproduced without permission.  Dolby Digital is a registered trademark of Dolby Laboratories Licensing Corporation, DTS is a registered trademark of Digital Theater Systems, THX Select and THX Ultra are registered trademarks of the THX Division of LucasFilm Ltd.  The images on this page are digitally watermarked: Digimarc http://www.digimarc.com/

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Last updated 15 April, 2000

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