|Onkyo TX-DS989 Version2 Receiver|
|Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Friday, 01 November 2002|
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Installation and Set-Up
The rear panel of the TX-DS989 is jam-packed with connectors. There are three component video inputs and one output, AC in and two switched outs, an AC-3 RF adaptor input, optical and coax S/PDIF digital outputs and no less than four coax and three optical digital inputs – which is great news for me, with an increasing number of digital audio units to hook up. Speakers are connected with sturdy binding posts. There are two S-Video and composite monitor outputs, a Zone 2 out with L/R analog audio, composite and S-Video outs, two video recorder I/O sets with L/R audio, composite and S-Video in and out, and another four similar inputs, one labeled “DVD.” In addition, you’ll find two sets of analog audiotape I/O, CD in and an input for a phono cartridge. There are also FM and AM antenna connects, the RS232 socket (a DB9 connector) and preamp outs for all seven main outputs, plus two subs and jumpered insert points allowing access to the amp inputs for front L, C and R (e.g., for a graphic EQ). There are remote control interfaces for other Onkyo components and IR sensor ins for main and zone 2. And finally there’s that 7.1 analog in – for which there is only enough room for a multi-pin DB25 connector accessed via a breakout cable. This is surely one of the most comprehensive rear panels on any receiver I have seen so far, and it is most impressive.
Impressive too is the flexibility of matching video and digital audio ports to specific inputs. You can essentially associate virtually any digital audio in with any input, and the same is true of the component video input. Even the multi-channel in can be set to “on” for inputs that need it. There are some minor limitations in the case of the recorder I/O ports, but it’s easy, with a bit of planning, to set this receiver up to cope with almost anything.
All the set-up is accomplished via a comprehensive onscreen display, which makes up for what it lacks in elegance (it uses one of those ghastly Japanese Roman fonts that always seem to look jagged and spindly) by offering an extensive collection of settings. You can name inputs onscreen and in the front panel display (which is actually comprehensive enough to configure the unit if necessary), assign video and digital audio sockets to an input, set multi-channel to on or off, and tweak the relative level of the source so that everything comes up at the same level. The only real danger is that you won’t remember whether input “Video5” is connected to the second DVD player or the Fireball MP3 system (or whatever exotic devices you have in your system), and there are more inputs than mode buttons, so sometimes you need to know which is which. The plethora of possibilities does mean that you need to keep your wits about you a bit. As is usually the case, the onscreen display is only superimposed on the composite and S-Video outs, and not on the component signal.
All this is done with Onkyo’s long, narrow remote. Now I have been nasty about many a supplied remote in my time, but this one is a pleasant exception. Around a central (and slightly over-sensitive) five-way enter button, there is a cluster of rocker and feature buttons, with mode buttons set above them (with power buttons and an alphanumeric LCD display) transport and ancillary controls below, and input selection plus numeric and audio function buttons grouped at the bottom. The mode buttons dictate (and indicate) what component you are controlling, while the input buttons select the input on the TX-DS989. This means that you need to press two buttons to select a device and control it, but the easy way around this is to define a macro for each mode button that changes the input as well as selecting the device to control. The only drawback this remote has is that there is no built-in database, so you have to teach it everything, but other than that, you can actually live with it and have it control many of your devices if you don’t want to go the whole hog and invest in a programmable remote.
The ugly but effective OSD makes the rest of the set-up activity pretty much a no-brainer, especially if you look at the decent and respectably comprehensive manual while you do it, where there are some useful tips on speaker configuration and what “small” and “large” mean. The subwoofer is able to be set to 80, 100 or 120 Hz with 80 Hz being the THX approved setting.
The addition of rear surround speakers does not really add anything to configuration complexity, and a benefit of the Ultra2 capability is that you can use a single speaker configuration for all possible sources. You can set up the speaker distance (in feet or meters, steps of six inches from one to 30 feet) for each speaker individually (except the front pair), plus CF and sub (1). This configuration is to Lucasfilm Position Time Synchronization specs. You can set relative delays for front, center and surrounds. Speaker levels can also be calibrated individually with a suitable set-up source, and there is a Lucasfilm-spec Bass Peak Level Manager (a bass compression system to protect your sub), which shows you the current bass level and provides a test tone to allow you to find the distortion point of your sub and stop the system ever exceeding that level in normal operation. Nice. Just make sure that you switch out any peak limiting on your sub so you only have one system doing this!
Another impressive feature is the ability to set LFE levels for each of the surround decoding systems in the box. This enables you to insure that there are no nasty surprises between, say, DTS CD playback and DTS or Dolby (or MPEG, if you’re in Europe) movies, where your criteria may differ (as may those of the engineers – not all sound engineers mixing surround music actually know what they are doing when it comes to the LFE: they shouldn’t use it at all in my view).
It is also possible to set a different set of “listening modes” for each input, depending on the source material. So, for example, if you use your DVD player to play CDs, and you want DVDs to play back in DTS mode and CDs in PCM, you can set that up – particularly useful if you generally play back the same kinds of material. Of course, a different setting is only a button-press away and the AUTO function is pretty good at working out what the format of an incoming digital signal is. You can allocate preset values for bass and treble for each input, and also apply some more sophisticated predilections, too. For example, you can apply an Academy curve for older movies, or “Re-EQ,” which reduces high frequencies if the sound, mixed for movie theaters, is too bright at home. You can use the center front for a “hard” center or have a “virtual” center generated by the left and right front speakers (as in conventional stereo) and you can decide which surround speakers to use if you’re replaying a 5.1 signal through a 7.1 system. Digital upsampling and some other finer tweaks are defined here also.
So what does the Onkyo sound like? In a word, it sounds great. I do not normally have a 7.1 system set up, but I added some speakers to try it and was impressed by the results. However, even in 5.1 mode with my normal (JBL) speaker set-up, the Onkyo TX-DS989 was the best sounding of the receivers I have had to review to date. In particular, the system showed an ability to provide plenty of oomph on transients, and I was also impressed by the frequency range of the unit, which exhibited a clear and clean high end (I used the sub pre-out into the Sunfire Super Junior for the bottom end).
I checked out the 2002 Guy Pearce version of “The Time Machine.” Apart from its impressive visual effects and excellent score by Hans Zimmer’s colleague Klaus Bedelt (especially the Karl Jenkins/Adiemus-like sections associated with the Eloi), the soundtrack also features some excellent dynamic sound effects, including the destruction of the machine itself and the effects of the fragmenting moon in 2037. Everything was clearly and, I believe, accurately reproduced.
I then went over to the analog multi-channel input and listened to the latest DVD-A Single from Dishwalla, “Somewhere In The Middle” (Immergent Records), which was satisfyingly reproduced in all respects, as was Telarc’s 1812 Overture on SACD. Chesky Records’ Swing Live -– one of, if not the, best high-resolution discs (SACD or DVD-A) around for surround immersion and realism -- sounded the best I have heard it. I did not go through the various DSP effects, which I would never suggest anyone use in real life (if we had meant to record an album in a football stadium, we would have done so, thank you very much): these are as good as any DSP-generated faux-acoustic environments you will find, but . . . please don’t push that button again.