|Onkyo TX-SV636 Receiver|
|Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers|
|Written by Kim Wilson|
|Saturday, 01 November 1997|
The TX-SV636 is a $799 Dolby Pro Logic receiver from one of Japan's leading high performance, low cost electronics manufacturers, Onkyo. It competes in one of the most competitive and significant niches in all of consumer electronics: the low cost receiver market. The average consumer may find $799 a hefty, but not insurmountable investment for a home theater control center, yet the performance of this receiver may very well determine if a consumer is going invest additional funds to develop their system into a world class, state of the art home theater system with all of the latest bells and whistles.
The basic design of the TX-SV636's front panel is attractive and the usual assortment of buttons and knobs you'd expect to find on an all-in-one product are laid out in a logical manner. The LCD window is large enough for comfortable viewing of adjustments and selections from across the room. Also, most of the front panel functions are incorporated on the rather odd-shaped remote control which is designed to work horizontally or vertically, i.e. while resting in an upright position on a tabletop.
The rear panel is easy to access and less complicated and cluttered without the additional digital and S-VHS inputs. The nomenclature for the inputs assumes that you are going to be using lots of magnetic tape products and only one digital device, a CD Player. Pre-outs are provided for use with external amplifiers.
Hooking up my speakers (NHT 1.2 system, $1800 with a Sunfire True Sub, $1295) almost turned out to be a futile endeavor. The binding posts on the TX-SV636 are designed for cables with small gauge bare wire terminations. The termination connectors on my reference grade Cardas cables are spade lugs. While I could maneuver one end of the lug into the hole and clamp down, the proximity of the posts to each other made it difficult for the thick cable to hang in such a way it didn't continually pull the connectors out. Understandably, the Onkyo TX-SV636 isn't designed to use cables that are more expensive than the receiver, Onkyo has more expensive Dolby Digital receivers for those purposes. Nevertheless, since there was no way I was rewiring my house I employed a little elbow grease and successfully secured all of the connections.
The on-screen set-up, though graphically plain, is fairly straight forward. There are several nested layers of functions, which is typical of these devices. Being used to processors that allow you to switch the test tone manually, I didn't like the channel level adjust feature on this receiver. When you activate test tone, it sweeps from channel to channel and you have to make your adjustments quickly. If it wasn't for my trusty Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter, the surround sound settings might have taken longer to adjust properly.
What was really nice about the surround sound set-up, though, was the ability to adjust the parameters to custom fit your home theater. It is possible to select the size of the theater, the imaging of the surround speakers, levels for effect and reverb plus reverb time. All the adjustments were easy to control and understand via the on-screen menu.
The TX-SV636 is a gutsy receiver with plenty of power and punch. While watching movies, I found it provided plenty of impact and a convincing surround soundfield, mainly due to the abundance of adjustable parameters to fit my listening space.
However, after tasting both Dolby Digital and DTS, going back to Pro Logic is a very flat experience. The pre-outs on the TX-SV636 are not sufficient to incorporate outboard 5.1 decoders. For instance, I couldn't use the Millennium 2.4.6 DTS decoder, because the TX-SV636 doesn't provide pre-ins to send the processed signal back to the amplifiers. You could, however, add a decoder if you were also using external amplifiers but that defeats the purpose of owning an all-in-one receiver, doesn't it?
(Ed. note: The next generation of Onkyo receivers are reported to have preamp inputs to accommodate 5.1 decoders that allow for outboard Dolby Digital and DTS decoders.)
Listening to music in my usual critical way didn't do justice to the Onkyo TX-SV636. If you throw a few CDs in a changer and go about your business, you will probably be satisfied with this receiver, assuming of course, you are also satisfied with just Pro Logic.
What this receiver really lacks in sound quality is any real finesse. The top end is brittle and exhibits timbre shifts, most notably on concert piano. There was no brilliance or sparkle and it lacked a three-dimensional image. Additionally, the more I listened, the more fatigued my ears got. It glared, making me feel like I needed to squint from too much sun. Obviously, I was experiencing the effects of upper end distortion.
The Onkyo TX-SV636 is designed to be a first receiver for a consumer on a budget. However, its upward flexibility isn't great nor is it going to grace the covers of the audiophile magazines as the best sounding receiver in the world. It is very well suited for small room applications, bedrooms, auxiliary theaters or systems where music will mostly be listened to ambiently. But, if you have designs on upgrading your system to the latest digital surround 5.1 formats, invest more money in a higher end unit for this one will not prove to be the investment you had hoped for. If you want a well built, punchy, easy to use, inexpensive receiver, the Onkyo TX-SV636 may be your choice.