Onkyo TX-SR501 Receiver 
Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers
Written by Matthew Evert   
Monday, 01 December 2003

Onkyo, a brand that has long been respected as one of the best mainstream Japanese audio manufacturers, offers powerful AV technology at an affordable price. The TX-SR501 is a six-channel receiver equipped for the most popular home theater and stereo formats: Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES, and Multi-Channel Audio inputs for SACD or DVD-Audio, all for the svelte price of $299. This is not a typo.

The TX-SR501 immediately entices you with its black steel chassis and brushed aluminum faceplate, giving it a look that is easy on the eyes. Modest in size, the TX-SR501 stands five-and-seven-eighths inches tall, 17-and-one-eighth inches wide, and 14-13/16 inches deep. The sizable power supply in this receiver adds some noticeable weight, tipping the scales at just over 18 pounds. The front panel is well laid out, with sturdy buttons and a slightly resistive volume knob (flimsy volume knobs are a pet peeve of mine). The display is a modest size, adjustable to three levels of brightness. Being able to dim the display is a must feature for those of you who are going use this in a bedroom or in a rack in the front viewing area.

Like other superior receivers today, the TX-SR501 has more inputs and outputs than a telephone switchboard. The back panel is swarming with inputs for everything from a turntable to a multi-channel DVD-Audio or SACD player. All the inputs/outputs are thoughtfully color-coded for improved ease of set-up. Inputs include four S-video, two optical, one coaxial, two-component video and 5.1 multi-channel. Outputs include one component video, two S-video, subwoofer pre-out, and of course the six speaker connections. Another nice feature is the receiver’s use of multi-connection binding posts that include banana plug-compatible speaker terminals for all six speakers. This makes it easy to hook up any kind of speaker wire terminations. Also handy is the ability to hook up an additional set of speakers beyond the 6.1 in your theater, to be used in another room. Although they cannot run independent of the 6.1 set-up, it offers additional flexibility. An added bonus to consumers with the appetite for camcorder playback is the placement of A/V inputs for easy connection at the front panel of the unit.

Venturing into the heart of the receiver is the amplifier section. This is typically is where you will notice the difference between a $300 receiver and a $1,000 receiver. The amplifier of the TX-SR501 is modest at 65 watts (minimum) of continuous RMS power to each of the six channels at eight ohms, yet feels plenty powerful enough to drive any modestly efficient speakers to adequate volumes. I should mention that this model’s amplifier section also includes Onkyo’s Wide Range Amplifier Technology (WRAT) and CinemaFILTER technologies. These technologies have a lower signal to noise ratio and much improved performance during higher power demands (i.e. when you are cranking out the kung fu fight scene from “The Matrix” for your friends).

So what other features lurk inside the TX-SR501? A 24-bit DSP chip provides five DSP sound-fields for analog sources (orchestra, unplugged, studio mix, TV logic, and all-channel). The digital-to-analog converter provides full PCM 24-bit/96kHz decoding on all channels from the most cutting-edge, high-resolution digital audio sources, namely 6.1 Home Theater formats, DVD-Audio and SACD. Mentioned earlier, the TX-SR501 has all the most common home theater formats: Dolby Digital EX, DTS ES (matrix and discrete) decoding, DTS Neo 6 and Dolby Pro Logic II. Legacy formats such as DTS and Dolby Pro Logic are also supported.

Some handy features include the ability to adjust the number speakers that you have in your current system. This is great if you are starting to build a new home theater system and do not have all seven speakers yet. If you just have a center and a front left and right, then this receiver’s digital signal processor will mix the surround sound speakers into the front left/right speakers. Furthermore, you can adjust the relative amplification to each speaker +/- 12dB. This is nice if you have wimpy low-power rears, but meaty power-hungry fronts. This receiver is incredibly flexible and feature-packed for its price.

The remote is pretty basic, but very functional and has most of the features available from the front panel. It allows for programming of other stereo components into the remote (i.e., your Sony VCR and Toshiba TV). The tuner has no trouble finding stations in my neighborhood and allows for 30 AM/FM presets.

The Music and Movies
I used my trusty Panasonic DVD-RP56 DVD player as my source for DVDs and CDs, Energy C-6s (mains), Take 2s (surrounds), and an ES10 (Subwoofer). I like to test with a mixture of music styles, so I used a few tracks from U2’s Joshua Tree (Island Records) and The Best of Earth, Wind and Fire Vol. 1 (Columbia Records). U2’s dynamic use of guitars and vocals is an excellent test of whether your system is capable of handing a large spectrum of dynamic music. Bono’s soothing cries of love in “With or Without You” are nicely captured by the TX-SR501. The Edge chimes in with his guitar to add harmony to an already emotional performance from the Irish frontman. In this section, I paid close attention to the tone of the guitars and the impact that they provided. I found the performance of this receiver exemplary. Subtle nuances were easily discernable and had very reasonable texture. The hard-driving rhythm section of U2 is showcased by “Bullet the Blue Sky.” Snapping of the snare drums and the powerful resonations of Adam Clayton’s bass guitar were surprisingly solid, especially for an inexpensive receiver. Okay, this receiver doesn’t have the slam of a Krell amplifier, but it had impact heard in receivers costing considerably more than its $299 price.

To further test bass response, I like to get out the funk, and how better than with Earth, Wind, and Fire? “September” is an upbeat and warm-sounding track that is overflowing with keyboard and bass guitar. The introduction to this song starts out with a strong bass foundation, followed with the soaring of the horn section that is a trademark of Earth, Wind, and Fire’s music. Bass response is again adequately powerful in a medium-sized room, and the 65 watts per channel is powerful enough to permit me to sing along in the shower in the next room. Both CDs perform better than my older reference in the Sony STR-DE705, which is rated at 120 watts per channel.

For movie evaluation, I used “Blue Velvet” (MGM/UA Video), “Chris Rock – Bring the Pain” (Universal Music & VI), and “Point Break” (20th Century Fox). “Point Break” has its moments of bad acting (sorry, Keanu), but the story is interesting and has some intense action scenes worthy of any adrenaline junkie’s dream. The opening robbery scene says it all: the loading of the shotguns shells, the revving of the getaway car, and the dropping of the hostages’ bodies onto the bank floor while Patrick Swayze barks orders to stay calm. The TX-SR501 puts you right there in the action. This scene is powerful and dynamic and has considerable impact. There is a scene where Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) tries to learn to surf and gets “totally worked, dude.” “For sure, brah.” From the crashing of the waves as Utah is pulled to the bottom of the ocean, to the bubbling of his last breaths before the lovely Tyler (Lori Petty) unselfishly pulls his carcass to shore, this scene pulled me in like the best. At no point was I disappointed with the ability of the TX-SR501 to draw me into the thrill of being a bank robber or hurtling myself out of a perfectly good airplane.

“Bring the Pain” is a classic for those who can appreciate the intricate mind of Chris Rock. Rock’s story about the presence of an established crackhead like Marion Barry at the Million Man March had me roaring. His raw and uncensored views on life are always refreshing and thought-provoking. I mean really, who was so bad that they lost the mayoral candidacy to a known crack addict? The crowd soon roars with laughter (mixed in with mine) and once again, the TX-SR501 delivers a good performance of what it must have been like to be among the live audience. This selection proves that live recordings, even without advanced formats like Dolby Digital, sound exceptional from the TX-SR501. Subtle nuances in the crowd are reproduced quite well.

The eerie music in “Blue Velvet” goes to the other extreme, bringing the viewer into the disturbing mind of David Lynch. As Kyle MacLachlan walks at night, the creepy sounds of oboes keeps the viewer wondering if someone is going to jump out of the bushes at any moment. Well, someone does emerge from the cricket-infested darkness, none other than the lovely Laura Dern. The bar scene featuring Isabella Rossellini’s performance of “Blue Velvet” is convincing enough to make you feel you’re in the room, being mesmerized by her siren-like cries. Sounds of jazzy piano fill the listener’s ears as the band suddenly vanishes from the stage, leaving just Rossellini there to sing. Again, I felt this Onyko receiver was able to create a convincing audio performance to match the mood of the film.

The Downside
I love the dual banana plug speaker terminals featured on this product, although it would be nice to have those available to the "B" speakers as well. Also, the remote could not be programmed for my DVD player and my Yamaha CD player at the same time.

I was also a little bummed to see that there was only one switched A/C outlet on this unit (two would have been ideal). This allows you to plug your CD player’s power into the back of this receiver so that when you turn the power on for the receiver, you automatically turn on the power for the CD player. The unit is weighted heavily to the left side of the unit (this is where the WRAT transformer is), so you have to be careful when moving it around or else you may end up with a smashed toe.
Additionally, this receiver is a little underpowered for my larger-sized living room, which is large at 25 feet by 18 feet. However, I think for small to medium-sized rooms, this receiver is very adequately powered.

This is a great option for someone looking to purchase a first home theater receiver, or equally someone looking to upgrade an older receiver on a limited budget. It provides almost all of today’s cutting-edge home theater formats, like DTS-ES and Dolby Digital EX. It also allows you to enjoy the latest high-resolution audio formats, thanks to an input for multi-channel 5.1 audio. It has a decent amount of power for small to medium-sized rooms and allows for multi-room set-ups. I found this receiver to be easy to set up and equally easy to operate. Frankly, I found this receiver to be an absolute steal at $299 and a product that I would solidly recommend to anyone looking for performance at a bargain-basement price, just in time for the holidays.
Manufacturer Onkyo
Model TX-SR501 Receiver
Reviewer Matthew Evert

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