Equipment Review No. 1 May 2003
ONKYO DV-SP800 Universal Player
Formats Played: CD, SACD stereo and Multi-channel, DVD, DVD-A, MP-3, DVD-R and RW, CD-R, AND CD-RW.
Outputs: 5.1 audio, digital coax and optical (2), stereo RCA (2), composite video (2), S-video (2), 480i/480p component video.
Processors: 108MHz/12 bit video, 192kHz/24-bit audio.
Bass management for multi-channel.
Specifications: Audio signal to noise ratio 118 dB; Dynamic range 100 dB
Dimensions: 17 1/8 inches wide, 3 9/16 inches high and 12 3/8 inches deep.
Weight: 11 pounds
Onkyo U.S.A. Corp.
18 Park Way
Upper Saddle River
The unit seems has standard upper mid-fi build quality. It weighs twice as much as the Sony 755, which I reviewed two months ago. It is however only 60% of the weight of the Marantz DV-8300. The faceplate has a nice finish. The front panel has more control features than the 8300. The display, like that of the Pioneer 47A it is based on, is far less informative than the Marantz. The power chord is non-captive, so a better chord can be easily used. This is recommended for any component. The remote has a standard programmable remote look. It is large with more control functions than the Marantz, which are of more use if you program it to control other components. The manual is well written and user friendly. I prefer the navigation buttons of the 8300 to the toggle button of the Onkyo for navigating the menus. The cables supplied, as usual, are worthless. Track access is very fast and disc access is faster than most SACD players. There is no button to go between different formats on the same disc. You have to go into the menu screen to choose CD on a hybrid disc. This is also true of selecting stereo SACD over multichannel SACD. I must admit that I like the blue light surrounding the open/close button. It makes it easier to find in a dimly lit room. It also has a volume-controlled headphone jack on the front panel, which for some may be a useful feature.
The SP800 has both video off/on and display off/on. It also has a CD Direct mode for increased sound quality on stereo play. This allows the signal to skip circuitry unnecessary for stereo playback. It has a THX Ultra certification. There are 16 different video parameters that can be adjusted for best picture. They adjust various noise reduction levels; sharpness; detail; white and black levels; Gamma, Hue and Chroma levels.
The unit was put into my 7.1 surround system. For information on my system see the Meet the Staff section at www.positive-feedback.com. There has been one change in the system: I am using a Pioneer unit as a processor for DTS and Dolby Digital. I also use the 5.1 bypass to go to the Citation 7. The DV SP800 was put on ebony feet on a Bright Star Big Foot base. The 5.1 cables were from Jena Labs. I used the Jena Labs coax digital out to the Pioneer. I used a Cardas Hex gold cable for stereo from the 8300 to the Citation and Jena Labs component video cables. The Citation processed the surround from a 5.1 to 7.1 output. The setup of the 800 is menu-driven. With the 800 you can set up the unit from the front panel, but it is much easier to do it with a monitor attached. Installation can get very expensive with a unit like this. You will need 6-8 RCA audio cables. All of which need to be good quality or better. You will also need component video cables (3) and a digital cable. For the 5.1 output, you will need a receiver or preamp with 5.1 input. I used a Kimber power chord on the Onkyo. You must also make sure the 5.1 settings of your preamp inputs agree with what is set on the Onkyo. You can set which speakers are going to be used in the surround. You can also set the size of all the speakers, the distances from each speaker to listener and the level and balance for each speaker. A test tone output by the player is used to set sound levels. The Onkyo has the same set up menu as the Marantz. I ran the unit on repeat play for a couple of days before listening, to break it in fully. The unit was a quick setup. I used the Marantz DV-8300 for comparisons of playback. After I finally got everything right, I was ready to listen.
On my 55-inch Mitsubishi HD rear projection set, the picture was flawless - very close to the Marantz. This is to be expected since they are both based on the Pioneer 47A DVD player. Neither company has tweeked the video circuit as far as I can tell. Some reviews have found problems in the Progressive Scan out put of the 47A. I found no problem with the picture on either machine. If I would be lucky enough to have a state of the art, large front projection system, I might have been able to see some small problems. I could easily be happy with the picture quality from either machine.
I expected the differences between the DV8300 and the SP800 to be small and require very careful listening to evaluate. I was surprised to find the differences to be easily evaluated and very consistent. The Onkyo sounds like a good upper mid-fi player. The Marantz sounds like an audiophile player. On Telarcs Celtic Spectacular, the Onkyo sounded good, but a little bland. The Marantz was more dynamic, presented a much bigger, airier hall and had more detail. The highs with the Marantz were more delicate and airy. The surround was clearer and crisper. Instruments had more detail to them. The sound stage was deeper and more defined. On Misty Rivers Rising CD, the sound was a little ragged on the Onkyo. The Marantz had more instrumental detail, which allowed you to hear how really special this disc is for sound. I listened to the Mobile Fidelity Kinks Low Budget SACD on the Onkyo; I would have rated the sound at 2 Stars. On the Marantz, my rating was raised to 3 Stars. This basic sound characteristic appeared on all sound formats that I played. This included DVD-A, SACD stereo and multichannel, DVD-V and CD. The differences were not huge, but were reproduceably discernable. I feel the improvements in the sound of the Marantz were due to three reasons. First and probably most important were 6 discrete channel outputs verses chip outs in the Onkyo. The second was a separate power supply for the audio section. The last is better construction and parts on the Marantz. Looking inside the Onkyo I found only mid-fi construction. The dynamic range specification is 8 dB less on the Onkyo.
To me the Marantz DV 8300 is a clear choice. It sounds better than the Onkyo DV-SP800 and includes DTS and Dolby Digital onboard processing. It is interesting to me that Onkyo left off this video audio processing, when it was on the Pioneer 47A that it was based on. The Onkyo is $600 less than the Marantz; this may sway some to buy the Onkyo. I feel that a universal player like either of these units is the way to go for most people. You could get a DVD/CD player that may produce a better picture for about the same money, but the sound would probably not be as good as the Marantz. You would also not be able to play SACDs and DVD-As. You could spend many times more than the price of the Marantz and get slightly better SACD and CD playback. But you could not play DVDs or DVD-As. I have no feel for whether there is a better sounding DVD-A unit out there, at any cost. [There is - the $5000 Pioneer Elite player - Ed.] I think if someone built an audiophile DVD and DVD-A player, it might slightly be better sounding than the Marantz on DVD-A. There is one very big problem with separate players. First, every preamp and receiver I have seen has only a single 5.1 input. If you had multiple units with 5.1 outputs, you would have to unplug one and plug in the other to play it. [Or get two Radio Shack 3-channel switch boxes as I have done - Ed.] Even if multi-5.1 inputs were available, the cost for extra audiophile cables would be expensive. There would also be extra isolation devices and extra shelving needed. These universal players allow a person to chose discs by the music, not the format.
- Clay Swartz