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Onkyo TX-SR502 review:

Onkyo TX-SR502

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The Good 6.1-channel A/V receiver; up-to-date surround processing; A/B speaker switching; bass and treble controls; excellent remote control.

The Bad Best suited for smaller rooms and/or efficient speakers; lacks onscreen menus; no automated setup.

The Bottom Line The TX-SR502 combines high value, robust construction, useful features, and great sound.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.3 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 7.0

Intro

Compared to last year's model, the TX-SR501, Onkyo's entry-level TX-SR502 receiver offers more power, improved surround processing, and Dolby's newest treat, Pro Logic IIx. Beyond the added features, we noted that the SR502's solid build-quality standard exceeds the levels that we expect in affordable receivers. At $300 (list), the TX-SR502 competes with models such as Pioneer's VSX-D914-K, which costs a bit more and offers an automatic setup feature. If you feel comfortable setting up the SR502 yourself, it will nicely fulfill your basic A/V receiver needs. The Onkyo TX-SR502 has a distinctive, gently concave curved front panel, for a look that's more contemporary than those of the latest models from Sony or Yamaha. It is available in silver or black. This bad boy weighs 22.5 pounds, although its 14.8-inch depth is a little easier to manage than the 16-plus inches of the more typical receiver.

Onkyo's large, easy-to-maneuver remote is partially backlit and offers direct access to A/B speaker switching, volume levels for individual speakers, and bass and treble controls. It's among the best remotes that we've seen included with a budget receiver.

As we mentioned, the SR502 lacks automatic setup for speaker levels and delay. Manual setup chores proceeded smoothly, but would have been a little easier if the receiver had been equipped with onscreen menus. Instead, setup info appears on the SR502's main display, which is easily readable from across the room.

We took a peek under the Onkyo TX-SR502's top cover and were mightily impressed by the receiver's build quality. The amplifier offers the sort of generously sized heat sinks that we associate with higher-priced components. The amps deliver 75 watts to each of the SR502's six channels, for 8-ohm or 6-ohm speakers. Surround-processing options include the newest bauble from Dolby, Pro Logic IIx, which produces 6.1-channel sound from CDs, MP3s, and the radio. Onkyo also includes Dolby EX and DTS ES surround.

This receiver's bass-management skills are unusually flexible. You can select 60Hz, ideal for large bookshelf or tower speakers, or 80Hz, 100Hz, 120Hz, or 150Hz. The higher settings are for use with smaller satellites--a particularly useful feature in a receiver that will likely be mated with a set of wee sats.

The TX-SR502 boasts component-video switching for two sources, three A/V and S-Video inputs and two outputs, and another front-panel A/V and S-Video input for convenient connection to game systems and cameras. The receiver has four digital audio inputs--one coaxial and three optical--but no digital outputs. Analog stereo connections are provided for a CD player and an audio recorder. There are banana-plug-compatible multiway binding posts for all the speakers, including the front-channel B speakers.

The Onkyo TX-SR502 unraveled the mysteries lurking inside the Taking Lives DVD. This taut thriller sounded remarkably detailed, especially in the scenes from chapter 8, in which detectives search a room in a sleazy hotel. We heard the sound of running water in the distance, and as the detectives navigated the rooms, the sonic perspectives changed. The running water became louder and turned out to be a shower. We felt like we were in the room. It was very effective and scary. We were also impressed by the TX-SR502's bass definition and control.

When we attempted some of the Hellboy DVD's more muscular bass workouts at higher volume levels, we heard the TX-SR502 straining to deliver the goods. Easing back on the volume cured that woe, and Hellboy thundered with a bit less gusto. If you really want to feel the noise, we'd recommend using the TX-SR502 in small to midsize rooms (of less than 400 square feet) or considering moving up to a more powerful receiver, such as the Onkyo TX-SR701.

As we played a stack of CDs, we discovered that the receiver wasn't equally fluent with music. Sonny Rollins's bellowing tenor sax, for example, sounded somewhat lightweight on the TX-SR502. Suspecting a mismatch with our Dynaudio Contours, we switched over to the more laid-back NHT SB-1 speakers. That change did the trick (showing the importance of system matching when assembling a home-theater system). We'd guess that JBL's E series speakers would also sound great mated with the SR502, but we'd steer clear of bright-sounding speakers, unless you're looking for a very detailed sound.

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