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Onkyo A-5VL stereo amp: Audiophile performance for less than £500

Onkyo is quite late to the stereo market, preferring to cut its teeth on multi-channel home cinema. Now though, it's got a stereo amp and a SACD player that promises smashing value

Onkyo has a long-standing reputation for bringing amazing performance to the home cinema for a sensible price. Now the company wants to do the same for music, with a new amplifier and SACD player for less than £500 each. The company was kind enough to invite us over to its gaff yesterday for a quick listen.

If music is your bag, you'll understand stereo performance is a different kettle of underwater swimming beasts to surround sound. An audiophile will also tell you that you can't possibly hope to get good music performance from a multi-channel audio system. Even so, Onkyo has always managed to get good stereo music performance from its AV amps. There's always room for sonic improvement, however, so meet the Onkyo A-5VL, aimed squarely at the music lover.

Until now, Onkyo hasn't attempted to enter the stereo audio market, possibly because of these difficulties. It did pause to flatter us Brits, however, kindly saying the UK is one of the most sophisticated audiophile markets in the world. It was also made clear to us there are considerable challenges facing any manufacturer launching over here. Apparently our head-mounted sound-shells are significantly different to Japanese and German lug-holes.

We have to say, in our demo yesterday, we were very impressed by the sound quality overall. We were in a rather large room, which presents some unique challenges of its own, but the sound was clear and punchy. Of all the tracks we listened to, we were most impressed by The Wheat, from the Gladiator soundtrack. Classical music seemed well catered-for too, but we were less impressed with pop music on the system.

Critical assessment of the system at this stage isn't fair, as it's a way off final production and interestingly, Onkyo was keen to hear our thoughts on the amp. Indeed, it even indicated that if we had something to say -- that wasn't about the colour of the LEDs at the front -- it could make changes to the way the system sounds. It's quite unnerving having a company listen to our thoughts, but it did give us a much-needed ego boost to think someone cares about our opinion.

Onkyo's amp, the A-5VL, and the C-S5VL SACD player are both due sometime in the summer. The final price won't be available until later on this year, but all being well, and global econopocalypse willing, the price shouldn't go above £500.