At first glance, $1,000 might seem like a lot of money to shell out for a receiver such as Onkyo's TX-DS797. But look again, and you'll notice that this midrange system's specs and features stack up pretty well against those of Onkyo's $3,200 top-of-the-line model, the TX-DS989. Better still, the DS797's ear-opening sound is up to the standards of demanding audiophiles. At first glance, $1,000 might seem like a lot of money to shell out for a receiver such as Onkyo's TX-DS797. But look again, and you'll notice that this midrange system's specs and features stack up pretty well against those of Onkyo's $3,200 top-of-the-line model, the TX-DS989. Better still, the DS797's ear-opening sound is up to the standards of demanding audiophiles.
It's in there
The DS797's feature roster includes THX Select certification (which means that the receiver meets Lucasfilm/THX's rigorous performance standards), THX Surround EX, and DTS's 6.1 ES Discrete surround processing, along with a bunch of the latest goodies, such as Dolby ProLogic II and 192KHz/24-bit digital-to-analog converters. The standard Dolby Digital and DTS processors are here as well.
Weighing a hefty 35.9 pounds, the DS797 not only feels more substantial than its midpriced competition, it's also bigger. Its 18-inch depth might be a tight squeeze in your cabinet or entertainment center; you'd better exercise your tape measure before you buy this very grown-up receiver. But Onkyo uses that extra mass to give you more volume: the DS797 can deliver 100 watts to all six channels.
The receiver welcomes just about every hook-up contingency--everything from a turntable input, two wideband component-video inputs, a 7.1-channel Super Audio CD/DVD-Audio input, and enough digital audio ins and outs to accommodate almost any rack of gear you care to collect. An extra set of audio, video, and digital connections is conveniently located on the front panel. The DS797 also has the necessary outputs for multiroom, multisource operation, along with dual-zone, infrared remote inputs and a 12-volt trigger control that can turn on or off an external amplifier or other remote electronics. We were pleased to find line-level preamp outputs for all 8 channels--just about every upgrade option is possible. The only thing missing from this receiver are real bass and treble knobs. You'll need to tweak those settings in the setup menu.
While the programmable remote suffers from a bit of button congestion, it sure felt nice and comfortable in our hands. Plus, it's backlit so that you can find the right button in a dimly lit room.
Pump up the volume
The DS797 locked onto our Dynaudio Contour speakers and breezed through the Blue Man Group's bass-and-percussion-heavy DVD, Audio. And since the band's swaggering rhythms are spread out over all 5.1 channels, this DVD is a particularly difficult test for a multichannel receiver. Things were sounding so rich and meaty that we turned off our REL Storm-powered subwoofer and listened again with the subwoofer channel's bass redirected to the main speakers. That upped the power demands on the DS797, but the receiver didn't stumble; the bass was just as taut, with a hair less deep-bass power and extension. In other words, if your speakers are large enough or your listening room is on the small side, you might not need to buy a subwoofer: this receiver's power reserves are up to the job.
We also sampled the DS797's prowess on a few 6.1-encoded DVDs. The center rear channel adds a degree of focus that you can't get with conventional 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS soundtracks. The catch is, the availability of 6.1-encoded DVDs is quite limited. Yes, this receiver can synthesize sixth-channel information, but the resulting effect rarely equals that of the sound of fully encoded DVDs.
The DS797's superb performance in home-theater and music modes, its bountiful features complement, and its friendly ergonomics put it in the top rank of receivers in its price class. Other more expensive models deliver more power, even greater switching flexibility, and fancy touch-screen remotes, but the DS797 will more than satisfy most of us. We highly recommend it.