Over years of reviewing Onkyo's receivers, we've always come away impressed with the company's strong entry- and midlevel models, and the TX-SR504 continues that trend. While this model can be had for less than $300, the Onkyo TX-SR504 still offers a solid feature set that's highlighted by support for 7.1-channel surround, component video switching, and a built-in XM Satellite Radio receiver that decodes the company's new XM HD Surround. Yes, we wish Onkyo had chosen to include some sort of auto speaker calibration, but to its credit--since the receiver isn't bogged down with a ton of useless features--it's relatively easy to set up and use, and its sound quality doesn't betray its affordable price tag. The Onkyo TX-SR504 is available in black or silver. The receiver's clean design and friendly ergonomics help make up for its lack of auto setup/calibration or onscreen menus, both of which are found on Pioneer's identically priced competitor, the VSX-816. We found the Onkyo's manual setup routine easy to follow and use.
As for dimensions, the receiver is 17.1 inches wide, almost 6 inches high, and 14.75 inches deep, and it weighs a modest 21.2 pounds. As is the case with many A/V receivers, this model's amplifiers generate a fair amount of heat, so make sure to provide adequate ventilation.
A smattering of front-panel controls give you instant access to key functions and inputs, and the front-panel display is easy enough to navigate. But you'll be spending most of your time with the TX-SR504's partially backlit remote, which is a model of efficient layout and design. It makes it easy to adjust each speaker channel or the subwoofer without delving into the receiver's setup mode. A press of the CinemaFilter button gently smoothes the sound of overly bright or harsh DVDs, and the Late Night function can reduce the dynamic range of movies by automatically raising the apparent volume of quieter scenes and lowering the volume of loud sounds. We found the two features highly effective and potentially useful. The Onkyo TX-SR504 is rated at 75 watts per channel and offers the usual bevy of Dolby and DTS surround modes plus Neural Surround, which is used to decode XM's HD Surround channels. To receive XM's 160-plus music, talk, and entertainment channels you'll need to purchase a Connect and Play antenna (such as the Audiovox CNP1000) or a newer XM Pass kit, plus an XM subscription.
We like that the TX-SR504 offers an unusually wide range of crossover settings including 40Hz, 50Hz, 60Hz, 80Hz, 100Hz, 120Hz, 150Hz, and 200Hz. With so many options, you can dial in just the right crossover to produce seamless integration with any size satellite and subwoofer. Oh, and the menu offers a Double Bass setting that ensures bass signals will always be sent to the subwoofer, regardless of speaker settings--many receivers lack this feature. The Onkyo also has front-panel-mounted bass and treble controls.
Around back you'll find three A/V inputs, each of which can accept composite, S-Video, or component-video connections, while a fourth composite-only A/V input is located on the front panel. The TX-SR504 doesn't offer HDMI-switching as some more expensive midrange AV receivers now do, but it does have component-video switching. This allows you to connect as many as three different devices (DVD player/recorder, HD cable/satellite box, gaming console, and so forth) and conveniently switch between them with a single output to your HDTV. This comes in particularly handy when your TV only offers two--or even a single--component-video input. Unfortunately, the TX-SR504 doesn't convert composite or S-Video sources (such as a VCR) to component video. For that option, you'll have to step up to the Onkyo TX-SR574 ($399 list), which is also slightly more powerful (80 watts per channel).
On the audio front, you get four digital audio inputs--one coaxial and three optical--but no digital outputs, which is small bummer. The 7.1-channel analog inputs will be very useful when hooking up Blu-ray, HD-DVD, or SACD/DVD-Audio players, and there's also two pairs of stereo analog audio-only inputs--one with a Tape Out loop for recorders. You'll use the subwoofer output jack to connect a powered sub, and the unit's high-quality speaker binding posts accept bare wire ends or banana plugs. If you're connecting an extra set of stereo speakers that live in another room, it's worth noting that the B speakers' spring-clip connectors work only with bare wire ends. And lastly, if you're interested in a more integrated iPod solution, Onkyo's nifty but somewhat expensive DS-A1 ($100) iPod dock connects to the RI (remote interactive) jack.
As mentioned above, the TX-SR574 is a worthwhile upgrade if only to get the component video conversion feature that's lacking on the SR504. Stepping down the Onkyo line will get you the company's entry-level 2006 model, the TX-SR304. That 5.1-channel model offers a bit less power and lacks the 504's XM satellite radio functionality and S-Video inputs but retains the step-up receiver's three component video inputs, despite costing $100 less.
Onkyo 2006 A/V receivers compared:
(These models will remain current through the first two quarters of 2007.)
|Onkyo TX-SR304||Onkyo's entry-level 5.1-channel A/V receiver offers component video switching between three inputs.|
|Onkyo TX-SR504||The step-up to the TX-SR304 is a 7.1-channel model that adds more power, more A/V inputs, and XM satellite radio capability.|
|Onkyo TX-SR574||The TX-SR574 improves on the SR504 by adding the ability to convert any composite or S-Video input to component-video output.|
|Onkyo TX-SR604||Replacing the earlier TX-SR603X, the SR604 is Onkyo's most affordable receiver to offer Audyssey auto speaker calibration and HDMI switching between two sources.|
|Onkyo TX-SR674||One-upping the HDMI switching on the SR604, the Onkyo TX-SR674 adds the ability to convert analog video sources (composite, S-Video, component) to HDMI.|
|Onkyo TX-SR703||A 2005 holdover, the TX-SR703 is THX Select2 certified, but it offers no HDMI connectivity and lacks support for the latest XM surround formats.|
|Onkyo TX-SR803||Also a holdover from the 2005 line, the TX-SR803 improves upon the SR703 by adding support for two HDMI sources but lacks the TX-SR674's ability to convert analog video to HDMI output.|
|Onkyo TX-NR1000||Onkyo's flagship receiver, released in 2005, offers plug-in circuit boards for PC-style upgradeability.|
The TX-SR504 home-theater stamina was fully the equal of any $300 receiver we've reviewed. The 75 watts per channel felt as powerful as most 100-watt models, and it was capable of playing action movie DVDs loud enough to fill a fairly large room. Bass was full and rich sounding, though lacking some of the definition we associate with $500-plus receivers. That extra degree of refinement found in higher-end receivers was also evident when listening to classical music--it just sounded a little harsher than we'd like.
As far as Onkyo's implementation of XM HD Surround goes, it seems to have a performance advantage over other companies' receivers we've tested that also offer the XM-ready feature. The Onkyo's channel separation is superior to the Pioneer VSX-816 ($300) and Yamaha RX-V659 ($550) receivers', but we noted that whenever we were watching DVDs or listening to CDs, we heard a very low-level noise over the speakers (it was only audible only during quietest scenes). An Onkyo rep says the company hasn't been able to duplicate the problem in its tests, but we're not convinced the problem was exclusive to our review sample, since we used the same antenna with the Pioneer VSX-816 and the issue wasn't present. We did manage to eliminate the noise by disconnecting the XM antenna from the back of the TX-SR504, but that's not exactly an acceptable solution. That, paired with the Pioneer's automatic speaker calibration and onscreen display, are the three main reasons the VSX-816 was rated slightly higher.