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Onkyo HT-RC180 receiver: Awesome sound, right price

Onkyo's new HT-RC180 seven-channel receiver not only sounds great, it also comes with fully loaded with up-to-the-second features.

The HT-RC180, the best-sounding receiver for a grand.

Powerful-sounding receivers are hard to come by.

Sure, you can buy respectable-sounding models from the usual suspects--Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, Sony, and Yamaha--but most of the more affordable models lack real muscle. They sound acceptable at moderate volume levels, but can't fully convey home theater impact the way bigger, read "more expensive," models do.

Onkyo's new HT-RC180 ($1,049 MSRP) is THX Select2 Plus Certified and that's always a good sign. A bevy of features including an Ethernet port that enables the HT-RC180 either to receive and output audio tracks playing on your PC, or to bypass your PC and directly stream Internet radio stations such as Rhapsody and Pandora. There's five HDMI 1.3a inputs and the ability to upscale any video input to 1080p via Faroudja DCDi Cinema. You'll soon get the complete scoop in the full HT-RC180 review I did with Matthew Moskovciak.

The features are nice, but it was the HT-RC180's power and dynamic slam that wowed me.

The very first thing I noticed about the HT-RC180 was its ability to play nice and loud without strain. True, in absolute terms it probably can't play much louder than lesser receivers, but the HT-RC180 definitely sounds better playing loud. Home theater, at its best, is all about producing a more visceral experience, and the HT-RC180 does just that.

To more fully exploit the HT-RC180's potential I played some of my favorite SACD and DVD-Audio discs. Take the Talking Heads DVD-A for example: the seamless 5.1 channel surround mixes were phenomenal. So much so I never felt a need to use the HT-RC180's seven channels. The band's dynamic range was impressive, and Tina Weymouth's funky basslines were especially easy to follow. You won't hear me say this too often, but once I heard the Talking Heads in surround, the stereo mixes sounded claustrophobic.

CD sound in the stereo was spectacularly good. We listened to Gerald Clayton's hard-hitting piano jazz trio on his "Two-Shade" CD. The stand-up bass was deep, yet beautifully defined, drums were powerful, and Clayton's piano natural. Overall transparency was excellent.

The HT-RC180 is the best-sounding receiver I've heard in its class. Highly recommended.