It ain't easy being an Onkyo TX-NR818 owner!

For years I had been using an old 5.1 three channel, Yamaha DSP-E800 processor with only centre and surround channels of amplification. Bought secondhand from a member of an AV forum it was already outdated long before I had it safely in the rack. I used an even older Pre-PS-Power, Naim stereo system for the Main/Stereo speaker channels.

The recent arrival of the Sony BDP-S790 finally stirred me into seeking a modern, multichannel AVR with all the latest bells and whistles. It seemed pointless to continue to persevere with the old Yamaha now that I had a better source. I obtained a display model of the Onkyo TX-NR818 for a good price just as next year's model was released. The '818 had supposedly much better equalisation than its '828 replacement, according to all the AV forums. So the older one was the model to get. Though even there Onkyo was cost-cutting by paralleling the twin subwoofer sockets internally. Only their high(er) end models allowed individual subwoofer equalisation.

Here's a link to a really excellent series of illustrations of the TX- NR818 inside and out:


Click on any image for an enlargement. Scroll to move between the enlargements. Back click to return here.

As the '818 had a built-in crossover I was now able to remove the inexpensive but ailing Behringer CX2310 digital crossover from the rack. Its channel muting push switches were getting extremely unreliable. So I was glad to take it out of the system. As I no longer needed to split the subwoofer from the Mains channels this also meant I could also remove the Behringer mixer. This had been used to feed LFE back into the IB subwoofer channels from the old Yamaha processor.

Adding LFE had dramatically improved the impact of my original system. Running subwoofers simply by dividing the Front Mains/Stereo speaker channels is fine for music but robs films of any impact at all. No matter how loud I set the subwoofers relative to the speakers it was still completely gutless. I spent several years wasting my time with no LFE before realising my silly mistake. DTS films were far better than Dolby due a technical problem in the Dolby processing when down-mixing to stereo. Unfortunately, not all hired films offered DTS.

Now the brand new NR818 seemed to suffer from exactly the same lack of impact! I ran the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 Room Correction and Speaker Setup a number of times without getting remotely satisfactory bass on films. Music was fine and even seemed an improvement over the previous system. Forum members suggested raising, lowering and even removing the subwoofers entirely during the Audyssey set-up routines. I tried them all with completely different results. It probably doesn't help that I am using an attic as my AV room. Audyssey is probably as confused as I am without parallel walls to work with!

On films I was still suffering from a complete lack of impact. I even asked on the AV forums if anybody else had similar problems. It seems that Audyssey produces a flat response which many AV fans find rather anaemic. I had also removed the BFD subwoofer equalisation which didn't help. So reluctantly I brought back the BFD and sat it on top of the Behringer EP2500 subwoofer amplifier out in the IB enclosure.

The BFD provides the vital boost to turn the old, substandard  AEIB15s into real subwoofer drivers rather than mere woofers. With a measured Fs of 32.5Hz and very stiff suspension they just can't do deep bass no matter how I turn up the volume. With the BFD adding +16dB @ 20Hz spread over 2 octaves the older drivers are worth having. Without the BFD boost they are not!

The BFD certainly livened up film watching but the system still lacked any real impact. I tried adjusting the LFE level, bass level and all the other potential impact improvers in the endless menus. I removed all the optional inhibitors to dynamic range. Or at least I hoped I had. Things did improve but it was a very slow process involving lots of trial and error. The problem is the vast array of menus and options and the completely unforeseen effects they sometimes have by default. Despite over 5 decades of hands-on, Hi-Fi/AV enthusiasm I still found myself struggling to understand what half the menu options meant! My guesses were probably wide of the mark.

I was still unsure at this point whether I had the BDP-S790 correctly set to optimise my results. It was an incredibly steep learning curve to be suddenly faced with non-working Wireless system, a brand new and complex BDP menu system and remote. Then the new and even more daunting and far more complex AVR all at the same time!

It didn't help that my wife kept saying the sound quality was complete crap. I actually value my wife's input because she has better hearing than I have after my decades of exposure to industrial, building construction, rock concert and domestic AV noise. Not to mention the ownership of a noisy sports car and unprotected target shooting in my youth. It all adds up as one ages! Pardon?

I had already taken the Naim boxes out of the system. In a desperate attempt to try and improve the SQ I fitted the old Naim NAP180 back in to drive the Main/Stereo speakers. It required I order a special cable from the UK and I still I can't say it was night and day improvement, but it can't have done any harm. Can it?

Films are slowly regaining their impact but it remains a real problem to hear the dialogue. Both of us notice it. I keep turning up the Centre speaker to avoid the music drowning out the dialogue. It helps but it was never a problem hearing the dialogue with the old Yamaha. I'm still using the same Centre speaker. An old Mission 750C to match the 750F Mains.

The Sony S790 is a great improvement on the Pioneer LX70A. How could it be otherwise? I rather like the brighter sound of the Onkyo AVR over the old Yamaha. I now listen to music via All Channels Stereo. It adds air and space even if it is completely wrong from a hifi purist point of view. I often click around the endless soundfield options but always come back to ACS. The new system sounds better on classical organ music as well. There is no real directionality in an organ recital so why worry about the "purer" stereo options?

One month on and film impact is still relatively poor compared with before the arrival of the TX-NR818. Dialogue clarity and intelligibility remains a serious issue. Perhaps the Naim power amp should be moved to the Centre channel? After several failed experiments I can now get fairly decent sound on satellite TV. Using TV Logic and adjusting the levels of various channels and the subwoofers helped. Attempts to use film sound programmes produced very poor results.

VITAL INFORMATION: Check whether DRC is set to Auto or on in your BDP/DVDP menus!
Poor film dynamics is a sure sign of having overlooked this default choice on a BDP/DVDP setting!
DRC is there to protect TV speakers and sound bars.
Not for those with serious speaker/subwoofer systems!
I could not believe that "Auto" would be selecting heavy DRC by default.
I was blaming the NR818!