I recently purchased an Onkyo SC5509 pre-amp for my home theater. Before, I had been using a Sony DA7100ES AVR as a pre-amp, and it worked fine over the last 5-7 years. However, I wanted to bring the sound quality of the HT up a notch after replacing my front LSi15 speakers with PSB Synchrony One towers. Along with the PSB Synchrony One center, and the LSi15 rears, the HT is fine now with speakers, and the Onkyo is bringing out the best in the speakers.
First, the Onkyo allows a much better sound calibration than did the Sony. You can adjust speaker distance by inches versus feet for the Sony. Plus you can set the DB level of each speaker. With the Sony, you could only adjust the balance of the front speakers, and adjust the level on the center and rears.
Anyway, the sound is much better with the Onkyo. It is clearer, more precise, better defined, and is great for both movies and music. My reference disk is Terminator 3, and all the scenes I use have better audio. For example, when the Terminatrix arrives the sound of her bare feet on the sidewalk is more distinct and audible. When John Conner drops the beer bottle off the bridge, the sound of it bouncing off the bridge, and landing on the skull is very clear and distinct. The chase scene and graveyard shootout is much improved.
As I said, this also applies to music. I have my iPod Classic and Wadia 171 iTransport attached to the digital in, via an MIT Magnum cable, and the music is great. It lets me use my HT as an escape when the neighbors in the front are making noise that interferes with using the two-channel system in the living room.
It has plenty of HDMI inputs, but I only need two at this time; one for the Oppo 95, and the other for the Xbox.
Now I expected the audio to be better since the Sony new was around $1700, and the Onkyo is $2600. Plus the Onkyo is just a pre-amp, and money is not wasted on amps compared to an AVR. However, I was not expecting this to occur.
The Blu-ray picture is a lot better!! I just had the video pass through the Sony, and it just passes through the Onkyo, but now it is clearer, and brighter. I had to turn the brightness and contrast down, and I certainly was not expecting that.
I had my TV calibrated using the Sony, and now I will be getting it recalibrated once the Onkyo burns in, and I modify the TV to accept power cables. I bought a Furman audiophile IEC connector, and once I install it on the TV, and add a Shunyata power cable, it will be ready to recalibrate. But for now, the picture looks great.
Speaking of Shunyata, a few months ago I had two dedicated 20 amp lines added. One for the two-channel, and one for the HT. After the Onkyo had been in use for a week, I replaced the Pangea AC9 cable going from the dedicated line to the Panamax with a Shunyata Ztron Cobra. The Onkyo is using a Shunyata Venom cable. Anyway, I know some people hate hearing the truth, but adding the Shunyata Cobra bought the picture and sound up another notch. I cannot put in words how good this thing now looks and sounds.
For example, I am watching the Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival on BR, and it looks and sounds fantastic. The picture is so clear and detailed while the sound is so pristine, I just start laughing because the video and audio is making me so happy.
After my recent experience with two bad NAD T187 HT pre-amps, the Onkyo is a blessing, and it is $400 dollars less expensive. Where the NADs had a buzz from every speaker, the Onkyo is dead silent. In my mind, unnecessary noise from a preamp is a deal breaker, and the Onkyo is a keeper.
While I would like to try the Bryston SP3 for its audio, at $9K it will be a while before I go there. This Onkyo is going to keep me happy for a long time.
Hitachi 57" digital monitor
Onkyo SC5509 pre-amp
Sunfire TGA-5400 amp
Oppo 95 Blu-ray
Sony 5400ES SACD
Wadia 171 iTransport
Panamax M5300-PM power conditioner
PSB Synchrony One towers – front
PSB Synchrony One Center
LSi15s – rear (surround)
MIT CVT Terminator 1 (5) interconnect between Onkyo and Sunfire
MIT Magnum digital
Shunyata Venom on all electronics, except TV
Shunyata Ztron Cobra on Panamax
Mapleshade Clearview Golden Helix with Plus option for all speakers