With the possible exception of Marantz, AV manufacturers have kept the style of their receivers fairly consistent for the past few years. Onkyo is guilty of this, and looking at the TX-SR578 you can immediately tell its origins. It's no beauty queen, but its no-nonsense looks and design are the result of years of experience.
The unit we received was black, and it was offset by the familiar Onkyo green LED readout. It's short and squat as far as these devices go, and comes with a usable selection of controls on the fascia. While many companies now opt for a source selector dial, Onkyo is one of the few companies that still provides a button for each source which we think enhances usability.
Being a "budget" component, the remote shipped with the unit is sparse, but very usable. It's not backlit, but you'll find it does everything you need it to.
Like many of the receivers released in 2010, the TX-SR578 features compatibility with 3D sources via any one of its four HDMI 1.4a ports — and ARC (Audio Return Channel) is also supported. The ports cover the most popular source types with selections such as "BD", "DVR" and "Game".
The Onkyo also offers its proprietary universal port, which can be connected the UP-DT1 DAB+ tuner (AU$399) or optional iPod dock. This makes the SR578 one of the few receivers to offer DAB+ playback. Through this connection the receiver will also pull down current song information and display it on the front of the unit.
One limiting factor of this receiver is that the number of sources is essentially restricted to six, plus a front-mounted auxiliary for portable devices.
The SR578 is capable of 80W per channel in stereo, but the company hasn't been so forthcoming on its specs in surround mode. However, it does note that the unit features Onkyo's WRAT (Wide Range Amplifier Technology) and a "High-Current Low-Impedance Drive".
For audio processing, the receiver uses a high-quality Burr-Brown 192kHz/24-bit DAC (PCM1690) and comes with the Audyssey automated set-up system.
In terms of video processing, the Onkyo offers 1080p upscaling of all video sources using Faroudja DCDi Cinema via HDMI, and can decode lossless HD audio formats from Dolby and DTS; plus Dolby Pro Logic IIz for adding "height" channels to your system.
Unlike many other budget components, the Onkyo TX-SR578 comes with a full-colour user interface which we believe makes tasks such as calibrating the system that much more enjoyable. We plugged in the Audyssey microphone and found the set-up process to be relatively painless. One thing we didn't appreciate, though, was that the system set every input to "All channel stereo" by default. However, this was easily overcome by pressing the "Music" button on the remote and changing the mode to "Direct".
Given that this is the first receiver we've tested in our labs to include DAB+ as an option we started there. The UP-DT1 hooks into the Universal Port on the back of the receiver and it includes a daisy-chain port for connecting further accessories if you choose. After attaching the DAB antenna included in the box we were ready to go.
We haven't been that impressed with the stand-alone DAB+ tuners we've tested in the past as they've tended to accentuate the hashy nature of digital broadcasts, but we can honestly say the Onkyo UP-DT1 is the best home cinema tuner we've heard yet. It wisely rolls off the higher frequencies and concentrates on mid-range response which translates into enjoyable listening for all types of content: from talk radio to blues, jazz and rock. Unfortunately, the unit doesn't give you an OSD (on-screen display) on your television but pressing the "Display" button on the remote will scroll the artist and song name across your receiver's display.
Next up we tried two-channel content, and found that the Onkyo gave a very convincing musical performance. Compared directly with the output of Arcam rDAC, we found that the sound quality was very similar, with just a tad more refinement in the Arcam's case. Given the price point of the Onkyo receiver this is a very impressive result! If you have high-quality stereo components to connect you'll find that the Onkyo will be able to present them in an even better light than its own DAC can muster.
Surround sound was equally fine, with the system putting in a thrilling performance of Chapter 8 of the Spider-Man 3 Blu-ray. The scene really stretches out with its use of the surround channels and LFE (Low Frequency Effects), and every glass-breaking twinkle and rocket-propelled boom were recreated faithfully through the Onkyo. While we have heard more thrilling results, it was only through receivers three times the price! For a bargain component, the SR578 is an absolute dynamo.
The Onkyo features on-board video processing and this is one of the amp's only shortcomings — surprising given the DCDi chipset's reputation and relative ubiquity. Though you can set the Onkyo's video processor to "Through" — which we take to mean that the receiver won't process images — we found that this led to excessive smearing, especially with an SD source such as Foxtel.
Strangely, we found that setting the processor to "1080p" got rid of much of the processing artefacts. We prefer the display to do video processing these days as most screens feature excellent processing, so the Onkyo's inability to "leave things alone" may be something to consider.
The Onkyo TX-SR578 is a surprisingly good receiver from the Japanese manufacturer; it offers an excellent price (which can be found for under AU$700 online), a usable number of features, and an even hand when presenting both surround sound and stereo music.
We like the ability to add a DAB+ receiver and think this is one of the best reasons to purchase the system, but find having to pay almost half as much again to be a little rich. Likewise the provision of a USB port or iPod dock would have sweetened the deal for Apple users.