Onkyo DX-7555 CD player Wes Phillips on the Onkyo
"Still got that Oppo DV970HD universal player you reviewed last May?" asked John Atkinson.
"Yeah," I said, grudgingly, afraid he might want to borrow it.
"Good. I'd like you to listen to the $599 Onkyo DX-7555 CD player, which Robert Deutsch just reviewed for the January issue. He compares it to the Ayre CX-7e, which costs a lot more, and to an older Marantz universal player. I think the Oppo would make a helpful real-world comparison."
Roger, Chief—especially as I wouldn't have to surrender the little Oppo that could. Not only does the DV970HD do yeoman service in my small listening room, playing CDs, DVD-As, and SACDs (albeit not in native DSD), but since my acquisition of a new Sim2 D 10 projector, it has distinguished itself as my highest-resolution video source (via its HDMI output). Not too shabby for $200. And while I have great admiration for Onkyo's engineers, I thought the Oppo set the bar pretty high, even for a $599 "Red Book"–only player.
I installed the Onkyo in my smaller dedicated listening room, feeding an Ayre AX-7e integrated amplifier with an identical length of the Stereovox HDSE interconnect I was already using for the Oppo. I biwired a pair of Usher Be 718 speakers with Stereovox Firebird cables, mostly because I could. I then spent time getting to know the Onkyo, which, for a strictly "Red Book" machine, offers quite a few listening options. After determining that the Onkyo and the Oppo were in sync on the polarity front, I began playing with the Onkyo's reconstruction filter slope.
I quickly realized that I'm on the same page as Bob Deutsch concerning the Onkyo's digital filter. Sharp sounded, well, sharper—not in that clichéd sense of "digital edge," but in terms of focus and detail. There may be folks who prefer the filter's Slow setting, but I didn't cotton to it. However, as Bob said, if your system has an excess of detail, the Slow slope could—perhaps, conceivably—come in handy.
Unlike Bob, I was glad Onkyo hadn't put the polarity and filter settings on the remote's keypads. I used to have a friend who would recalibrate my EQ settings when I wasn't looking—he had fun watching me scratch my head and wonder why something sounded different. Some things are better hidden, I says.
I began serious listening with Len Moskowitz's recording of Sing We Nowell, by the women chamber singers Angelica. Recorded at the South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry, New York, which boasts a healthy decay time of almost three seconds, the disc is a testament to Moskowitz's (and Angelica's) artistry. The first track, Creator Alme Siderum, begins with the sustained decay of a handbell, closely followed by plainchant. Through the Onkyo, the recording's clarity and tonal purity gave me goose bumps.
Mesmerized, I found myself listening to the next track and then the next, before remembering I was engaged in serious business. I repeated Creator Alme Siderum, this time played by the Oppo.
Hmmm. They were very close. Perhaps I heard more "space" with the Onkyo; perhaps the Oppo set the music against its background with greater contrast. But which was right? And how big a difference am I talking about, really?
As I switched between the players, I began to wonder if I was hearing differences simply because I must. I listened to Bobbie Gentry's Chickasaw County Child (CD, Shout! DK 32278) and Manu Katché's Neighborhood (CD, ECM 1896), my nominees for 2008's "Records To Die For," and I could hear differences between the two. But these weren't night-and-day tonal differences, or extremes in soundstaging or holography. They were just differences.
Then, while listening to Bobbie Gentry on the Onkyo, I noticed an interesting thing sometime around track 16, "Fancy." Maybe you're ahead of me on this, but it was the fact that, instead of doing A/B comparisons, I had listened to 16 tracks because I couldn't wait to hear what the next one sounded like. I then reviewed my listening notes, and discovered that it wasn't the first time this had happened while listening to the DX-7555. In fact, it had happened only while listening to the DX-7555.
Ah-ha, I thought. This is what they call a clue!
Rather than obsessively probing for minute differences with the same passages or tracks, I set about listening to 20-minute "suites"—five or six tracks in a row—then taking a physical inventory. After these longer sessions with the Oppo, I seemed to carry more tension in my shoulders, which is one of the ways I manifest listening fatigue. With the Onkyo, that was seldom the case—and yes, I know the narrative would be more clear-cut if I said "never." Don't you hate it when facts get in the way of a good theory?
How does the Onkyo DX-7555 stack up against the Oppo DV970HD? The Oppo is one-third the price, reads hi-rez discs, makes a pretty darn good digital transport feeding hi-rez DACs, and offers surprisingly crisp DVD-Video performance. I'd still call it a bargain. However, at the end of the day, I preferred the Onkyo as a CD player. It may be a one-trick pony, but it does that trick awfully well—and it's a trick I like a lot.—Wes Phillips
Sidebar 4: WP's Associated Equipment
Digital Source: Oppo DV970HD.
Integrated Amplifier: Ayre AX-7e.
Loudspeakers: Usher Be 718.
Cables: Interconnect: Stereovox HDSE. Speaker: Stereovox Firebird.
Accessories: Shunyata Research Hydra 6 power conditioner, OSAR equipment stand, RealTraps Mini & Mondo Traps.—Wes Phillips