For example, in the desert air-raid scene early in the picture, the pinpoint sonic localization and sense of movement for the biplanes was curiously at odds with the decidedly low-fi, bass-shy explosions. (But it was right in step with the unexpectedly stagey, makeup-intensive look of the film. So that's where Obi-Wan Kenobi came from!) I was disappointed by the DVD's somewhat brittle, hard sound in the London Symphony's performance of Maurice Jarre's ultra-swoopy score. Fortunately, the receiver's Cinema Re-EQ option made the music a good deal more listenable.
The TX-DS696 has four "extra" surround modes: Orchestra, Unplugged, Studio Mix, and TV Logic. Most rely on more delay or reverb processing than I generally like, but they do permit you to independently adjust front- and surround-channel effect levels (low, mid, or high).
The receiver gives you only one set of relative channel memories - that is, only the calibrated speaker levels can be stored, and they apply to all sources and surround modes. You can, however, modify any channel's settings on the fly using the channel-select and level keys on the remote or front panel. The receiver reverts to the stored values after being turned off.
Radio performance was only average, with generally fine sound from strong or local FM signals but mediocre to poor results with weak, fringe stations. AM reception was no better. This is entirely typical of today's receivers but was disappointing nonetheless.
The Onkyo TX-DS696 is the first receiver I've encountered with Pro Logic II, and that substantial perk comes in a sensibly equipped package that's priced fairly. Most important, the receiver's performance in its basic Dolby Digital and stereo modes is excellent. The TX-DS696 lacks a couple of nice but nonessential features that can be found in some less expensive receivers (front-panel A/V inputs, a digital audio output), but it includes others, such as speaker-level outputs for a second zone. It's a fair trade as far as I'm concerned.
|Pro Logic II decoding with separate modes for movies and music. Two wideband component-video inputs with switching. Well-designed remote control.|
|No front-panel convenience jacks. No digital audio output. Internal test-noise generator yields wrong subwoofer level setting.|
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