Onkyo's PR-SC886 is a component preamplifier which includes just about every species of extant high-tech wizardry, in a form that attempts to straddle the domestic and the professional-cum-custom install divide – the latter supported in part by such features as an extensive range of low voltage triggers, and an AMX and Crestron compatible RS-232 interface.

As a 7.1-channel processor (no power amplifiers are included, please note) it just about has it all, though cosmetically it belongs to last year's products rather than the more streamlined appearance of the new Onkyo models just now coming on line.

Internally, the 886 is rejigged from the brand's TX-SR875. It's THX Ultra2 Plus certified, and boasts a full set of balanced mode outputs, and a two-channel balanced input, all using XLR terminals.

Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding is onboard, with setup abetted by the most effective of the current crop of microphone-assisted setup algorithms, namely Audyssey MultEQ XT.

It even offers the possibility of using an external laptop for audio setup. Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume (actually a smart compression scheme), are also present.

Video setup benefits from onboard ISF calibration controls, so that each video input can be calibrated (ideally by an installer) with up to three sets of adjustments downstream of the HQV Reon-VX video processor, and the results sent via HDMI to the video display. This should (and does) ensure accurate colour processing at near the optimum colour temperature.

The strengths of the Onkyo are its excellent AV engineering, which uses some of the best commercially available components. Video processing isn't state-of-the-art but its certainly good enough to ensure smooth and realistic images, with unusually good black levels (ie. graduations of subtle tonal variations in the near blacks) and a minimisation of jaggies on standard-def material.

Similarly, the audio sections deliver a typically bold, colourful and realistic sound, with real consistency between channels and immersive imagery. It's difficult to plot exactly where this product fits into the scheme of things, though.

Of course, balanced outputs should be used if possible in preference to the single-ended inputs; however Onkyo currently doesn't offer a balanced-mode power amplifier, though one is apparently on the road map. Onkyo uses the Integra brand Stateside to cater for the custom installation market, but in Europe this solitary processor ploughs a lonely furrow.

Quality component

That said, there's no doubt in my mind that the PR-SC886 can compete with many component preamplifiers sonically, which makes it possible to listen to challenging music material without any feeling that the equipment is missing the boat. And maybe that's the point.

There are other processors in the Onkyo PR-SC886's class, but very few that rival it directly for custom install flexibility and sound quality – the Silicon Optix-based Denon AVP-A1 is probably the closest competitor, but it lacks THX support, and costs considerably more, Judged in these terms, the Onkyo is a steal – it's just such a shame the brand doesn't offer a matching power amp!

For part of this review I used the PR-SC886 with a Primare SP32 for stereo source and stereo playback using entirely balanced connections, and I loved its performance. Specialised it may be, but this beast is more than halfway to being a winner.