Integrated Amplifier, XCD-88 CD Player, Reference 1 LE Speakers
Onix electronics and speakers are distributed exclusively
by AV123 via their website, www.av123.com.
By selling only direct to consumers, AV123 believes it is able to offer better products at
lower prices than it could via a traditional dealer network. Because consumers cannot hear
these products at their local dealer, AV123 offers a 30-day, money-back guarantee. If you
audition a product and decide it isnt right for you, it will cost you only the
shipping charges to and from AV123s Colorado location. Obviously, this will cost you
more than a visit to your local dealer, but if youre seriously considering Onix
components and decide that their quality is much better than similarly priced gear at a
bricks-and-mortar store, then it might make sense to pay the postage and take your
The Onix system AV123 sent for review consisted of the SP3
tube integrated amplifier, XCD-88 CD player, and a pair of Reference 1 LE loudspeakers.
The special system price is $1449 USD.
The whole package
The Onix system is one of the best-looking systems you can
get for the money, and the SP3, made for AV123 by Onix-Melody (an Australian firm), is one
of the most attractive and heavy integrated amplifiers Ive seen at this price.
Designed in Australia and built in China, the SP3 delivers a manufacturer-rated 38Wpc and
has only two inputs, which is at least one fewer than Id like -- I like to be able
to connect a turntable, a tuner, and at least one digital player. Im sure that
limiting the inputs to two allows Onix to cut costs and keep the price low, but this is
something that potential customers should consider. Thankfully, Onix has broken away from
the standard black-box design and offers the amp in a beautiful silver
art-deco-meets-science-fiction design that would not look out of place in an old Flash
Gordon serial. One visitor described it as looking like a hot-rod engine.
The compact (12"W by 8"H by 13.25"D) SP3
weighs nearly 50 pounds. On its front it has only a large, central volume knob and a blue
LED. On the right side are a switch for choosing between inputs and vents to cool the
innards; on the left are a matching power switch and more vents. On the middle of the rear
panel is a power-cord receptacle, and on each side of that are three speaker terminals and
two RCA inputs. There are three speaker terminals on each side because there are separate
taps for 4- and 8-ohm speakers. The RCA inputs are separated so that each components
right input is on the right side of the amp, its left input on the left. I would have
preferred that the left and right inputs were kept together for each component, but I
understand the logic behind this design. It bothered me only because it made using 0.5m
interconnects a little tricky; most people probably have 1m pairs, a common length.
The SP3s complement of ten tubes are all on the top
of the amp. In the front center is a tube cage that connects to the chassis with banana
plugs. This fantastic design allows easy access to the tubes, either to change them or to
admire them. If you enjoy the glow of tubes, you can easily remove the cage, then replace
it to keep kids and pets away from the tubes, as needed. Inside the cage are four 5881
tubes; on each side of it, three spring-loaded covers protect one 12AX7, one 6922, and one
12AU7 tube. Like the cage, these covers are easy to remove and replace. In contrast, all
of the tubes of my Rogue Audio Tempest integrated amp are under a cover that must be
screwed down, which makes changing tubes a bit more difficult. This doesnt have to
be done often enough to make it a big deal, but the SP3 does make it much easier to admire
the warm glow of tubes at night.
The Onix XCD-88 CD player has a dark-gray finish. The
faceplate has the power button, the disc tray, a clear display that can be read from
across the room, and five buttons: Open/Close, Play, Stop, Rewind, and Fast Forward. These
buttons have a nice touch to them, but most people will probably use the supplied remote.
The remote control is an attractive silver color with lots of small buttons logically laid
out; though there are only two different sizes of buttons, you can use it blindfolded once
youve glanced at the layout. On the rear the XCD-88 has one set of RCA outputs, two
digital outputs (one coaxial, one TosLink), and a power-cord receptacle. Under the hood
are a Burr-Brown 1732 24-bit/96kHz DAC, HDCD decoding, and a Philips CDM-12.1 transport
controlled by a CD-7 Mk.II servo. The Philips transport helps the XCD-88 have one of the
quietest disc trays and fastest reading times Ive seen. A pair of interconnects and
batteries for the remote control are included.
The Onix Reference 1 LE is a two-way, rear-vented speaker
measuring 11"H by 8"W by 14.5"D. The drivers are a 1" Vifa XT
Concentric Ring Radiator tweeter and a 5.25" Atohm woofer. On the rear are two
high-quality speaker terminals, but no way to biwire or biamp. The Reference 1 LE comes in
a handsome rosewood finish better than most Ive seen, with black grilles. The
speakers size and weight (about 20 pounds) means youll want some decent stands
to put them on.
To evaluate the system, I connected the XCD-88 to the SP3
using a pair of Analysis Plus Silver Oval cables. Kimber Kable 4PR speaker cables
connected the SP3 to the Reference 1 LEs.
I began my critical listening with David Johansen and The
Harry Smiths Shaker [Chesky JD236]. The Onix system provided great separation
of the instruments, each taking a unique place in the soundstage. During "Deep Blue
Sea" I was impressed with the dynamics and thought that details were articulated
well. The systems ability to extract detail was also evident on Wilcos Yankee
Foxtrot Hotel [Nonesuch 79669-2]. A tick-tick sound near the beginning of
"I Am Going to Break Your Heart" came through loud and clear; through other
systems, this detail is missing altogether. During both the Johansen and Wilco discs I
thought the bass was tight -- it didnt have deep, physical oomph, but it was
plenty satisfying. The Onix systems bass can be augmented by the addition of a
subwoofer, but because the SP3 lacks a subwoofer output, youll need to run speaker
cables from amp to subwoofer and on to the speakers. Whether that would be worth the
effort, I dont know, but bass-heads should take note.
When I put the Nashville Chamber Orchestras recording
of works by Aaron Copland [Naxos 8.559069] in the XCD-88, the players blue HDCD
light came on, indicating that the disc is so encoded. Some people really appreciate HDCD
processing, but I have discs that sound great without it and discs that sound mediocre
with it, so I dont put much stock in it. Its nice to have it, but I
wouldnt buy a player or CD simply because it has HDCD. During Coplands Three
Latin American Sketches I was impressed with the delicate percussion that I could hear
clearly among the more prominent instruments, though the horns sounded more subdued and
the frequency extremes less extended than Ive heard with other players.
I then listened to Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel
Barenboims performance of Brahms Cello Sonata No.1 in E Minor, Op.38, from the
two-disc budget release Brahms, Chopin, and Franck: Cello Sonatas [EMI 5 86233 2].
In general, the high frequencies seemed softer than the crisp, clear sounds at lower
frequencies. As I listened, it seemed as if the very beginning and end of each piano note
was missing a smidgen. These concerns shouldnt be overstated: I listened with
pleasure to these discs through the Onix system, which continued to do well at separating
instruments from one another and illustrating lots of detail in a musical presentation.
I got the best sound from the Onixes while playing the
Branford Marsalis Quartets Coltranes A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam
[Marsalis Music 11661-3310-9]. Once I began playing this disc, I just couldnt stop.
It didnt have the three-dimensional realism I hear when I play it on my reference
system of Rotel RCD-1070 CD player ($700), Rogue Audio Tempest integrated amp ($2195),
Quad 21L speakers ($1300), and Analysis Plus Silver Oval cables, but thats
understandable -- the entire Onix system costs just slightly more than the Quads alone.
That this system can even be compared to my reference is downright astounding.
My reference system also has a much less forward
presentation than the Onixes, whose soundstage appeared well in front of the speakers. The
Reference 1 LEs did "disappear" nicely -- I was unable to pinpoint where the
sound was coming from. But in absolute terms, my reference system created a much larger
three-dimensional space both in front of and behind the speakers.
I didnt have any other single-manufacturer system on
hand to compare the Onixes with, but set against the Dared Mini SL-2000A preamplifier and
Mini VP-300B monoblock amplifiers ($1379 for the set) I reviewed recently, the Onix system
came out way ahead in terms of build and sound quality, and therefore value. The Dared
electronics may suit some users better, but the quality, price, and sound of the Onix
system are hard to beat. In any of the system configurations I used, the Onixes provided
better dynamics and a crisper, more detailed presentation than the Dareds. In fact, of all
the equipment Ive reviewed or had experience with, I couldnt put together a
more satisfying system at the Onixs price. That says a lot.
Often when Im reviewing something, Im eager to
return to my reference system. But the Onix components entirely replaced that system for a
couple of weeks while providing me with constant enjoyment. I tried to come up with a
reason to keep the Onixes around, but couldnt justify it -- my wife was adamant that
Galileo, our five-year-old son, doesnt need such a system in his room, and I
grudgingly agreed. The Onix combo is best suited to someone who wants a great tube-based
music system that he or she can just "set and forget." If you dont like to
tweak and tinker, then you can get this system and some decent cables and sit down to
enjoy music for years to come. It performs very well and, purchased as a package, delivers
fantastic performance at a price that defies reason. The bottom line is that the Onix
systems sound is musical, detailed, and robust. If I knew someone looking for a
bargain-priced music system, I would do what I could to make sure they heard the Onix
before buying anything else. Its that good.
...Eric D. Hetherington
Price of equipment reviewed