Panasonic sa-xr55

Category: Amplifiers

This receiver has a ton of hype on home theater boards and I purchased it as part of a bedroom system and out of curiosity to see if it could live up to the hype. Bottom line: almost.

Source: Emu 0404
Cables: Better Cables Silver Serpents (biwire)
Speakers: Sivlverline Sr-16
Break-in ~ 20 hours

Don't be deceived by this receiver with a heft less than your power cord, cheesy front bevel, and volume knob that feels 5 microns thick. It's a serious contented for budget systems compared to lower price offerings from Rotel, Marantz, NAD etc.

Thank goodness this Panasonic is lacking they typical big-box store tinny fatiguing highs. Bass is also extremely tight and not rolled off as far as I can tell down to ~30 Hz. It excels at rock, alternative, and pop - music that doesn't put extreme demands on frequency range or designed for hyper-intensive study of micro dynamics IMHO. It is certainly capable of involving you in music and does not distract from that with any glaring flaws.

After playing a wide range of material to I narrowed in on female vocals and high-frequency instruments as areas in which the Panasonic's performance was less than euphonic. One my Consonance tube amp Utada Hikaru and Vienna Teng were simply present - airy and extended and very anchored in 3D. On my Khartago you could tell that they were recorded voices... and that you were definitely listening to a recording, but one being played back with a high degree of fidelity.

In contrast, on the panasonic you could tell that you were listening to the sound of someone singing - it's more like noise than either a recording or live music. I may just have set a new level for audiophile psycho-babble. Yet that is honestly the difference in overall style of presentation. Cymbals sound very splashy an honestly not very like cymbals. Also, instrument separation was fairly poor compared to my reference.

Of course I'm nit-picking here and throwing this HT-focused receiver up against dedicated amps 5 and 10 the retail. On the bright side it does sound better than all of the entry-level Onkyo, HK and Sony stuff I've heard in the sub 1K range.

I have not hooked up a digital input which would undoubtedly give this receiver a further advantage, although I plan to in the future. Even at the current level of performance it offers credible reproduction even when matched with speakers and amps 10x the price. It does not do anything wrong per say, which is a tremendous virtue at this price, although it does in my opinion give up some level of realism that can be found in other value-leading amps for several times the price.
Good and to the point!
However, the hype about these receivers refers to their performance when run all digital in stereo only, that is, digital inputs only so there is no Analog to Digital Conversion and no signal processing, just Digital to Analog in the final stage of amplification. I would definitively make a point to try such setup for further comparisons. I have never heard the SA XR55, but I am definitively considering trying it out for fun, given its ridiculus price.
in terms of using the xr55 DAC

Source: Emu 0404
Cables: Monoprice coaxial, Black Orpheus to highs, plain 12 gauge to bass
Speakers: Decware Radial 1.5
Break-in ~ 100 hours

These observations may not generalize given the rather unique speakers I was using them with - they would create an amazing soundstage no matter how you amped them.

Strengths: absolute bass control - razor tight - again aided by the speakers, but they allowed this quality to shine through.

Middle ground - Highs - difficult to say, very detailed, perhaps a bit stident and ragged at the top end, could be due to the ribbon.

Weakness - mids - no tube lushness found here. Speakers are a crossover-less design, but I felt like the lower mids (top end of the main woofer) were kind of muddy. Although these weren't the best speaker to double check my previous observations of the mids on, again, lacking that last bit of presense, compared to tubes.

What hasn't changed: one heck of a bargain.