Naturally, there’s a wide range of listening modes on board, providing plenty of options for movie and music playback. Among these are eleven of Onkyo’s own DSP modes – including settings for four different types of video games and the useful All Channels Stereo mode. If you want to avoid all of these settings, simply select Direct, and if you want virtual surround, go for Onkyo’s Theater Dimensional mode or Dolby Pro Logic II. Unsurprisingly there’s none of the fancy Pro Logic IIz or Audyssey processing found on the SR608.
One thing Onkyo receivers always deliver is exceptional ease of use, and the SR308 continues this tradition despite its bargain basement price. When the HDMI output is connected to your TV, you get an onscreen menu that’s much easier to use than the front panel display. It’s also more attractive than you might expect and clearly laid out, plus it contains loads of audio tweaks and speaker configuration settings. This may be an entry-level product but such detailed control is befitting of a more expensive machine.
The remote also makes operation feel simple, as it provides direct access to many of its key features and places the often-used controls (volume, menu keys etc) within easy reach. Clear, legible labels also play their part.
With Blu-ray soundtracks, the TX-SR308 delivers a snappy, energetic sound and musters a satisfying amount of muscle to boot. You can hear evidence of its budget origins in the slightly brash, bright sound that creeps into frenetic action scenes – the SR608 is a much smoother and mature sounding machine – but for a receiver costing less than £200 we really can’t have much cause for complaint.
Once again we turned to Hellboy II to test the Onkyo’s mettle and the movie’s incredible action scenes zip and fizz from the speakers. It masterfully orchestrates the chaos during Hellboy’s battle with the Elemental – rear channel effects are smoothly steered, smashing glass and crashing cars sound crisp and realistic, while stomping footsteps and explosions are tight and punchy.
But when the Elemental screeches and clatters the passing helicopter, the loud, high-pitched effects are slightly jarring on the ears. Likewise the climactic battle between Hellboy and the Golden Army, in which clashing metal effects sound harsh. Not a disaster, just a reminder that you have to make some compromises at this price.
The Onkyo also proves to be surprisingly musical for a budget machine, handling vocals with an enjoyable tone and digging out lots of detail. There’s a smooth balance across the frequency range too, and it has no problem keeping pace with fast, frenetic dance music.
If you’re looking for a decent home cinema hub on a tight budget, the TX-SR308 certainly deserves a place on your shortlist. The inclusion of 3D-ready HDMI sockets, HD audio decoding and an onscreen menu system make a mockery of the peanuts price tag, as does its enjoyable performance with movies and music. A few sonic shortcomings, the lack of auto calibration and cost-cutting springclip terminals rain on the parade, but on the whole the TX-SR308 is an impressive budget option.