Onkyo A-5VL review

Onkyo must be applauded for taking the plunge into affordable digital amps, but the A-5VL is beaten by the best analogue alternatives Tested at £350.00

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

This hybrid amplifier plays it clean and precise, but there are far better analogue alternatives on the market


  • +

    Unusual hybrid design

  • +

    tonally balanced

  • +

    clean, precise delivery


  • -

    Lacks the detail and dynamics to produce the nuance and texture of the best

  • -

    unpleasant remote control

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The Onkyo name has become rather synonymous with AV receivers in recent years, with hi-fi taking a back seat. The A-5VL amplifier, along with its CD-playing partner, the C-S5VL, is here to begin redressing that balance.

This is a hybrid digital amplifier, making it different from any of its rivals. Unsurprisingly, the company recommends its own, digital-outputting ND-S1 iPod dock as the perfect partner to the A-5VL, but there are lots of dedicated CD players available with digital outputs, allowing them to act as a transport when partnered with a digital amp such as this.

There's no USB connection, but you can also use the optical socket to link the A-5VL to your laptop, should you wish.

Digital connection gives best results
The digital connections provide the best results, revealing extra detail and dynamics over the analogue option, but performance is still short of the best offered by other stereo amps at this price.

The Onkyo produces a clean, lean delivery, but it doesn't have the resolution or dynamics to fill in every subtlety. Playing The XX's Islands, this results in a slight lack of organic degradation to the sparse guitar, and a less textured reproduction of the vocals.

Having said that, in isolation there's not much to complain about. Tonally there's very good balance, with controlled bass and sparkly treble; vocals are focused; and delivery is precise.

The problem is it's a very matter-of-fact presentation, which, next to the most detailed alternatives, is somewhat emotionally sterile.

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