The C-S5VL is a two-channel SACD player and will play two-channel hybrid SACD/CD discs in addition to discs with MP3, WMA and CD-R/RW music. Multichannel SACD discs can be played, but only the front left and right channels will be output from the player's analog and digital connections. The C-S5VL does not display SACD text information and has a four-step dimmer to reduce potential audio interference from the lighted front panel display.
It has optical and coaxial digital outputs and analog L/R channel outputs, a headphone jack with level control and two RI (Remote Interactive) jacks so it can be controlled by other Onkyo components with RI capability via a wired remote control connection.
The C-S5VL outputs an SACD signal through the analog and digital outputs – however, the digital output is downconverted to PCM CD audio: 44.1 kHz/16-bit instead of SACD audio, which is 2822.4 kHz/1-bit. SACD signals cannot be recorded via the digital outputs. The player has a switchable Digital Out control, which can be turned off to prevent digital noise from degrading analog playback quality.
The five PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) digital filters shape the frequency response characteristics when playing a CD and can be selected according to listening preferences. The four DSD (Direct Stream Digital) filters are used for SACD discs and also affect frequency response in the audible and inaudible ranges. The Phase control is used to invert the phase of the analog output (normal/inverse) and the Area Priority selects the default portion of a hybrid disc (SACD or CD) that you wish to listen to.
Music discs with male and female vocalists are among the best ways to evaluate an audio system. The vocalists in "The World's Greatest Audiophile Vocal Recordings" (Chesky Records, SACD) are great recordings, and the Onkyo player delivered a true sense of realism and musicality. Sibilance, the sounds produced when the letter 's' is pronounced, sounded crisp and precise along with the delicate treatment of high frequency details. Laverne Butler's expressive and emotional recording of "Isn't It a Pity" came alive with a spacious soundstage that transcended well beyond the separation of the speakers.
"The River Between from Spyro Gyra's "In Modern Times" (SACD, Heads Up International) is rich with percussion instruments that had a shimmering and distinct sound quality – and each instrument could be clearly separated with good articulation.
As I wrote in my review of the Onkyo A-5VL amp, Marta Gomez' "Cielito Lindo" from the same Chesky disc offered excellent mid and high frequency detail, especially the clear reproduction of the rolling 'Rs' and the subtle sounds of fingers on the solo guitar strings.
I'm unconvinced about the sonic benefits of the selectable filters. The differences are subtle and I think most listeners will pick one and not change filters. The disc must be stopped and the menu accessed in order to change filters, which makes comparison difficult.