Onkyo has a reputation for delivering tons of features and high-end performance at a budget price, and in many ways the TX-NR609 fits the bill. It's packed with six HDMI inputs (including a front-panel input), built-in networking (plus an optional Wi-Fi dongle for about AU$60) and more streaming music services than even the Denon AVR-1912.
But it's missing the one feature that many buyers will care about: AirPlay. We're definitely fans of Apple's wireless music standard, so it's hard to recommend the TX-NR609 over the AirPlay-compatible Denon AVR-1912 and Pioneer VSX-1021 if you own an iOS device (iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad). If you don't have an iOS device, the Onkyo is our top pick in terms of features, although if you're picky about sound quality, the Denon and Pioneer sounded better to us when we compared them. Ultimately, as much as we like the Onkyo TX-NR609, it's a step behind the Denon or Pioneer, but it has plenty of unique features (and a cheaper price) that will make it the best pick for some buyers.
AV receivers all pretty much look the same, but the TX-NR609's looks are even more utilitarian than usual. Its stark, flat front panel and relatively sharp corners contrast with the Denon AVR-1912's soft, rounded look. By default, the volume knob is surrounded by a bright blue light. Luckily, you can turn it off by pressing the dimmer button in the lower left of the remote, although we were surprised this option wasn't in the set-up menu. Purely in terms of looks, the TX-NR609 isn't our favourite, but styling isn't a priority for us with AV receivers.
Remote and remote apps
We're always annoyed by the complexity of AV receiver remotes, so the simple layout of the TX-NR609's remote is appreciated. There are many fewer buttons than on competitors' models and the volume rocker is easy to spot. Still, there's plenty of room for improvement, and non-techies will likely be baffled by all the functions. As always, it's worth investing in a quality universal remote to control all your home theatre gear.
The uncluttered look of the remote makes it better than average.
(Credit: CBS Interactive)
Onkyo's remote app (available for iOS and Android) is excellent. It has a simple layout, making it easy to quickly switch inputs, adjust the volume, or even switch to a new sound mode like Music. You can search right in the app and queue up music, and the TX-NR609 responds near-instantly.
Onkyo's remote app is great
(Credit: CBS Interactive)
Controlling streaming media services from your iOS device actually feels very similar to AirPlay, although there are more limitations: you're limited to the streaming services Onkyo supports and you can't stream music stored on your iOS device. Onkyo announced its Android app in the past couple of days, but unfortunately this was too late for testing.
The Onkyo TX-NR609 features a graphical user interface that's a modest step up from the old text-based menus that virtually all receivers had a few years ago. There are basic graphics that make the set-up process a little easier to understand, and the text actually looks pretty crisp compared with the menus on the Denon AVR-1912.
The TX-NR609 has an attractive user interface for an AV receiver, but it pales in comparison with other current home theatre devices.
(Credit: CBS Interactive)
We loved the Onkyo's main streaming interface screen, which features large icons for all the different services. The layout isn't quite as nice once you get into the actual services, especially compared with other home theatre devices, like a PS3 or Apple TV. Of course, if you're using the remote app, you won't actually need to navigate these screens that frequently.
|Key AV receiver features|
|Channels||7.2||Analog video upconversion||Yes|
|Graphical user interface||Yes||Automatic speaker calibration||Yes|
The Onkyo TX-NR609 has all the key features we expect at this price level, including a two-year warranty, which is a year longer than Pioneer offers for the competing VSX-1021.
|iPod/iPhone features chart|
|AirPlay||No||Connect iPod/iPhone via USB||Yes|
|iOS remote app||Yes||Proprietary iPod dock||Yes|
The lack of AirPlay will be the big sticking point for buyers with iOS devices. While Onkyo's remote app is excellent and can somewhat replace AirPlay for some of the streaming services, it's not a true AirPlay replacement. Still, if you're on a tight budget and don't need everything AirPlay offers, the TX-NR690 is available for less than either the Denon AVR-1911 or Pioneer VSX-1021. And as with all other receivers at this price level, you can connect any iPod directly via the USB port on the front panel. (If you want to add AirPlay to the Onkyo, you'll need to invest AU$129 in an Apple TV.)
|HDMI version||1.4||3D pass-through||Yes|
|Audio return channel||Yes||Standby pass-through||Yes|
This year all of the mid-range receivers we've tested support the major new HDMI features, including the handy standby pass-through mode, which allows the receiver to pass audio and video signal to a TV even when the receiver is off. No mid-range receiver that we've seen so far supports HDMI Ethernet Channel.
|HDMI inputs||6||Component video inputs||2|
|Composite video inputs||4||Max connected HD devices||8|
|Other: PC input|
The TX-NR609's video connectivity is flat-out awesome. Six HDMI inputs is the most we've seen at this price class (matching the Denon AVR-1912 and Yamaha RX-V671) and we love that Onkyo put one of the inputs on the front panel, for quick hook-ups to a laptop, digital camera or camcorder.
Also note that you can switch among eight HD inputs (HDMI and component video) simultaneously, which is more than any other receiver we've tested this year. The TX-NR609 even has a PC input on the back. We're not sure how much use that will get these days, but it could be a bonus for those with older home theatre PCs.
|Optical inputs||2||Coaxial inputs||2|
|Stereo analog audio inputs||6||Multi-channel analog inputs||No|
The TX-NR609 has a healthy supply of digital inputs, with two optical and two coaxial. While that's two more digital-ins than the Denon AVR-1912, we can't think of too many audio-only devices where those inputs would make a difference. And audiophiles take note: none of the 2011 mid-range receivers we've seen offer multi-channel analog inputs or a phono input. You'll need to step up to a more expensive receiver if you want those features.
If you don't have an iOS device and you're looking for a receiver with built-in streaming audio features, it's hard to top the Onkyo TX-NR609.
The TX-NR609 offers more built-in streaming media services than any other receiver at this price level.(Credit: CBS Interactive)
We also give Onkyo a lot of credit for not only offering a Wi-Fi dongle in the first place, but pricing it so reasonably at AU$60. Denon doesn't offer a Wi-Fi dongle at all for the AVR-1912 and Pioneer charges much more for the VSX-1021-K's dongle. The downside to Onkyo's dongle is it needs to be connected on the front panel, which takes away from the design (slightly) and also uses up that USB port. And the wireless set-up was more difficult than it needed to be; we had a couple misfires before we got it running smoothly. (If you don't want to go with Wi-Fi, there are plenty of alternatives.)
Like every other mid-range receiver we've tested this year, the TX-NR609 is DLNA-compliant, so you'll be able to stream music from compatible networked devices running a DLNA server. If you have an Android phone, you can use a DLNA app like Skifta to enable AirPlay-like functionality, although it's not quite as flexible. You can also play back digital music by connecting a USB drive to the front-panel USB port.
|Audio decoding features|
|Dolby TrueHD||Yes||DTS-HD Master Audio||Yes|
|Dolby Pro Logic IIz||Yes||THX Neural Surround||No|
|Other: Audyssey Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ|
Like virtually every receiver these days, the Onkyo TX-NR609 supports all the standard high-resolution audio codecs from Dolby and DTS. The TX-NR609 also adds Dolby Pro Logic IIz processing. In our experience, the sonic benefits of Pro Logic IIz are negligible and the extra set-up required isn't worth the hassle.
There are also two sound processing modes from Audyssey: Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ. They're worth having, but note that many competing receivers have similar processing modes that work just as well or better than Audyssey's.
|THX-certified||Select2 Plus||Satellite radio||No|
|USB port||Yes||Bluetooth dongle||No|
The unique feature here is that the TX-NR609 is THX Select2-certified. We don't have anything against THX certification, but we also don't put much stock in it, as we don't find that certified receivers perform any better (or worse) than receivers that aren't certified.
|Line-level 2nd-zone outputs||Yes||Powered 2nd-zone outputs||Yes|
The TX-NR609 supports second-zone audio via both powered and line-level outputs, so you don't need an additional amplifier in the second zone. Do note that there are limitations on what sources you can use for multi-room functionality. Page 62 of the manual lays it all out, stating that you can't output audio from HDMI or digital audio inputs to a second zone.
The TX-NR609 features Audyssey's 2EQ automatic calibration system that confirms that all of your speakers wiring polarities are correct; adjusts each speaker and the subwoofer's volume level and time delay/distance settings; and determines the speaker "sizes" and the speakers/subwoofer crossover settings. Audyssey 2EQ also applies equalisation corrections to the speakers in an attempt to improve their sound.
Opt for "Audyssey Quick Start" and you'll use a single microphone position to analyse the speakers and subwoofer's sound in your room; the "Audyssey 2EQ Full Calibration" program requires the user to move the mic to three positions in the room. In either case, Onkyo's Audyssey implementation is easier to use and less time-consuming than Denon's Audyssey system, which recommends taking measurements from six mic positions. Pioneer receivers' MCACC (Multi Channel Acoustic Calibration System) auto-set-up does the whole job from just one mic position, and it's very accurate. The whole process with the Onkyo took around five minutes.
Checking the results we noted the speaker-to-mic measured distances weren't at all accurate; Audyssey claimed the front left and right speakers were 9 and 12 feet away from the mic, when they were both 10 feet away. The surround speaker measurements were even further off, and the sub measurement was off by 3 feet. Audyssey correctly judged all of our speaker sizes as "small", but its sub-to-speaker crossover settings were also out of the range we've seen from other auto-set-up systems for the main front speakers in our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD reference speaker system.
Listening to the TX-NR609 with Audyssey's settings, we weren't impressed by the sound. The subwoofer volume was too low, the front Aperion 4T tower speakers weren't sounding at all good, and the surround imaging was also pretty weak. At that point we re-ran the Audyssey 2EQ program and got better results. The front speaker distance measurements were now acceptable, but the surrounds were still way off.
We started our TX-NR609 auditions with Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms DVD-Audio disc. The 5.1 channel mix wasn't as enveloping as we would have liked, the front and surround speakers sounded too separate, and the bass was too lightweight. That balance was also confirmed with a quick spin of the Terminator Salvation Blu-ray disc, so we felt that the second Audyssey's speaker set-up still wasn't presenting a fair indication of the receiver's potential. At that point we did a manual speaker set-up and that helped a lot. That's a departure from our usual approach with receiver reviews; our impressions are usually based on the sound as determined by the auto-set-up. We decided to stick with the manual settings to give the TX-NR609 as fair a shake as we could.
With the manual settings, we found the TX-NR609's sound fuller and richer than the Pioneer VSX-1021-K with the AIX Records BD Sampler IV Blu-ray, which features excellent-sounding Dolby TrueHD music recordings. The Dave Mason track "Feelin' Alright" was a winner, with extremely realistic-sounding vocals, acoustic guitars and percussion. Bass from the tower speakers and subwoofer gelled perfectly; the VSX-1021-K's sound was a little cooler and less rich in its tonal balance. Returning to the Dire Straits DVD-A after our manual set-up, the front and surround speakers' sound was now more coherent, so we felt more like we were in the room with the band.
The TX-NR609 couldn't match the VSX-1021-K's muscle when we played the battle scenes from the Black Hawk Down Blu-ray. The explosions had more of a visceral kick over the Pioneer, but in the end both receivers sounded equally powerful when playing really loudly. If we were asked to pick between the two, we preferred the Pioneer's sound overall.
The Drumline Blu-ray was next, and the film honors the exacting precision of college football marching bands. The drum battles of competing bands sounded pretty amazing with the TX-NR609. The crack of the snare drums and the taut thump of bass drums sounded awfully realistic, as did the brass sections. We felt the TX-NR609's sound was good overall, but couldn't match the Pioneer VSX 1021-K receiver's resolution.
The Onkyo TX-NR690 has six HDMI inputs and lots of built-in streaming music services, but it lacks AirPlay and doesn't sound quite as good to our ears as some competitors.