You can spend virtually unlimited amounts of cash on home-cinema equipment. Between projectors, TVs, amplifiers and speakers, there's plenty of scope for bankruptcy and severe marital discord.
With a recommended retail price of AU$5999, after a recent price rise of AU$1000, the Onkyo TX-NR906 isn't the cheapest AV receiver in the world. That said, bargains can still be had — for example, we've seen this receiver available online for less than AU$4,000. While we're not going to pretend the TX-NR906 is cheap, we have a feeling it might have plenty to offer.
Our review sample of the TX-NR906 was finished in glorious black. You can get it in silver too, but that's a bit '90s for our taste. The whole package looks like it means business, from the dominating and satisfying volume dial to the generous display. The buttons are all a decent size too, and they all do something useful.
The supplied remote control is large, but well balanced and light. The buttons can also be illuminated, which means, in a darkened home cinema, you should still be able to control the volume without hammering all the wrong buttons first.
The back of the TX-NR906 is jammed full of input and outputs, as you'd imagine. Lets start with the basics. There are four HDMI inputs and two outputs, which is generous enough. It's good to see the HDMI inputs are numbered — you wouldn't believe how important this is when you're setting the equipment up.
For analogue video, there are three component inputs and five composite and S-Video sockets. You also get five stereo RCA connections for the various video inputs. Although this might seem confusing, when you start plugging things in, it's very straightforward.
Digital audio, if you aren't getting it from an HDMI-equipped source, is handled by a trio of coaxial inputs and two optical audio jacks. You can assign a digital input to your choice of picture source, and this is done through a simple menu system.
The TX-NR906 has connections aplenty.
Obviously, inputs are only half the story. The rest of the considerable number of connections is dedicated to getting sound to the speakers. The binding posts for speaker wire are good and substantial, and, while wiring these things up is never much fun, the Onkyo makes it as easy as possible.
The TX-NR906 has so much going on, it's difficult to know where to start.
Most importantly, it can handle both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA, as well as the older Dolby Digital and DTS 96/24 codecs. Put simply, if it comes off a DVD or Blu-ray disc, this receiver can decode it. Just remember: if you're using uncompressed audio, make sure you're connected using the HDMI inputs, as nothing else can carry uncompressed digital audio.
Although AV receivers can intimidate the uninitiated, Onkyo makes using the TX-NR906 as simple as possible. Once you've got it hooked up to a TV, there are on-screen menus that will guide you through various configuration options. This is much simpler than squinting at the built-in screen, and much less intimidating.
If setting up an AV receiver seems too tricky, don't worry — there's an automated routine whereby you place a microphone where you usually sit and the amp sends out random noise from each speaker. Using this sound, the Onkyo is able to work out where each speaker is, and how much sound should be sent to it. Obviously, speakers further away will require more than those close to the listener.
While we'd be happy to suggest that you put a TX-NR906 in your study, it's fair to say that this lump of joy can handle large rooms too. The THX Ultra2 specification means that you could use it in a home cinema larger than 12 square feet. Rest assured, though, that our test room was much smaller than that, and we still loved every moment we spent with the TX-NR906.
We paired our TX-NR906 with a set of 5.1 Klipsch speakers. We had two RF-10 floor-standing speakers for the front. An RC-10 centre speaker kept our dialogue clear, while an RPW-10 subwoofer took care of the low-end bass effects. Our surround channels were given a voice by a pair of the company's RS-10 rears.
The good news is that the sound was nothing short of epic. In the time we've had the TX-NR906 in for testing, we've watched plenty of material on it. A Blu-ray with sessions from Abbey Road proved a particular favourite, with Mary J Blige belting out some truly amazing noise, and tight, thrilling sounds coming from the drummer and backing singers.
Movies like xXx: State of the Union might not win anyone involved an Oscar, but the early scene in the movie where the underground base gets infiltrated is one of the most sonically exciting things we've heard. Explosions have a deep and powerful sound, but the TX-NR906 never fails to deliver crisp dialogue too, giving an experience that's as close to being in the cinema as possible.
So, is anything wrong with this receiver? Not really. At a push, we don't much care for the Audyssey set-up. The problem is that it not only takes ages to complete but the results are generally not brilliant. We'd suggest you sit down with a good demo disc and calibrate everything by hand. That's not anywhere near as hard as it sounds, and you'll get a more personal result. After all, a software algorithm doesn't know how well you hear and what sort of levels you prefer for each individual channel.
Apart from that, the TX-NR906 blew our socks off. We fell in love with the wonderful quality of Blu-ray movies on it, and it's a product that we'd be more than happy to go out and buy for ourselves.
We also tested the TX-NR906 with music. It's fair to say that not all AV receivers can cope well with music, but this one manages very well indeed. Although it's not quite as brilliant as a dedicated stereo system could be, the THX and Dolby music modes did an absolutely fantastic job with our favourite music.
The problem with reviewing great-quality equipment is that, sooner or later, you have to give it back. Having had the Onkyo TX-NR906 in the office for a few months now, paired with a wonderful set of Klipsch speakers, it's going to be upsetting to say goodbye. We have no problem recommending this set-up, and, with some clever shopping, you could probably bag it for around AU$4,000.
You could opt for a cheaper receiver. Onkyo, after all, has a very wide selection, and all the ones we've tested have performed brilliantly. That said, this is a receiver that will grow with you as your home cinema does. It's as future-proof as you can hope for and it's likely that it will last you for many, many years, if you take the plunge.