If you’re spending five- or six-hundred bucks on a receiver these days, I feel for you. The market is crowded with innumerable offerings at that economic sweet spot and picking between then isn’t always easy. That may be why so many home theater enthusiasts find a brand they like and stick with it for the long haul. It certainly makes shopping easier come time to upgrade, in that it thins the herd a little. But I have to admit, I’ve seen more half-thousand-dollar receivers cross my threshold in the past year or so than most people do in a lifetime, and if that were my budget I’d have a helluva hard time picking between them. I tend to like this feature on one, that feature on another, and to be honest most AVRs at this price point sound incredibly similar to my ears. So what sets Onkyo’s new $599 ($499 on Amazon) TX-NR626 apart from the pack? A phono input for one thing. That’s rare at this level. Easy IP integration with my Control4 system for another. Not to mention the bucket load of streaming audio services.
But then there’s the lack of AirPlay…
Before we dig too deeply into all of that, though, let’s talk about the setup, because the 626 is an interesting beast when it comes to configuration. Firstly, it adopts the horizontal binding posts that I loved so much on the Denon AVR-X3000, which I reviewed for Home Theater Review a few months back. Unlike the Denon, though, the Onkyo’s binding posts are stacked, which has the effect of making speaker connections even more difficult than the usual vertical configuration.
I’ve also run Audyssey MultEQ room correction and speaker setup more times than I care to count here recently, but this receiver stands out as an odd experience in that department, mostly for the fact that it required me to adjust my subwoofer to 75dB before it would run its channel tests and frequency sweeps. Despite that extra step, it still managed to get my crossover settings just as wrong as Audyssey usually does, but on the upside, this is the first time my subwoofer level and distance settings have been anywhere near close to correct. So that extra effort paid off in that respect.
Control4 integration also proved to be a snap, since the IP drivers for last year’s TX-NR616 work perfectly well for the TX-NR626 (although the receiver isn’t SDDP certified, so I still had to assign it a static IP and add its networking information to the Control4 Composer Pro software, but other than that, setup was a cinch.
If I’m harping on the Control4 integration more than I usually do in a receiver review, it’s mostly because the TX-NR626 has such a rich collection of integrated streaming services—Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, Sirius/XM, Slacker, last.fm, Aupeo!, TuneIn, along with DLNA, oh my!—that a more advanced control system definitely helps navigate it all. And conversely, more so than just about any other receiver in its class, the 626 beautifully demonstrates the value of having advanced two-way IP control. The IP driver gives direct access to all of its music services, which is really handy.
There’s also Bluetooth control if you want to stream directly from your phone. But unfortunately, as I mentioned above, there’s no AirPlay. That’s one of the few serious checkmarks in the TX-NR626’s minus column when compared with other receivers in its price range.
Of course, I don’t mean to imply that advanced control is necessary due to the fact that Onkyo’s own remote is bad in any way. Heavens no. In fact, it’s one of the better receiver remotes I’ve seen in quite some time: well laid out, nice and contrasty, comfortable in the hand, mostly intuitive (except for the fact that you don’t hit the Setup button to get into the setup menus; you hit the Home button. I have no idea why), and only ever gave me fits when I accidentally put it into Custom mode on occasion.
As for the sound? The TX-NR626’s performs quite well for a mass-market receiver. If I had to make a direct comparison, I’d say it sounds more like a Yamaha than a Denon, if that makes any sense to you. But again, most receivers at this price point sound remarkably similar to me. The TX-NR626 is rated at 95 watts per channel (two channels driven only, which I’m guessing would put its all-channels-driven rating somewhere down around the 70-watt mark), but that turned out to be more than enough to drive my Polk PL3s to louder-than-I-care-for levels with everything from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on DVD-A to my trusty Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Blu-rays with no problems in terms of distortion or clipping.
Overall, the TX-NR626 is a very nice-sounding receiver—unless, that is, you engage the Audyssey MultEQ processing. Of course, no one expects Onkyo to step up to the superior MultEQ XT or XT32 at this price. But vanilla MultEQ does more harm than good, in my opinion, in all but the most acoustically screwed up rooms. In my secondary room, with MultEQ off, for example, you can really appreciate the ambient, roomy quality of Stevie Nick’s vocals on “Dreams” from the Rumours DVD-A. But both the “Movie” and “Music” Audyssey curves (another name for the standard Audyssey and Flat curves found on most receivers) simply sap the music of all vital energy, drying out the vocals, compacting the soundstage, and deadening the mix.
Thankfully, both curves are entirely optional, and you can engage Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume without re-EQing the sound. Both could be very useful if you do a lot of late-night listening, don’t enjoy reference loudness, or have trouble discerning dialogue in your favorite action-packed TV shows.
And truly, I don’t mean to be hard on Onkyo. The issues with Audyssey are not the company’s fault. But it does impact the performance of the receiver, so it’s worth mentioning. If you’re in the market for a receiver in this budget range—any receiver in this budget range—I’d recommend spending a few extra bucks in acoustical treatments before engaging MultEQ, unless you simply have so many issues with bass performance (the end of the spectrum that really benefits from room correction) that you can ignore what it does to the mid and high frequencies.
The only performance issue I can pin directly on Onkyo is the TX-NR626’s extremely lethargic start up times. If you were listening to a Bluetooth source when you last shut the receiver down, start up seems to take forever. But even if you left it on an HDMI source, the 626 takes a good 12 to 15 seconds to scrape the sleep out of its eyes.
Those issues aside, the Onkyo TX-NR626 is definitely a strong contender in the mid-priced receiver market, mostly for its aforementioned phono input and preamp, its wealth of streaming audio services, its attractive and intuitive GUI. And hey, if you’re not a fellow member of the Cult of Apple, the lack of AirPlay won’t bother you. The receiver makes up for that with its Bluetooth streaming and easy DLNA integration. Again, I also cannot stress enough how much I love its remote control, despite the fact that most of my interactions with the receiver were through my Control4 system.
I’m not saying that picking a five- or six-hundred-dollar receiver is any easier with the Onkyo TX-NR626 on the market. I’m just saying that if it is your choice, it’s surely not a bad one.