Onkyo was notably absent from our 2012 list of Award-winning AV receivers. So it’s the job of the 7.2-channel Onkyo TX-NR626, the first product we’ve seen from the company’s 2013 AV receiver line-up, to change that.
Despite some strong five-star products last year, from the Onkyo TX-NR515 (now £250) to the Onkyo TX-NR818 (£1000), there were no gongs for a company that has often taken top honours in this category.
More than many categories, the AV receiver market is ultra-competitive when it comes to specifications and features – but sound quality remains king. The TX-NR626 will have to major on spec and sound performance to ensure this generation of Onkyo receivers makes the leap required to regain top spot in this market.
Onkyo TX-NR626 review: connectivity
If you watched our unboxing video, you’ll know that Onkyo has certainly done its best to make that leap forward in terms of features. Most notable here is the built-in Bluetooth and wi-fi connectivity – they’re firsts for Onkyo, which previously relied on USB adaptors. There’s no sign of Apple AirPlay wireless streaming, though.
This wireless connectivity does let you take advantage of a good spread of internet streaming services, including Aupeo!, Last.fm, Spotify and TuneIn radio, plus DLNA streaming of Apple Lossless, FLAC, MP3, WAV and other file formats from connected NAS devices or computers.
There’s a USB input if you just want to plug and play your tunes – though only one now (but then you don’t need one for a dongle any more) – although it isn’t ‘Made for iPod’. Sure enough, it doesn’t support our Apple (or Android) smartphones or tablets, only playing music from USB storage devices.
You can, however, add the DS-A1 RI dock for iPod/iPhone playback or use the MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) connection with selected devices.
If you do want to get your phone or tablet involved, there are Android and iOS versions of the Onkyo Remote 2 app that let you control the receiver’s key functions. Otherwise you’re left with the standard Onkyo remote control, nigh-on identical from last year’s version – which is no bad thing.
Elsewhere, all the myriad connections you’d expect to find on an AV receiver are present and correct. There are six HDMI inputs, four of which support 4K upscaling (plus 1080p upscaling of lower resolution video) and 3D passthrough, and two HDMI outputs with Audio Return Channel (ARC).
A thorough selection of analogue and digital video and audio connections (just the one digital optical) are provided, too, including a phono connection for hooking up a turntable and a stereo input on the front for easy access.
Those looking to use the Zone 2 connections will be pleased to learn that Onkyo has upgraded the terminals, meaning banana plug-compatible binding posts for all the speaker connections.
It’s worth noting that the Zone 2 outputs (which are analogue) can only take an analogue input to pass to a second room. If you connect a digital source for outputting to another room, you’re out of luck.
Onkyo TX-NR626 review: features
Inside the Onkyo TX-NR626 you’ll find Texas Instruments Burr-Brown 24-bit/192kHz DACs for all channels and a claimed maximum power output of 160W per channel. There’s no THX Select 2 certification (you’ll need to make the jump to the £800 TX-NR727 for that), but Audyssey MultEQ calibration, Qdeo video processing and a host of audio filters, sound modes and tone controls are all here.
Setting up the Onkyo TX-NR626 remains nice and simple. Hook up the supplied Audyssey mic, run the set-up, and the receiver will calculate your speaker distances and levels with impressive accuracy. We opt to turn off the Audyssey sound correction in our acoustically treated listening room, finding it takes something away from the sound, but it’s worth experimenting in your own room.
Onkyo TX-NR626 review: streaming
Connecting via wi-fi took a few attempts for us (although we are in a building full of competing networks, it has to be said), but we got there in the end. That said, a wired connection normally proves more robust. While we’re in the networking section we choose the Net mode and scan through the icons for various streaming services. This menu can also be customisable, which is handy.
Logging in to Spotify – you’ll need a Premium subscription – seems the perfect time to try out the Onkyo Remote 2 app. It works nicely and the virtual keyboard makes entering text that much easier. Spotify works well enough, albeit with an interface that works ok for existing playlists but is nowhere near as intuitive for finding new music as the mobile or desktop versions.
It gives us a first listen to the Onkyo’s sound-quality too, though of course only in the form of 320kbps file playback. Music sounds reasonably precise but there’s a glint of a hard upper midrange and treble, which we’ll hear more of later. There’s no arguing with the app functionality, however.
Onkyo TX-NR626 review: movie performance
Multichannel sound is the main draw here of course, so we sit back and enjoy the Blu-ray of TT3D: Closer to the Edge, an excellent look at the maniacs on two-wheels who compete at the Isle of Man TT – and a superb test of your system’s sound and picture.
As bikes whizz across the screen, our surround sound system is brought to life, with effects steered precisely and seamlessly around the room. Here the 626 excels: placement of sounds and all-round sonic control is excellent.
It’s a fast and fairly agile sound, too. Switch to the Blu-ray of Star Trek and our introduction to a young James Tiberius Kirk, speeding down a dirt road, with tyres screeching and the Beastie Boys as his soundtrack, commands our attention and pulls us in to the action. There’s decent weight, though it could be a smidgeon tighter to hit harder.
And for once, it’s not Onkyo’s typically weighty, dynamic sound that really catches our eye but instead a hard edge to upper midrange and treble frequencies. You’ll need to take care with partnering kit, and be wary if you prefer a smoother presentation.
Strangely, this veer towards brightness at the top end of the treble doesn’t equate to an edge-of-your-seat, rollercoaster ride of excitement. Compared with our 2012 Award-winning Yamaha RX-V673, when really asked to deliver thrilling dynamic peaks and troughs – the type that will get you leaping from your chair at a gunshot or on the edge of your seat for a car chase – the Onkyo doesn’t quite deliver the goods, lacking a little of the entertainment value we hear elsewhere.
Is it a question of detail and subtlety? To an extent, yes. In the grand scheme of £500 home cinema amplifiers, there’s no doubting the TX-NR626’s competency. Loud claps and bangs start and stop neatly and it can carry a tune well enough.
But we’ve come to expect more from Onkyo, and finer details are missing. Close your eyes and the best systems allow you to place the action, notice when characters move between locations or place instruments in an orchestra.
We’re not convinced that’s the case with this receiver. That last layer of information necessary to deliver that ultimate level of realism from your music and movies just isn’t quite here. Voices, too, don’t quite have the intimacy and emotion of the best around at this price.
Onkyo TX-NR626 review: music performance
It’s a similar story for music as it is for movies, as we’ve already touched on. Sonically it’s good but not great, which is par for the course for an AV receiver at this price, and there’s a slight natural drop-off when streaming audio.
It sounds a little leaden-footed at times and tracks don’t quite hang together as we’d like, but the wireless option is nevertheless convenient and welcome. Support for high-quality audio formats is also a good thing, as well as 24-bit/192kHz hi-res files via DLNA, and should be taken advantage of where possible for best results.
Bluetooth connectivity for A2DP devices is simple to establish but a little tucked away when it comes to selecting this input on the remote. You’ll have to head to the Quick Setup menu and then find Bluetooth under Input. There’s no mention of the higher-quality aptX version though, so you’ll have to add the Onkyo UBT-1 dongle if you want that.
As with most modern AV receivers, there’s a huge amount to enjoy here. While some might like a dedicated Made for iPod connection or Apple AirPlay, the wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity are great additions, and Onkyo’s internet app options, such as internet radio and Spotify, are thorough.
Audio and video connectivity is equally good, if not exhaustive for the picky, and in terms of audio and video processing you’re covered for the near – and pretty far, we’d imagine – future.
And there’s no denying that the level of picture and sound performance is in many areas damn impressive. Precise and accurate, fast and fluid, the Onkyo TX-NR626 is certainly capable. But it’s not flawless, and frankly it’s not the barnstormer we hoped Onkyo would deliver. That last level of detail required for maximum entertainment and that extra subtlety needed for absolute realism aren’t quite here, while the hardness to certain frequencies is a definitive mark in the ‘Against’ column on our score sheet.
Onkyo TX-NR626 review: verdict
We had sky-high expectations for Onkyo’s £500 receiver this year. And while it’s still good – and well worth an audition – it falls short of a convincing five-star verdict.