Festooned with features, the £500 Onkyo TX-NR609 is a formidable proposition for anyone looking to upgrade their AV receiver. It's the first AV receiver we've seen to support Spotify Premium, in addition to Napster, Last.fm and VTuner Internet radio -- there are more network streaming options included on the TX-NR609 than on the previous generation of Onkyo products combined. Currently the Spotify Premium implementation is without a search function, but we're told that will be addressed in a firmware update.
Spoilt for choice
Connectivity is predictably generous. You get six HDMI ports in total, plus a PC D-Sub connection and a quartet of digital audio inputs. The main speaker connections are, sensibly, binding posts. If you want to run height or width channels, or maybe a second stereo zone, there are cheapo spring clips. Two subwoofer outputs are provided.
If you can't use the Ethernet jack, you can take advantage of Onkyo's UWF-1 Wi-Fi dongle, which costs around £50. Also available is a universal port, for attaching additional modules like the brand's DAB radio upgrade.
Navigating the UI is a breeze. The Onkyo TX-NR609 has an overlay on the HDMI channel, which means volume, channel and assorted info can be pulled up onscreen over live footage.
All current surround-sound formats are covered: DTS-HD MA, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Pro Logic IIz and Audyssey DSX. Audyssey also provides room-calibration and EQ functions.
The TX-NR609's room-calibration system isn't entirely successful. It miscalculated the distance of the subwoofer from our listening position by 5m, which required some manual fiddling to sort out. Once done, you need to set Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume.
Dynamic EQ is designed to preserve the octave-to-octave balance of a movie if it is played at less than the 0dB reference level. Given that none of us listen at 0dB (that kind of volume is seriously uncomfortable in the average listening room), this would seem a useful tool. Drop back the volume by at least 15dB, and Dynamic EQ will maintain the balance. The catch is you have to manage two preset modes, one for Movies and another for Music, as each applies different equalization.
The other Audyssey tweak is Dynamic Volume. This evens out peaks and makes sure nothing sounds too loud. Unfortunately, it also robs the life and soul from any sound the TX-N609 makes. Our advice is to switch this off and leave it that way.
Alternatively, you can just pretend Audyssey isn't there at all and do a manual setup; you'll miss out on some of the benefits that good auto-EQ can bring, but it might make the system easier to live with.
Classic Onkyo excitement
Onkyo AVRs are known for having an exciting, visceral sound, and this model is no exception. It cuts with precision and detail, but sometimes betrays a slightly rough edge. Image placement is terrific, with aural effects rippling around the room. Surround-sound warfare in the Band of Brothers Blu-ray, seems terrifyingly real. We ran the AVR in a 7.1-channel configuration, without front side or height channels.
Of course, the TX-NR609 also has a musical side, best heard when fed Super Audio CDs in Direct Stream Digital mode. The clarity and bounce is infectious. Its stereo performance is a delight, but multi-channel music also sings.
The TX-NR609 certainly goes loud, but at high volume, with all channels driven, that rough edge comes to the fore. This is not a model that should be run hard.
You can also search for music files across a network (there's no support for video or JPEG content). Support includes MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, OGG and WAV. Results can vary. Streaming from assorted NAS devices, the AV receiver failed to pick up artist meta-data, but, when directed at a PC running Windows Media Player 11, it was there to be seen. There was no album art support for albums across our network.
Like previous Onkyo receivers, the TX-NR609 runs hot. Onkyo has built in a fan to combat this, but the cabinet still gets pretty toasty.
Overall, the Onkyo TX-NR609 is a solid AV receiver. It sounds great when not stressed too hard, and positively creaks under the weight of features. For sheer functionality and value for money, the TX-NR609 takes some beating.
Edited by Jennifer Whitehead