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 a very affordable $40), and more streaming music services than even the Denon AVR-1912. Even better, the current street price is around $495, which is the cheapest we've seen a midrange receiver of this caliber.
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-K if you own an iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch, or 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 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 to some extent, but the TX-NR609's looks are even more utilitarian than usual. Its stark, flat front panel and relatively sharp corners are a definite contrast to 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 that option wasn't in the setup menu. Purely in terms of looks, the TX-NR609 isn't our favorite, but styling isn't a priority for us with AV receivers.
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 setup process a bit easier to understand, and the text looks fairly crisp compared with the menus on the Denon AVR-1912.
The layout isn't quite as nice once you get into the actual services, especially compared with other home theater devices like a PS3 or Apple TV. It gets the job done, especially for services like Pandora that don't need a lot of input, but if you're searching for music in Rhapsody, using the onscreen keyboard can get tedious. Of course, if you're using the remote app, you won't actually need to navigate these screens that frequently.
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' remotes and the volume rocker is easy to spot. Still, there's plenty of room for improvement, and nontechies will likely be baffled by all the functions. As always, it's worth investing in a quality universal remote to control all your home theater gear.
The TX-NR609's video connectivity is flat-out awesome. Six HDMI inputs is the most we've seen in 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 hookups 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 theater PCs.