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Onkyo TX-NR535 review: Plenty of features, lesser sound

MSRP: $499.00
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The Good The Onkyo TX-NR535 offers home-theater thrills in an affordable package; Onkyo's Bluetooth and streaming features are still uncommon at this level; six HDMI 2.0 inputs are very much welcomed.

The Bad Music can sound a little thin and shouty compared to competitors; Bluetooth streaming sounds poor; user interface is lost in the text dark ages; remote control could be simpler to use.

The Bottom Line Onkyo's TX-NR535 receiver offers decent home-theater performance and a useful number of streaming features, but it's not the last word on value.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.1 Overall
  • Design 6.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Sound 6.0
  • Value 8.0

Review Sections

If you're looking to buy a receiver to pair with a set of surround-sound speakers, then the sweet spot is probably in the $400-to-$500 region. Spending this amount of money will usually give you a smattering of decent features and a step-up in sound quality from the budget models.

The NR535 sits a bit below this sweet spot, and while it offers even more features than the previous NR525 , not all of them are worth using. For example, the Bluetooth streaming suffers from poor quality and the user interface is outdated and ugly. On the other hand, its connectivity is great at this price, with six HDMI inputs.

Meanwhile, sound quality is much the same; that is to say, more oriented to home theater than music. If you're looking to spend money in this range, models like the Sony STR-DN840 and Marantz NR-1403 will give you better performance for a similar price.

Design

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Sarah Tew/CNET

You could call it "brand identity" or you could call it "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," because while things change yearly on a receiver's insides, its outsides just don't budge at all.

Apart from Marantz with its porthole design, none of the big receiver manufacturers have changed the looks of their products in at least 10 years. Imagine a Denon, you get a Denon; imagine a Pioneer and you get one. Same with this Onkyo. Green LED display, vaguely austere looks and solitary volume knob are all in place.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

As with the TX-NR636 , my favorite part about the front panel of the NR535 is the direct shortcut buttons to each input. Denon has started bringing back numbered "favorites" with its newest models, but Onkyo has always bucked the dial trend and kept the old-school buttons. I prefer buttons because dialing an input selector until you hit the right source seems imprecise and clumsy.

It's 2014, and while you can pay $70 for a Blu-ray player with a colorful user interface, giving Onkyo $400 (or £399 and AU$594 in the UK and Australia) for this receiver delivers a menu closer to DOS. But looks aside, it's easily navigable and the settings are sensibly arranged.

onkyo-tx-nr535-product-photos07.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

While some companies are slimming down their remotes, or "KISS"-ing, Onkyo presents a classically overwhelming AV receiver clicker with 57 separate keys (including two sets of volume controls). It's not quite a calculator, as it lacks a screen, but at least a calculator lets you add stuff up and, you know, spell "SHELLOIL." Hey, at least its buttons are well laid out.

Features

Sure, Dolby Atmos is getting some press, but a basic 5.1-channel system should suit most rooms short of a commercial cinema. That's exactly what the Onkyo TX-NR535 delivers -- well that, and an extra subwoofer output. The receiver's wattage is rated at 65 per channel.

Unlike the bigger NR636 , the NR535 lacks Atmos and a phono input but keeps features people buying at this price level are arguably more likely to use, such as Bluetooth and streaming support. It supports Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, Slacker, Sirius XM and Internet radio.

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