Onkyo TX-NR609 review:

Onkyo TX-NR609

Audio connectivity
Optical inputs 2 Coaxial inputs 2
Stereo analog audio inputs 6 Multichannel analog inputs No

The TX-NR609 has a healthy supply of digital inputs, with two optical and two coaxial. While that's two more digital-ins than the Denon AVR-1912, we can't think of too many audio-only devices where those inputs would make a difference. And audiophiles take note: none of the 2011 midrange receivers we've seen offers multichannel analog inputs or a phono input. You'll need to step up to a more expensive receiver if you want those features.

Network features
Ethernet Yes Pandora Yes
Wi-Fi dongle $40 Rhapsody Yes
DLNA-compatible Yes Sirius Yes
Internet radio Yes Slacker Yes
Other: Mediafly, Spotify, Last.fm, Aupeo

If you don't have an iOS device and you're looking for a receiver with built-in streaming audio features, it's hard to top the Onkyo TX-NR609. It has nearly all the high-quality streaming music services we care about and there's even podcast support through Mediafly. We only wish there was an Android remote app to make the TX-NR609 more recommendable as the "Android alternative" to Apple-friendly receivers like the Pioneer VSX-1021-K and Denon AVR-1912.

Onkyo TX-NR609 user interface
The TX-NR609 offers more built-in streaming media services than any other receiver at this price level.

We also give Onkyo a lot of credit for not only offering a Wi-Fi dongle in the first place, but pricing it so reasonably at $40. Denon doesn't offer a Wi-Fi dongle at all for the AVR-1912 and Pioneer charges $150 for the VSX-1021-K's dongle. The downside to Onkyo's dongle is it needs to be connected on the front panel, which takes away from the design (slightly) and also uses up that USB port. And the wireless setup was more difficult than it needed to be; we had a couple misfires before we got it running smoothly. (If you don't want to go with Wi-Fi, there are plenty of alternatives.)

Like every other midrange receiver we've tested this year, the TX-NR609 is DLNA-compliant, so you'll be able to stream music from compatible networked devices running a DLNA server. If you have an Android phone, you can use a DLNA app like Skifta to enable AirPlay-like functionality, although it's not quite as flexible. You can also play back digital music by connecting a USB drive to the front-panel USB port.

Audio decoding features
Dolby TrueHD Yes DTS-HD Master Audio Yes
Dolby Pro Logic IIz Yes THX Neural Surround No
Other: Audyssey Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ

Like virtually every receiver these days, the Onkyo TX-NR609 supports all the standard high-resolution audio codecs from Dolby and DTS. The TX-NR609 also adds Dolby Pro Logic IIz processing. In our experience, the sonic benefits of Pro Logic IIz are negligible and the extra setup required isn't worth the hassle.

There are also two sound processing modes from Audyssey: Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ. They're worth having, but note that many competing receivers have similar processing modes that work just as well or better than Audyssey's.

Additional features
THX-certified Select2 Plus Satellite radio No
USB port Yes Bluetooth dongle No

The unique feature here is that the TX-NR609 is THX Select2-certified. We don't have anything against THX certification, but we also don't put much stock in it, as we don't find that certified receivers perform any better (or worse) than receivers that aren't certified.

Multiroom features
Line-level 2nd-zone outputs Yes Powered 2nd-zone outputs Yes

The TX-NR609 supports second-zone audio via both powered and line-level outputs, so you don't need an additional amplifier in the second zone. Do note that there are limitations on what sources you can use for multiroom functionality. Page 62 of the manual (PDF link) lays it all out, stating that you can't output audio from HDMI or digital audio inputs to a second zone.

Audio setup
The TX-NR609 features Audyssey's 2EQ automatic calibration system that confirms that all of your speakers wiring polarities are correct; adjusts each speaker and the subwoofer's volume level and time delay/distance settings; and determines the speaker "sizes" and the speakers/subwoofer crossover settings. Audyssey 2EQ also applies equalization corrections to the speakers in an attempt to improve their sound.

Opt for "Audyssey Quick Start" and you'll use a single microphone position to analyze the speakers and subwoofer's sound in your room; the "Audyssey 2EQ Full Calibration" program requires the user to move the mic to three positions in the room. In either case, Onkyo's Audyssey implementation is easier to use and less time-consuming than Denon's Audyssey system, which recommends taking measurements from six mic positions. Pioneer receivers' MCACC (Multi Channel Acoustic Calibration System) autosetup does the whole job from just one mic position, and it's very accurate. The whole process with the Onkyo took around 5 minutes.

Checking the results we noted the speaker-to-mic measured distances weren't at all accurate; Audyssey claimed the front left and right speakers were 9 and 12 feet away from the mic, when they were 10 feet away. The surround speaker measurements were even further off, and the sub measurement was off by 3 feet. Audyssey correctly judged all of our speaker sizes as "small," but its sub-to-speaker crossover settings were also out of the range we've seen from other autosetup systems for the main front speakers in our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD reference speaker system.

Listening to the TX-NR609 with Audyssey's settings, we weren't impressed by the sound. The subwoofer volume was too low, the front Aperion 4T tower speakers weren't sounding at all good, and the surround imaging was also pretty weak. At that point we reran the Audyssey 2EQ program and got better results. The front speaker distance measurements were now acceptable, but the surrounds were still way off.

We started our TX-NR609 auditions with the Dire Straits "Brothers in Arms" DVD-Audio disc. The 5.1 channel mix wasn't as enveloping as we would have liked, the front and surround speakers sounded too separate, and the bass was too lightweight. That balance was also confirmed with a quick spin of the "Terminator Salvation" Blu-ray disc, so we felt that the second Audyssey's speaker setup still wasn't presenting a fair indication of the receiver's potential. At that point we did a manual speaker setup and that helped a lot. That's a departure from our usual approach with receiver reviews; our impressions are usually based on the sound as determined by the autosetup. We decided to stick with the manual settings to give the TX-NR609 as fair a shake as we could.

With the manual settings, we found the TX-NR609's sound fuller and richer than the Pioneer VSX-1021-K with the "AIX Records BD Sampler IV" Blu-ray, which features excellent sounding Dolby TrueHD music recordings. The Dave Mason track "Feelin' Alright" [sic] was a winner, with extremely realistic-sounding vocals, acoustic guitars, and percussion. Bass from the tower speakers and subwoofer jelled perfectly; the VSX-1021-K's sound was a little cooler and less rich in its tonal balance. Returning to the Dire Straits DVD-A after our manual setup, the front and surround speakers' sound was now more coherent, so we felt more like we were in the room with the band.

The TX-NR609 couldn't match the VSX-1021-K's muscle when we played the battle scenes from the "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray. The explosions had more of a visceral kick over the Pioneer, but in the end both receivers sounded equally powerful when playing really loudly. If we were forced to pick between the two, we preferred the Pioneer's sound overall.

The "Drumline" Blu-ray was next, and the film honors the exacting precision of college football marching bands. The drum battles of competing bands sounded pretty amazing with the TX-NR609. The crack of the snare drums and the taut thump of bass drums sounded awfully realistic, as did the brass sections. We felt the TX-NR609's sound was good overall, but couldn't match the Pioneer VSX 1021-K receiver's resolution.

The Onkyo TX-NR690 has six HDMI inputs and lots of built-in streaming music services, but it lacks AirPlay and doesn't sound quite as good to our ears as some competitors.

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