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Onkyo TX-NR616 review: Onkyo TX-NR616

Onkyo's midrange AV receiver is packed with eight HDMI inputs and a superlow street price of $410. What's the catch?

Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.
Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Matthew Moskovciak
Steve Guttenberg
9 min read

Browsing the prices for Onkyo's receivers can give you the familiar feeling of "too good to be true." Take the Onkyo TX-NR616. At its $410 street price it costs around $100 less than comparable models from other manufacturers, and it offers a staggering eight HDMI inputs, tons of streaming audio options, and an affordable Wi-Fi dongle. It doesn't have built-in AirPlay, but with the money you save you can snag a $100 Apple TV, which offers much more functionality beyond AirPlay.


Onkyo TX-NR616

The Good

The <b>Onkyo TX-NR616</b> is feature-packed, with eight HDMI inputs, dual HDMI outputs, built-in networking, and extensive streaming audio support, including Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, and Internet radio. Wi-Fi functionality can be added with a tiny, inexpensive USB adapter. And the TX-NR616's street price is consistently well below its competitors.

The Bad

Some users have complained about reliability problems. The eighth HDMI input cannot be accessed via direct button, only by navigating menus. And the TX-NR616 lacks built-in AirPlay.

The Bottom Line

The Onkyo TX-NR616 is a tremendous AV receiver value, with eight HDMI inputs and a very low street price, although Onkyo's step-down models may be an even better buy.

So what's the catch? Reliability, it seems. Fair or not, Onkyo receivers have a reputation for being a little flaky, both in enthusiast forums and user comments. But those reviews shouldn't totally scare you away from the TX-NR616, as the reported problems don't seem to affect all units. Our review sample (with the most recent firmware update) didn't suffer from many of the issues mentioned in negative reviews and many other buyers seem satisfied.

If you're put off by Onkyo's reliability issues, the next best value for most buyers is the Sony STR-DN1030, which includes built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and AirPlay for $500. But if you're okay with the off chance that you'll get a lemon, the TX-NR616 is easily the best AV receiver value. In fact, in terms of value the TX-NR616's toughest competition may be its step-down models, the TX-NR414 ($280) and TX-NR515 ($350), which offer enough features for the average buyer for even less.


Onkyo has never made much of an effort to pretty up its AV receivers. The basic design hasn't changed much over the years, with a boxy shape and an overall rough-around-the-edges look. The big volume knob is nice, though, and luckily the glowing ring around the outside can be dimmed in the setup menu. But if aesthetics are high on your list for an AV receiver, check out Denon or Marantz instead.

Onkyo's included remote is decent, although not as good as the offerings from Marantz and Denon. The input buttons are bright white, but they're small and don't glow in the dark. Overall, the remote isn't as cluttered as Sony's or Pioneer's, but there are still plenty of unnecessary buttons like the number pad at the bottom. At least with the money you saved by going with Onkyo, you can grab a nice universal remote.

Onkyo TX-NR616

The Onkyo Remote 2 app is far from well-reviewed, although the version we tested wasn't nearly as bad as the reviews would indicate. It's particularly great if you'll be using Onkyo's built-in streaming services, as the app often replicates what's on the TV's screen on your phone, so you don't have to keep looking back and forth. (That's a frequent complaint we have about smartphone remote apps.) It's also much more convenient to search services like Spotify or Rhapsody using a phone or tablet keyboard. The downside is that it can be a little buggy, although it usually worked well in our tests.

User interface

Onkyo TX-NR616 user interface

Pressing the home buttons brings up a row of icons overlaid on whatever video you're watching. You can jump straight to, say, streaming-audio services, or adjust the settings.

Onkyo TX-NR616 user interface
Onkyo TX-NR616 user interface

Onkyo's interface for streaming-music services isn't pretty, but it gets the job done. It's certainly better than the cramped interface on the STR-DN1030, and thanks to the smartphone app you likely won't need to use it that often. Artist information and album art display whenever you're streaming audio, either from the Internet or your own music.


Click to enlarge

Eight HDMI inputs: The TX-NR616 outdoes everyone with eight HDMI inputs, including a front-panel input that supports bleeding-edge MHL devices. Eight HDMI inputs will almost certainly be more than you need, but it leaves a lot of room for upgrading, especially with new game consoles on the horizon.

The only catch is that you can't quite access them all from the remote. HDMI Inputs 1 through 6 have corresponding buttons directly on the remote, but inputs 7 and 8 are by default only accessible through the Quick Setup menu. You can actually assign input 7 to the TV/CD button, but input 8 currently remains inaccessible via a single button on the remote -- and our Harmony remote lacked a discrete code to access it. It's an annoying flaw and does detract from the value of that eighth input.

The rest of the Onkyo's connectivity is solid as well, including four digital-audio inputs. (Check out CNET's 2012 AV receiver spreadsheet for a more detailed comparison of AV receiver connectivity.)

Built-in networking: The TX-NR616's Ethernet port allows for all kinds of networking functionality, including firmware updates, smartphone control, and media streaming via DLNA, Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, Slacker, Last.fm, and Internet radio. I still don't think networking is an essential AV receiver feature (largely because AV receivers shouldn't be media streamers), but Onkyo does a better job than most, with its wide support for streaming audio services and decent smartphone app.

The TX-NR616 doesn't have built-in Wi-Fi, like the competing Sony STR-DN1030, but it does offer a $25 USB Wi-Fi dongle that you can connect on the back panel. (And there's a front-panel USB port, so you're not sacrificing USB connectivity.) It's much better solution than I've seen from other manufacturers, which only offer pricey Wi-Fi accessories or none at all. (There's also always the option of rolling your own Wi-Fi alternative for your home theater.)

No built-in AirPlay: Most receivers in this price range offer built-in AirPlay, making it possible to wirelessly stream audio directly from an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. It's a significant missing feature from the TX-NR616, but it's not essential since you can always add AirPlay later with a $100 Apple TV, which adds much more functionality. And the TX-NR616's very low street price makes it easier to justify buying a second box. If you're not sure whether you should pick a receiver with built-in AirPlay, check out our rundown of the advantages and disadvantages of built-in AirPlay versus buying a separate Apple TV box.

Two-year warranty: The TX-NR616's two-year warranty is standard, and better than the one-year warranty offered on Pioneer's competing receivers. If you're really looking for peace of mind, the Marantz NR1403 and Marantz NR1603 feature three-year warranties.

Despite the Onkyo's warranty, you may want to be choosier at your retailer than you normally would due to the aforementioned mixed user reviews of the TX-NR616. Our sample performed well with the most recent firmware update, but it appears not everyone's unit is problem-free; there's a chance you'll need to return a bum unit.

3D pass-through, audio return channel, standby pass-through: The Onkyo supports all three of these HDMI features (each of which is explained in more detail here), but while they're all useful, you can largely ignore them when making a buying decision, since almost every newer receiver supports them.

iPhone/iPad-friendly USB port: The USB port on the front panel supports iPhones, iPods, and iPads, so you can connect those devices directly using a standard cable and navigate your music collection onscreen. We also had success using the USB port with a standard USB drive filled with music.

Extensive multiroom functionality: The TX-NR616 is clearly the most flexible unit in this price range for multiroom support, with support for powered second-zone, unpowered second-zone, and unpowered third-zone audio. Most buyers won't need all this functionality, but it's there if you want it.

One caveat about Onkyo's multiroom functionality is that this is one instance where you are limited by Onkyo's lack of AirPlay. An AV receiver typically can't access any of its digital inputs (including HDMI and optical audio) in secondary zones, so if you're using a separate Apple TV box, you can only listen to it in the main zone. However, receivers generally can access built-in streaming services, including AirPlay, so if second-zone AirPlay is an important feature, you'll want look at other models with built-in AirPlay.

Other features: The TX-NR616 can upconvert analog video signals to 1080p over its HDMI output, but that feature isn't nearly as important as it used to be, since analog video devices are pretty rare. There's also support for Dolby Pro Logic IIz processing, allowing for "height" channels, but we don't think the minimal sonic benefits are worth the extra effort. The TX-NR616 is THX Select2-certified, but that's not worth factoring into a buying decision, since non-THX certified receivers can sound just as good.

Setup and calibration
The TX-NR616 features Audyssey's 2EQ automatic calibration system. If you want to do the calibration with a minimum of fussing go for Audyssey Quick Start, which uses a single microphone position (in the prime listening location), and the whole operation takes a couple of minutes. If you can invest a little more time go for the Audyssey 2EQ Full Calibration three-mic position setup routine, which should help increase the sweet spot to multiple seating positions.

Checking the results we noted the speaker-to-mic measured distances were accurate; and Audyssey correctly judged all of our speaker sizes as "small," and its sub-to-speaker crossover settings for our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD reference speaker system were correct. The sound balances for the speakers and subwoofer were in line with what we've heard from many other receivers.

Sound quality
Sound quality evaluations for AV receivers (and other amplifiers) are controversial. Some say all AV receivers sound the same, others disagree, and we're not likely to settle that argument anytime soon. CNET's sound quality evaluations are strictly subjective, with CNET Blog Network writer and golden ear Steve Guttenberg comparing similarly priced models in an identical listening environment using the same speakers.

We started our listening sessions with a spectacularly good-sounding concert Blu-ray disc, Peter Gabriel's "New Blood: Live in London." The TX-NR616 put us in the concert hall, the drums and basses in "Biko" sounded big, and on other songs the spread of the large orchestra across the front speakers was impressive. The clarity of the sound was excellent.

The "Avatar" Blu-ray was next, and we jumped ahead to the jungle scenes with the battling Hammerhead Titanothere beasts, which have a habit of knocking down trees or anything else in their way. The scene provided a good workout for the TX-NR616, and when we compared it with a Denon AVR-1912 receiver we noted the Onkyo didn't shake the room as much as the Denon did. When the massive animal runs through the jungle the ground shook more when the AVR-1912 was hooked up to our speakers. In the quieter scenes, the AVR-1912 also produced a closer-to-seamless wraparound soundstage, so the sounds of the birds and insects surrounded us more completely with the AVR-1912.

Back on the TX-NR616 we tested the Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume features, both of which promise to allow the user to play movies with lots of soft-to-loud dynamic range at quiet, late-night volume levels. The processing definitely reduced the dynamics, so the loud sounds didn't blast us out of our seats. The TX-NR616's nicely designed menu system makes it easy to switch Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume on and off, so we could readily compare the sound with and without processing. The processed sound was less dynamic, which is good, but also added a lot of bass and dulled the treble detail, so we preferred the sound with Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume turned off. Then again, you might like what the processing offers for late nights.

Listening to the TX-NR616 in stereo with Neil Young's "Chrome Dreams II" CD, the sound was big and spacious, although the Denon AVR-1912 had a richer tonal balance, and sounded more dynamically alive than the TX-NR616. That difference was even more obvious when we turned the volume way up.

What about Onkyo's other AV receivers?
Onkyo makes a ton of AV receivers and many of the step-down models are worth considering, if you're focused on value.

For the average buyer, it's hard to argue against the TX-NR414 as the overall best value. The additional features of the other models (7.1 channels, two extra HDMI ports, multiroom functionality) just aren't needed in most situations and $280 is an extremely low price for what the TX-NR414 offers. The TX-NR515 is also a solid option if you want eight HDMI inputs but don't need the extensive multiroom options available on the TX-NR616.

The TX-NR616 may be a better value than many similarly priced receivers, but the step-down models will be good enough for most.

It's hard to argue against the value of the TX-NR616. If you need all the functionality it offers, it's a great deal, although Onkyo's step-down models may be a better fit for many buyers. Our only reservation is Onkyo's mixed record on reliability. Our review sample worked well, but we'll continue to monitor the user reviews to see if problems persist.


Onkyo TX-NR616

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 7