AV receivers are supposed to have inputs and outputs for everything, but manufacturers have been surprisingly slow to meet modern needs, especially when it comes to wireless audio streaming.
The Onkyo TX-NR626 ($500 street) is an exception, offering both built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which makes it much easier to use with increasingly ubiquitous smartphones and tablets. From the other end of the spectrum, the TX-NR626 is the only midrange AV receiver we've seen with a dedicated turntable input, a convenient bonus for anyone who still likes to spin vinyl. Pair that up with six HDMI inputs and there's not much the TX-NR626 can't connect to.
There's no doubt the Onkyo TX-NR626 is one of the best values of the 2013 receiver class, but it looks to be just a hair behind the Sony STR-DN840 ($450 street), which offers Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and AirPlay for $50 less. Still, the TX-NR626 is awfully strong, especially if you'll take advantage of that turntable input. Keep an eye on the street price as the year goes on, as Onkyo's receivers have a tendency to get heavily discounted over time.
Design: The boxiest box
AV receivers are big and boxy by nature, and Onkyo's models may be the boxiest of them all. The TX-NR626's sharp edges and large, flat front panel give it a muscular, brutish look that doesn't exactly blend into a typical living room.
It also has a busier front panel than most, especially compared with the more modern-looking Sony STR-DN1040. It wouldn't be our first pick for aesthetics; if you want something that looks nicer, look at Marantz's NR1403 or a compact integrated amplifier.
The included remote is good, as far as AV receiver remotes go. The white buttons make it easier to select things in a dim home theater and important buttons like volume and the directional pad are well-located. It's not as simple as the Denon AVR-E400's clicker, but it's also miles better than the inscrutable remotes included with the Pioneer VSX-823-K and Yamaha RX-V475.
Features: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and turntable support
For a receiver of this price, the TX-NR626 is packed with features.
There are six HDMI inputs on the back panel, including an MHL-compatible HDMI input, which is a neat feature that enables you to use a Roku Streaming Stick, among other devices. There's also quite a bit of support for legacy devices, including a dedicated phono input for turntables, which no other receiver at this price has. It's a cool extra that's arguably a lot more useful than many of the other dubious features included on AV receivers these days.
The TX-NR626 is also hip to modern tech, including built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Bluetooth is especially welcome, since it's the easiest way to stream music from nearly any smartphone or tablet. Wi-Fi is also nice because it allows to take advantage of the TX-NR626's networking features without a wired Ethernet connection, including DLNA, smartphone control, firmware updates, and streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM, Flickr, and Internet radio. The only similar receiver to offer that much wireless functionality at this price is Sony's STR-DN840, which also supports AirPlay.
The rest of the features are less important for mainstream buyers. The TX-NR626 is a 7.2-channel receiver, but most buyers won't need the extra functionality that makes possible: surround back channels, powered second-zone audio, and Dolby Pro Logic IIz "height" channels. It also has analog video upconversion, but you won't need it if all your devices use HDMI. The TX-NR626 is one of the few receivers to offer dual HDMI outputs, but unless you have a relatively elaborate home theater with a projector, you won't need them. And while AirPlay isn't built in, you can always add that functionality later with an Apple TV, which is arguably a smarter move anyway.
If you're looking for more detailed feature comparisons, check out our giant AV receiver spreadsheet, which compares the TX-NR626 with other 2013 models as we review them.
Setup: An odyssey with Audyssey
The TX-NR626 features Audyssey's MultEQ automatic calibration system, which automatically adjusts the receiver's settings based on measurements it takes with the included microphone. We've used Audyssey many times before with difference models of Denon and Onkyo receivers, but this version of MultEQ on the TX-NR626 first starts by sending tones to just the sub, and you're instructed via the onscreen display to manually adjust the subwoofer's volume (on the sub) to 75dB, which we did.
We're not sure exactly what the issue was, but to make a long story short, Audyssey kept setting the subwoofer level much too high, no matter how we ran the autosetup. There were other quirks -- the crossover setting kept changing whenever ran the setup program -- and it never quite sounded in balance. Last year Onkyo's TX-NR616 included the same MultEQ calibration, and the sound balances for the speakers and subwoofer were fine.
Also frustrating was that after running the MultEQ calibration, the default settings are "Movie" EQ, with both Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume are turned on. That's a shame; those features are useful for maintaining volume and tonal balance for late-night listening levels, but they add unwanted processing and limit dynamic range for normal listening. If you're paying $500 for an AV receiver, you deserve to hear it at its best.
Sound quality: Solid, but not a standout
Sound-quality evaluations of 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.
What we can say is that AV receiver sound quality has much, much less effect on overall sound quality than speakers or room acoustics, so you're better off spending your home theater budget there. CNET's sound quality evaluations are strictly subjective, with resident golden ear Steve Guttenberg comparing similarly priced models in an identical listening environment using the same speakers.
The TX-NR626's subwoofer volume was too high to proceed with our listening tests, so we manually turned it down, and the "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray still sounded forceful. The skinny Aperion 4T towers sounded more powerful and full than we're used to, but with action movies the added heft was a plus.
We switched over to the Sony STR-DN1040, which had a lighter sound balance, so the battle scenes' explosions and the Black Hawk helicopter crash didn't pack as big a wallop as we heard from the TX-NR626. Even so, the STR-DN1040 sounded clearer and more transparent than the TX-NR626 when we played Steven Wilson's excellent "Grace For Drowning" Blu-ray music-only disc. With the STR-DN1040 every instrument in the mix seemed to come from a distinct point in the wraparound soundstage. The TX-N626's fuller sound was more laid-back and sweeter, while the STR-DN1040 was tonally cooler and drums' dynamics sounded more alive.
Mike Garson's "Jazz Hat" CD sounded wonderful on the TX-NR626, Garson's piano had terrific presence and weight, and the sax, bass, and drums were all nicely developed. The stereo sound stage was almost 3D in its depth and spatial presentation.
Overall, we'd give the edge to the STR-DN1040, but both receivers offer high-quality sound that's hard to complain about.
What are the alternatives?
The TX-NR626 is a strong value, but it faces tough competition from two Sony models: the STR-DN840 and STR-DN1040.
The STR-DN840 is currently $50 cheaper, plus it has built-in AirPlay. The main downside is it lacks a dedicated phono input, so you'd need to supply your own preamp if you use a turntable. The TX-NR626's other step-ups (dual HDMI inputs, more extensive multiroom functionality) are less compelling, although it comes down to your personal home theater setup. We think the STR-DN840 will be a better value for most buyers.
The STR-DN1040 ($600) is more expensive, but you get two worthwhile step-up features. The first is the STR-DN1040's new graphical interface, which is the best we've seen at this price; the second is the eight total HDMI inputs. If you're willing to pay extra for the pretty menus and extensive HDMI connectivity, the STR-DN1040 strikes us as a worthwhile alternative.
Finally, it's worth considering whether you even need an full-fledged AV receiver in the first place. If you're willing to downsize your home audio system to stereo, you might be able to use a compact integrated amplifier. They sound great, take up a lot less room, and can make your home theater much simpler.
Conclusion: A great value, but not the best
Onkyo's TX-NR626 trumps most AV receivers in overall value, but it can't quite top Sony's formidable STR-DN840. Still, it should definitely make your shortlist of AV receiver picks, especially if you've still got a turntable.