Onkyo TX-NR696 review: The new king of the do-it-all big black boxes

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The Good The Onkyo TX-NR696 offers excellent home theater performance in a relatively affordable package. Its massive feature set includes Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio, Chromecast and Apple AirPlay streaming, six HDMI and a phono input for vinyl fans.

The Bad It's not the most refined-sounding with music and the bloated remote lacks polish.

The Bottom Line The Onkyo TX-NR696 is a crowd-pleasing AV receiver with plenty of power, oodles of features and connections and a dynamic sound.

8.5 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 9
  • Sound 8
  • Value 8

With both Yamaha and Sony deciding not to release new models in 2019, it may seem like AV receivers are in a holding pattern right now. It's up to brands like Denon, Marantz and Onkyo to keep the traditional black box alive against increasing competition from soundbars and smart speakers.

Last year Onkyo manufactured our favorite receiver under $500: The TX-NR585, which has no direct replacement in 2019. Instead, the TX-NR696 is the brand's new mid-level offering, and it's a winner. The '696 packs a high level of performance and a fully loaded feature set at a relatively affordable price. The Denon AVR-750H sounds a bit better with music and costs a bit less, making it a solid second choice, but the Onkyo offers more features and a more well-rounded, dynamic sound overall. With the features, audio sure-footedness and flexibility of the best models at its price, the TX-NR696 earns CNET's Editor's Choice.

Read more: Best AV receivers of 2020

A lot under the hood

Sarah Tew/CNET

The TX-NR696 is a 7 x 100-watt-per-channel receiver with an exhaustive list of features, including support for the atmospheric Dolby Atmos and DTS:X formats. Compared with competitor Yamaha, which only includes four HDMI inputs on the rear of models such as the RX-V485, the Onkyo includes a healthy six at the back. The ports offer pass-through of the latest 4K standards, including HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Other connections include pairs of component and composite video inputs, six analog audio inputs, three digital audio inputs (two optical and one coaxial) and a USB port.

Vinyl is in the middle of a revival right now and the NR696 enable users to take advantage thanks to a dedicated phono input for turntables that lack an onboard phono preamp.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Large and imposing at 6.81 inches tall, the Onkyo keeps one of my favorite design touches of previous years: Direct source buttons on the front panel. If you misplace the remote a lot, you'll appreciate being able to tap a button on the receiver to get the source you want.

The Onkyo's bevy of streaming protocols including Chromecast built-in, DTS Play-Fi, Spotify Connect, AirPlay and Bluetooth. The receiver uses the proprietary FlareConnect system which is essentially "mirror casting" for audio. It lets you "mirror" what's playing on one FlareConnect system to another, whether singly or throughout a whole house. The most useful application of this would be streaming a turntable or other analog source, though the onboard Play-Fi system also has this feature and a lot more besides that. 


Buttons buttons, who's got the buttons

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Onkyo offers a dedicated powered Zone 2 out if you're looking to set up another room with a set of speakers. 

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