Future-proof hero

Danny Phillips auditions the musically-endowed, super-featured AVR from the brand with a big reputation for value

very year, Onkyo’s home cinema hubs top the bestseller lists, appealing to punters looking for an amp that delivers maximum bang for their buck.

And this year, the company clearly intends to retain its position at the top. The 7.2-channel TX-NR609 is the most advanced model in Onkyo’s first wave of 2011 receivers, offering full network capability and a couple of exciting world firsts.

Chief among these is its ability to stream music directly from Spotify. With over 10 million songs available in 320k quality, it could put your MP3 player out of a job, but you’ll need a Premium account to use it.

Alongside this is a wealth of other connected services, including vTuner internet radio, Napster, Last.fm, and DLNA-certified music streaming from networked devices. All of these are accessed at the touch of a button using gloriously simple menus. The Spotify interface is particularly good, displaying cover art and providing access to playlists and features such as ‘What’s New’ and ‘Starred’.

It’s also the world’s first receiver to feature Marvell Qdeo video processing technology, which has the power to upscale any video source to 3840 x 2160 (4K) resolution. This may not have any practical use right now, but could be handy when sets like Toshiba’s 4K glasses-free TV hit the shops within the next 12 months.

Above and beyond

Headline-grabbers aside, when it comes to such fundamentals as audio processing, amplification and performance, it’s pretty much untouchable at this price. Like its predecessor, the brilliant TX-SR608, the NR609 is THX Select2 Plus certified, decodes any HD audio format and offers 7 x 160W of grunt, with two LFE pre-outs if you want to bulk up bass with a second sub.

There’s even a choice of ‘vertical surround’ processing, with Dolby Pro Logic IIz and Audyssey DSX both vying for your attention. The latter offers greater flexibility, enabling you to use the surround back speakers as front height or front wide channels (although with only seven channels, you will have to give up those surround backs no matter what.)

On the socketry front, you get no less than six HDMI v1.4 inputs (one of which is found on the front) making it ready to receive full HD 3D signals and audio from an ARC-compatible TV. Other highlights come in the shape of powered Zone 2 output, an analogue RGB input for PCs and a USB port with extensive media playback. The Ethernet connection is currently your only way of getting online, but Onkyo is set to launch a wireless USB adaptor. On the minus side, there are no multichannel analogue inputs.

Build quality is spot-on and Onkyo has revamped the external design, to include a flat fascia with buttons discreetly tucked along the grooves. While classy, the exposed sockets are asking for trouble if you have kids.

Get set

The Audyssey 2EQ auto setup works its magic with the supplied mic and test tones, or you can DIY by delving into the onscreen setup menu, which uses the same logical layout as last year’s models but with swanky new fonts and graphics.

Its performance is magnificent, handling Blu-ray soundtracks with consummate control, roof-raising power and the same deftness of touch that graced its predecessor.

During the sedate opening scenes of Inception, it gently caresses the lapping waves, teasing out the background ambience. And the expository dialogue is articulated with admirable clarity and body. But as the dream starts to fall apart, the Onkyo handles the epic-scale action with thunderous power, swift, decisive steering and terrific effects placement.

Debris crashes to the floor with a chandelier-shaking thump, while the wave of water cascading into the room mixes frightening low-frequency presence with clean top-end detail. It’s a top-drawer movie performer, and although you’ll get even greater power and subtlety from more expensive models, we doubt you’ll hear many better £500 amps this year. The TX-NR609 is a force to be reckoned with.


HCC VERDICT

Onkyo TX-NR609
Price:
£500 Approx

Highs: Comprehensive features; stunning sound quality
Lows: No analogue multichannel inputs

Performance: 5/5
Design: 4/5
Features: 5/5
Overall: 5/5


Specifications

Dolby Digital TrueHD: yes
DTS-HD Master Audio: yes
THX: yes Select2 Plus
Multichannel audio: yes 7 x 160W
Multichannel input: no
Multiroom: yes Zone 2
AV inputs: yes 4 composite inputs, 6 analogue stereo, 4 digital audio inputs (2 x optical and 2 x coaxial)
HDMI: yes 6 in, 1 out, all v1.4 Video upscaling: yes Up to 3,840 x 2,160
Component input/output: yes 2 in, 1 out Dimensions: 435(w) x 173.5(h) x 328(d)mm
Weight: 11.3kg
Features: Spotify, vTuner, Napster, Last.fm; DLNA & Windows 7-certified; Marvell Qdeo upscaling; Audyssey DSX, 2EQ, Dynamic EQ, Dynamic Volume; Dolby Pro Logic IIz; MP3, WMA, FLAC, WAV, Ogg Vorbis, AAC and LPCM support; onscreen menus; 2 x sub pre-outs; analogue RGB video input; USB port with direct digital iPod support; music optimizer; Pure Audio mode; Double Bass; Phase Locked Loop jitter cleaning circuit for S/PDIF; 32-bit DSP chip with 4 gaming modes; TI Burr-Brown 192kHz/ 24-bit DACs for all channels