Onkyo's latest mid-range AVR prepares for war - but have we found a few chinks in is armour?
Onkyo’s success in the AVR market stems from its ability to hit the sweet spot between value and performance, and this 7.2-channel model looks to offer more of the same with a load of features and a nice price.
Design-wise, it’s business as usual. The TX-NR626’s nondescript silver box (also available in black) is nigh-on identical to last year’s TX-NR616. It lacks the back-breaking heft of the TX-NR818, but its firmly-bolted aluminium panels make bodywork robust.
A large LED display dominates the front panel, imparting information clearly (and scrolling where necessary). There’s a bevy of buttons and dials that you can only see up close, alongside AV inputs and a USB port, which lets you play music from USB memory drives but not Apple devices.
The healthy selection of sockets on the back should keep you going for years to come. There are six 3D-ready HDMI inputs, one of which also supports Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL), plus two ARC-compatible outputs. These are backed up by three digital inputs (two coaxial, one optical), five analogue audio inputs, composite and component video ports, plus powered and line-level outputs for feeding sound to a second room.
The TX-NR626’s feature list is superb for the money (especially as it has now been reduced from its original £500 ticket to £400). Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are the two key additions to the spec sheet, both appearing for the first time on an Onkyo amp. They make it easier than ever to stream music without having to fork out for optional dongles. There’s an Ethernet port if you prefer the stability of a wired connection.
You can also take advantage of built-in music streaming services – Spotify, AUPEO!, Last.fm, Simfy, MP3tunes and Tunein radio – plus DLNA certification means you can stream your own music from PCs, NAS drives, smartphones and tablets.
The Onkyo plays a pleasing range of audio formats, including MP3, WMA (Lossless and regular), FLAC, WAV, Ogg Vorbis, AAC, Apple Lossless, LPCM and DSD. There’s also 4K pass-through and upscaling courtesy of Marvell’s Qdeo technology, myriad sound modes and Dolby Pro-Logic IIz, which spreads the soundstage vertically.
So far so good, but there are gaps in the spec sheet, the most significant being AirPlay. Coupled with the lack of iPod support via USB, Apple devotees might be tempted to look at Denon and Yamaha’s AirPlay-capable models. THX certification is the other high-profile omission, which is reserved for the step-up TX-NR727.
The simple onscreen menu system makes operation a cinch. The Home screen lays five coloured icons over a black background, providing quick access to the main functions and setup menu. Here, the clear layout makes sense of the detailed AV tweaks, which include speaker configuration tools and adjustments for Dolby, DTS and Audyssey modes. Or you can let Audyssey MultEQ massage the sound for you – plug the supplied mic into Onkyo's belly and the automated system takes readings from up to six positions, and sets EQ, distances and levels accordingly. After running it I checked the results. The readings were surprisingly accurate and I was more than happy with how it sounded, although the subwoofer still needed some TLC.
Network setup proved equally straightforward. Wi-Fi access points scanned quickly and connected without fuss, even in my garden cinema room where coverage is often patchy. I had no trouble finding files on networked laptops, and the Onkyo streamed music via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi with only the occasional drop-out.
The supplied remote is the same as last year but you won’t hear me complaining. The layout is tidy and thoughtful, with clearly-labelled input keys at the top and a perfectly-placed direction pad for navigating menus. But where's the dedicated Bluetooth button? You have to select it from the front-panel or the onscreen menu. Grr.
More adventurous users can control the TX-NR626 using Onkyo’s Remote 2 app on their Android or iOS device.
Getting down to the nitty gritty of movie-viewing, the TX-NR626 is an impressive performer that revels in the cut and thrust of a vigorous action scene – in this case the train crash at the start of Super 8 [how many times have you seen that now? Ed]. From the moment the white van collides with the train, the Onkyo demonstrates its mastery of the multichannel soundstage – as carriages fly through the air, whooshing effects are rapidly and smoothly flung across the room, metal panels ping and clang from rear speakers with precision, while explosions have satisfying weight and punch. Then, when the alien blasts the train carriage door high into the air, the camera angle changes and the Onkyo confidently shifts the direction of the sound from front speakers to back.
It’s a well-organised, dynamic and cohesive performance, the sort I’ve come to expect from Onkyo's power-pushers. It handles delicate sounds with great agility and can cut from noisy to silent without significant overhang – as evidenced by the sudden silence as the door flips though the air. That’s a real bonus if you love tension and shocks.
But the TX-NR626 can be a brutal listen. Watching this scene with the volume up high is akin to going ten rounds with Karl Froch with your hands tied behind your back. Part of the reason for this is a slight harshness to mid and high frequencies that occasionally took the edge off my enjoyment.
However, while the TX-NR626 isn’t quite the unqualified success of past Onkyo receivers in terms of performance, it’s still mightily impressive – not least because it offers an outstanding range of features at an attractive price.
Price: £400 Approx
Highs: Powerful, well organised sound; extensive features; easy to use; built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
Lows: No AirPlay; hard edge to mids and highs; no Bluetooth button on remote
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