Onkyo TX-NR509 networked AV receiver review

3D-ready networked AV receiver
Photo of Onkyo TX-NR509 networked AV receiver
£300

An AV receiver is the engine room of any decent home entertainment system, but until now products that offer the latest 3D and networking features in a home cinema have been dear indeed. That all changes with Onkyo’s 2011 line-up, which squeezes on some mouth-watering features for a relatively small spend.

Take the TX-NR509, the Japanese brand’s budget offering; it’s not the lowest of the low in Onkyo’s catalogue – that distinction goes to the £50 cheaper TX-NR309 – and nor does it reach the heights of the company’s step-up (and considerably more advanced) TX-NR609, but it still goes way beyond what we’d expect for less than £300.

Features
The smart-looking TX-NR509 is a 5.1-channel receiver, meaning it can drive the majority of home cinema speakers. Those with 7.1 ambitions, look away now, but we’re not convinced there’s too many of you.

The 507x297x423mm TX-NR509 also adds a feature that’s thus far been unreachable at this level of the market – home networking. It can stream music (note: it doesn’t handle video or photos) from a PC compatible with DLNA protocols. Windows Media Player in Windows 7 is natively equipped, but we managed streamed MP3s just as easily using a Mac running the TwonkyMedia UPnP software.

The TX-NR509 goes even further than MP3 collections, adding a host of online music options. vTuner, Last.fm, Napster and Aupeo are all available, with Spotify to follow at the end of November 2011. It will require a Spotify Premium account, but with that sorted the TX-NR509 will be able to stream in 320kbps bitrate (using Facebook account details, no less).

By default, the TX-NR509′s home networking is fuelled by an Ethernet LAN connection on its rear, but for situations where a wired set-up isn’t possible, Onkyo do sell a UWF-1 wireless LAN adaptor for about £50. It works on the 2.4 GHz wireless transmission frequency, attaching to the TX-NR509′s sole USB port on its front, though it’s so small it protrudes no further than the volume dial above. In our test it worked like a dream – setup is restricted to entering the password for a WiFi network, and it quickly re-tunes if there’s a dodgy connection.

iPhone app and networking
Although many home cinemas just don’t need these options, by networking the TX-NR509 it’s possible to use Onkyo’s free – and recently upgraded – OnkyoRemote2 app for iPhone (an Android version is due this month).

As well as introducing swipe controls and a generally easier operation of the TX-NR509′s main functions (including bass and treble adjustment, listening mode and input source selection), the app is a huge improvement on the rather drab – though effective – user interface of the machine itself. The main plus is that it’s quicker to find – and easier to operate – the networking functions. The app itself is split into three areas; volume and preset audio modes, networking, and a touchscreen control that mimics the hardware version.

It’s generally very usable, but we didn’t like the volume rocker on the app, which is far too sensitive – moving a finger just a millimetre up and down the sliding scale can too easily cause massively high volumes.

Still, the app is generally much better than its hardware version – and the forthcoming in-app access to Spotify will be hard to resist. That goes double since we didn’t find the remote all that friendly. A tad too ambitious, it seeks to control host of components and ends up with an array of tiny buttons and a slightly complex operation.

Optional accessories
Multimedia options are further enhanced by a proprietary ‘universal’ port on the TX-NR509′s rear, which is designed to take either a wired UP-A1 iPhone dock (£50) that creates a direct digital connection – and so higher resolution audio – or Onkyo’s UP-DT1 DAB radio tuner module (£115 – the built-in radio is FM only).

Home cinema owners will be most interested in this AV receiver’s four HDMI inputs. All are the latest 1.4 versions, so can handle 3D. If you’re upgrading from an amplifier with a mess of separate analogue audio and video ins and outs, these HDMI sockets are an absolute boon. Five HDMI cables (a TV or projector is fed by the TX-NR509′s single HDMI output) later it’s possible to have streamlined a home cinema that includes a games console, TV set-top box, DVD/Blu-ray player and anything else that uses HDMI.

There’s also one surprise that brings multi-room audio; line outs for a second zone that allow playback of a stereo signal in a nearby room with a sound system – and it can even be controlled by that smartphone app.

Performance
Setup of the TX-NR509 is a cinch, thanks to Audyssey 2EQ, which after wiring in a three-inch microphone to the front panel, then uses test tones to create a soundstage to suit room dimensions.

A 3D version of Avatar on Blu-ray brings more than enough power for a mid-size home cinema, with clear dialogue, effective surround effects, powerful yet balanced fight scenes, and an almighty roar when the tree falls down.

In another test disc, Donnie Darko on 2D Blu-ray, the lossless DTS-HD soundtrack is equally impressive, with the movie’s 1980s music given an impressively full treatment. There’s subtlety and detail from Mad World and enough bass and detailing across the frequency range to give the likes of The Killing Moon and Never Tear Us Apart plenty of width and depth. Compressed MP3 tracks streamed from a PC were noticeably less detailed, but always listenable even at relatively high volumes.

Company: Onkyo

Website: http://www.onkyo.co.uk/

Contact: Onkyo on 01628 473350

Positives
  • Easy setup, iPhone app, networking, imminent Spotify, support for DTS-HD Master Audio/Dolby True HD lossless audio.
Negative
  • Restricted to 5.1, audio networking only, in-app volume rocker too sensitive.

Verdict

Easy to set-up and operate, and with a thoroughly respectable performance across the board, this is a great value option for a 5.1 home cinema.

Audio networking is likely to mean buying a WiFi adaptor, but it's worth the extra £50; the iPhone app control is awesome, and with in-app access to Spotify imminent, the TX-NR509 is one of the most exciting budget AV receiver yet.