Editors' note: As of July 14, 2011, the premium Spotify music subscription service is available on the Onkyo TX-NR609 to users in the U.S. As of August 8, 2011, Last.fm and Aupeo services are also available.
Onkyo has a reputation for delivering tons of features and high-end performance at a budget price, and in many ways the TX-NR609 fits the bill. It's packed with six HDMI inputs (including a front-panel input), built-in networking (plus an optional Wi-Fi dongle for a very affordable $40), and more streaming music services than even the Denon AVR-1912. Even better, the current street price is around $495, which is the cheapest we've seen a midrange receiver of this caliber.
But it's missing the one feature that many buyers will care about: AirPlay. We're definitely fans of Apple's wireless music standard, so it's hard to recommend the TX-NR609 over the AirPlay-compatible Denon AVR-1912 and Pioneer VSX-1021-K if you own an iOS device (iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad). If you don't have an iOS device, the Onkyo is our top pick in terms of features, although if you're picky about sound quality, the Denon and Pioneer sounded better to us when we compared them. Ultimately, as much as we like the Onkyo TX-NR609, it's a step behind the Denon or Pioneer, but it has plenty of unique features (and a cheaper price) that will make it the best pick for some buyers.
AV receivers all pretty much look the same, but the TX-NR609's looks are even more utilitarian than usual. Its stark, flat front panel and relatively sharp corners contrast with the Denon AVR-1912's soft, rounded look. By default, the volume knob is surrounded by a bright blue light. Luckily you can turn it off by pressing the dimmer button in the lower left of the remote, although we were surprised this option wasn't in the setup menu. Purely in terms of looks, the TX-NR609 isn't our favorite, but styling isn't a priority for us with AV receivers.
Remote and remote apps
We're always annoyed by the complexity of AV receiver remotes, so the simple layout of the TX-NR609's remote is appreciated. There are many fewer buttons than on competitors' remotes and the volume rocker is easy to spot. Still, there's plenty of room for improvement, and nontechies will likely be baffled by all the functions. As always, it's worth investing in a quality universal remote to control all your home theater gear.
Onkyo's remote app (available for iOS) is excellent. It has a simple layout, making it easy to quickly switch inputs, adjust the volume, or even switch to a new sound mode like Music. What really sets it apart is its ability to fully control streaming music services like Rhapsody and Pandora. You can search right in the app and queue up music, and the TX-NR609 responds near-instantly.
Controlling streaming media services from your iOS device actually feels very similar to AirPlay, although there are more limitations: you're limited to the streaming services Onkyo supports and you can't stream music stored on your iOS device. The irony is that Onkyo's app is currently only available via iOS (not Android), which is a shame because otherwise the excellent experience of the TX-NR609's remote app would make it a compelling AirPlay alternative for Android fans.
The Onkyo TX-NR609 features a graphical user interface that's a modest step up from the old text-based menus that virtually all receivers had a few years ago. There are basic graphics that make the setup process a little easier to understand, and the text actually looks pretty crisp compared with the menus on the Denon AVR-1912.
We loved the Onkyo's main streaming interface screen, which features large icons for all the different services. The layout isn't quite as nice once you get into the actual services, especially compared with other home theater devices like a PS3 or Apple TV. It gets the job done, especially for services like Pandora that don't need a lot of input, but if you're searching for music in Rhapsody, it can get tedious to use the onscreen keyboard. Of course, if you're using the remote app, you won't actually need to navigate these screens that frequently.
|Key AV receiver features|
|Channels||7.2||Analog video upconversion||Yes|
|Graphical user interface||Yes||Automatic speaker calibration||Yes|
The Onkyo TX-NR609 has all the key features we expect at this price level, including a two-year warranty, which is a year longer than Pioneer offers for the competing VSX-1021-K.
|iPod/iPhone features chart|
|AirPlay||No||Connect iPod/iPhone via USB||Yes|
|iOS remote app||Yes||Proprietary iPod dock||$150|
The lack of AirPlay will be the big sticking point for buyers with iOS devices. While Onkyo's remote app is excellent and can somewhat replace AirPlay for some of the streaming services like Rhapsody, it's not a true AirPlay replacement. Still, if you're on a tight budget and don't need everything AirPlay offers, the TX-NR690 is available for less than either the Denon AVR-1911 or Pioneer VSX-1021-K. And as with all other receivers at this price level, you can connect any iPod directly via the USB port on the front panel. (If you want to add AirPlay to the Onkyo, you'll need to invest $100 in an Apple TV.)
|HDMI version||1.4||3D pass-through||Yes|
|Audio return channel||Yes||Standby pass-through||Yes|
This year all of the midrange receivers we've tested support the major new HDMI features, including the handy standby pass-through mode, which allows the receiver to pass audio and video signal to a TV even when the receiver is off. No midrange receiver that we've seen so far supports HDMI Ethernet Channel.
|HDMI inputs||6||Component video inputs||2|
|Composite video inputs||4||Max connected HD devices||8|
|Other: PC input|
The TX-NR609's video connectivity is flat-out awesome. Six HDMI inputs is the most we've seen at this price class (matching the Denon AVR-1912 and Yamaha RX-V671) and we love that Onkyo put one of the inputs on the front panel, for quick hookups to a laptop, digital camera, or camcorder.
Also note that you can switch among eight HD inputs (HDMI and component video) simultaneously, which is more than any other receiver we've tested this year. The TX-NR609 even has a PC input on the back. We're not sure how much use that will get these days, but it could be a bonus for those with older home theater PCs.