Last year, if someone wanted to buy an AV receiver and wasn't flush with cash, our recommendation was easy--the Onkyo TX-SR605 offered an unparalleled feature set for the price and sounded great to boot. This year, Onkyo has released an updated model, the TX-SR606, and has made a great product even better, as it now sports four HDMI inputs and offers upconversion up to 1080i for analog signals. Even more enticing, these extra features come without any effective price premium: despite its $580 list price, the street price of the TX-SR606 is already $400, equaling the bargain price of the TX-SR605.
While the TX-SR606 is an improvement over the TX-SR605, perhaps the bigger story is that the rest of the field has caught up. The Sony STR-DG920 offers most of the same functionality. Furthermore, in our experience, the capability to upconvert to 1080i just isn't worthwhile, as the TX-SR606's video processing is so poor that even average users will be disappointed. So while the TX-SR606 is an excellent receiver that improves on its predecessor, competition from Sony (and others) and some underperforming features means it's not as much of a no-brainer choice as it was last year. Those with non-HDMI video sources will want to look at alternatives, or consider bypassing the Onkyo and using their TVs to switch analog videos sources instead.
The TX-SR606 looks essentially the same as the TX-SR605. It's big and boxy, with its dimensions coming in at 6.88 inches high by 17.13 inches wide by 15.06 inches deep. From the front, there's a big volume knob in the upper right-hand section. The middle of the receiver is dominated by a strip of glossy black plastic, and in the center is an LCD screen, which is easy enough to see from about 7 feet away. To the right of the display is a front-panel directional pad, which is nice for navigating menus in case the remote is lost, and underneath the glossy black strip are several additional front panel buttons. Along the bottom is a headphone jack, along with more front panel buttons plus a standard AV input. Overall, it's not exactly stylish, but that's pretty typical for an AV receiver.
The included remote is nicely redesigned from previous Onkyo remotes. The new remote is much simpler, obviously built around the concept of navigating via onscreen menus. That means there are significantly fewer buttons that directly access features, which may frustrate some power users who hate digging through menus. However, overall we like the new design, as it should be less intimidating for receiver amateurs, and those of us accustomed to navigating menus on a DVR won't mind searching through the menus to make adjustments. Still, we had some quibbles. We would have liked it if the main volume rocker was more prominently positioned, instead of lumped together with other rockers. We were also frustrated how input buttons such as DVD also force the remote to start controlling the DVD player--which means, for instance, that the "setup" button tries to load the DVD player's setup menu rather than that of the receivers. But these are mostly nitpicks on an otherwise solid redesign.
While manufacturers such as Denon and Sony have put a lot of work into prettying graphical user interfaces, Onkyo continues to stick with plain menus featuring blocky white text. As much as we like the pretty GUIs, we appreciate Onkyo's philosophy of ignoring the eye candy and keeping the price low instead. For example, Sony's STR-DG920 is very close to the TX-SR606 in terms of features, but the STR-DG920 includes Sony's xross media bar (XMB) GUI and costs $100 more. That said, we'd love for Onkyo to offer some high-definition menus at the same price point.
The TX-SR606's Audyssey 2EQ automatic calibration system uses a microphone to analyze the speakers' and subwoofers' sound from three positions in your room. Seconds after you plug in the included mic, the receiver's onscreen display supplies the following very important message, "Please place microphone at center of listening area at ear height." That's essential advice that most calibration systems may supply in the user manual, but owners who don't read the manual may inadvertently place the mic in less than ideal locations that throw off the accuracy of the results. Kudos to Onkyo for emphasizing that point.
The Audyssey 2EQ process takes about 10 minutes, during which time the receiver sends test tones to all of the speakers and sub. The Onkyo TX-SR606 then adjusts the channel volume level and time delay settings for each speaker, the speaker "sizes," and subwoofer crossover settings. The Audyssey 2EQ also provides equalization corrections to the speakers and sub, which we felt significantly improved the sound of our Aperion Intimus 5B Harmony SD satellite/subwoofer system. The auto setup was just as accurate as our manual setup.
Frankly, we were surprised by the improvements the Audyssey 2EQ provided, the Aperion system is quite nice au natural, yet the Audyssey 2EQ sweetened the treble and smoothed the transition between sub and satellites. That made for improved midbass fullness, apparent dynamic range and impact.
|Connectivity||Audio soundtrack capabilities|
|HDMI inputs||4||Passes Dolby Digital and DTS via HDMI||Yes|
|Component video inputs||2||Passes LPCM via HDMI||Yes|
|AV inputs with S-Video||4 (4 rear, 1 front without S-Video)||Decodes Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master||Yes|
|Optical inputs||2||Video capabilities|
|Coaxial inputs||2||HDMI version||1.3|
|Selectable HD sources||6||1080p via HDMI||Yes|
|Satellite radio||Sirius ready||1080p via component||Yes|
|Network audio||No||Upconverts analog sources||Yes|
|Phono input||No||Deinterlaces 480i via HDMI||Yes|
|Analog multichannel input||Yes||Selectable output resolution||Yes|
The TX-SR606 is a 7.1-channel AV receiver, and Onkyo rates its output at 90 watts per channel. Like essentially every other receiver available, it offers a full selection of standard Dolby and DTS surround processing modes.
Last year's TX-SR605 was essentially the only AV receiver in its price range to include decoding for the two, new high-resolution soundtrack formats, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. The TX-SR606 includes onboard decoding for both of those soundtrack formats, but it's somewhat less of an important feature as more manufacturers have begun to include this feature at lower price points. Additionally, more and more Blu-ray players (including the PS3) are including onboard decoding, which lessens the importance of having the decoders in the player. That being said, having onboard decoding is a nice way to future-proof your receiver in case other devices come out that output the soundtracks in bit stream (undecoded) format.