Given Onkyo's popularity and reputation among home theater enthusiasts, I set my expectations of the NR626 fairly high before I had even opened the box. It has a great set of features, respectable performance specs, and should be well within the budgets of most consumers looking for value and performance. Of course, lots of receivers are backed by good reputations and attractive specs on paper, so there is no free ride for the Onkyo NR626. The NR626 is certainly up to the challenge, and delivers a great home theater experience. It is positioned in somewhat of a sweet spot between affordability and premium features. Despite its capability, it is not drastically different than the models above and below itself in Onkyo's lineup. There seems to be some overlap in Onkyo's range of AV receivers, which can make it difficult to draw lines between specific models. So, how do you know if this is the right one for you? I hope to help you answer that question.
Design, Build Quality, and Aesthetics
Onkyo has focused on packing tons of features into the TX-NR626, accompanied by complete compatibility with current A/V formats and connections. Add to that a modest yet very capable amplification section, easy setup and automated room correction/calibration, and this receiver has great potential. It can power up to seven speakers, with several configuration options. Users can start with a standard 5.1 setup and power a pair of speakers in a 2nd zone, bi-amp the front speakers, add surround back channels, or add front height channels. It can take any audio source and put all seven speakers to work using one of several Dolby Pro Logic formats. Like the rest of Onkyo's NR lineup, this one handles Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio formats. The internal amplifiers are rated at 95 watts per channel (with two channels driven). That may seem modest to those who obsess over having great specs on paper, but the NR626 should not be considered a wimp by any means. A total of six HDMI inputs and two outputs provide plenty of capacity and flexibility for most users with racks full of cable boxes, Blu-ray players, game consoles, and media streamers. The pre-amp outputs are limited to a pair of subwoofer outputs, which eliminates the option to use external amplification for your speakers. For me, multichannel pre-outs are typically a must, but considering the price range and feature set of this unit, I am not surprised to see them left out. When it comes to streaming features, however, Onkyo has definitely not skimped. The NR626 can connect you to just about any music service from SiriusXM to Spotify. Network features like these are a must for new receivers, and this one has them all.
The TX-NR626 feels nice and heavy for a standard A/V receiver, which is generally a good sign. The front face is not particularly fancy, but everything fits together nicely. All buttons and knobs operate smoothly and reliably. Rear connections all look and feel pretty typical for any receiver in this price range. Speaker, HDMI, TOSLINK, and RCA connections hold firmly and reliably. The layout of the rear panel is pretty convenient and intuitive, though I would not mind a bit more space between each pair of speaker terminals. The NR626 is fairly shallow compared to other similarly equipped receivers. Most would probably consider this a benefit, as do I, although I wonder if it comes at the cost of poor heat distribution.
I cannot say I have ever really loved the look of previous Onkyo receivers. They are not ugly or tacky by any means, but very ordinary. Thanks to some subtle cosmetic changes recently made to their lineup, I do like the clean and simple look of the latest models. The styling of the Onkyo can easily be integrated with other modern A/V equipment and furniture. The front panel clearly displays necessary information without being overly crowded or cluttered. Quick access to volume and sound mode settings are present as expected. In contrast to what seems to be fairly standard practice, Onkyo has given each source its own button on the front panel, as opposed to using a single knob for input selection. Onkyo's approach makes more sense in my opinion, but only if it can be executed in a clean and intuitive manner. The row of input buttons is almost disguised as strip of decorative trim along the front panel at first glance, and does not severely interrupt the flat surface of the receiver's face. It is not as clean as something like a Pioneer Elite, or the top end Marantz receivers, but I could certainly live with it due to the added convenience. The relatively shallow depth should make it easy to find furniture to support it. For those wanting to create a low profile look with their system, it will not likely protrude too far in the front while leaving room for the connections in the rear. Although I would not call it the best looking receiver, I would have no problem displaying it in my viewing area if needed, and I do appreciate the clear display and functionality of the front panel overall.
Setup and Operation
Despite the constant addition of new features, increased options, and more types of connections, my experience with newer A/V receivers leads me to believe the manufacturers are doing a good job of maintaining user-friendliness. I have found the same to be true of the Onkyo user interface in general. As with any other type of operating system interface, there is always a learning curve. So while I would not say I have become quick or efficient at navigating the multiple menus of the NR626, I can generally find what I am looking for without an excessive amount of hunting or frustration. The same goes for the physical setup and connection to the other components in my system. Within a few minutes of cutting through the packing tape on the shipping box, I had the Onkyo up and running and was scrolling through its different sound modes while listening to music.
The menu layouts and user interface allow on-the-fly adjustments to be made very easily. Most of the menus are overlaid on top of whatever content you have playing, so the interruptions are very minimal. This is particularly helpful when switching between sound modes, adjusting trim on different speakers, or setting the A/V sync delay. The remote also has shortcut keys for many of the commonly-used functions. Speaking of the remote - I have yet to really be impressed by a factory remote included with any of the receivers I have used. The one included with the NR626 is not the worst, but still could use some improvement in my opinion. Several areas contain several keys of identical size and shape but unrelated function. This can make it hard to adjust settings in the dark. After enough use, I am sure I could become familiar enough to execute desired shortcuts reliably by feel alone, but it would take some practice. Onkyo has given users to control their network capable receivers via their mobile phones with the Remote app for iOS and Anddroid. It works well as one would expect, with intuitive touch-based navigation and visual feedback. Overall I prefer the app's interface, but for quick adjustments (volume, skip chapter, etc) it is still easier and faster to grab the physical remote.
I want to mention ventilation, partially because it is important to consider when placing any receiver or amplifier, but also because the NR626 does get quite warm during operation. Onkyo recommends leaving at least an 8" gap between your equipment rack and the top and sides of the receiver. This model has a fan installed, which blows heat directly out the top. Don't worry, you won't hear the fan, and it comes on automatically when needed. Even still, do not be surprised to find that the top of the unit is very warm to the touch after watching a movie.
For EQ and room correction, the NR626 features Audyssey MultEQ, Dynamic EQ, and Dynamic Volume. Setup, measurement, and calibration are easy with the included microphone and on-screen instructions. Once initiated (by simply plugging the mic into the jack on the front panel) the program guides the user through each step, taking measurements of all speakers from up to six different locations within the room. Once the process has been completed, the results and settings are displayed onscreen for the user to review before saving. From there the user can decide when to enable Audyssey, and which profile to use (movie, music, or game). As I stated above, the built-in Audyssey features make EQ and calibration quick and easy. I was prompted with on-screen instructions as soon as I plugged the microphone into the front panel. I will note here that I definitely could have used a longer cord on the Audyssey mic. From my A/V closet in the front corner of my HT, I was only able to comfortably reach five of seven seating positions. The cable could be lengthened with a common 3.5mm mono extension cable, though I opted to just run with the measurements I was able to take.
General Impressions and Audyssey/REW Results
Having fully made the transition from a strictly 2-channel listening room to a full-blown home theater, I have been gradually letting go of the notion that great sound can only come from high-powered external amplifiers. Yes, they are your best bet for maximum power and dynamics at reference levels, and they can offer flexibility to those who prefer a system of separate components over an all-in-one solution like a receiver. On paper, a 5 or 7 channel amp with a huge transformer and high power ratings will always look better than a receiver. What I am finding though is that for someone like me with about 50/50 music/movie system usage, modern receivers like this Onkyo offer almost all the power I could need or want, but also a ton of other really convenient features. The convenience of such receivers has begun to outweigh the benefits of more powerful amps for me in many cases. At 95 watts per channel, the NR626 is not what I would call a beast, but it is generally able to play back my music and movies satisfyingly loud. My preference would still be to have the option to use external amplification if I wanted at some point, but I could certainly get used to the performance of the NR626 for the vast majority of my needs. Anyone with a small to medium (or enclosed) listening area, or all but the lowest sensitivity speakers should be very content with the performance of this receiver, considering its power ratings and MSRP.
As a Spotify user I was excited when Onkyo added the app to their NR series of receivers back in 2011. However, from my experience, non touch-based Spotify apps seem slow and clunky in comparison to what I'm used to on my iPhone. To a certain degree that is true of Onkyo's built-in Spotify app as well. It does exactly what I need - but with slower navigation than I would like. Although I cannot find specific details on the streaming quality/bandwidth used by the app, the sound was very clear, without any hints suggesting the use of low bitrate files. Overall dynamics did seem compressed, which is not surprising for a network streaming service. For comparison, I played a few of the same songs through my iPhone's Spotify app while connected to the NR626 via Bluetooth. Navigation from my phone made it easier to skip around to different tracks, but of course this method will certainly drain my battery more quickly. I did not notice any major differences in sound quality between the built-in Spotify app and the Bluetooth method. Bluetooth setup was very simple and should work with just about any audio output from a Bluetooth enabled phone, tablet, laptop, etc.
Now, on to the measurements. I had high hopes for the Audyssey room correction, and MultEQ made enough of a difference to my ears to be worth the small amount of trouble it took to set it up. For movies with 5.1 or 7.1 soundtracks, the sound from my side and rear channels blended very nicely. Ambient sounds were much less localized to the speaker positioned, and filled the room more evenly. Dialog remained crystal clear and dynamic range was just as good as before. Nothing sounded unnatural or excessively processed. Even in a symmetrical room with ideal speaker placement and seating arrangements, Audyssey did a nice job of balancing the sound, and expanded the sweet spot to more than just the primary listening position. What I heard was a bit more difficult to prove with measurements though.
In a room like mine, with its share of acoustic challenges, even great equipment can appear to have flawed performance. Knowing my home theater has plenty of acoustic issues yet to be addressed, I have to be careful about how I interpret my REW measurements. My room shape and seating positions are quite ideal in some aspects, but have clearly caused some inconsistencies in response throughout the system's frequency range. Some substantial dips below 200Hz are rather unfortunate characteristics of my room at the moment, as opposed to any deficiency in the equipment's performance. While I finalize my plans for acoustic treatments, I am at the mercy of the laws of physics, with only a small amount of help from carefully applied EQ, and trial and error. Keeping that in mind, take a look at the graphs below this section to see how MultEQ handled the challenges of my room.
The first graph shows my system's raw low-end response with no EQ or correction, compared to the response with a few PEQ filters added to the sub channel (via Behringer FBQ2496). From my experience, the Behringer does a better job of handling the issues in the 30-70 Hz range than some of the room correction programs. It is somewhat of a band-aid, but it helps until I add some much needed bass traps. The second graph shows the full response of the subs and mains with and without Audyssey turned on. The FBQ2496 filters are active in both cases. I must say I am surprised by how similar the two curves are. As stated, there are some acoustic issues in the room that need to be dealt with, but I had hoped to see more measurable improvement from MultEQ. The final graph shows the effects of Dynamic EQ on the bass response. As suggested by the measurements, the difference was very noticeable to my ears, making music and movies sound more full, but borderline boomy at times. I found that I generally preferred to have it on for movies and leave it off for music. Not sure I could explain why, but that became a pattern for me. Keep in mind that these frequency sweeps only tell part of the story, and there are many factors that effect what our ears actually hear during music and movies. The graphs are based only on the response of the main speakers and subs. I found that MultEQ did do a nice job of broadening the range of seating locations that could experience a seamless surround sound environment.
Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon (SACD 5.1)
This is a classic in both 2-channel and 5.1-channel formats. I won't say it is better in 5.1, but I definitely like it in 5.1. So many of the elements of the recording beyond the music come out into the room and surround you from all directions. I really enjoyed listening to this with the Onkyo. Imaging was clear and focused when it needed to be. Other times music and sound effects transitioned smoothly to different parts of the room.
Billy Joel - She’s Always A Woman (The Stranger, Vinyl)
[Disclaimer! I am not a vinyl fanatic and do not have the ears to detect the finest, most subtle details some claim can only be produced by an analog source. Also, my album collection is not considered to be of the highest quality.]
A phono input on a modern A/V receiver actually seems a bit silly, but I'm glad to see Onkyo is maintaining this trend among many of their current receivers. I decided to give a few records a spin to see if the NR626 could capture the warm, lifelike sound that vinyl is known for. It sounded the way I expected it to, like I was listening to a record rather than a CD. Any one of the Dolby surround formats can be applied to the phono source for up to 7.1-channel playback, but if you want the most pure vinyl experience, you can select "direct" and the analog signal from your turntable will bypass all DSP functions within the receiver. To my ears, the Onkyo did a great job handling turntable duties, and will work very well for most casual vinyl listeners. The vocals and instruments sounded lifelike, and all the characteristics I expect from the old format were present. Plus, with the click of a button I could hear it in surround sound. Cool.
Camille Saint-Saens - Track (Symphonie Avec Orgue, CD/ALAC)
This recording is heavy on detail and dynamics. Some may argue that the organ overpowers the orchestra in the last piece of the 3rd Symphony, but I must admit I like it that way. The orchestra sounded powerful and clear. At times I could hear subtle elements such as a chair or music rack creaking, or a page being turned. The organ sounds monstrous, but not fatiguing. Cymbal crashes and the organ's bass notes could be felt, but all instruments remained in balance, and no detail was lost. The NR626 could go about as loud as I would be comfortable listening to for any extended period of time. I could not detect any audible distortion or clipping and dynamics seemed quite good. I would likely hear some differences in a side-by-side comparison with a more powerful amplifier, but overall the Onkyo handled this recording quite well.
Art vs Science - Magic Fountain (Art vs. Science, Spotify Streaming)
As I mentioned earlier, aside from a user interface slightly crippled by its dependence on the remote control, the built-in Spotify app is pretty good. The sound quality and imaging were both satisfactory and I did not experience any skips or hiccups during playback. I would have liked to have heard a bit more impact at times, but I suspect the dynamic range of the audio stream is compressed to make the best use of bandwidth. This would likely be a Spotify standard and not related to the Onkyo's performance anyway.
Tron: Legacy (Blu-Ray)
Tron's HD 7.1 channel soundtrack was a great opportunity for the NR626 to show off its ability to create a huge, yet very detailed soundstage. The environmental sounds of the "grid" were nicely balanced with the dynamic and rhythmic Daft Punk musical score. I kept wanting to crank the volume louder and louder. The bass was thunderous, but never muddy or excessive. Vocals were always crystal clear. Our brains tell us something like the grid could never exist, so our eyes and ears must be tricked into believing it does, so we can focus on the story and characters. The Onkyo certainly put all seven speakers to work supporting the illusion throughout the movie, but without any audible signs of strain. It delivered clean power at moderate to relatively high levels without becoming harsh or fatiguing.
The Great Gatsby (2013) (Blu-Ray)
To say that this movie stimulates the senses would be an understatement. It was visually stunning, with a complimentary soundtrack. The film's colors and textures created an exaggerated yet believable version of the real world, and helped to support the fantastical nature of the story and its cast. Such vivid pictures would lose their impact with a dull soundtrack though. I would not call this an action movie, yet I still found myself being treated to car chases, extravagant parties, and even some fighting. One scene which stood out in particular was Gatsby's party to which Nick was invited early in the movie. I was surrounded by loud, upbeat music, crowds of people shouting and singing, and cars racing up and down Gatsby's driveway. Not a bit of dialogue between Nick, Jordan, Gatsby, and others at the party was lost however. In reality, it would be difficult to understand someone talking with so much noise, but the clarity of the dialogue made the scene very easy to follow. The vocal, musical, and background elements were all nicely balanced, yet the chaotic element of the party remained. The fireworks toward the end of the scene had the right amount of impact and "thump". The next scene opened with Gatsby driving in circles around Nick's house in his custom supercharged roadster. Nick's house shook and his dishes rattled. The Onkyo did an excellent job of making Gatsby's stunt very convincing, as though my own walls were being shaken by the weight of his massive hot rod.
World War Z (Blu-Ray)
This is a new favorite of mine for home theater reviews and demos. Aside from the fact that I really like the movie, it has a great 7.1 soundtrack with some nice bass content. The whole Jerusalem scene is packed with raging zombie mobs, machine gun fire, helicopters, and grenade blasts. The thumps from the helicopter blades could be felt, and gunfire ripped through the room from all directions. All the while, the strength of the musical score increased, adding another level of intensity to the action sequence. Again, the NR626 seemed at ease driving a room full of speakers at relatively high levels. Grenade explosions were tactile, accompanied by deep rumbles. As a major component of my home cinema experience, the Onkyo receiver certainly played its part well, allowing me to be drawn right in to the action.
Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds Live At Radio City (Blu-Ray)
Acoustic guitars and vocals won't match the frequency range or dynamic range of larger instruments, or something like a band or orchestra, and the visuals of two guys sitting on stools is only so exciting. In this case though, I was not looking for the thrill of a stage performance or the impact of a high energy rock concert. To me, Dave and Tim's performances are intimate, but on a large scale, if that makes sense. Dave Matthews' songs tell a story, and have a way of pulling you in. That was my expectation of the NR626 here as well. I was looking for the feel of a live performance that captured the environment of the venue. The Onkyo did an excellent job of driving my speakers with power and clarity. The two artists and their instruments were focused right in front of me, and were nicely balanced across the main and center speakers. Crowd noise and reverb trickled through the surround channels just enough to maintain a sense of the mood within the venue. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this material as presented by the NR626. I could definitely get used to listening to more concerts on Blu-ray with the Onkyo running the show.
It would be hard to deny that the TX-NR626 offers quite a bit of functionality and convenience, and probably has more options and features than most consumers would ever need or use. Consumer A/V receivers range in price from a couple hundred bucks up to at least a couple thousand. Although an MSRP of $599 may seem high to some, it could actually be considered a "budget" receiver by some standards. To me, it falls in the middle since there is a high concentration of available models within a few hundred dollars of its price. If you drop down below about $300, you start losing significant functionality. When you approach the $1000 range, the bang-for-buck ratio starts decreasing in my opinion. The very high end models ($2000+) tend to focus on extremely high quality audio components, and in some cases do not offer conveniences like HDMI or network connectivity. Considering its power specs, compatibility with current audio and video formats, network and convenience features and built-in Audyssey, the NR626 is certainly a competitor among receivers in its price range. In fact, some of the best competition for the NR626 comes from Onkyo's own lineup. Save $100 and go down to the NR525 but you lose two channels. It will cost you an extra $300 to move up to the NR727 with THX certification and higher powered amps, but many of the other great features offered by the 727 are already present in the NR626. Depending on what features you need, you can probably find better value in slightly older models, but if you want to be up to date, the NR626 is worth the asking price in my opinion.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Overall I have been pleased by my experience with the TX-NR626. It has basically all of the features I could want or use, but not so many that I waste time finding what I need. Setup and calibration are easy, and the overlaid GUI menus streamline the process of making adjustments. It integrates well aesthetically and functionally with the rest of my system and appears to be very reliable. It incorporates the most basic version of Audyssey's MultEQ, which is somewhat effective but leaves me wishing for something more. Both 2-channel music and 7-channel movie performance are very good. The internal amplifiers drive my speakers with authority, but I prefer the flexibility offered by pre-amp outputs, which the 626 does not have. Based on the performance of this model, I would personally opt for a model slightly higher up in Onkyo's range to give myself the added benefit of external amplification and 9.2 or 11.2 playback. However, for anyone with a budget of $500-$750 looking for the latest home A/V tech, the NR626 is a great balance of functionality and value.
Review Discussion Thread
More About the Onkyo TX-NR626