There has been a lot of news in 2014 related to AV receivers - major new technologies, unexpected changes in room-correction features, and big brand partnerships. Onkyo seems to be right in the middle of all of it. The company began releasing updated models to it's TX-NR line of networking surround sound receivers as expected earlier this year. Confirmation of Dolby Atmos capability and the introduction of AccuEQ immediately sparked speculation and debate throughout the home theater enthusiast community. While some find the thought of an Atmos capable home theater thrilling, others have major questions about Onkyo's decision to move to a new proprietary room correction utility. Beyond these newsworthy developments, not much has changed and the TX-NR737 meets my expectations for performance from Onkyo.
Design, Build Quality, and Aesthetics
The NR737 is a 7 channel receiver with the usual assortment of HDMI inputs, music streaming apps, multiple zones, 4K video processing, HD audio decoding and automated room-correction. It boasts THX certification (Select2 Plus), compatibility with HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 and network remote control via mobile device. Onkyo has utilized a high current transformer and its Wide Range Amplifier Technology to produce 110 watts per channel at 8 ohms. Among the first to feature Onkyo's new in-house room correction, the NR737 is equipped with AccuEQ, which replaces Audyssey MultEQ XT used in the outgoing NR727. Another first for Onkyo is the inclusion of Dolby Atmos capability. The NR737 is one of Onkyo's most affordable AV receivers to offer this feature. I'll be skipping Atmos for this review, since the firmware update is not yet available and my Atmos in-ceiling speakers are still in their boxes. (stay tuned for an HTS review of a higher level Onkyo with Atmos)
The TX-NR737 feels nice and sturdy. It is noticeably bigger and heavier than the 626 I reviewed last year. As expected the chassis and shell are black-painted sheet metal, and the faceplate is plastic with a brushed metal texture. All of the knobs and buttons on the front of the receiver worked smoothly and reliably throughout the review period. All of the speaker outputs, RCA jacks, and HDMI ports on the rear of the unit held connections firmly and and also worked reliably. Overall I would say the construction quality of this unit lines up well with my expectations for a receiver in this price range.
Although I try to avoid giving aesthetics too much weight in my decisions to buy audio electronics, but it is certainly a factor for most people, and something I always take note of. In general I like the looks of Onkyo's current AVR lineup due to the simple and clean design. I like the brushed metal look as always. The single large knob for volume keeps things clean and functional, though I tend to prefer the function and aesthetics of two symmetric knobs - one for volume and one for input. The display panel is large and clear enough to read from across the room if needed. The color and design of the display are pretty standard and should blend in well with other AV equipment.
Setup and Operation
Connection and startup of the NR737 is no different than most other AV receivers with HDMI connections. I used four of the HDMI inputs and had plenty to spare. This receiver can process and output up to 7.1 channels in a few different configurations. I tried two variations of 7.1 (5.1 + back surrounds, and 5.1 + front heights) and decided to use 5.1 + front heights for the majority of the review. This is completely a matter of personal preference, but does require some configuration in the speaker settings either way. Speaker connections are simple thanks to 5-way binding posts and speaker wire labels included with the receiver. The labels, while not necessary, are quite handy in my opinion. I also chose to connect the Onkyo to my network via CAT-5 cable for firmware updates and Spotify streaming.
Once all of your connections are made and you're ready to power the receiver on for the first time, you have three options. Option one: automated room correction via AccuEQ (you will be prompted and guided through this if you choose it). Option two: skip AccuEQ and manually set speaker distances and volume, and add external EQ for subs, etc. Option three: skip it all and get straight to watching football! There is no wrong choice here, but room correction is generally recommended as a super easy way to compensate for irregular room shapes and/or speaker placement. This can be achieved manually to a certain degree with a tape measure and SPL meter. I would personally not recommend option three, but if your room setup and speaker arrangement are already close to ideal for your desired surround format, then you may not be missing out on too much by skipping calibration.
I typically choose the manual option first followed by some critical listening with music and movies. If I feel like the experience could be improved more, I'll run the automated calibration program (if available) and let my ears be the judge. Having said that, I wouldn't call this a fair and thorough review if I skipped over room correction... so here are my thoughts about my first experience with AccuEQ.
It's super easy to setup and run. If you do happen to skip it the first time you powered on the receiver, you can start the process at any time by simply plugging the microphone into the "setup" jack on the front panel. It will begin by asking you a few questions about your speakers, and if you have a subwoofer, and off it goes. Whether or not you have used something like this before, it's a breeze. Once it starts, the process takes about two minutes, maybe three. I made a note of my manual calibration settings so I could compare before and after AccuEQ. Since there is no manual EQ, my comparison is somewhat limited to speaker distance, level, and crossover. Here is the data:
No code has to be inserted here.
Now, on to the results. Measured frequency sweeps of the front right channel confirm statements that AccuEQ does not EQ the front channels. The graphs were identical with AccuEQ turned on and off. So a comparison of response out of the box compared to "corrected" is basically irrelevant for the front channels. Instead, I compared my manual settings to the post-AccuEQ settings to compare the level calibration and crossover settings.To see how effective the EQ was, I took a look at the front right height channel instead (graph 1). To get an idea of how well the EQ filters worked on the other channels, I compared before and after sweeps of the front right height channel (graph 2). Finally, for reference, I compared all four, to see if AccuEQ was trying to match the response of the surrounds to the un-filtered response of the mains (graph 3).
One other major concern I have not yet mentioned is the fact that AccuEQ only takes measurements from one location. Competing room correction programs will often allow the user to place the mic at several different seating locations so that adjustments can be made to provide a uniform experience for all listeners. Although I am usually the only listener in my HT, I still think the ability to measure the system from multiple locations within the room is a critical feature.
Overall I would say AccuEQ is definitely a solid improvement to the out-of-the-box performance of the NR737. The whole system blended well after auto calibration and response was as good as could be expected, considering my room's acoustic challenges. Lack of EQ on the main and sub channels will likely be a show-stopper for those who prefer more advanced room correction. I personally like the flexibility of an external EQ for the sub, so I was not too bothered by that missing element. There is some great potential here but also some room for improvement in the form of additional features.
Based on my experience with Onkyo's TX-NR626 last year, I was expecting to be pleased with the performance of the next model up the chain. Overall the NR737 performs very well. It is very easy to set up and operate, it has most of the features I would want or need, it has lots of power, sounds great, and has been completely problem-free. It even shut-down to protect itself when it detected a short in a damaged external sub amp. It is responsive and easy to navigate once you learn the menu structure. Firmware updates over the network were quick and easy. The Spotify streaming app worked well for me, though it was a bit sluggish at times. I don't believe it was a network issue, as the actual music/streaming quality was always very good. The availability of different Dobly, DTS, and THX surround modes was nice, though I found myself favoring Dolby PLIIz once I had everything set up and calibrated. It integrated well with my system and never gave me any HDMI connection/switching issues. It has enough settings options to provide users with lots of flexibility, but not so many that it is overwhelming. You tell it what you want, and it just keeps doing that until you tell it something else. On-screen menus are well organized and should be intuitive for most users.
The NR737 provided a great audio experience with a range of different speakers, from traditional, lower-efficiency models to high-efficiency speakers like the Chane Theater Tens. Either way, it could drive my whole system to levels that created an exciting and enveloping cinema experience. Rarely, if ever, did I find myself wishing it had a more powerful amp section. Musical instruments and vocals sounded clean and clear, with good imaging and soundstage. Movie dialog and sound effects were also clear, with good separation between elements and plenty of power to fill the room.
Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds (Live At Radio City, Blu-ray)
I tried stereo and surround modes with this Blu-ray and both sounded excellent. Start it up, turn the lights down a bit and it's easy to just relax and listen all the way through this concert. I got the feeling of being inside the Radio City Music Hall, surrounded by hundreds of other fans. Much less smokey than a typical Dave concert, but I wasn't missing that part of the experience. The vocals and acoustic guitars complimented each other very well. Even though there were only two instruments on stage, a rich sound filled the room. Clarity was excellent and nothing seemed out of balance.
Jack Reacher (Blu-Ray)
The Chevelle chase scene has become one of my go-to surround test movie scenes. First, the sound of that V8 is front and center throughout the action. There's just something about the roar of a big ol' American V8. The chase brings Reacher from an open road, through a tunnel, across a bridge, and through the alleys of a city, littered with construction equipment and cones. Not only do you hear the power of the V8, the screeching of the tires, but you feel surrounded by the difference environments as the chase progresses. The audio for the whole sequence is well-engineered in my opinion, and the Onkyo presents it in a very exciting way.
The Dark Knight Rises (Blu-Ray)
Another chase scene - Bane and his army have just easily escaped the stock exchange with hostages and begin to lead Gotham's police force on a hunt for himself and, eventually, Batman. The usual mix of car and motobike sounds, along with gunfire, crashes, and dialog all come through clearly and pretty well balanced. The Hans Zimmer soundtrack drives the intensity to the next level and adds to the complexity of the audio sequence. Each element came through with good clarity, allowing me to focus on the characters and the plot as the story develops. Then the music and action stop, and "The Bat" makes an appearance. The bass rumbles with an insane amount of intensity, and stunned police officers are blasted with the gnarly whirl of The Bat's propellers as it glides away. I was able to crank the volume pretty high during scenes like this without any perceived loss of quality.
In my opinion, the value of a receiver is pretty heavily dependent on features. Most modern network receivers will cover all of the bases like multiple HDMI inputs and outputs, multiple zone audio, network firmware updates, bluetooth audio connection, 4k video capabilities, built-in internet radio and audio streaming services, automated room correction, 7-channel amplification that can be configured for different speaker and surround setups, THX certification, the list goes on. The Onkyo TX-NR737 has all of these and many more. But there are two features new to the Onkyo lineup this year that I suspect will be deciding factors for many potential buyers. Those two features are AccuEQ and Dolby Atmos. While AccuEQ does lack some of the features of MultEQ XT, Onkyo is trying to balance features, processing power, and value with their new lineup of receivers. Atmos comes into play here, and competes with room correction for both budget and processing power. This is a pretty major update, and potentially a game-changer for many consumers. Although the loss of MultEQ may seem like a huge sacrifice to some, the fact that an Atmos-equipped AVR can be had for well under a grand is nothing to ignore, and AccuEQ is good at what it's designed to do. Here's the way I see it: if you're obsessed with having full feature set of Audyssey's room correction and love seeing that ruler flat frequency response graph, you may want to look elsewhere. If you like the idea of pretty basic automated setup/calibration, but REALLY like the idea of adding a set of overhead speakers to your system to experience Atmos, this Onkyo is a solid choice.
Conclusions and Recommendations
While the majority of the performance and features of the NR737 remain relatively the same compared to Onkyo's 2013 models, there are some major changes that also make it pretty unique. So, what do I think? Well, here is what I liked: easy setup and operation, great reliability, good balance of looks and functionality, good sound quality, Atmos capability. Here is what I didn't like so much: occasionally sluggish response in the Spotify app and the fact that AccuEQ doesn't EQ the front and LFE channels, and only allows measurements taken from one seat. For anyone looking to do a smaller Atmos installation I would definitely recommend the NR737. It's a good value and a good performer with more than enough features for the average person. I have definitely enjoyed my time with it.
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