Receivers

Onkyo TX-NR906 7.1-Channel Home Network A/V Receiver

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use

It's easy to become obsessed with the myriad of features modern receivers have. Not to diminish their functionality, I genuinely believe a lot of these features are extremely useful. Still, at the end of the day a product has deliver the goods and to me this involves drawing you into the movie or music, to create an emotional response. I'm happy to say the Onkyo 906 does this in spades. I am stating this upfront. I loved the performance of the 906 so much I came within millimeters of buying the review sample. I was simply mesmerized by the magical synergy of the 906 and my Bowers and Wilkins 805s speakers.

After performing the Audyssey calibration I let the Okyo burn in for few days before sitting down for critical listening. I was immediately struck by the transparency and vibrancy of the sound. Prior to my Denon 3808 I lived with a Meridian 568 and Lexicon NT-512 for many years. They were a fabulous combination, neutral, dynamic but lacking in all the new HDMI goodies. The Denon 3808 is a close facsimile of that combination. It has good detail levels without being clinical, a deep sound stage and great effects steering. The Onkyo on the other hand is whole other beast.

The Onkyo 906 can be best summed as sounding like a movie theater. It's not as refined as the Denon nor does it have the same completely encompassing sound field. What it does have is balls! Combine that with refinement and the best resolution of any receiver I've ever heard and the sound becomes addicting. It gives movies (all movies, not just action flicks) a palpable sense of excitement and drama.

Dialogue is unbelievably natural even on poorly looped movies. Music has a warmth and rhythm for a perfect sense of tension and excitement in movies. It draws you into the movie and keeps you there. I found myself watching movie after movie, tv shows and even PS3 games just to hear what the Onk can do to the sound. It's electric, detailed, and refined. On movies it's pure magic. It brings that thrill and explosive quality movie theaters tend to have, home.

Chapter 25 of the Ronin Blu-ray disc illustrates the prowess of the 906. The chase scene between the M5 and the Peugot 406 is one of the best car chases ever filmed. John Frankenheimer a life long car enthusiast knew how to appeal to car buffs like myself yet still entertain general audiences during a car chase. As the two cars enter the Parisian tunnel you can hear the metal of the expansion joints as the cars roll over them. The reverberation and sense of space of the tunnels is unreal, all while the dialogue, engine sounds, and over all mayhem is both cohesive and yet pin point sharp and detailed. A tough act to pull off my most equipment. So much so that I immediately went through the trouble of immediately switching out the Onkyo for my Denon to do a direct comparison. The 906 was so much more engaging and detailed than my reference Denon. My notes literally say of the 906 "no matter how dense the mix you can pull out every little detail."

I particularly enjoyed watching both Ronin and The Hunt For Red October on blu-ray with THX post processing applied. It had been some time (when I had my Meridian 568) since I've had the chance to use THX processing. The opinion on THX processing is varied, some loving it, others feeling it accomplishes little. If anything it's nice to have THX processing as an option. The 906 also has both the Audyssey and the THX intelligent volume processing. These are meant to lessen the difference in levels between programming and commercials. I'm not a fan of either. The results sounds highly processed and rob material of punch and dynamics. Dynamic EQ however works extremely well. Dynamic EQ is meant to compensate for the change in frequency response of soundtracks when played at lower than reference levels. It works extremely well and is a welcome addition for those times you don't feel like cranking up the volume.

Music was the only area I felt the Onkyo was at a disadvantage to my Denon 3808. For starters the Denon offers a music and a bypass L&R mode for the Audyssey processing . I generally prefer the music mode over the standard movie mode when listening to music. The Onkyo 906 only offers the movie mode and it's gently rolled off top end. It's not a massive difference but it is noticeable. The Denon's deeper and wider sound stage really shines on music, I found most rock and pop recordings to sound better on the 3808. On electronic music and other forms of music with less room presence the Onkyo actually sounds more engaging and alive. It's a tough call but I feel the extra refinement of the Denon gives it a heads up if you are more biased towards music than movies.

One last detail to mention in terms of audio. Next generation blu-ray soundtracks can be sent to the Onkyo as both PCM decoded in the blu-ray player or as a bit stream for internal decoding. The disadvantage of bitstreaming is you don't get mixed audio tracks for things like menu navigation sounds or commentary. Bitstream audio to my ear was a bit more detailed, slightly more open and transparent than letting my Sony BDP-S550 perform the decoding. I preferred the bit stream route but your mileage may vary.

With all the praise for the audio performance it's easy to forget the video performance. In many ways the 906 is two separate components in one chassis. A fantastic sounding audio receiver and a state of the art scaler and image processor. The Reon chip in the 906 easily beat the scaling and de-interlacing of my plasma's internal processing. It was able to de-interlace 1080i signals in a particularly impressive fashion. 480i sources were also impeccably handled. Regardless of what I threw at the 906 the video image was superb. I have to admit that even sending regular 1080p signals through the 906 proved to be more transparent than through my Denon 3808. I had never felt like the HDMI switching of my Denon was an issue. Performing back to back comparisons the differences were subtle but in the Onkyo's favor. The only real drawback to the Onkyo was when selecting new inputs or changing the channel on my Tivo Series 3. The Onkyo took between two and three seconds to lock onto the picture. Audio was near instantaneous, the screen would just remain black for those few seconds and then display a picture. This is not an issue when skipping chapters on a blu-ray or DVD. It's mainly an issue when changing channels on my Tivo Series 3 between channels using different resolutions. It's a minor inconvenience but one I lived with happily during the review period. That said, it's probably not something most people would appreciate and it probably ranks very low with significant others.

One wouldn't be thorough in reviewing a current Onkyo receiver without addressing heat. Yes the 906 runs hot. In fact, the Onkyo runs significantly hotter than my Denon. I don't have my receiver in a cabinet and it's not an issue for my installation. If however you do have an audio cabinet you will need plenty of clearance and ventilation.