If I were in charge of Onkyo product development, there's almost certainly no way a product like the TX-RZ900 7.2-channel, THX-certified AV receiver would exist. So it's a very good thing that I'm not in charge of Onkyo product development, because I'm glad that it does.
Before you Onkyo fans get your knickers in a bunch, allow me to explain. For a while now, I've rather felt like Onkyo and sister brand Integra have struggled to differentiate themselves. The former is, conventional wisdom holds, the consumer-facing, big-box-store-and-online-retailer wing of the duo, with the latter being aimed more at the custom installation market. Those lines have been getting blurrier and blurrier for years, but the $1,599 TX-RZ900 positively wipes them out.
That's not to mention the fact that the new RZ Series represents (to my mind) a significant step up in terms of performance and quality from a company that already drew hefty accolades for last year's models. The RZ900, for example, boasts a hand-wound, high-current toroidal transformer, extra-large capacitors and hotrod transistors, plus a beastly Asahi Kasei AK4458 384/24 DAC (with DSD capabilities), combined with Onkyo's own Vector Linear Shaping Circuitry for improved digital-to-analog conversion. It also features the bleeding edge in terms of video connectivity, with eight HDR-capable HDMI 2.0a inputs (and two outputs), five of which are HDCP 2.2 compliant, in addition to a pair of component and three composite video inputs for any legacy devices you may still have kicking around.
Pile on top of that a great collection of streaming apps (Pandora, Spotify, Sirius, Slacker, TuneIn, and Deezer); built-in WiFi, AirPlay, and Bluetooth; and support for both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X (the latter via firmware update), and you've got the makings of one heck of a beastly AV receiver.
Getting back to those blurred lines between Onkyo and Integra's territory, though, the TX-RZ900 also manages to be both an integrator's and an enthusiastic DIY tinkerer's dream, thanks to its wealth of control connectivity--including RS-232, IP, back-panel IR, ONKYO-RI System Control, and Remote Interactive Over HDMI. It also comes with an incredibly intuitive setup wizard to walk you through the process of setting up its included controller as a universal remote.
So yeah, in a marketplace trending toward increasing simplicity, in the age of the soundbar when most consumers don't even really understand what a receiver is, and with its sister company already dedicated to higher-performance, custom-integrated audio gear, Onkyo has dropped a big beastly black box aimed at professionals, hardcore tinkerers, and audiophiles alike. And kudos to them for doing so.
When I say "big beastly black box," by the way, I'm not even slightly kidding. The TX-RZ900 measures in at nearly 8 inches tall and over 17 inches deep, and it weighs just shy of 40 pounds (which, for perspective, puts it somewhere in between the weight of Samsung's latest 48-inch SUHD TVs with and without their stands installed).
Size and heft weren't really the first thing I noticed about the receiver as I pulled it out of its crate, though. What stood out at first glance were its feet, which are beautifully sculpted and feature a ring of cork on bottom to provide isolation from vibration. I don't have a foot fetish, mind you, but that's a seriously nice touch.
And really, "nice touch" is a recurring theme with the build quality of the RZ900. In terms of fit and finish, it's a deft combination of polished and bulletproof. If I have one complaint about aesthetics and ergonomics, it's that the great big volume knob feels far lighter and less substantial than it looks, but that's a minor complaint. In terms of actual use, it allows for a level of precise volume adjustment the likes of which I haven't seen in some time.
Around back, the RZ900 has every right to be an utter mess in terms of layout, given its wealth of connectivity, but nothing could be further from the truth. The binding posts--gorgeous, expensive-feeling things--are beautifully laid out, with the main five-channel array arranged horizontally along the bottom and the additional speaker connections (rear surround/height/bi-amp/powered zone 2) stacked off to the side. I relied on banana-terminated speaker wires to connect my Aperion Audio Intimus 5B Harmony SD speaker system to the receiver, but I also ran bare speaker wires when I (briefly) tested out an Atmos setup with a couple of temporarily ceiling-mounted GoldenEar SuperSat 3s, and I was impressed by just how easy a straight connection was.
Speaking of easy, the RZ900's setup menus remain among the most intuitive in the industry, in my opinion, which is good, because there's a lot of setting up to be done. The wizard that awaits you after firing up the receiver for the first time is straightforward and simple without pandering. It's easily accessible to intermediate do-it-yourselfers without being insulting to more experienced installers. There are still some hilarious translation faux pas to be found (my favorite being the ever-popular "Make sure the output from the subwoofer"). But the wizard does a great job of illustrating your various setup options and speaker configurations.
It's worth noting here that the wizard does allow you to configure a 7.1.2 speaker setup (that is to say, seven speakers at ear level, one sub, and two overhead speakers), and it does have enough binding posts to accommodate the hookup of such. Given that it only features seven amplified channels, though, you're forced to choose whether you want to hear 7.1 or 5.1.2 when it comes time to listen. We've confirmed with Onkyo that, even if you tap into the pre-amp outs and add an external amp, it's not possible for the RZ900 to process nine channels of audio simultaneously.
Once your speakers are configured, the wizard allows you the option of running its updated, second-generation AccuEQ room correction. Don't let the similarity in the setup screens (or the same hilarious typos mentioned above) fool you. This year's AccuEQ is a wholly different beast from the first version.
For one thing, while last year's TX-NR636 hit the ball out of the park in terms of automatically detecting crossover frequencies, levels, and distances for my speakers when running AccuEQ, the RZ900 completely dropped said ball in terms of crossover points. It wanted to set the crossover for my fronts at 120Hz (way too high) and my surrounds at 40Hz (oh so very hilariously low). And although it looks like you ought to be able to adjust such settings from the wizard itself, all you can do is click the button and agree to accept the automatic results. Thankfully the RZ900's configuration menus are so intuitive that changing these settings manually was a cinch, and I did not need to make any changes to the delay settings or levels.
The first substantial clue that we're dealing with a wholly different AcceEQ comes from the last step of the automatic setup, where you choose whether to apply room correction to all speakers or leave the front left and right speakers untouched. With the previous version of AccuEQ, correction was never applied to the front mains, nor to the subwoofer. Thankfully, though, Onkyo listened to feedback, and as such, the bulk of the new AccuEQ's processing is applied to the sub and to the very lowest reaches of the main channels, which is how it should be.
If you're interested in a deeper discussion of why this is the case, and for my thoughts on room correction in general, check out Automated Room Correction Explained.
With that out of the way, I dug through the menus a bit to change some settings that I think are set rather questionably by default. There's pretty much no way, for example, that anyone would actually want two-channel material to default to All Channel Stereo processing. But I absolutely adore how easy it is to adjust default modes for the variety of different inputs. All in all, the setup process was smooth and easy (considering just how much there is to tweak, that is), and the only setting I had to really dig for was the Network Standby function, which allows one to power the RZ900 on via IP. This is important if you want to use Onkyo's control app or, in my case, a simple Ethernet connection to operate the system via Control4 or another whole-home control system. The RZ900 does support Simple Device Discovery Protocol for Control4, by the way, so getting the receiver integrated into my home automation system took mere moments.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparson & Competition, and Conclusion...