The modern receiver market is tough. With the rapidity of progress in the HDMI format and the recent, albeit lackluster, revival of 3D in the home, modern receiver manufacturers have been pumping out new models at a fierce rate to compete with each other and to keep up with the latest trends in the industry. Onkyo has just released their newest flagship receiver, the TX-NR5009, the subject of this review. Retailing for $2,899, this new model is designed to satisfy even the most advanced home theater nut and provide all the flexibility one would need for multi-zone use.
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The TX-NR5009 offers everything you could want in a receiver, from its nine channels of amplification, each rated at 145 watts into eight ohms, thanks to the massive toroidal transformer. Of course, this receiver does everything you'd expect a modern receiver to do in terms of scaling and transcoding video to 1080p and output it via HDMI for legacy sources. The TX-NR5009 lists 4K scaling from its Qdeo Marvell chipset in its features. As only a small handful of displays can accept this resolution, it may be a moot point at this time. Make no mistake: 4K video is coming and will be here soon. Still, for the immediate time being, the TX-NR5009's inclusion of said technology, albeit via upscaling, is a measure of future-proofing for those in the market for an AV receiver today. Video processing is handled by the TX-NR5009's HQV Vida chip. It will decode any of the new uncompressed codecs offered by Blu-ray, has both front and rear USB ports for memory devices, iPods, iPads, iPhones, etc., and will even display album art from your Apple device, though only the front USB is compatible with them. The unit is also THX Ultra 2-certified and has Audyssey DSX, DTS NeoX, and Dolby Pro Logic IIz for additional front channels.
The Onkyo TX-NR5009 offers all the connections anyone could want, including eight HDMI 1.4 inputs and two outputs. Three component video inputs and one output, connectors for the optional iPod docks, HD Radio, and an analog RGB D-sub 15 connector for connection to PC 9.2 preamp outputs allow users to grow the TX-NR5009 into a more powerful system by adding separate amplifiers. The dual independent subwoofer outputs are corrected independently with the Audyssey's MultiEQ XT32 system. Onkyo also includes Audyssey's Dynamic EQ and Dynamic volume.
The seven digital inputs, four optical and three coaxial, employ 192 kHz/32-bit digital to analog conversion and 32 Bit DSP processing. A Music Optimizer is included in the digital circuitry to enhance the sound of compressed audio files. Jitter cleaning circuitry also helps keep digital sounding its best. A total of 40 FM and AM presets can be programmed and the digital crossover can be set at a multitude of points, from 40 to 200 Hz, to suit your needs. A/V sync of up to 800 milliseconds is available if you need it. Each video input allows for independent ISF calibration and all onscreen displays are available over the HDMI main output.
The receiver is fairly large at 17-and-one-eighth inches wide, by nearly eight inches tall and 18-and-one-quarter inches deep, weighing just over 55 pounds, making it a pretty substantial unit. The front panel is pretty plain at first look, with a large volume knob on the upper right of the face directly to the right of the display. Two smaller buttons are on the left side. The larger one is the standby button and the smaller is the Pure Audio button and indicator. It is nice to have this button/indicator on the front, as the display is off when in Pure Audio, and this little light lets you know why quickly. The front panel can be easily dimmed to several levels from the remote as well. Between the buttons are both IR receivers, and emitters for bidirectional communication are between the receiver and the remote. Midway down the face is a long row of buttons with illuminated vertical bars above them for direct access to any of 12 inputs. The lower portion of the front fascia is a trapdoor hiding less commonly used controls, as well as the front USB, HDMI, composite video and optical digital and analog audio inputs.
The rear of the Onkyo TX-NR5009 is fortunately large, as it has a ton of connections on it. Across the top are seven HDMI inputs and two outputs, across the bottom are eleven sets of speaker binding posts. You could need this many, as the amplifier channels are pretty freely assignable and can be used differently for each source. Between these are five sets of stereo analog inputs with associated S-Video and composite video, one set of outputs and a moving magnet phono input. The 7.1 analog input, 9.2 preamp output and a pair of stereo analog outputs for zones 2 and 3 are all there, too. On the upper right of the rear are the antenna connections, as well as the two-prong IEC power cord input. Rounding out the connectivity are an RS-232 port, Zone 2 and 3's 12-volt triggers and a proprietary RI jack for connection to other Onkyo components. Finally, an Ethernet port allows hard-wired connection to the Internet for streaming of Internet radio and playback of music stored on a PC.
The remote is pretty simply laid out. It has a gloss black front and a ridge on the rear to keep it steady in your hands. The power buttons run across the top. The top also houses the Zone select button, which changes color to show which zone you are controlling. Below this are the activities keys for My Movie, My TV and My Music. Once programmed, these work very much like they do on the Harmony remotes. Moving further down, you find the input keys, TV controls, the directional pad and several keys around it, then the transport keys and, finally, the audio mode keys and numeric keyboard. All the keys of the remote light up when any are pressed and active keys, such as sources or activities, light up brighter to distinguish themselves as active. The remote seems to control everything available on the front of the unit. The keys are easy to read when lit up, even in the darkest of rooms, yet they don't glow so intently as to distract you during use.
Users can choose to use the nine channels of amplification any way their systems require. If you want to add front height or width (or both to a 5.1 system), this can be done. You can use two of the channels to bi-amp the front speakers, to run two different sets of front speakers, to power a second, or, for a 5.1 system, even a third zone. Onkyo uses their WRAT (Wide Range Amplifier Technology) to allow ultra-wide 5Hz to 100kHz bandwidth and a linear gain volume circuitry to maximize amplifier performance. To further improve performance, they also have a Direct Mode and Pure Audio Mode. These modes work to minimize interference from digital circuits and the display circuitry to maximize analog performance.
The unit I received for review was a show or "demo" model. It was packed very differently than a typical new model. I have never had any complaint before with the way Onkyo packs receivers I've had before and have no reason to assume their packing would be something I'd fault. Included in the box were all the necessary accessories to get up and running, including the receiver itself, remote and batteries, AM and FM antennas, a power cord and the Audyssey microphone. Optional accessories available include the UWF-1 wireless USB network adaptor ($39.99) for those who cannot hardwire to their home network, the UP-HT1 HD radio tuner ($159), and three choices of remote iPod/iPhone docks, in case you aren't happy with the front USB connection or simply want something more wife-friendly. When I first unboxed the unit, I was surprised by the simple box-like nature of the receiver. The front is basically flat, with a large display. Once it was installed in my rack, though it had a clean look to it, I really liked it, and it grew on me even more over my time with this unit.
I replaced my trusty Marantz SR7005 with the Onkyo in my bedroom system, which consists of a 55-inch VT25 Panasonic plasma, Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray disc player, AppleTV and Scientific Atlanta HD8300 HD DVR. For speakers, I relied on my Kef 5005.2 speaker system. Thanks to HDMI, I only had a handful of connections to make, so I had the wiring done in less than fifteen minutes. I powered up the unit, ran the Audyssey setup, assigned my sources to their respective connections and set up the included programmable remote. Surprisingly, the remote was very easy to set up. The only slight issue I had was finding which set of Panasonic codes worked for my display. Once I had the right codes, I could immediately access the macros for My Music, My TV, and My Movies. Fine-tuning of these three macros is also allowed, resulting in an experience that was by far the best I have ever had with any included remote.
To torture test the Audyssey room correction, I pulled an additional subwoofer, my Canton Vento AS 850 SC, into the mix. I placed it in a ridiculous spot in the middle of the room, as this was only a test. I leveled the subwoofer manually to minimize the need for level adjustment by the Audyssey system and re-ran the calibration. Surprisingly, it did quite well with equalizing the additional subwoofer and made my room go even deeper than before. I was pleased to see just how well the new Audyssey system handled two totally different subwoofers in one system.
I began my evaluation of the TX-NR5009 with some 3D content, courtesy of Avatar (Twentieth Century Fox) on Blu-ray 3D. The Onkyo had no issues passing the 3D signal to my 3D-compatible display. Sonically, the TX-NR5009 offered up plenty of dynamics and depth to the bass that permeates this entire film. The space of the jungles of Pandora seemed huge and the subtlest details to the largest crashes were kept under control with ease, even at high listening levels.
Read more about the Onkyo TX-NR5009 receiver's performance on Page 2.
I cued up the latest Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Walt Disney Pictures) in 3D and was treated to an exceptional rendition of the film. Colors were bright and vibrant, while the soundtrack came across with power and finesse. The soundtrack was wonderful, from the dynamics of the explosions and cannon fire to the subtle creaking of the ships' wooden bows. Everything was spot-on. Footsteps were well placed and even the splashing of the water could make you turn and look for a leak. The Onkyo did a great job of articulating the voices, which were clear and easily discernable. More subtle effects, such as the rustling of the leaves of the jungle, filled the room and gave a true sense that you were in the environment being displayed on the screen.
I cued up the Blu-ray disc from the Pink Floyd's immersion box set of Dark Side of the Moon (Capital Records) to see how the Onkyo would perform with some high-resolution files, as this disc offers the entire album in 24-bit/96 kHz in stereo, the original quad mix and as a new 5.1 mix. Whatever mix I threw at it, the Onkyo handled them exceptionally well. From the start of "Speak to Me," the depth of the heartbeats was palpable; as the cash register comes in, the ringing and clanking were true to life. The subtle start of "Breathe in the Air" was open and spacious, with very good separation even on the stereo mix, but the quad and 5.1 mixes blew me away with how well they filled my room. The chimes at the beginning of "Time" used to be a friend's favorite way to wake up his guests and I must say I have never heard it at the level I did with the Onkyo and these new 24/96 files before. The speed of the chimes was excellent and the depth of the bass notes filled my room with power and grunt. Vocals were clear and well-placed on all three mixes, though I must admit I preferred the early quad mix over the others.
I am an old punk at heart, so one night, when in a particularly retro mood cued up the Dead Kennedys' "Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables" (Cherry Red Records) and was pleased to see how well the Onkyo could replay such old and frankly brash music of poor recording quality. From the start of "Kill the Poor," the raspiness of Jell-o's voice was sharper than I ever remember hearing it being before and all the power and angst were there. The simplistic guitar lines were sharp and powerful, while the bass lines stayed fairly tight even when I pushed the song to obscene levels. This is not a great recording, but the Onkyo handled it as well as could be expected. The bass lines at the start of "When You Get Drafted" surprised me with just how tight they were. When I got to "California Uber Alles," the power of the song was impressive, making me wish my stereo sounded this good when I was fifteen and listening to this music regularly. My favorite Dead Kennedys song of all time is "Holiday in Cambodia." The screeching of the guitars at the start was eerie. As the song progressed, Jell-O's vocals were as harsh and edgy as I'd expect them to be. The upbeat parts were lively and expressed the humor I imagine he felt when writing this song. Did it sound as good as the 24/96 Pink Floyd I used before? No, frankly, hell no, but for the material at hand, it did quite well and made me really enjoy listening to this album again.
I plugged a USB drive that I had loaded with AIFF, MP3 and Apple Lossless tracks into the front panel USB port. Accessing the device was easy. The remote for the Onkyo has a USB input, so you can tap the USB button to toggle between front and rear USB ports. I was not able to play the AIFF tracks, which is unfortunately the format I use for almost all of my music, but I was easily able to navigate the tracks on the flash drive with the Onkyo remote. Using the transport keys on the remote, I could easily scan through the songs on the flash drive as I wanted, or set the Onkyo to play the tracks randomly. While I wished it supported AIFF for us Apple users, I know we are still in the minority, so we can't expect everything. I was able to play my music easily. Public Enemy's "By the Time I Get to Arizona" from Apocalypse 91 ... The Enemy Strikes Black (Def Jam Records) in MP3 (192 kbps) came across with energy and power, while the Cowboy Junkies' "Miles From Our Home" from the same-titled album (Geffen) gave me plenty of detail and lushness in the vocals. This system worked very well. I suspect for PC users it will work perfectly, allowing you to connect an external hard drive or your computer to either USB port for instant access to all your digital files.
To test the tuner, I dialed up 88.5, which is a notoriously difficult station to get in my house. The Onkyo tuned it in well without static. Sound from the tuner was good, though it was a little disappointing after listening to 24/96 mix of Dark Side of the Moon. This was no fault of the tuner itself, which did a fine job locking onto the station. Instead, it has to do with terrestrial radio simply not having the bandwidth. When I was tuned into a station that had RDS (Radio Data System) information, the front panel displayed it.
While watching cable TV, the internal scaling offered by the HQV Vida VHD-1900 chip worked very well at scaling to the native 1080p of my display. While the Dolby Digital soundtracks seemed a bit thin after using DTS-HD MA as my reference, the sound was still very good for cable viewing. Surround effects were as good as can be expected from these older surround formats. The one odd thing I noticed was that whenever I'd turn on the Onkyo, any source required me to adjust the volume on the receiver to get any sound output from it.
Tough to knock a top-tier receiver, but the Onkyo does have some faults. Onkyo used to have very complicated setup menus that bewildered many users. They have dummied them down quite a bit - too much, I feel. The menus have lost some of the ultimate flexibility those willing to work for it could obtain in the more complicated older system. I think the sweet spot lies somewhere in between what the setup menus were and what they are today, but the new menus allow for easy and fast setup, which seems to be what most people want.
While it supports Apple iTunes AAC files, I'm a little disappointed by the TX-NR5009's lack of Apple AIFF support via its USB ports but, like I said, us Apple users still represent a minority of the market, so this omission isn't to difficult to understand and/or cope with.
The Onkyo TX-NR5009 weighs over 55 pounds, so it will need a sturdy resting place.
My final gripe is that, whenever you power up the unit, you must hit the volume control either up or down to get any audio output. The unit doesn't seem to be muted, as the volume bar displays on power up, so you just need to tap the volume control to initiate the output. This isn't a problem if you know to do it, but I am not sure why this is required and I expect it will generate many calls from significant others as to why the theater has no sound. However, Onkyo has assured me that this was a quirk with my unit and not normal operation.
Comparison and Competition
When you are this high in the stratosphere of receivers, the comparisons are limited. I would encourage those looking at this price point to consider the Denon's AVR-4810Ci at $2,999, which seems to be almost identical spec- wise, except for five watts less per channel. Each channel is a fully-discrete mono design, which could make for even better sound, depending on how it is implemented. The Denon has two less HDMI inputs, and seems not to play well with iPhones from its specifications, but I have not had the opportunity to try this. Denon also chose Anchor Bay's VRS processing over the HQV Vida VHD-1900 chipset in the Onkyo and doesn't have the MultiEQ XT32 room correction.
You might also consider the Pioneer Elite SC 57 at $2,100, which utilizes Class D amplifiers for all of its nine channels and also shares the Qdeo as its video scaling chip. It also has AirPlay, though it has one less HDMI input.
Anthem has come to the market with their own AV receivers. The MX-700 at $2,000 offers fewer features, but has Anthem's ARC room correction and a streamlined approach designed to maximize the audio and digital side. One last one, not to be forgotten, is the new Yamaha Aventage RX-A3010 at $1,999, which offers a similar feature set and slightly more rated amplifier power. When you are at this level of AV receiver, you really need to look long and hard over what features you need and what you will use to best decide which feature set suits you and your lifestyle best. Be reasonable, and try to listen to all of the models you are interested in to see if they suit your taste.
For more on these AV receivers, as well as others in and around the Onkyo TX-NR5009's price and feature set, please visit Home Theater Review's AV Receiver page.
The Onkyo TX-NR5009 is a true top-tier AV receiver. For those in the high-end receiver market, it is one to seriously consider. The remote is by far the best universal remote I have ever had included with any product I have reviewed. It was so effective that I used it for the entire review time I spent with the receiver, which says a lot. The ultimate Audyssey Multi EQ XT32 room correction allows for independent EQ of two subwoofers, which worked quite well in my experience. The Onkyo TX-NR5009 is a superb receiver, one I highly recommend. The Onkyo TX-NR5009 offers exceptional sound and flexibility with simple setup, allowing it to be the hub of a true high-end home theater.
• Read more AV receiver reviews written by Home Theater Review's staff.
• Find a 3D HDTV to take advantage of the TX-NR5009's 3D capabilities.
• Explore reviews in our Blu-ray Player Review section.