Onkyo TX-NR515 A/V Receiver Reviewed

Onkyo TX-NR515 A/V Receiver Reviewed

If you are in the market for an AV receiver and want one that is loaded with features and won't break the bank, check out the Onkyo TX-NR515. Check out what Adrienne Maxwell had to say about the receiver's performance.

Onkyo_TX-NR515_AV_Receiver_review_angled.jpgAwhile back, I did a piece entitled “What Features Do You Want in Your Next A/V Receiver?“. On top of essentials like a generous number of HDMI inputs, high-resolution audio decoding, and (of course) good performance, my top-five features were network capability, AirPlay, dual HDMI outputs, effective volume leveling, and a well-designed user interface. I’m on a fairly limited budget; I’m not necessarily tied to the entry-level receiver category, but I’m nowhere near the high end. That’s why this new Onkyo receiver caught my eye and begged for a review. The TX-NR515 has almost everything on my list, plus many other useful tools, for an MSRP of just $599.

Additional Resources
• Read more AV receiver reviews by the staff at Home Theater Review.
• Find LED HDTVs and Plasma HDTVs to connect to the Onkyo TX-NR515.
• Explore reviews in our Blu-ray Player Review section.

The TX-NR515 is part of a quartet of new lower-priced receivers that Onkyo introduced back in February, with prices ranging from $299 to $699. The TX-NR515 lacks the THX Select2 Plus certification you get in the step-up TX-NR616 ($699); otherwise, the two are quite similar in performance technologies and features. The TX-NR515 is a 7.2-channel receiver with a listed 80 watts per channel into 8 ohms, plus the option to add a powered second zone. It uses 24-bit/192kHz Burr-Brown DACs and includes Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA decoding, as well as Dolby Pro Logic IIz with front height channels and Audyssey 2EQ room correction with Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume. (The TX-NR616 adds a zone-three line output and Audyssey DSX expansion for front width or height channels.) On the video side, this $599 receiver sports the Marvell Qdeo processor that allows for 4K upscaling, as well as 1080p; 3D pass-through is supported.

The TX-NR515 is a networkable receiver with built-in support for Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, Sirius/XM, last.fm, Slacker, the MP3tunes cloud-based music storage system, and other music-oriented services (but, alas, no AirPlay–the one thing from my list that’s missing). The receiver can play back music files streamed from a DLNA server or Windows PC. Other useful features include the new InstaPrevue interface that lets you view thumbnails of what’s playing on each HDMI source and support for Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) to view HD content from a mobile device. That’s just a glimpse of what the TX-NR515 has to offer. Let’s dig deeper.

Onkyo_TX-NR515_AV_Receiver_review_rear.jpgSetup & Features
The TX-NR515 has a clean look and solid construction; it weighs about 20 pounds and measures 17.13 x 6.81 x 12.94 inches (WHD). The front panel’s minimalist appearance is deceptive; the front face actually sports a lot of buttons and controls, but they share the same black finish as the chassis and effectively disappear into the overall façade. It’s nice from an aesthetic standpoint but not too convenient if you have to search for a button in a dim room. The front panel includes a fairly large LCD display and volume knob, as well as a headphone jack, 10 source buttons, listening-mode options, a tuner dial and controls, display/setup/enter/return buttons, and zone-two controls. One front-panel HDMI input is available, which supports the aforementioned MHL technology to access full HD content and surround sound from an Android smartphone or tablet. A USB port is here, to which you can directly attach your iPhone/iPod or a USB flash drive/server. There’s also a button for Music Optimizer, designed to improve the quality of compressed audio sources.

The TX-NR515’s back panel is clean and logically organized. You get a generous seven HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs. As the owner of both a projector and flat-panel TV, I appreciate the dual HDMI outputs and was a bit surprised to see them down at this price point. The main HDMI output supports Audio Return Channel, and I had no trouble receiving audio from a Panasonic TC-P55ST50 plasma. Owners of legacy products should take note that there’s only one component video input and output, no S-video, four sets of A/V ins, one stereo analog in, and a composite video output; the receiver will transcode and upconvert your component or composite video source to HDMI 1080p. You get two optical and two coaxial digital ins, and the HDMI and digital ins can all be reassigned and renamed. The seven-channel speaker terminals accept banana plugs, while zone two gets a set of spring-loaded L/R terminals and a stereo analog output. If you don’t have surround back speakers, you can use those two channels of amplification for the front height speakers or to biamp the main L/R speakers. Two subwoofer preouts are available. The only major omission in the connection department are multichannel analog audio inputs. An RJ-45 port is offered for network connectivity, alongside a second USB port that supports the addition of Onkyo’s optional UWF-1 WiFi adapter ($39.99). Onkyo’s Remote Interface control jack is also included.

Another on my list of desired features was a clean, intuitive user interface, and Onkyo has done a nice job in this department. Hit the remote’s Home button, and a transparent Home menu appears center screen, with options for Network Service, USB, Setup, Firmware Update, and InstaPrevue. InstaPrevue is a brand new feature that displays thumbnails of connected HDMI sources, so you can see what’s available on each source and easily jump to the desired content. If one of your sources is cable/satellite, for instance, you can see the channel that’s currently playing; the motion within the thumbnail is quite choppy, but it gets the point across. Obviously, if the source is turned off, then the thumbnail is blank. In the setup menu, you can change thumbnail placement and the number of displayed sources; I wish you could also change the size, as I found the thumbnails to be a bit too small. In addition to the primary Home menu, Onkyo provides a Quick Setup menu that offers direct access to desirable adjustments within each source. Hit the remote’s Q button, and a small, transparent menu appears over the left side of the screen that includes video, audio, and listening mode adjustments, among others.

Onkyo_TX-NR515_AV_Receiver_review_remote.jpgSpeaking of video and audio adjustments, I found the setup menu to be cleanly laid out and easy to navigate, with helpful onscreen explanations for each control. I’m not going to try to cover every setup option here, but I will touch on some key elements. In the video realm, you can dictate whether to output video to one or two displays and dictate the output resolution; the resolution options for the main HDMI output are Auto, 4K Upscaling, 1080p, 1080p/24, 1080i, 720p, 480p, and Through (to pass through the sources natively to your display or external scaler). The secondary HDMI output only passes the source’s native resolution, with no option to upconvert. I tested both outputs using a combination of the LG 55LM6700 LCD, Panasonic TC-P55ST50 plasma, and Sony VPL-HW30AES projector, and I didn’t encounter any issues–even when sending a Blu-ray 3D signal to both outputs simultaneously. (One point worth mentioning: You can only view the Net and USB menus through the main HDMI output.) The TX-NR515’s video setup menu also includes a full slate of picture adjustments, including five picture modes: Cinema, Game, Through (upconverts the source but adds no picture adjustments), Direct (no upconversion or picture adjustments), and Custom–where you can adjust game mode, film mode, edge enhancement, noise reduction, brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, and color temperature. These parameters are independently adjustable per HDMI source. A welcomed perk is the TX-NR515’s hybrid standby mode that allows you to pass an HDMI source through to your display when the receiver is in standby mode–for instance, if you’d prefer to just use the TV speakers for casual daytime viewing instead of cuing up your entire system.

On the audio side, you can manually configure your speakers, with options to set the crossover (10 choices from 40 to 200Hz), distance, and level. I opted instead to use the Audyssey 2EQ automatic setup tool, which is Audyssey’s most basic room correction tool (it does not include subwoofer filters). Audyssey 2EQ measures three positions in the room, so you have to stick around during the process to move the microphone. Interestingly, the Audyssey setup went with a 40Hz crossover instead of full-range for my RBH tower speakers; I tried that setting for some tests but ultimately preferred to go full-range to get the best performance with music. Once you’ve run through the Audyssey process, you can choose an ideal target curve for each source: movie, music, or off. You can also choose to enable Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ for each source. Dynamic EQ is designed to preserve the complete surround sound experience at lower volume levels by maintaining proper balance between the various sound elements, while Dynamic Volume minimizes the volume discrepancies between different content (ideal for TV watching, where the volume fluctuates widely between shows and commercials). IntelliVoume is also available to set different input levels for each source, and A/V sync can be adjusted in 10ms intervals from zero to 800 milliseconds.

I used a wired Ethernet connection to access my home network, as opposed to the optional WiFi adapter. My router sits right next to A/V system; so, in my case, a wired connection was ideal. Once I connected the receiver to my network, I headed for the “Net” source to check out Onkyo’s assortment of music streaming services. Getting started with Pandora and Spotify required entering my user names and passwords, which required using the onscreen keyboard to enter text. It took about 30 seconds for me to tire of that, so I decided to try the Onkyo iPhone control app, which includes a virtual keyboard. The app’s interface took some getting used to in terms of its navigation; but, once I got the hang of it, I found that it did a reliable job taking me from task to task. With Net sources like Spotify, not only does it allow for quicker data entry, but it shows you search results and metadata right on your phone, so you don’t need to have your display device turned on. A smart touch.

Performance
To review the TX-NR515’s audio performance, I used some of my favorite music and movie demo tracks from the THX Demo Disc II (Blu-ray), DTS Volume 16 (Blu-ray), Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City (Blu-ray, Dolby TrueHD), Mozart Requiem (Telarc SACD), Immortal Beloved (Blu-ray, Dolby TrueHD), Kingdom of Heaven (Blu-ray, DTS-HD MA), The Matrix (DVD), and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (DVD), along with an assortment of CD tracks.

Read more about the performance of the Onkyo TX-NR515 on Page 2.

Onkyo_TX-NR515_AV_Receiver_review_front.jpgMy 5.1-channel speaker system consists of the RBH MC6-CT towers, MC-414C center, and MC-6C bookshelf surrounds–it’s generally too demanding for a budget receiver to drive effectively, but this mid-priced Onkyo proved itself worthy. Even during the densest action sequences and the most dynamic musical passages, the TX-NR515 kept up, delivering a large soundstage and immersive surround experience with quickness and efficiency. In comparing it with my reference Pioneer Elite TSX-55TXi (a THX Select model offering 100wpc and carrying an original MSRP of $1,700), the Onkyo’s performance didn’t seem quite as effortless; I did have to push the volume control higher to deliver a similarly large sound, but the Onkyo was still able to deliver what I asked of it without seeming overly taxed, despite its more modest amp specs and price point. The Pioneer receivers I’ve used have all served up a slightly warmer sound, and the Onkyo’s quality was similar to that–perhaps a tad less warm and closer to neutral, but not overly flat or sterile.

I was especially interested in trying Audyssey’s Dynamic EQ function. My situation is likely a familiar one to many parents of young children: My husband and I usually only watch movies after the toddler has gone to bed. We can’t listen at a particularly high volume, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to enjoy the full impact of the surround experience. We also tire of constantly adjusting the volume–up to hear dialogue in a quiet scene and then immediately hurrying to turn it down when a louder action sequence kicks in. It’s exhausting, and it’s exactly what Dynamic EQ is designed to address. We tested Dynamic EQ using the Hugo Blu-ray disc, and I can happily report that, once I set the volume to a desirable level, I didn’t give it a second thought through the entire film. I had no trouble hearing any of the film’s dialogue yet felt the full dynamic impact of the surround effects and musical swells. Dynamic Volume also proved effective with my satellite TV channels.

I also tested music playback through the USB port, using both my iPhone 3GS and a USB flash drive. The Onkyo didn’t auto-detect the addition of a USB device; however, when I switched to the USB source, the content selections appeared on my screen. Supported file formats are MP3, WMA, WMA Lossless, WAV, AAC, FLAC, Off Vorbis, and LPCM (no AIFF). In the case of the iPhone, I was able to use the Onkyo remote to navigate my iPhone’s menus (including Playlists, Artists, Albums, Movies, TV Shows, Video Podcasts, and more), and the iPhone charged while connected. With compressed files, I tried out the Music Optimizer function, which can’t work miracles but definitely provided improvement in the sound quality. Music Optimizer basically breathes a bit more air and energy into the tracks so they don’t sound quite so small and compressed.

On the video side, I tested the TX-NR515’s processing chip with the same arsenal of test discs and real-world demo scenes that I use to test displays and Blu-ray players. I set the receiver’s resolution output to 1080p and fed it the Source Direct signal from my OPPO BDP-93. Since I prefer to calibrate the image using a TV’s controls, I had no intention of utilizing the Onkyo’s various picture adjustments and assumed the Through picture mode would be the best choice. Unfortunately, this mode does not allow you to enable the Film Mode to correctly detect the 3:2 cadence with film sources, and thus it did a poor job with several of my demos. So, I went with the Custom picture mode instead, enabled the Film Mode, and left all the other adjustments alone. With this setup, the Onkyo passed most of the tests for DVD upconversion. In terms of jaggies and moiré, this receiver did a slightly better job than both of the TVs I had in-house in converting 480i to 1080p. In the detail department, it did better than the Panasonic TC-P55ST50, but not quite as good as the LG 55LM6700. There was just a hint of noise in between the finest lines in various resolution patterns, but otherwise I had no complaints. I also tested its ability to transcode a 480i component video signal to 1080p HDMI; again, it passed the processing tests, although not surprisingly the picture wasn’t quite as crisp and pristine in other respects as a straight HDMI-to-HDMI upconversion.

Low Points
The TX-NR515 is somewhat slow to cue up HDMI audio. When I powered up the receiver, the “HDMI” indicator on the LCD front panel would often flash for over 10 seconds before the audio finally kicked in; the video, on the other hand, appeared almost instantaneously. In other ergonomic news, I personally wasn’t a fan of the TX-NR515’s remote control. It’s a rather small remote that measures about 2 inches wide by 7.5 long, yet it’s crammed full of small, non-backlit buttons that are arranged in a manner I didn’t find all that intuitive. I definitely preferred the iPhone app.

In the realm of connectivity, while the TX-NR515 is loaded with HDMI ports, it isn’t ideal for someone who still has a lot of older, analog-only devices–with only one component video input and no multichannel analog audio inputs. As I mentioned earlier, this receiver lacks built-in AirPlay, which is available on comparably (and lower) priced new receivers from Denon and Yamaha. With features like direct-through-USB iPod playback, DLNA support, and MP3tunes streaming, the TX-NR515 provides ways to work around this omission. (Update: MP3tunes has filed for bankruptcy; as of late May 2012, the digital-locker system is still available, but we don’t know how much longer it will exist.)However, for someone like me who already uses several AirPlay-enabled devices around the house, a receiver with built-in AirPlay just makes for a cleaner, easier solution. When using the USB connection for iPhone playback, I could not view video sources because you have to add the official Apple Composite Video Cable. Also, the DLNA streaming function does not include support for video and photo files, only music.

Competition and Comparison
There’s certainly no shortage of mid-priced A/V receivers to compare with the Onkyo TX-NR515. We’ll direct your attention to a couple of new, similarly priced receivers: the Denon AVR-1913 ($579.99) and Yamaha RX-V573 ($549.95) are 7.1-channel receivers that add AirPlay but omit the second HDMI output. You can read more receiver reviews in our AV Receiver section.

Onkyo_TX-NR515_AV_Receiver_review_angled.jpgConclusion
The Onkyo TX-NR515 is an impressive entry in the mid-level receiver category–combining very good performance with a thorough list of features, highlighted by dual HDMI outputs, Audyssey correction tools, 4K upscaling (doesn’t mean a lot now but could prove valuable over the next few years), and a host of music streaming services. It strikes a nice balance between ease of use and setup flexibility, with a clean, helpful interface and enough advanced tools and tweaks to satisfy the more knowledgeable user. Whether you’re starting to build a mid-level system from scratch or just looking for a new receiver to suit your existing bookshelf or modest tower speakers, the Onkyo TX-NR515 is worth serious consideration.

Additional Resources
• Read more AV receiver reviews by the staff at Home Theater Review.
• Find LED HDTVs and Plasma HDTVs to connect to the Onkyo TX-NR515.
• Explore reviews in our Blu-ray Player Review section.

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