Awhile 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.
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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.
Setup & 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.
Speaking 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.
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.