Most people have music stored in a variety of places – smartphones, NAS drives, iPods, CDs, vinyl – and there’s a big market for versatile audio systems that can pull them all together.
Onkyo’s TX-8150 is one such system. It’s a network stereo receiver equipped with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay, Spotify, Deezer and web/DAB/FM radio, plus a wealth of sockets on the rear for all your external gear, including CD decks, turntables and even TVs.
The TX-8150’s old-school design will appeal to hi-fi traditionalists, but it’s nothing to write home about. The rectangular box is covered in big knobs and buttons; it could do with a few curves and shiny bits to liven it up. Still, both the black and silver incarnations are perfectly tasteful and build quality is solid.
The faceplate sports a brushed finish and a wide dot-matrix display that imparts information clearly, without having to resort to confusing abbreviations. Song titles, volume levels, inputs, Wi-Fi passwords – the Onkyo never leaves you in the dark about what it’s doing.
Four knobs along the bottom let you switch inputs and tweak the bass, treble and balance. The ability to manually tweak the tone controls gives the product a hands-on feel. More buttons are secreted along the ridges of the display, alongside a massive volume dial that turns with a satisfyingly smooth action. A further four "BGM" preset buttons provide instant access to favourite radio stations.
A USB port and 6.3mm headphone jack are the only front-mounted sockets, while the back boasts a healthy array of connections. There are six sets of analogue stereo inputs and a grounded phono input, four digital inputs (two optical, two coaxial), analogue line output and a subwoofer pre-out.
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They’re joined by an Ethernet port, IR in/out for custom-install use, a remote-control jack for compatible Onkyo RI products and DAB/FM aerial screw terminal. Onkyo supplies two sets of banana plug-compatible speaker terminals labelled A and B, which are handy if you want to play music in another room.
The TX-8150 offers a generous feature list for the money. Most impressive is the range of streaming functionality, which allows you to play tracks from NAS drives and PCs via the wonders of DLNA, or stream music directly from devices via Spotify Connect, AirPlay or Bluetooth.
Deezer and Spotify subscribers can access the service through the Onkyo, putting a virtually endless supply of music at your disposal, while TuneIn access will keep internet radio fans happy. DAB, DAB+ and FM tuners provide terrestrial alternatives with 40 station presets.
In terms of spec, the TX-8150’s discrete amplifier design musters 135W per channel, while a 384kHz/32-bit DAC allows you to play hi-res music files.
The Onkyo plays 192kHz/24-bit FLAC, WAV, ALAC and DSD 5.6MHz over a wired Ethernet connection, but Wi-Fi streaming is limited to 88.2kHz/24-bit. Naturally, you can play your lossy MP3, WMA and AAC files too.
The TX-8150’s impressive handset makes operation a cinch. Its long and slender shape fits comfortably in the palm, and the sensible button layout lets you perform key operations by intuition.
For example, the centrally placed direction pad falls directly under the thumb, with volume and playback keys close by. Each input receives its own button at the top, and other key features are easy to find. Throw in the retro silver/black colour scheme and you have one very likeable zapper.
Setup is hassle-free thanks to the clear, legible front-panel display. Onkyo makes the most of the limited space by keeping the menu structure clear, despite having only two lines to play with.
Head to the Network setup menu and you can connect to your internet router. Entering your password involves moving along the alphabet at the bottom of the screen, which is a tad long-winded but easier than I expected.
The unit responds instantly to remote commands and searches through large music libraries and radio station lists. You can jump from page to page rapidly using the left and right keys, or use the up/down buttons to move one by one.
The only problem I had while using the TX-8150 concerns its Wi-Fi connection. The connection with my NAS drive would suddenly drop out and it wouldn’t recognise any songs, despite being located just yards from the router. Momentary drop-outs were also a common occurrence, something I don’t experience with my other streamers. My advice would be to use a wired Ethernet connection where possible.
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Of course, a good spec and abundant features count for nothing if sound quality isn’t up to scratch. Thankfully, the TX-8150 has that side sewn up. This comes as no surprise given the excellent performance we heard from last year’s budget A-9010, but at this higher price Onkyo kicks things up a notch.
Starting with the satin soul of "Green Aphrodisiac" by Corinne Bailey Rae, the Onkyo handles the track in a clean and engaging manner; the clarity and openness is astonishing. The song kicks off with a Rhodes keyboard part that sounds warm and sumptuous, and when Rae’s delicate voice arrives, it’s clear and detailed.
When the bass-driven chorus comes in, the arrangement grows in complexity, but the Onkyo maintains a sense of space and separation between instruments – without shifting focus from Rae’s elegant voice.
It handles the drums in "Evolution" by Shola Adisa-Farrar and Florian Pellissier Quintet with power and agility, fusing them tightly with the rich piano chords. The shuffling hi-hats and intermittent flute licks have an airy quality.
This organisation and transparency is typical of the Onkyo’s performance overall. It’s a highly enjoyable presentation; crisp, full-bodied and rhythmically agile.
High-resolution FLAC and DSD files obviously show off the TX-8150 at its best – the Onkyo does an exemplary job of bringing to light the extra polish and texture afforded by those higher sample rates.
But its true talent is its ability to make anything you play sound great, be it CD, USB stick or Bluetooth. At lower resolutions, the Onkyo retains an impressive sense of clarity, dynamism and sonic candour, making this a solid proposition for casual listeners and audiophiles alike.
It isn't a small sound either; there’s plenty of juice in the tank when it matters. Big energetic tunes have plenty of punch and scale, with tightly controlled bass and decent attack.
Case in point: "Working Day and Night" by Michael Jackson. This infectious toe-tapper is invigorated by biting snare slaps and precise, polished brass lines that cut through the busy disco arrangement. If you want to give it some welly, no problem – the Onkyo handles loud volumes effortlessly, without any sign of hardness or flab.
In fact, there aren’t any glaring flaws in the Onkyo’s performance – it’s just a talented, versatile amp that will make your music shine.
The TX-8150’s lengthy feature list, easy operation and stunning sound quality make it a superb proposition at this price. The pedestrian design and wobbly Wi-Fi streaming take the shine off slightly, but there’s no arguing with the Onkyo’s polished, engaging musical performance.
Onkyo’s versatile network receiver will bring a smile to your face with its sweet sonic performance and generous functionality.