The TX-NR3030 is a high-end 11.2-channel AV receiver equipped with Dolby Atmos, the revolutionary new audio format that literally adds another dimension to movies. Its multidirectional surround sound not only places effects around you but also above you, using extra 'height' speakers dotted around the room or installed in the ceiling. With all the major studios embracing the format and Atmos soundtracks already appearing on Blu-ray releases, it’s shaping up to be a real game-changer.
The TX-NR3030 is currently the world’s only 11.2-channel receiver with Dolby Atmos, giving it the versatility to support a wide range of speaker layouts (which we’ll explain later). But of course Atmos is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s an astonishing amount of other features and cutting-edge tech crammed into this big black box, making it a powerful epicentre for all your home entertainment needs.
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Design-wise, the TX-NR3030 is nothing to write home about – AV receivers rarely are – but its 337mm-high casing is clad in a tasteful black finish (also available in silver) and fitted with a thick aluminium fascia. The clean lines and unfussy styling help it blend in with your other kit, and build quality is excellent.
The neatly organised front panel keeps clutter to a minimum – most of the buttonry is tucked under a metal flap at the bottom, where you’ll also find USB, HDMI, composite video, analogue stereo and optical digital inputs. The USB port can be used to play music from flash drives and Apple devices, while the HDMI port supports Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) for viewing 1080p video from smartphones.
With the flap shut, all you can see is a massive volume dial, power and Pure Audio buttons, plus a discreet row of keys to switch inputs. The wide display panel shows the current input and audio format in large digits.
Rear connectivity is exhaustive, as you’d expect from Onkyo’s top-of-the-range receiver. There are seven more HDMI inputs, which even the most ardent home cinema fan will have trouble filling, plus three outputs – one ARC-compatible ‘Main’ output, a ‘Sub’ output for piping signals to a second display (like a projector) and a HDMI output for Zone 2. All of the sockets are HDMI 2.0 and will support 4K/60Hz video, as well as the HDCP 2.2 copy-protection system that will be used by 4K studio releases, streams and broadcasts.
There are more component, composite, analogue stereo and digital audio inputs than you can shake a stick at, not to mention 11.4 pre-outs, balanced XLR pre-outs, VGA PC input and powered/line outputs to pipe audio to a second and third room (Zones 2 and 3).
The TX-NR3030 is also network ready, which explains the presence of an Ethernet port on the back, but pleasingly there’s also built-in Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth, which make it easy to stream music from phones, DLNA devices and online music services.
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If you’re blissfully unaware of Dolby Atmos, here are the basics. This new format takes a channel-based ‘audio bed’ – in other words the usual 5.1 or 7.1 speaker arrangement – and combines it with ‘object oriented’ sounds played through additional 'height' speakers. These sound objects can be localised and panned around, giving the impression of a three-dimensional overhead space.
Depending on how many channels your receiver supports, you can add one or two pairs of height speakers (Height 1 and Height 2) – the TX-NR3030’s eleven channels are more than enough to support both pairs.
Dolby Atmos brings with it a whole new set of jargon, relating to the number of channels in the system. A 5.1 system with one pair of height speakers is called 5.1.2 (see diagram above), while a 7.1 speaker system with two pairs of height channels is called 7.1.4 (below), and so forth.
With the TX-NR3030 you can achieve 7.1.4, which comprises Front, Surround, Surround Back, Front Wide, Centre, Height 1 and Height 2 speakers, or 9.1.2, which only uses one height channel but throws Front Wide channels into the mix.
Obviously you’ll need to invest in extra speakers to enjoy Dolby Atmos, and there are a number of routes you can take here. The most effective approach is to install speakers in the ceiling, which gives you the most realistic sense of overhead surround. Of course that’s not practical or affordable for everyone, in which case you could mount regular speakers on the wall at the front and back of the room.
If both wall and ceiling mounting are out of the question, then Dolby Enabled Speakers provide the most convenient and cost effective solution. These come in two forms – one is a regular speaker with the Atmos speaker drivers built in, which creates the Height effect by firing sounds upwards and echoing them off the ceiling.
The other type are ‘add-on’ speakers can be placed on top of your existing speakers and fire Atmos effects off the ceiling. Onkyo has launched its own set of these (SKH-410, £129 a pair) and sent us two pairs with the TX-NR3030. KEF has also announced its R50 reference speakers, which sell for £600 a pair.
As is Onkyo’s wont, the TX-NR3030 is absolutely rammed with other features. First up, its audio credentials can’t be questioned. THX Select 2 Plus certification means the Onkyo satisfies the home cinema standards set out by THX’s audio boffins – primarily relating to its high-volume performance in rooms where the seating position is three to four metres from the screen.
Power-wise Onkyo claims 185W per channel (into 6Ω) courtesy of Onkyo’s Wide Range Amplifier Technology (WRAT). Seven premium 192kHz.32-bit TI Burr Brown DACs and two 32-bit DSP engines handle digital decoding.
High-resolution audio fans are well served with support for WMA Lossless, FLAC, Apple Lossless, DSD and LPCM, plus MP3, WMA, Ogg Vorbis and AAC – all of which can be played via DLNA or USB. The Onkyo can also stream music from Spotify and Deezer, and internet radio via AUPEO! and TuneIn radio.
On the visual side, there are extensive video switching/conversion capabilities, while Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) video calibration allows the picture to be optimised to professional standards for bright and low-light conditions. Marvell’s Qdeo processor upscales images to 4K.
There’s a wealth of sound modes too, including DTS Neo:X, which upmixes 5.1 soundtracks to 11.1, plus a range of THX settings and four Gaming modes (Rock, Sports, Action and RPG). PM Bass gives low frequencies a leg-up.
The TX-NR3030 is incredibly complex on paper but in practise it’s surprisingly friendly. The use of simple, attractive onscreen menus really helps its cause – hit Home on the remote and a row of icons appears, allowing you to access the setup menu, network features or explore a connected USB device.
The network menu is simple but effective, with logos for the various music services and DLNA servers floating over a black background. Once you start looking for content, the Onkyo’s logical sequencing and quick response times make it a breeze.
The thorough setup menu is broken down into sensible categories. You can tweak speaker performance to the nth degree, including level, distance and bass management settings for each channel, and tell it how many height speakers you have connected (if any). Audio perfectionists will be in seventh heaven.
But if you don’t have the patience, the built-in AccuEQ auto calibration system will optimise the sound for you. Rig up the supplied microphone to the front panel and the Onkyo plays a series of test tones, which it measures and then makes the appropriate adjustments. It’s useful, but not as sophisticated or thorough as the ARC software used by Anthem’s MRX 310, and we had to correct some of the speaker distances in the setup menu afterwards.
You control the TX-NR3030 using a large, gloss-black remote, which is thoughtfully laid out. The central direction pad and related buttons bring an intuitive feel to menu navigation, while the bank of backlit input buttons at the top makes it easy to jump straight to the source you want.
A free control app for iPhone/iPod touch and Android devices allows you to control the TX-NR3030 and orchestrate multiroom audio playback – including a cool Whole House Mode.
After rigging up a 7.1-channel Monitor Audio Radius speaker system to the TX-NR3030, we placed one pair of Onkyo’s SKH-410 on top of the front floorstanders and another on top of the surround back speakers to create a 7.1.4 setup.
When placed flat on their backs, Onkyo’s Dolby Atmos Enabled speakers are angled forward – this allows the 8cm full-range driver to shoot object-based effects towards the ceiling (you can wall mount them if you prefer). Their wooden cabinets are fairly robust but the exposed woodchip and springclip terminals on the back betray their low price tag.
After running the AccuEQ system and making a few tweaks, we let fly with Transformers: Age of Extinction on Blu-ray – the very first release with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack – and were blown away by the Onkyo’s powerful, enveloping sound.
From the very first scenes you can hear the Atmos difference. As the alien ships exterminate the dinosaurs, echoes and engine noises emanate from the height speakers, placing you down among the stampede more effectively than a regular 7.1 system. When Darcy arrives at the Arctic mine and walks through a huge cavernous room, you can hear the echoes and dripping water up high.
Later, as Galvatron pursues the Autobots along the freeway, the hissing missiles and streams of transforming metal zip energetically across the soundstage with a lovely sense of vertical headroom. But planes and helicopters are Atmos’ real bread and butter. When they fly overhead the Onkyo passes them purposefully between height speakers with a smooth, arching movement. Separation, steering and placement are excellent.
It’s a thrilling spectacle, but there are drawbacks. Onkyo’s speakers sound boxed-in and lack detail, particularly when juxtaposed with our super-detailed Monitor Audios. It makes us wonder how much more immersive Atmos could be with more expressive speakers firing out the height effects.
And obviously by going down the Dolby Enabled Speaker route you don’t get the true overhead placement and precision of in-ceiling speakers, which is really what Atmos was designed for. As a result, this system – which relies on ceiling reflections to transmit effects to your ears – probably isn’t as lofty as the sound mixers intended. None of this is a fault of the TX-NR3030 though, just something to remember when choosing which type of Atmos speakers to go for.
Also remember that Atmos is merely the icing on the cake – the Onkyo’s true brilliance lies in its immensely powerful, articulate and detailed sound, orchestrating Transformers’ insane finale with stunning vigour and dexterity. As Prime and Lockdown do battle, the explosions and clattering metal sound aggressive without making you wince, and everything is underpinned by tight, muscular bass.
This is an unashamedly home cinema-focused receiver, designed for maximum movie thrills. It can play long and loud without flagging or distorting, and conveys scale in its sleep. There’s lots of detail too, right down to the unmistakeable husk of Kelsey Grammer’s voice.
Despite its cinema-centric DNA, the TX-NR3030 also turns in a terrific two-channel music performance. Our hi-res FLAC version of All Will Surely Burn by Sons of Kemet sounds punchy and well-balanced, with the Onkyo drawing out detail in the percussion that we don’t hear on lesser systems. The clear, full-bodied midrange makes the track’s frantic sax solos sound lively and invigorating without hurting your eardrums.
If you have two and a half grand burning a hole in your pocket, we can’t think of many better ways of spending it than on the TX-NR3030. It’s an astonishing AV receiver that’s absolutely bursting with features – chief among which is Dolby Atmos support, which brings an exciting new dimension to home cinema.
Even through Dolby Enabled Speakers – the easiest and cheapest way to experience the format – the extra sense of immersion and vertical expansion is palpable, although dedicated home cinema fans should consider installing in-ceiling (or high wall-mounted) speakers to get the most out of it.
But there’s so much more to the TX-NR3030’s sound than Atmos – it’s a true powerhouse, delivering huge, thumping home cinema sonics with loads of detail and an exciting character that easily gets your adrenalin flowing. It’s also teeming with connections, packed with cutting-edge AV tech and boasts build quality to die for, all of which makes it a no-brainer, whether you’re bothered about Atmos or not.
An outstanding Dolby Atmos-equipped AV receiver that justifies its price with a killer feature list and enthralling sound quality.
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