Spotify will be most people’s feature highlight given the growing popularity of this music streaming service, which puts something like 10 million songs at your disposal. It’s available with one press of a button and the interface is neatly integrated into the onscreen menu system. Music is organised into categories like What’s New and Starred, plus you can access playlists and view cover art. Integrating this feature into an AV receiver is an idea so brilliant that it’s a surprise that no-one’s done it before.
It’s joined in the network menu by a bunch of internet radio services including vTuner, Napster and Last.fm, plus the DLNA and Windows 7-certified NR609 allows you to stream your MP3, WMA, FLAC, WAV, Ogg Vorbis, AAC and LPCM files.
The other big news is that this is the world’s first AV receiver to offer video upscaling to 3840 x 2160 (4K) resolution, courtesy of the built-in Marvell Qdeo chipset. Of course, that’s of no use to your current hi-def telly but with 4K sets on their way – including Toshiba’s glasses free TV, which they reckon will be out ‘in the next 12 months’ – it could have some practical use in the not-too-distant future, although we’d be curious to see how good a DVD picture upscaled to that sort of resolution can actually look. For now, it’ll also upscale SD video to the usual 720p, 1080i and 1080p resolutions.
Elsewhere the NR609’s THX Select2 Plus badge means it’s optimised for medium-sized rooms (up to 2,000 cubic feet) with a viewing distance of 10-12 feet or more from the screen. The amplifier musters a meaty 7 x 160W of power and the presence of two subwoofer pre-outs means bass junkies can hook up two subs for extra low-end firepower. There’s also a superb array of sound modes on board, spearheaded by a choice of two ‘vertical’ surround technologies, Audyssey DSX and Dolby Pro Logic IIz. The former offers a choice of extra front height or front width channels, whereas the latter only provides front height. We’re not sure you need two modes that do essentially the same job, but the presence of both is another illustration of how far Onkyo pushes the boat out when it comes to features.
Alongside this fancy processing tech is a wide range of Onkyo’s own modes courtesy of the advanced 32-bit DSP chip, including four specifically designed for gaming, plus the Theater-Dimensional mode offers virtual surround and an Advanced Music Optimizer spruces up compressed audio.
When it comes to setup, the TX-NR609 is surprisingly straightforward, a far cry from the complex, impenetrable machines of yesteryear. Key to its success is the excellent onscreen menu, which uses a similar layout and colour scheme as the SR608 but with updated fonts that lend a little extra clarity to menus. It’s responsive too, and we had absolutely no trouble hooking up to a network and using the various web radio features.
Getting the sound just right is also a cinch thanks to the automated Audyssey 2EQ setup mode. It uses the supplied mic and test tones to ensure the correct settings for your speakers, plus it makes adjustments to counter any problems with acoustics. And when activated, Audyssey’s Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume constantly tweak the sound to maintain the correct volume and dynamic range.
The remote is the same as the TX-SR608’s, which isn’t a bad thing. A few keys are a little small for comfort but the essential controls are easy to locate and everything is clearly labelled. It’s also styled in a fetching gloss-black finish, which always looks good on the coffee table.