Onkyo TX-NR828 A/V Receiver Page 2
The institutional Onkyo sound is lean, with good bass, little warmth but lots of detail in the midrange, and a prominent top end that gets better as the price point rises. This particular receiver required a setting of about two-thirds of its volume control’s gain range for movies to reach cruising speed in my room with my speakers—though invoking Audyssey Dynamic Volume/EQ once in a while eased the need for juice and improved clarity without having to crank things. Overall I liked it better for movies than for music, when its emphatic treble became fatiguing.
Not for the first time, I relied on Marvel’s The Avengers (with Robert Downey Jr., et al.) for a high-decibel bombardment. MultEQ's sculpting of the bass was faultless. This was no twee overequalized bass. It was ripe and full, yet also disciplined and clean, a beautifully satisfying approach to action-effects lows. The Audyssey room correction also made dialogue leap into pinpoint-precise focus, something that was immediately apparent without A/B-ing, but even more astonishing when I switched it in and out. It enabled me to hear more of just about every soundtrack element. The only element that made me uncomfortable—in a portent of the music demos to come—was the treatment of the score. Its strings and brass were too hot, bordering on strident.
The eloquent bass and revealing treble made the theme music of Breaking Bad—that brooding slide guitar underpinned with threatening bass—practically bound out of the speakers, leaving me receptive to the epic contemplation of evil that followed. The fifth season hinges even more than previous ones on tense low-level dialogue offset by loud musical interludes and punctuated by the occasional act of violence. The receiver handled these dynamic contrasts reasonably well. In the scene where Walt and Walt Jr. gleefully try out car after car, the room-corrected automotive buzz was stimulating (not my usual reaction to motorized noise).
In Deadfall—cops chase casino robbers through the snow—the Onkyo exhibited a large and detailed soundfield whose size and focus were boosted by MultEQ. Aggressive effects came off well. While my comfort level with this receiver was not uniformly high, it did fine with this selection. An extended car wreck was easy listening and a snowmobile chase through a forest was full of exciting vroooom and zzzhhhhh.
Hits and Misses
The Onkyo’s treble emphasis made music a hit-or-miss proposition. One of its few hits was Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief, the 1969 album that marked the invention of British folk-rock. The U.S. vinyl version is representative of the album’s sound, a rolled-off approach intended as an homage to The Band’s Music from Big Pink. With most equipment, the murkier parts are in danger of turning to mud. The TX-NR828 made the rhythm section tight and punchy, with Ashley Hutchings’s bass getting a full, warm, rounded, yet disciplined treatment and Dave Mattacks’s drums getting plenty of impact. Lead singer Sandy Denny sailed serenely over the mix, as usual. But where the Onkyo excelled was with what came in between. The album’s usually reticent upper midrange was clear and communicative, giving male backing vocals and the joint guitar magic of Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol the prominence they deserved. I’ve rarely heard this landmark album delivered with such attention to detail.
I don’t need much inducement to listen to the Beatles. Rubber Soul and Revolver presented the receiver in a more critical light. The first-gen CD releases, featuring George Martin’s autumn-years remix, are reputed to be bright, but I’ve known them to sound good on at least half the equipment I’ve used since buying them in the late 1980s. With this receiver, in any two-channel mode—stereo 2.1 or pure 2.0, with the Audyssey MultEQ room correction’s music mode on or off—comfort was elusive. Room correction did bring some elements into better focus. “Norwegian Wood” was a perfect example. With MultEQ, Lennon’s voice in the left channel was thinner but more precisely imaged, and it even jumped forward a few inches. The sitar in the right channel benefited even more, taking on far richer metallic tone color and overtones. But most of the time, room correction simply reduced overall comfort from low to lower. Tracks with a slightly more mellow mix (“Think for Yourself”) were more palatable than the norm, while those with a toppy mix (“The Word”) were impossible to listen to without irritation and fatigue.
Carlos Kleiber—possibly the best Beethoven interpreter ever, though he never recorded a full symphony cycle—conducted the Bavarian State Orchestra in a live performance of the Fourth Symphony. Unlike the Fairport LP, this CD doesn’t require unusual treatment to sound its best, and unlike the two Beatles CDs, it sounds acceptable with most equipment. Here the Onkyo offered a schematic but musically reliable performance. Adding MultEQ again thinned out the sound but also brought individual sections of the orchestra into higher relief. The room-corrected version played best at low to moderate volumes.
The Onkyo TX-NR828 offers several significant attractions. The Wi-Fi/Bluetooth combination will attract a lot of contemporary listeners. The extra amp channels, and all the expanded playback possibilities they suggest, might attract a few more. THX’s performance requirements are always a plus, as is the inclusion of Audyssey room correction. The amplifier’s good bass and strong top end, combined with the room correction, were quite suitable for movies, with or without the use of Audyssey’s excellent low-volume modes. But with music, the receiver’s characteristic sizzle was too domineering to support turn-it-up listening. This receiver will best serve systems with mushy speakers and listeners starved for detail. But for a relaxing musical experience, and for more revealing speakers, most other major brands do better at this price point.