Test Report: Onkyo TX-NR727 A/V Receiver Page 2

Performance

For years now Onkyo’s receivers, like those of most upper-echelon makers, have reliably delivered good-performing amplification, and the TX-NR727 is no exception. On  full-range stereo listening with just my moderate-sensitivity two-way monitors, it delivered impressively clean, well-detailed sound and all the loudness I might reasonably ask, with no hint of strain or clouding. A good example was “Dance of the Tumblers,” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s ballet The Snow Maiden, a familiar chestnut that nonetheless sparkled fresh via an HDTracks.com 96/24 FLAC download. This brilliant recording features finger-cymbals, triangle, and various percussion, all of which reproduced with the snappy-but-silky clarity I mostly hear only from well-delivered hi-rez audio.

Still more dramatic musical results came with the TX-NR727’s Music-DSX mode, which “up-mixed” (in my system) to 7.1 channels with spatial and tonal targets tailored for music. This upped the ante demonstrably: On the movement’s “stops” you could clearly hear higher-pitched reverberation components emerging from a virtual proscenium, and rolling through the elevated width of a concert hall.

DSX had an impact on movie surround, too: given a 7.1-channel treatment, big-action sequences sounded dramatically bigger, yet “spatially smoother.” For one example, the fast-panning race sequences from the Cars Blu-ray never sounded better in my setup. (I eschewed the 9.1 thing because my room really doesn’t require surround-back speakers.) The Onkyo had power to spare for my large-ish studio, and sounded impressively clean and controlled on everything I threw at it, right up to THX-reference level (obligingly marked on the TX-NR727’s pop-up onscreen display), and well beyond.

These qualities remained almost as welcome on a distinctly “small-sound” production: Not Fade Away, the maiden theatrical film effort from The Sopranos-creator David Chase (indeed, the New Jersey-set movie is a sort of inverse-Sopranos). The film’s DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is meticulously made, with dozens of classic-‘60’s snippets in both original and cover versions, lovingly produced or re-mastered by Little Steven Van Zandt, who knows a thing or two about Jersey bands. The TX-NR727 delivered all the room-sound variations of the different band gig scenes with real precision, and also effectively put me into a couple of in-the-round rehearsal sequences. (Dolby PLIIz is on board the TX-NR727 as well, though of course you can activate only one mode at a time.) 

Like many new receivers, Onkyo’s latest upconverts analog and digital video up to 4K “UltraHD”  over HDMI. I have nothing to say about the 4K thing, of course, lacking a suitable display, or any 4K program material. But a quick tour through S&V’s usual standard- and high-def test patterns and sequences revealed no obvious flaws — unsurprising, since Onkyo lists its video-processing engine as Marvell’s Qdeo, an established performer. Nevertheless, HD video is usually best left unprocessed, of course — something that Onkyo, to its credit, points out in its voluminous, comprehensive manual. (Virtually voluminous, that is, since it’s only supplied on a CD.)

Ergonomics

The human-factors score of any A/V receiver rests mostly with its primary interface, the supplied remote controller. Here, the Onkyo gets a middle-of-the-road grade. Essentially a downsized version of the handset Onkyo has shipped with its higher-end models for a couple of years now, the TX-NR727’s remote is unadventurous but perfectly effective, with 9-component pre-programmed control (no learning), and the type of layout where command-set selection doubles onto the input-select keys.

The biggest drawback of this design — again, common to most A/V receivers — is that after changing inputs you must remember to press the Receiver key before issuing a TX-NR727 command, otherwise you will get no response, or a wholly unintended one from the source component. The remote is sensibly laid out, but otherwise a bit crowded,  and its small key lettering, tight spacing, and lack of illumination don’t help dark-theater usability much. Still, I found it perfectly serviceable.

The free OnkyoRemote2 iOS app (there’s an Android version too) provides another useful option, though the controls are not terribly “deep,” and I wasn’t crazy about having to perform a vertical “swipe” every time I wanted the master-volume control. Further, I found at least one aggravating bug: When using the app on my iPhone5 to stream network audio via DLNA, some tracks would play, but others wouldn’t, even though they would show track info on the phone. And the same tracks that refused to commence played fine when commanded using the supplied remote controller via onscreen navigation.  I have no idea why this was happening — it wasn’t a file-type issue or anything else I could think of. Surprisingly, there’s also no search function on the app. Hey Onkyo: Time for OnkyoRemote3!

The onscreen menus are reasonably quick to appear and exit, though the TX-NR727 is noticeably slower in this respect than some recent top-end Onkyo models I’ve experienced. The same was true of its streaming of networked content via DLNA, which was characterized by slow track-skips and navigation commands. (Surround/listening mode switching also was sometimes surprisingly slow.) The Onkyo lacks any music-file search functions besides basic alphabetic album/track/artist, using a laborious onscreen keyboard — ugh!

On the plus side, the TX-NR727’s includes the free TuneIn Net-radio with its deep listings, and nearly a dozen pay/subscription stream-access points including Pandora, Spotify, Sirius, and Rhapsody. More to the point, the Onkyo sounded great when streaming my own content, especially FLAC files in resolutions up to 192K, which were delivered with full fidelity and no hiccups. 

I feel compelled to touch on a few of the TX-NR727’s myriad remaining features. The receiver’s onboard Wi-Fi worked faultlessly when I switched from my usual wired-Ethernet setup for audio streaming over my home network. It also has a feature called “Insta-Prevue,” accessed from the Home menu, that shows live video thumbnails of any active HDMI inputs and lets you choose among them and switch to full-screen with the remote’s nav+Enter pad. Pretty cool, but it’s a 4-click process (plus a slight pause for the Home screen to refresh), and no faster than signal-switching via the regular input-select keys.

Then there’s Bluetooth. It works, and I have to admit that, at least from my iPhone5, latest-generation BT audio streaming definitely sounds distinctly better than some earlier versions I’ve tried. However, there’s no direct-access input-select key for Bluetooth; you have to select it by way of the setup menu’s input-list, a 4-click journey.

Using a wired iPod/iPhone requires an optional dock (which I lacked), though you can play music files from a generic USB storage device via the front-panel port. For the latter, the navigation and search options are the same as for streaming.

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