Onkyo TX-NR838 AV Receiver Page 2

I tried the same challenge with multichannel SACD music, at first also with a direct, no-subwoofer setting to fully challenge the receiver’s power amps, and the results were every bit as impressive. A familiar disc like Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 on Telarc (with Benjamin Zander conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra)—a balanced, highly lifelike production—sounded, um, balanced and highly lifelike. The TX-NR838 delivered more than enough dynamic ability to show off both the format’s high-res dynamic range and Mahler’s dramatic use of loud and soft, at full concert-hall levels with no pinching of believability.

814onk.rem.jpgStream Away
The new Onkyo’s video processing is from Marvell’s well-regarded Qdeo silicon family, so I wasn’t surprised to discover no significant artifacts or glitches as it turned standard-def DVD video, or test patterns, into 1080p HDMI. (Lacking a UHD display or source, I have nothing to say about the receiver’s 4K upscaling abilities.) To editorialize for just a moment, however, while it’s no doubt nice to know that solid video processing is there in your A/V receiver if you need it, I do wish that manufacturers would get their, uh, stuff together and decide where the processing should live. In the source component? The receiver/video switcher? The display? Sure, these video-DSP chips are comparatively cheap nowadays, but nearly all of us are paying for three or more in our systems, which surely adds up to something.

Onkyo was one of the first to endow receivers with streaming facilities, and as I’ve already alluded, the TX-NR838 is fully equipped for wired or Wi-Fi audio streaming. I used wired, as my rack includes an Ethernet switcher, but Wi-Fi worked without hassle as well, and the receiver played all of my high-res FLAC files up to 192-kilohertz/24-bit without incident. It also played most (but not all) of my DSD files coming in over Ethernet, something only a very few receivers have managed hitherto; it’s a definite plus in my ledger, as I count myself a DSD fan and am slowly building my collection.

All well and good, but while the TX-NR838’s capabilities of locating, accessing, and playing your own streaming content (via DLNA) are better than some I’ve encountered, they’re still neither outstandingly well organized nor outstandingly rapid—though this may have as much to do with the DLNA server (Mac OSX TwonkyMedia, in my case) as with the client (i.e., the Onkyo). Still, the A/V industry needs to fix this: It often seems like it’s faster to find a physical CD and play a track than to call up the song to stream from my server. Of course, the TX-NR838 proffers the usual array of subscription or ad-supported streaming audio services (including Pandora, Spotify, and SiriusXM) and the near-limitless horizons of free Internet radio via the TuneIn.com service. Like most streaming clients, the TX-NR838 doesn’t display format/bit-rate info for free Internet-radio streams, something I wish all streams would embed (some do) and all components show.

Safe Surroundings
Since surround sound is any A/V receiver’s prime reason for being, a trip through a busy, rent-busting soundtrack like the one on Skyfall seemed de rigueur. But neither this pristine DTS-HD Master Audio production nor any of the various others I listened to succeeded in uncovering any flaws in the Onkyo’s surround playback: My system sounded just as dynamic and spatially cohesive as in its normal arrangement (with separate preamp/processor and 150-watts-per-channel power amp), effortlessly delivering the pounding of the climactic battle-on-the-moor. This is not to say that the TX-NR838’s power reserves are limitless. On surround material like the Bond flick’s closing-credits music, when pushed to a point well above any I’d ever naturally demand (a good deal louder than commercial-cinema SPLs and certainly higher than reference level), I could induce the telltale transient edge of substantial clipping. But note that this was in a large room, with loudspeakers that are a decibel or two lower in sensitivity than most, and at a resulting level that was far too damned loud anyway.

The THX Select2 Plus–certified TX-NR838 does include THX’s Re-EQ feature, which I value on many if not most soundtracks (definitely so on Skyfall), as well as the Late Night compression mode that’s built into all Dolby Digital decoders. But the receiver has dropped the various “smart-dynamics” options of earlier models, including Audyssey’s Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume, and Dolby Volume—all of which I have found useful, under different conditions, for quotidian listening-viewing. Instead, there’s one equivalent here: the THX-modes-only Loudness Plus. I suppose too many consumers found all of these options confusing or used them wrongly or in the wrong circumstances, or perhaps it made no sense in 2014 dollars to keep paying license fees on multiple variants. Too bad, in my book, but I understand the choice at least from a business perspective.


From a hands-on standpoint, I had few complaints about Onkyo’s latest. It’s no phoenix of ergonomics, but the receiver is eminently usable with its somewhat cluttered but workmanlike remote control, generally sensible menu organization, and excellent onscreen quickness. The TX-NR838 incorporates Onkyo’s InstaPrevue feature that lets you call up low-frame-rate onscreen thumbnails of all active HDMI sources and select among them via cursor, which might prove useful to those with more than just one live HDMI source. (But I found it no faster, in fact, at the actual switching, and you have to call up the onscreen thumbnails through a couple of menu moves first.) There’s also built-in Bluetooth, of course (seems like everything with a battery or a power cord these days now must include this), and this year’s revised model also offers the ability to route different, high-def HDMI video programs to two rooms simultaneously, via its two HDMI outputs, another real boon to multiroomers. Onkyo makes available free Apple and Android apps on the appropriate download stores. These make operations a bit more fun and offer quicker access to many features, but they’re short on user-customizations or other more leading-edge opportunities.

None of this is exactly groundbreaking. Nor is the TX-NR838’s very fine fundamental audio and video performance, which is merely what we all count on from any new Onkyo. But the TX-NR838 does perfectly fit the Brand O philosophy in all other ways we expect: It is incrementally better than the one it replaces, richly endowed with features (several of which are thoughtfully useful) and up-to-date technologies, and fairly priced.

(800) 229-1687

dommyluc's picture

Funny, I have an Onkyo TX-NR 717, which I bought in February of 2013 and which has performed flawlessly since the initial setup, and this receiver has the vtuner digital radio app instead of TuneIn, but my receiver can display the audio format and bitrate on the front of the receiver by pressing the "DISPLAY" button on the Onkyo remote and cycling through the info.

BILLM0235's picture

With all of the updated equipment on these latest receivers, they do not appear to have USB 3.0. This subject seems to be pushed aside when USB is mentioned with no indication of which version it actually is! This seems like an oversight to me.

CW's picture

Mark, in the past year you reviewed roughly 32 products and did not give Top Picks to only 4 products. Giving 90% of your reviews a Top Pick you make the award pointless for the consumer. The only benefit is to the manufactures who often adds the badge to their website, making the product seem almost uniquely better then others. Only thing is Sound and Vision gives almost everything a Top Pick! Whats the point of a Top Pick award if 90% of products are a Top Pick? Maybe a more useful award would be Not a Top Pick. It certainly would be a rare award in Sound and Vision.

Rob Sabin's picture
Two things worth mentioning here that are not widely acknowledged: One, we generally don't bother reviewing products that look like duds to begin with, and try to put our reviewing resources into products we think have a shot at being recommendable. Two--and this is the big one--the TP designation on a product is not meant to suggest it's within the top two or three or five of that product type that you should buy and ignore everything else out there. It's more like a stamp of approval. We put the TP on a lot of things, but we don’t put the TP on anything that our reviewer does not think is highly recommendable for some segment of the buying audience.

The problem is not with us having too many products on our Top Pick list, but with lazy consumers who need to be told exactly what to buy and won't read the reviews to try to discern from the comments therein the subtleties that might make one product better suited to them than another. Speakers are voiced differently and may or may not be well suited to certain types of program material or AVRs; similarly, some amps or receivers rated at X watts per channel may have petered-out sooner with our reviewer's reference speakers or didn't deliver the same soundstaging he or she is used to hearing. Should we restrict our TP list to only those five products in a category that sounded great to our reviewer in his or her room with his or her reference gear using his or her favored source material? Or should we create a recommended list of all those things that achieve a certain high standard and allow shoppers to read the reviews and make their own decisions about what to pursue? If you want our short list, we do publish our Top Pick of the Year Awards with the turning of each new calendar year--culled from all the TPs we issued throughout the prior year. For some of these products, it's only a bit of hindsight that allows us to see how very special they are.

We do periodically cull outdated products from the active TP list we keep online; mainly anything that's no longer available for purchase because it's been replaced or dropped from a manufacturers line (think TVs and AVRs). But many products -- speakers are a prime example -- are evergreen. And there are simply too many good and impressive products out there that we touch each year to say this one or even these 10 are the only ones to consider. It’s not fair to all those other great products that were on the TP list but got cut to make room even though they're still stellar, and it’s not fair to the reader, who will dismiss considering them in favor of buying S&V's flavor of the day.

kevon27's picture

How about having top picks with bronze, silver, gold and platinum status. A $399 receiver that gets a lot of things right for its price range should get a top pick with a bronze. A $20,000 pre pro that does everything right should get a top pick rating with platinum.

mrajfura's picture

OK sure top pick is a good reference point for to pick up equipment that is considered to be qualified to do the job. How about another rating that would state best in class as individual price points. I know that most manufacturers don't want this type of rating since most people will only buy the what is rated as being number 1 and when people look to purchase products they look to your reviews and would only buy a receiver rated at number 1, but this would also push the manufacturers to build the best receivers that they can instead or always looking at the bottom line at cutting corners and saving money. This current rating system seems to be favoring more the manufacturer and not the consumer.

notabadname's picture

Great to see this review. I just bought this unit one week ago, and I am extremely pleased. Aside from its great audio performance and flexibility in the home theater, I think more should be said about HDCP 2.2. There are only a couple of makers out there with HDCP 2.2 in addition to HDMI 2.0 support. This will likely prove to be a VERY critical feature if you want to "future-proof" your Home Theater. With out HDCP 2.2, your receiver quite likely will not pass copy-protected 4K data. But many shoppers are only looking for HDMI 2.0 compliance, and missing an important piece of the puzzle. And HDCP 2.2 cannot be added with a firmware update.

For more info on HDCP 2.2, check this out:


granroth's picture

There are two aspects of UHD that require future proofing when buying a current AVR, as far as I can tell. The first is HDCP 2.2 to support the new (consumer-unfriendly) copy protection scheme. The second is the ability to support high dynamic range for color depth (ala Dolby Vision). There may not be any receiver available that can satisfy both.

The Onkyo AVRs support HDCP 2.2 but apparently at the cost of not having the bandwidth to support the increased UHD color depth. All other makers have that bandwidth and can presumably be upgraded in the future to support full UHD when it's released... but don't support HDCP 2.2, which is typically a hardware specific fix and not firmware upgradeable.

So if you're choosing an AVR now, it looks like you're facing a future where you can play all UHD content but it won't look as good as it should OR can handle the best looking UHD content, but much of it might not play at all.

notabadname's picture

Inability to play with HDCP 2.2 will literally disable the passing of a signal. You would have to bypass your AVR, otherwise there will be no picture. While a lack of the high dynamic / Dolby Vision will not result in NO image going to your Ultra HD screen. So my greatest concern is that many people do not understand that a lack of HDCP 2.2 in the future could literally lock out a great deal of (copy-protected) content from ever making it through their AVR. An inability to pass Dolby Vision data will not defeat the presentation of an Ultra HD, 60 fps, stunning image from making it to your screen. And I would expect many of the people making the switch to a receiver such as this are doing so because they have ALREADY purchased an Ultra HD screen. If that is the case, it is not a Dolby Vision capable screen anyway. I am also a skeptic of Dolby Vision's future penetration. I like its potential, but it adds up to 15% more to the bandwidth of a signal, and Cable companies are already loath to reduce compression and send high-quality 1080p signals much less Ultra HD in the future. Netflix's Ultra HD House of Cards has issues IMO when I view it, and I clearly can see compression issues in the Ultra HD image. I am not going to hold my breath for them to both reduce compression AND add Dolby Vision data to the stream. But HDCP 2.2 is a simple inevitability with the studios in a futile effort to protect their content from perfect 4K piracy. I truly feel HDCP 2.2 is a "must have" if you don't want your AVR hobbled in the future. Not so with Dolby Vision.

mrajfura's picture

OK video streaming usually sends the picture in 1080P or 4K but yes it is some what compressed, there is not enough bandwith to cover everything. Also no one mentions that they do not send the audio over in Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio never mind Dolby Digital Atmos, also audio is not sent over in 7.1 chanels as well.

mr_hifi's picture

I purchased the Onkyo TX-NR838 based on the review. Let me tell you... I am severely disappointed with this reciever. I have a TX-NR807 and this one completely blows away the 838 in its ability to make good sound! The 838 lacks adjustibiliity to make good sound and the amplifier distorts quite easily. The 838 will be quickly gone very quickly, as the 838 lacks any ability to be considered by anyone who desires a good A/V reciever.

Thank heavens, I was only looking to replace the 807 with the 838 as a back-up reciever and was not looking for this to be my main reciever(I use separates for my system).

S&V should be embarrassed to have considered the 838 as a "tip pick. The 838 does not even compare with the 807, let alone separates you are able to purchase at a reasonable price!! *Cough* Emotive xXPA-7 and UMC-200 *Cough* and *WINK*

The Onkyo TX-NR838 should not be purchased. I have quite few of Onkyo's A/V receivers and the 838 is a big dud!!

mrajfura's picture

The XPA-7 is a 7 channel amp that costs more the msrp price of the receiver and the UMC-200 is a stereo amp. So not sure why you even mention them at this price point.

artto's picture

Looking at the Onkyo TX-NR838 Advanced User Manual, on page 64 under "About Copyright Protection" it states:

This unit supports Revision 1.4 and Revision 2.2 (HDMI OUT MAIN and HDMI IN3 only) of the HDCP (High Bandwidth Content Protection).

The review appears to indicate that this is available across all HDMI inputs and outputs.