The “lifestyle” micro system category really came into its own with the arrival of the Denon DM30 in 2000. Since then, this has been a hotly contested area with various companies challenging the DM30 and its successors to be the system of choice. Over time, the feature count of these little boxes has crept ever upwards. First we saw DAB being added, and then iPod connectivity, USB sockets and other niceties have been added over time.
This development and feature race leads us to 2012 and the Onkyo CR-N755. Someone who’d gone into hiding shortly after the DM30 had been released would recognise the form factor and design intent. That is where the similarities end though. The micro of 2012 is an altogether more sophisticated beast.
The Onkyo is an all-in-one system built into the now traditional form factor of a system of this type. The chassis is 215mm wide, 91mm high and 331mm deep - roughly the accepted dimensions of the genre. This contains a CD player, FM/AM tuner and a 22 Watt amplifier, which are the accepted “core functions” of a system of this type.
From here, things become a little more interesting. The CR-N755 in addition to the “normal” features, is fitted with front and rear USB inputs that support flash drives and in the case of the front connection, iPod and iPhone playback and control. Not content with this, Onkyo has then fitted 24/96kHz capable digital inputs, one optical and one coaxial. Then to really smother the cake in icing, the CR-N755 is fully network capable. An Ethernet socket on the rear panel allows the CR-N755 to access UPnP servers on a network and then scour the Internet for radio services.
This is where the abilities of the CR-N755 start to look a whole lot more impressive. The Onkyo is effectively a fully fledged 96kHz capable media client with built in amplification. If you are already using a UPnP server for music in one room, the Onkyo can be parked on the network in another room and used there. What it won’t do (or at least I couldn’t persuade it to do) was to access a UPnP server directly over Ethernet. So long as a router is in the network, there are no problems but you can’t simply have the unit read a NAS or computer, or at least nothing I had to hand could be read.
There are advantages to having that router present though. For one, this activates the vTuner Internet radio function. I’m a big fan of Internet radio and the vTuner service is pretty much the best of the bunch. It has a truly biblical selection of stations and is easy to search by nation, language or genre. All of the usual UK suspects are present and correct and quality is generally the easy equal of DAB’s rather clapped out MPEG2 compression system. Like the UPnP features it does rather mean that the Onkyo needs to be on a network to really deliver the goods. If you weren’t already incentivised enough to do this though, the CR-N755 has one final party trick.
Once you have the unit connected to the Internet, and provided that you have a premium subscription, the Onkyo can directly access music on demand services, namely Spotify, LastFM and Aupeo. This means that there is no need to have a computer or smartphone running, to access these services and neither do you need any form of additional hardware bolted to the unit. Spotify implementation in particular is a tricky task and still relatively uncommon so the Onkyo has a feature that allows it to go toe-to-toe with Sonos and Logitech while at the same time offering features that they have no response to.
Control of functionality like this is tricky from a front panel so the CR-N755 can be driven via the (free) Onkyo control app for iPhone and Android. This makes day to day use a great deal easier and allows you additionally to zoom around the Internet radio stations and adjust volume levels. The original Onkyo Spotify integration was rather hobbled by being dependent on the remote and it is impressive how far things have come on in little more than eighteen months since I played about with the first version.
This shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of the remote - by the standards of the genre, it is a well thought out and easy to use bit of kit that has a very handsome design aesthetic. Onkyo has simply recognised that with web control comes limitations to control via normal IR remotes and these “trick” features of the unit are best accessed via the app.
The only mild criticism I can level at all this network cleverness is that out of the box, the CR-N755 is not a wireless capable product. As supplied, the only way to get it onto a network is via Ethernet. Onkyo state that this connection is wireless capable but you will need to supply your own hardware to do this. Onkyo makes the UWF-1 USB wireless adaptor for putting their AV receivers on to a network wirelessly and it transpires that this will work with the CR-N755 but it is an optional extra rather than supplied in the box.
Internally, the Onkyo is fitted with an amp rated at 22W into four ohms at a bearable 0.4% - while manufacturers generally give power outputs a >0.1% THD for more expensive items, this genre of products does seem open to a fair bit of abuse. One product from another manufacturer claimed 30W from their product but only at 10% THD. If you don’t know one end of a harmonic distortion measurement from the other, trust me when I say, you’d hear 10%! The amp is a shrunken version of the discrete circuit that is used in larger Onkyo products and has a phase matching bass boost system that is designed to augment the low end performance without the bloat and boom that can accompany doing so.
Onkyo lists the DAC of the CR-N755 as a 24/192kHz capable design although the unit itself tops out at 96kHz. This section more so than anything else on the unit, has apparently been through a process of tuning for European ears before release. Given that the last two Onkyo stereo amps I’ve reviewed have had fairly extensive digital input circuitry, it seems to be an area that the company is trying to make a name for getting spot on.
As well as the digital inputs, the Onkyo has a pair of RCA phono line inputs and a 3.5mm auxiliary input. There is a matching RCA phono line output and a subwoofer output for connecting sub-sat packages. No mention of an internal crossover frequency is made so work on the principle that the crossover should be set on the sub. The CR-N755 is the head unit of a package that is referred to as the CS-N755 when paired with matching Onkyo speakers. These weren’t supplied for review and I was left to choose my own for reviewing.
The build of the unit seems very good. The chassis is all metal which helps the Onyo feel solid and pretty sturdy for a relatively small unit. The controls are well weighted and feel like they will last a while and the display is clear and easy to read. One minor but still annoying problem is that on the black review sample, the legends on the front panel are extremely hard to read in anything other than direct sunlight. Given the unit will largely be controlled from the remote or smartphone, this is not the problem it could be but I still wish that Onkyo might choose white lettering rather than something not far removed from battleship grey. Much better are the speaker terminals which are solid affairs that accept both bare wire and banana plugs. As previously mentioned, the remote is equally sturdy and well laid out and the overall effect is that the Onkyo feels worth the asking price.
The Onkyo was parked on my home network via a single Ethernet connection. I used my Lenovo laptop as a server connected to the router wirelessly. I used my iPhone 4 both for control and as a source connected to the Onkyo’s front USB socket and via a Cambridge Audio iD100 iPod dock to test the digital inputs. A Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100 was used as a comparison point to the Onkyo’s digital decoding and for line input testing. I used CD’s and a variety of compression types over USB including FLAC, AAC and MP3. I am a Spotify premium member so used that to test the music on demand services.
Initially, I borrowed a pair of Mordaunt Short Mezzo 1’s from my AV system to partner the Onkyo but I also used a pair of My Audio Design 1920i’s and eventually moved to a pair of Audio Note AN-K’s for extended listening as I am entirely familiar with the behaviour of these speakers. I didn’t test the subwoofer output as all the speakers I used were to a greater or lesser extent full range.
Beginning with CD, the Onkyo showed pretty quickly that there is much to like about this little system. Fink’s Perfect Darkness is full of emotion and has a genuinely likeable tonality that sounds rich and believable without being overblown or forced. Voices sound real and have a detail that allows for the suspension of disbelief that you are listening to a recording and allows you to relax and enjoy the music.
Another area that quickly becomes apparent is that the Onkyo has an impressively large soundstage. The speaker positions in the listening room are marked with tape and fixed in width (the distance from the wall differs depending on the speaker). The CR-N755 managed to sound extremely big and spacious with a wide variety of music. There seems to be a considerable spread of energy from left to right which gives larger scale music in particular, an impressive presence considering that the amount of power involved is fairly low.
This does seem to be a conscious aspect of the design of the unit. Indeed, a fair bit of attention has gone into making the Onkyo sound bigger than it is. If you walk into a room and the Onkyo is playing in a reasonable stereo setup, you won’t automatically assume that the source playing is not a full size separate. The bass boost does seem to help the low end response without sounding forced although there is no real substitute for speakers that have a bit of low end extension in the first place.
The Onkyo will go reasonably loud but the volume control is slightly deceptive. Firstly it goes up to a curiously arbitrary 41. The second is that after about 28/29 on the dial, the sound hardens noticeably and the result is far less pleasant to listen to. This point on the volume dial is probably going to be loud enough for most situations but will depend on the speakers that you use.
In this regard, the news is pretty good. The CR-N755 got on well with the Mordaunt Short Mezzo 1's which are the sort of price that might be selected by any would be customer. The results were sufficiently encouraging that I switched to a pair of my Audio Design 1920’s which are considerably more expensive and very revealing. The performance was still extremely good and prompted me to change over to my pair of Audio Note AN-K’s. These are easy to drive (they are designed for valve amps) but will show up problems in the rest of the chain very easily.
All through this, the Onkyo proved a very happy partner to the various speakers. It is quiet and well mannered enough to work with anything that is a reasonably easy electrical load so if you had a pair of older speakers sitting around, provided they don’t have any very nasty habits, you might be surprised what the Onkyo can achieve with them.
Switching to FLAC files from a server showed very similar behaviour to CD’s. The CR-N755 is an open, natural and engaging performer that manages to get to the core of the music. I didn’t find any performance difference between FLAC and playing the same file from CD which is how things should be. The control interface is good and the Onkyo is easy to control via the app.
Spotify performance was also impressive. In a situation such as a study or kitchen, the differences between the Ogg encoding that Spotify uses and lossless FLAC is not going to be night and day and the performance is very listenable. As I mentioned earlier, the control interface is much improved over earlier versions. In the same way that I prefer using Spotify on my laptop to on my phone, I find there are some things (hunting for a very specific song at a strange time of the evening mostly) that are easier to do on a terminal but overall you can do almost anything you would normally think of doing via the unit. Please note, that due to the Spotify licensing, you are far more likely to have Spotify go dead on your mobile when your wife or family member uses the CR-N755 than might be the case if restricted to a laptop - don’t say I didn’t warn you!
The implementation of vTuner is excellent and it is easy to browse the world’s radio stations and set up your favourites. If you can connect the Onkyo to an internet line (and if you can’t why did you buy it?) you are very unlikely to miss DAB. The performance of the BBC stations and other common UK choices is superior via the internet and some of the international stations are a genuinely welcome addition to your listening.
The digital and line inputs are also up to the general performance of the rest of the unit and give the Onkyo the ability to become a useful media hub. In a perfect world, there would be a USB input to the DAC but given the CR-N755 can access your digital media over a network, this is less important than it might otherwise be. I thought the front panel iPod implementation was a bit clunky but sounded fine and given that the Onkyo can access all your files, including those on your iTunes account over a network, the actual need to attach your iPod or iPhone is diminished anyway.
- Impressive feature set
- Involving and lively sound
- Well implemented control app
- Not natively wireless
- Some limits in larger rooms
- Front panel is hard to read
Onkyo CR-N755 All-in-One Micro HiFi System Review
The Onkyo CR-N755 is a tremendously clever device for the asking price. It could quite easily be placed in a bedroom, kitchen or study and become an impressive little media hub, streaming files, acting as a sonic boost to a TV and replacing a radio at the same time. More importantly, it sounds good too. Judged purely as an all-in-one CD player against the competition, the Onkyo has a spacious and natural sound that should appeal. It has volume and speaker handling limits but we should expect that for the asking price.
Is it completely perfect? No - but it comes closer than I might have expected. Wireless would be welcome and a USB DAC input would be lovely too and while sonically talented, it will run out of puff in larger rooms. On balance though, Onkyo has taken the concept of the “lifestyle” micro system and taken it to a whole new level of capability. This is a seriously impressive bit of equipment from Onkyo and well worth an audition.
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