Whilst the market for AV receivers has definitely been in decline over the last few years, it is good to see that the manufacturers have been fighting back, offering ever more features to entice those wayward consumers. The modern AV receiver packs in a remarkable list of capabilities, including multiple sound formats and digital signal processing; additional audio channels with width and height speakers; video processing and 4K scaling; not to mention home networking, Internet radio and iPod docks. As the biggest player in this market, in terms of sales at least, Onkyo have led the way in transforming the humble AV receiver into the audio, video and networking hub that it is today. They were the first to introduce many of the features that are now considered standard and their latest line-up represents the cutting edge in terms of receiver design.
The TX-NR818 Network Receiver sits in the middle of Onkyo's range, offering many of the features found on their more expensive receivers but at a very competitive price point. The NR818 includes such a breath-taking list of features that you wonder how Onkyo actually manage to fit it all into a standard sized chassis? The NR818 is a 7-channel amplifier that comes with Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction software and includes 9.2 multichannel pre-outs. It also decodes Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio along with DTS: Neo X, Audyssey DSX and Dolby Pro Logic IIz processing for additional width and height channels. If that wasn't enough, there's THX certification, ISF certification, HQV video processing, QDEO 4K upscaling, 8 HDMI inputs and 2 HDMI outputs, along with a host of internet features including Spotify. Whilst that list is far from exhaustive, it gives you an idea of what the NR818 is capable of, so let's take it for a spin.
Design and Connectivity
The TX-NR818 certainly looks the part, sporting the classic AV receiver design with a front facia dominated by the central display and a large volume control. The NR818 offers a choice of either a black or silver chassis and the layout is all clean lines and sharp edges, with a very minimalist appearance that is simultaneously both contemporary and traditional. There are actually very few controls on the front - just the on/off button, the Pure Audio button, the various inputs and the master volume control - with all remaining buttons being hidden behind a drop down flap. The NR818 measures 435 x 199 x 434mm and it weighs a reasonable 18.3kg, enough for the receiver to make an impression but not enough to result in a hernia when moving it.
The main display is positioned in the centre and is well laid out an informative but as is often the case with AV receivers, there's so much information that it can be hard to read from a distance. It also can't be turned off completely, which could be annoying if the NR818 is positioned at the front of the room where the display would be visible. The whole chassis has a well-made finish too, as evidenced by the nicely machined feel as you turn the master volume control and only the slightly plastic feel of the input buttons lets the side down. Behind the drop down flap are a number of controls that allow you to setup the NR818, tune in the built-in FM/AM radio and select different modes or zones. As long as you don't lose the remote control, you're unlikely to use these controls but it's useful to know they are there. Also behind this flap on the front are some additional connectors, including an extra HDMI input, a composite video and stereo analogue inputs, an optical digital input, a USB port for connecting an iDevice and the connector for the Audyssey setup microphone.
At the rear are the main connections and not only do Onkyo offer a generous selection of inputs but they have also wisely dropped a number of legacy connections in favour of ones that you might actually use. Let's be honest, almost all of our connections these days use HDMI, so do we really need multiple component or composite video inputs and numerous analogue and digital audio connections? Onkyo appear to appreciate this fact and whilst there are a few composite and component video inputs and various analogue and digital audio connections, there are also seven HDMI inputs (with an eighth on the front) and two HDMI outputs with one of them supporting ARC (Audio Return Channel). There is also an Ethernet socket, the AM and FM aerial sockets, a VGA input, an RS232 serial connector for system control and a second USB port for use with Onkyo's optional UWF-1 wireless LAN adaptor.
You can send independent audio to two additional rooms, either by using the amp to drive speakers directly in zone two or zone three, or by sending line-level signals to dedicated amplifiers in those zones. The NR818 is also equipped with infrared inputs and outputs and a 12-volt output trigger for each zone. The IR input allows you to control the receiver if it’s installed inside a cabinet or from another room, while the IR output enables you to control other components from the receiver, although you’ll need extra equipment in both cases. The 12-volt triggers enable you to switch on the power amps in zones two and three when you select them from the remote or the receiver’s front panel. You can automatically send the same audio output playing in the main room to zones two and three but there is no ability to send any kind of video to zones two and three. There are no multi-channel analogue inputs but there are multi-channel pre-outs for up to 9.2-channels as well as speaker binding posts for a 5-channel or a 7-channel configuration using either back, width or height speakers. We particularly liked the layout of the binding posts, with the right hand speakers sensibly on the right and the left hand side speakers on the left.
The remote control is made of black plastic and is reasonably well designed and comfortable to hold. All the controls that you will need are represented including the numerous inputs, the Home button, the volume control, the mute button, the different modes, the menu button, the setup button and navigation controls. The remote can also control other devices, either through entering remote control codes or by learning commands. This can be useful as it allows you to control multiple devices with just one remote but it does mean you have to continually press the 'Receiver' button to use the remote to actually control the NR818 itself, which can get annoying. We also found the remote difficult to use in the dark, partly due to the lack of a backlight and partly due to the large number of small buttons crammed in to a limited amount of space. We would expect a backlight at this price point and since the most commonly used control is the main volume, so we would prefer to see it made larger and positioned better.
Setup and Menus
In terms of setup, Onkyo have made the process as painless as possible and thanks to the inclusion of the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction software, getting the best out of your NR818 couldn't be easier. Once you have connected all your sources to the numerous inputs at the rear and connected the main HDMI output to your display, then you need to connect the speakers. The NR818 offers a choice of configurations, starting with a basic 5-channel setup which leaves two additional channels of amplification spare. If you so wish, you can use these two channels for stereo in another zone or to bi-amp the front left and right speakers and you can also run up to two powered subwoofers. If you choose a 7-channel configuration, then you can either have two back channels or two front channels, with a choice of either height or width speakers. If you add an additional two channel amplifier, then using the pre-outs you can configure up to 9.2 channels with a choice of either height and width, height and rear or width and rear.
Once everything is connected, you then need to go through the setup process in the menu system. The NR818 has a menu system that is well designed, clearly laid out and easy to navigate, which makes setup much easier. The starting point is the Home menu which gives you a choice of Network Service, USB, InstaPrevue, Setup and Firmware Update. If you select the Setup option, you then have nine sub-menus to choose from, each covering a different aspect of the NR818's performance. First up is Input/Output Assign where you setup the Monitor Out for the two HDMI inputs, as well as the HDMI Inputs. You can also assign inputs for Component Video and Digital Audio.
The second sub-menu is Speaker Setup, where you can select the speaker settings, speaker configuration, speaker distance, level calibration, equaliser settings, THX audio setup and digital processing crossover network. We will cover speaker setup in more detail in the Audio Performance section. The third sub-menu is Audio Adjust where you can fine tune the settings for Multiplex/Mono, Dolby, DTS, Audyssey DSX, Theatre-Dimensional, LFE Level and Sound Programme Edit.
The fourth sub-menu is Source Setup and here you select the settings Audyssey, IntelliVolume, A/V Sync, Name Edit and Audio Selector. It is in this menu that you can also access the Picture Adjustment controls, which we will cover in the Video Performance section. The fifth sub-menu allows you to set the Listening Mode Preset for the main inputs - BD/DVD, CBL/SAT, STB/DVR, GAME1, GAME2, PC and AUX. The sixth sub-menu cover Miscellaneous features like Volume Setup and OSD Setup and the seventh covers Hardware Setup for the Tuner, HDMI, Auto Standby, Network and Initial Setup. The eighth sub-menu is for Remote Controller Setup and finally the last sub-menu is to Lock Setup.
The NR818 comes with a staggering list of features and starting on the audio side of things, it is a 7-channel amplifier that is rated at 135W per a channel, comes with THX Select2 Plus certification and incorporates a high level of build quality. The processing equipment and amplifier circuits are housed separately to limit electrical interference, while PLL (Phase Locked Loop) jitter cleaning preserves signal integrity by eliminating digital clock noise. The amplifier’s three-stage inverted Darlington circuitry - an enhancement to the core WRAT (Wide Range Amplifier Technology) concept - ensures minimal distortion and better manages impedance fluctuations. The quality of the circuitry dovetails with a heavy-duty power supply for instantaneous response to signal gains, thus resulting in a sound that is reliably pure, even under heavy loads.
The NR818 also includes Audyssey’s MultiEQ XT32 room correction suite which equalises the sound to suit the unique acoustics of your listening space. High-resolution filters are applied to all channels - including subwoofers - based on information collected from more than 10,000 individual control points across eight measurement positions. The NR818 includes all the standard audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio and whilst Onkyo has dispensed with many of the DSP algorithms that most people never use - such as stadium, club, church etc. - they’ve retained the ones that expand the sound stage using front height or width and surround back channels. Audyssey DSX, Dolby Pro Logic IIz, and DTS Neo:X expansion systems all offer the freedom to choose your preferred speaker setup. Audyssey DSX can expand 5.1 sources to incorporate width or height channels, the Dolby system adds height channels and stereo source expansion, whilst DTS Neo:X offers width or height channels with cinema, music, or game listening modes.
Three of the best video processing and enhancement systems are included to deliver smooth and accurate images on your display. First there is the HQV Vida VHD1900 chip-set which upscales analogue content to 1080p, and ‘enhances’ native high-definition sources. The chip employs multi-cadence tracking, expanded 12-bit colour processing, and four-field motion-adaptive de-interlacing. Auto HQV enhances the incoming image, while HQV StreamClean cleans up video from lower-quality online sources by eliminating mosquito and macro blocking noise. Qdeo technology upscales 1080p sources to 4K - even content already upscaled from lower resolutions by the HQV Vida processor. The inclusion of [tip=isf]Imaging Science Foundation[/tip] (ISF) video calibration features allows each video input source to be independently calibrated to achieve the best possible performance from your connected display.
The NR818’s front-panel HDMI port is designed for the connection of compatible smart phones and other portable electronic devices using the new Mobile High-definition Link (MHL) standard. MHL allows you to display full 1080p video and still images on your display with up to 7.1 channels of surround sound. You can use the receiver’s remote to control playback from your phone while it is being recharged over the USB connector on the front. The NR818 also incorporates InstaPrevue visual port management technology, making input source selection easier. InstaPrevue technology provides a live video thumbnail of the available content on all the devices connected via HDMI. This allows you to preview the images being fed into the NR818's other inputs, which could be useful if you lose track of the other components you’ve got hooked up.
The NR818 can be easily connected to your home network using a standard LAN cable, making streaming audio and internet radio simplicity itself. It would be nice to see built-in WiFi but regardless of manufacturer, very few receivers appear to offer that feature. Unlike rival machines from Pioneer and Denon, Onkyo doesn’t include Apple’s AirPlay, at present, so you can't wirelessly stream music from your iDevice directly but you can stream music via DLNA using the Onkyo Remote 2 app. There is also an optional Bluetooth adaptor (UBT-1) available for the NR818 and you can of course hardwire your iDevice, MP3 player or tablet into the receiver’s front USB input and control music playback through the remote. In terms of file support the NR818 is fairly comprehensive, providing DLNA streaming and playback for formats such as MP3, AAC, 24bit 96/192kHz FLACs, WAVs, WMA Lossless and Apple Lossless. You can stream music, with album art, from any DLNA-compliant server and you can also control the receiver remotely from a PC running Windows Media 12.
Onkyo places great emphasis on the online features of its receivers, and the NR818 includes easy access to internet radio channels from Last.fm and vTuner, cloud-based music streaming from AUPEO! and MP3tunes. There’s also music streaming subscription services from SIMFY and Spotify. The choice is impressive, although it is limited to audio services rather than video, and best addition is Spotify which means you get access to a vast amount of music, as well as certain aspects of your account like pre-saved playlists and any music you've "starred". As you might imagine, you can't access your imported music this way, but since the Onkyo can connect with your home network via DLNA, you can also listen to your own music collection. There is a full suite of internet radio stations, which means access to literally thousands of global channels and if you find any good ones, you can save them to your favourites.
As with just about every manufacturer these days, Onkyo provide free remote apps for both iOS and Android devices. The Remote 2 App is for iDevice control and the Onkyo Remote app is for Android devices but both are designed to provide a more intuitive way to operate Onkyo network A/V receivers. You can use the apps to control input sources, adjust settings, and play audio stored in a smart phone via DLNA using the application’s interactive graphical display. We tested the NR818 with both varieties and our initial impressions were positive and definitely easier than fiddling around with the provided remote in the dark. However, after a period of use, we found the interaction could be a little slow and the layout could be more intuitive. The design is also rather uninspired and the controls could be over-sensitive; given some of the really impressive apps available from the competition, Onkyo might want to rethink their current apps.
If there is one area where Onkyo have led the way recently, it has been in terms of the video processing built into their receivers. The NR818 is a good example and includes some extremely impressive video processing, along with ISF certification and various calibration controls. The obvious headline feature is the addition of 4K scaling which can take a lower resolution signal and increase it to either 3840 by 2160 pixels or 4096 by 2160 pixels, depending on the type of display you own. However, this is something of a gimmick because if you own one of the very few 4K displays currently available, the built-in scaling will be just as good, if not better, than that on offer with the NR818. Of far greater use is 4K pass-through, which would make the receiver future-proof and here Onkyo have rather dropped the ball, as the NR818 is unable to pass a native 4K signal.
Thankfully when it comes to handling standard and high definition content, the NR818 delivers the goods with a very impressive performance. The built-in HQV Vida VHD1900 chipset can deinterlace 480i, 576i and 1080i signals and upscale and output at 1080p over both component and HDMI. Of course it will also pass through 1080p/24 signals from Blu-rays and it can happily pass a 3D signal as well. We tested the deinterlacing and scaling capabilities of the NR818 and we were pleased to see that it had no problems detecting both 3:2 and 2:2 cadences, as well as scaling standard definition content without introducing unwanted artefacts or jaggies. If you decide to use the Film Mode for cadence detection, make sure you turn it off on your display otherwise there’s a danger of creating more problems than you solve. As well as a Film Mode, the NR818 also includes a Game Mode (to reduce delay), Edge Enhancement (best left off) and a number of Noise Reduction features. The NR818 can help reduce Mosquito, Random and Block noise, which can prove useful if you watch a lot of heavily compressed video content from the internet.
In fact the video processing in the NR818 video processor is as good as most modern TVs so if you want to, you can connect all your sources to the receiver, do the deinterlacing and scaling there and pass 1080p straight to your display. Thanks to the inclusion of two HDMI outputs, you can even use the NR818 to feed a signal to two different displays, perhaps a TV and a projector. The receiver is also as flexible in terms of video as it is in terms of audio, you can create different setups for different inputs and you can also match any audio input with any video input. The NR818 also offers extensive picture controls, which mean you can use it to help calibrate your display if you need to. There are a number of Picture Modes and both Through and Direct leave the signal alone, although whilst Direct is completely untouched, Through allows you to still deinterlace and scale the signal. The other modes all affect the signal to varying degrees but we found that the main impact of the ISF Day mode is to lower the gamma to lighten the picture, whilst the ISF Night mode raises the gamma to darken it.
If you use the Custom Picture Mode, its default setting is the same as Direct and Through but by choosing the Custom mode you do get access to additional picture controls. Here you can adjust the Brightness, Contrast, Hue, Saturation (Colour), as well as select a different [tip=Colortemp]Colour Temperature[/tip] or change the [tip=gamma]Gamma[/tip]. To be honest you will find all of these controls on a modern display, so it makes more sense to adjust them there, rather than using the NR818. However one useful feature is the inclusion of a two point [tip=WhiteBal]white balance[/tip] control, which you could use for adjusting the [tip=Greyscale]greyscale[/tip] on your display if it doesn't have a white balance control of its own. Again, most modern displays do have at least two point white balance controls but it might prove handy with older displays, although we did find the controls o the NR818 to be quite coarse in practice. If Onkyo really want to set their receivers apart from the competition, what they should include is a [tip=CMS]colour management system[/tip] because a lot of displays don't have this feature. The addition of a CMS along with the excellent deinterlacing and scaling would make an Onkyo receiver a video processor that's really worth having.
All these video processing and networking features are great to have but ultimately what matters is the sound quality and here the NR818 wasn't found wanting either. The NR818 is very flexible in terms of its possible configurations but we primarily used it in the standard 7.1 channel setup with side and rear speakers. However we also tried a 9.1 setup using an additional stereo amplifier and a set of width speakers but sadly we couldn't try a 9.1 setup with height speakers due to limitations in our home cinema. If you wanted to you could also create a 9.2 setup by adding a second subwoofer but since the NR818 is limited to 9.2 pre-outs, you can't replicate the full 11.2 configuration that is theoretically offered by both DTS Neo: X and Audyssey DSX.
The Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction software worked extremely well, although as always the more measurements you take, the better the results. Given the size and dimensions of our room, we took the maximum eight measurements, the three seating positions, three other positions at varying heights in the front and two at the rear. The Audyssey software did an excellent job of integrating the speakers in our system and adjusting for the room itself, with very impressive results. We did check the automated readings by taking our own measurements and the Audyssey microphone appeared to have done its job very well. You can turn the Audyssey EQ on and off which gives you an opportunity to compare how the audio sounds with and without correcting for the acoustical impact of the room itself.
The NR818 can decode all the usual audio formats such as DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD, as well as DTS, Dolby Digital and all the different versions of Dolby Pro Logic. Thanks to the excellent setup and the inherent capabilities of the NR818, the resulting performance was superb with a beautifully rendered soundstage. The Onkyo handled movie soundtracks exceptionally well, combining a dynamic and precise delivery with some genuinely responsive bass. The integration of the overall sound field was impressive and the rears retained a lively presence that resulted in an immersive surround experience. When watching films the precise imaging of the sound mix was evident and both effects and pans were expertly rendered. We have recently been using our Blu-ray of Prometheus for testing a wide range of audio systems and it sounded superb on the NR818. The complex sound design of Prometheus was expertly delivered, with the louder moments such as the sand storm mixing seamlessly with the more subtle ambient noises on-board the ship itself.
We have also been using the Blu-ray of The Amazing Spider-Man, which has a surprisingly restrained sound design, given the film's comic book origins. The Onkyo could deliver James Horner's score with real swagger but it could also reproduce the more subtle and immersive effects such as the ambient sounds of New York. The NR818 also had no problem stepping up a gear once The Lizard turned up and began to tear the city apart and as we listened to the carefully designed cacophony of the soundtrack we were pleased that the NR818 was able to deliver some serious bass without losing its focus. The Onkyo was able to reach the lower frequencies without swamping the soundtrack and just delivered the necessary impact when needed. It also seemed able to do this even when using a relatively modest subwoofer and as a result the low frequency effects (LFE) channel on film soundtracks was highly effective. Overall the bass was well integrated, supporting the overall sound and providing an exciting and visceral experience.
Whilst we have never been completely sold on the concept of height speakers, we found ourselves surprised by how effective adding width speakers actually was. The impact might be helped by the relative narrowness of our home cinema but the addition of a wider front soundstage was a revelation. This resulting large-scale sound boasted impressive dynamics, not just during the action scenes but in the quieter scenes too, creating a truly immersive and convincing atmosphere for the listener. The wider soundfield was strong, focused and cohesive, with no gaps apparent even during front to back pans, and it really matched the widescreen images from 2.35:1 projector screen. We tried both the DTS Neo: X and Audyssey DSX versions but we couldn't really distinguish between the two algorithms, both offered the same expansive front soundstage. We found ourselves wanting to add another subwoofer and get the full 9.2 experience but sadly time and the availability of a second sub prevented us. However the experience certainly whetted our appetite, especially as the Blu-ray for The Expendables 2 includes a DTS Neo: X 11.1 soundtrack. Whether the use of up to 13 speakers will ever catch on remains to be seen, especially as many of us have trouble convincing partners to accept 6 speakers, but it clearly shows the direction the industry is moving in.
The NR818 delivers the kind of powerful and muscular soundstage that you would expect from a Japanese manufacturer but it manages to also retain a degree of refinement. As result whilst it handles movie soundtracks as well as any receiver we have heard, it also delivers music with an impressive sense of finesse. This was a pleasant surprise and whilst the NR818 isn't as musical as Anthem's MRX-300, it certainly didn't embarrass itself. Regardless of whether the music was stereo or multi-channel, the Onkyo provided a subtle and nuanced performance. A particular favourite track is Suede's Still Life and the NR818 handled the sweeping symphonic arrangement and Brett Anderson's falsetto vocals extremely well. Moving on to ‘old reliables’ like Pink Floyd's Time and again the NR818 delivered the precise timing and localisation of the effects and music with relative ease. Finally on Adele's One and Only, the combination of piano, female vocals and harmony are all expertly handled.
- Excellent sound quality
- Comprehensive connections
- Impressive video processing
- Attractive design
- Superb build quality
- Flexible setup and configuration
- Good internet and networking features
- No 4K pass-through
- No multi-channel analogue inputs
- Remote app needs work
- No built-in WiFi
- Front display can't be turned off
- No backlight on remote control
Onkyo TX-NR818 AV Receiver Review
The Onkyo TX-NR818 delivers the kind of stylish design and excellent build quality that we have come to expect from the Japanese manufacturer. The front facia is clean and uncluttered, although you can't turn the display off completely, and the chassis comes in a choice of either black or silver. There is a very generous set of connections at the rear and we're glad to see that Onkyo have dropped a lot of legacy connectors in favour of 8 HDMI inputs (7 at the back and 1 on the front) and 2 HDMI outputs. The front-panel HDMI port has also been designed to connect with compatible smart phones and other portable electronic devices using the new Mobile High-definition Link (MHL) standard, which is useful. We also really like the layout of the speaker terminals at the rear, which are logically positioned and sensibly spaced. The remote control is well made and comfortable to hold but we found the buttons too crowded and it was difficult to use due to the lack of a backlight and some rather idiosyncratic functions.
Setup is relatively straightforward thanks to a concise and intuitive menu system and the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction software. All you need to do is decide which speaker configuration you want or can accommodate, and then let the NR818 do the rest. The receiver also offers a great deal of flexibility in terms of setup and it includes some impressive video processing, although the lack of native 4K pass-through is a disappointment. The inclusion of a white balance control is a nice touch, although the adjustments are a little course, but we feel the addition of a colour management system would really make NR818 stand out from the crowd. The NR818 also incorporates InstaPrevue visual port management technology, which provides a live video thumbnail of all the devices connected via HDMI, which could be useful if you lose track of the other components you’ve got hooked up.
The NR818 can be easily connected to your home network using a standard LAN cable or an optional wireless adaptor, making streaming audio and internet radio simplicity itself. You can't wirelessly stream music from your iDevice directly due to the lack of AirPlay but there is a feature in the remote app that allows you to stream music. There is also an optional Bluetooth adaptor and you can of course hardwire your iDevice, MP3 player or tablet into the receiver’s front USB input and control music playback through the remote. The NR818 is DLNA compliant, compatible with Windows Media 12 and it offers an impressive degree of file support including lossless formats. Onkyo places great emphasis on the online features of its receivers, and the NR818 includes easy access to internet radio channels from Last.fm and vTuner, cloud-based music streaming from AUPEO!, MP3tunes and music streaming subscription services from SIMFY and Spotify. Onkyo also provide free remote apps for both iOS and Android devices and whilst we tried both versions, we found the interaction could be a little slow and the layout itself was rather unintuitive.
The NR818 proved to be a marvellous performer in the audio department, delivering a robust and detailed soundstage when it came to movie soundtracks. Whether it was in 5.1 or 7.1, the NR818 was able to reproduce the film's sound design with a revealing level of detail and precise localisation. The sound had a muscular presence but it never swamped the dialogue or the effects, resulting in a well-balanced sound field. Whilst we remain sceptical about height speakers, the addition of width speakers proved to be a revelation, widening the front soundstage and improving front to back pans. The NR818 also acquitted itself well when it came to music, which in the past has been a weakness of Onkyo's, delivering an enjoyable experience regardless of the source.
The Onkyo TX-NR818 is a fantastic all-round performer that combines extensive networking and streaming capabilities with some impressive video processing. The Audyssey setup is easy and effective, the audio performance is excellent, the configuration is very flexible and it's all wrapped up in an extremely attractive package - Highly Recommended.
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