Every year, Onkyo's home cinema hubs top the bestseller lists, appealing to punters looking for an amp that delivers maximum bang for their buck.
And this year, the company clearly intends to retain its position at the top. The 7.2-channel TX-NR609 is the most advanced model in Onkyo's first wave of 2011 receivers, offering full network capability and a couple of exciting world firsts.
Chief among these is its ability to stream music directly from Spotify. With over 10 million songs available in 320k quality, it could put your MP3 player out of a job, although you'll need a Premium account to use it.
Alongside this is a wealth of other connected services, including vTuner internet radio, Napster, Last.fm and DLNA-certified music streaming from networked devices. All of these are accessed at the touch of a button, using gloriously simple menus.
The Spotify interface is particularly good, displaying cover art and providing access to playlists and features such as 'What's New' and 'Starred'.
It's also the first receiver to feature Marvell Qdeo video processing technology, which can upscale any video source to 3840 x 2160 resolution. This may not have any practical use right now, but it could be handy when sets such as Toshiba's glasses-free TV hit the shops within the next 12 months.
Headline-grabbers aside, when it comes to fundamentals such as audio processing, amplification and performance, the Onkyo TX-NR609 is pretty much untouchable at this price.
Like its predecessor, the brilliant TX-SR608, the NR609 is THX Select2 Plus-certified, decodes any HD audio format and offers 7 x 160W of grunt, with two LFE pre-outs if you want to bulk up bass with a second sub.
There's even a choice of vertical surround processing, with Dolby Pro Logic IIz and Audyssey DSX both vying for your attention. The latter offers greater flexibility, enabling you to use the surround back speakers as front height or front wide channels (although with only seven channels, you will have to give up those surround backs no matter what.)
On the socketry front, you get no less than six HDMI v1.4 inputs (one of which is found on the front) making it ready to receive full HD 3D signals and audio from an ARC-compatible TV.
Other highlights come in the shape of powered Zone 2 output, an analogue RGB input for PCs and a USB port with extensive media playback. The Ethernet connection is currently your only way of getting online, but Onkyo is set to launch a wireless USB adaptor. On the minus side, there are no multichannel analogue inputs.
Build quality is spot-on, and Onkyo has revamped the external design to include a flat fascia with buttons discreetly tucked along the grooves. While classy, the exposed sockets are asking for trouble if you have kids.
Power consumption: Watts
Idling: 45 Watts - Reasonable power consumption for an AVR of this complexity
Powered: 150 Watts - With movie footage, real world use averages 150W with five channels driven
Power ratings: Watts (8Ω, 0.5% THD)
2-channel 8Ω: 100 Watts - Delivers a solid stereo measurement, although below Onkyo's own specification
5-channel 8Ω: 90 Watts - This multichannel figure is very good considering the receiver's market position
Fidelity firewall: 75 Watts - A measure of power achieved before distortion becomes unacceptable (0.03%THD).The Onkyo is up to spec but not as 'clean' as some rivals
S/N tests: 85dB at 20Hz, 1kHzand 20kHz - Good, but not excellent across all frequencies. High listening levels are afflicted with a noticeable hiss
The Audyssey 2EQ auto setup works its magic with the supplied mic and test tones, or you can take the DIY option by delving into the onscreen set-up menu, which uses the same logical layout as last year's models but with swanky new fonts and graphics.
Its performance is magnificent, handling Blu-ray soundtracks with consummate control, roof-raising power and the same deftness of touch as its predecessor.
During the sedate opening scenes of Inception, it gently caresses the lapping waves, teasing out the background ambience. And the expository dialogue is articulated with admirable clarity and body.
But as the dream starts to fall apart, the Onkyo handles the epic-scale action with thunderous power, swift, decisive steering and terrific effects placement.
Debris crashes to the floor with a chandelier-shaking thump, while the wave of water cascading into the room mixes frightening low-frequency presence with clean top-end detail.
It's a top-drawer movie performer, and although you'll get even greater power and subtlety from more expensive models, we doubt you'll hear many better £500 amps this year. The TX-NR609 is a force to be reckoned with.
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