Top of the Onkyo's lineup is the flagship TX-NR905.
Bristling with connectivity and features only found on much-more expensive rivals, it appears a fearsomely good proposition for those looking for affordable state-of-the-art amplification.
Extensive feature set
The TX-NR905's plain black fascia may be understated, but beneath the lid lurks high-resolution Dolby and DTS audio decoding and 1080p video up-conversion for all sources.
Other niceties include an Ethernet connection for accessing networked audio content and internet radio stations, a USB port for reading MP3s from an external drive, plus an Audyssey auto-setup routine with a microphone that can optimise speaker levels at the drop of a squawk.
For hardcore cinephiles, the amp also offers THX Ultra2 post-processing.
In fact, you'll have to look very closely to spot where corners have been cut to achieve the £1,400 price point.
If you were being pedantic, I guess you could say that the tiny buttons on the fascia feel a tad insubstantial, and there's definitely no oil damping on the drop-down front flap, but that's about it.
This is a very heavy piece of credible metal. Onkyo hasn't compromised any of the AV components installed either (at 39kg this is no easy one-man lift).
The audio inputs are all gold-plated, the bus plate is made of brass for perfect grounding, and the four isolating feet are shod in cork.
Neither has the brand scrimped on connectivity. Four HDMI inputs and two outputs is as generous as you'll find anywhere, and they are all version 1.3a compliant, which means full compatibility with 1080p video and bitstreamed multichannel audio.
What's more, thanks to a rather handy Silicon Optics HQV Reon-VX video processor, this receiver can upscale S-video, composite and component sources to 1080p.
And with two HDMI outputs - one for your TV and one for your projector perhaps - the NR905 could seriously simplify your system cabling.
Connect your receiver to your PC
Network functionality may not be high on your short-list, but I rate it as a must-have on higher-end receivers; with the ability to go online as well as sucking up media from your home network (you do have a home network, right?) you can truly allow the AVR to become a home entertainment hub.
Ensure that connected PCs are running Windows Media Connect before you try and access all your audio files though.
That said, while the ability to playback online radio stations via the Onkyo's remote is appealing, it's still a bit of a headache to set up, and the quality crash that comes with compressed MP3 files is all too apparent when you play them on high-end kit like this.
Unlike some more expensive rivals, Onkyo hasn't bothered with built-in wi-fi for audio streaming, so it's a case of running an Ethernet cable between the receiver and your PC network, or taking advantage of a PowerLine adaptor to get your network plumbed in.
Onkyo has made a big step in the right direction with its latest user interface.
Gone is the service-menu-style black-and-white typeface of yesteryear and in comes a flashy, blue GUI with icons and hints to help you get setup. It's not quite as foolproof as the super-slick new Denon interface, but it makes navigating the extensive onscreen menu system much-less daunting than before.
The physical interface - the remote control - is a typical Onk design in that it's not visually appealing or particularly ergonomic. There's no fancy LCD touchscreen here, just masses of buttons - I counted 89 in all - that can be illuminated by another button on the side.
For upcoming generations I'd suggest Onkyo elevate the design of its remote control. There are clear improvements to be made, even though the thing has the ability to learn and control six other components.
Adjusting speaker levels with ease
The included Audyssey microphone saves a lot of time adjusting the speaker levels. You simply place the mic in your favourite listening position, plug it into the receiver and press 'go'.
Repeat this process to record from three or more listening positions, if you like, and after a few minutes of recording its own strange test tones, the NR905 is all set and ready to make some proper noise.
Cutting straight to the chase and connecting a hi-def source - a PS3 in this case - and trying out a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack as lossless LPCM, seems like a logical place to start.
After all, the new HD audio mixes are what the latest AVRs are all about.
From the opening scenes of the luxurious 30th anniversary edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind on Blu-ray, it's clear that this is a powerful amplifier with a warmth and poise that suits high volume levels and large rooms.
Fans of THX processing will appreciate the Ultra2 implementation here and take comfort from the fact that the receiver can comfortably load a really large space - greater than 3,000 cubic feet to be precise.
Your choice in speakers and subwoofer is obviously important too, but there's no need to fret about the quality of the amplification.
Onkyo's massively powerful receiver
I found the 905 to be hugely powerful. In our lab tests, the unit delivered 145W with five channels driven - a stonking performance.
Muscle is provided by a massive toroidal transformer, joined by two smaller transformers that cater specifically for the extra demands of DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD audio formats.
With highly-accurate and revealing speakers by Miller & Kreisel planted on the end of each channel, I found the extended frequency range of Close Encounters...' Dolby TrueHD to be genuinely thrilling.
Fast-forwarding to Richard Dreyfuss' first close encounter in Chapter Five, when the cicadas dramatically stop chirruping and the mailboxes begin to rattle, it becomes clear just how realistic the sound effects are.
Moments later and a hovering UFO goes on to demonstrate the Onkyo's tremendous presence and effects-steering, summoning a rich and deep rumble from each speaker in an excitingly room-filling way.
Good with SACD
Lesser amplifiers tend to sound edgy when you turn them up, but this beast is warm and enveloping, and seems to relish the challenge of a high-impact crash effect at THX-level volume.
Crunching explosions are the NR905's forte, and the warmth of the bass doesn't come at the expense of the mid-band or treble.
Moving on to Ocean's Thirteen, on DVD with a regular Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, the cheerful David Holmes musical score really shines through the mix, while the dialogue remains crisp and clear.
And if that musical soundtrack sounded good, the multichannel 5.1 mix of (What's the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis sounds better.
Now, even the Super Audio CD version of this album can sound harsh on the wrong system, but the 905's warm tone works perfectly to deliver a hugely appealing wall of noise.
Whatever your preference for music and movies, the NR905 doesn't disappoint. There's something very sharp and refreshing about its sound.
Having onboard upconversion (i.e. video in via S-Video, then output via HDMI) is a big advantage for anyone with a range of analogue and digital video sources.
These can all be routed out via a single run of HDMI cable to your TV, which is neat and tidy. The upscaling feature, courtesy of Silicon Optix is a potential boon, too.
Naturally you'll be opting for 'pass through' when you are watching an HD source, but the HQV scaler does a better job of outputting 1080p than the average disc spinner. SD video is relatively smooth and sharp when upscaled.
So, where possible, remember to connect your DVD to the 905 via component, allowing the receiver to do all the upscaling work.
As with most AVRs on the market, the 905 offers multiroom capability, a feature you can't help but think is of more interest to American owners rather Europeans.
For those interested, you can control up to three zones with the NR905's remote: if your cinema is in 5.1, you can use the rear surrounds to drive two speakers in another room with a video output and control it independently.
For the third zone, you can run a pre-output cables to another stereo amplifier and control that remotely, too.
Home cinema hub
If you want maximum bang for your buck, then this big AVR will neatly fit the bill. I rate its audio and video ability as excellent.
With a rich, full-bodied sound, it's perfect for big action movies in a large room and is more than musical enough to serve as a home entertainment centre as well. With comprehensive connectivity and an advanced feature set, it makes an ideal hub for an ambitious home cinema installation.
It's hard to find a wholly-complete AV receiver when every year seems to bring more new audio formats and video resolutions, but for now, this is the one of the most versatile AV receivers on the market and as such, wins two thumbs up