The first quarter of 2013 is usually the time when major brands unveil their next generation home theater receivers. Onkyo’s TX-NR828, the long awaited replacement for the popular TX-NR818 is finally here. We are glad to note that Onkyo has added new features in spite of a drop in price compared to last year’s model, but there are also some scaling back to keep the costs down.
The Onkyo TX-NR828 has a pretty interesting design as the front panel only has a single knob which controls the master volume. To change the input source, all you need to do is press one of the labeled buttons found below the front panel display. Since there are lots of HDMI inputs, you should have no trouble in matching each of your components to the labeled ports so you can easily use the front panel for source selection. There is also an organized array of buttons below the source selection buttons in case you need to work with other functions such as changing the listening mode. The bottom portion of the front panel shows its richness of connection ports as well with a complete set of aux inputs consisting of the usual composite ports and an HDMI input for smartphones.
The rest of the ports can be found on the back in a rather organized fashion. The first row represents a small set of ports for custom installation purposes. This includes an RS232 port, IR and Zone 2 Trigger Out. The next row features 7 additional HDMI ports and dual HDMI outputs, which highlights the TX-NR828’s capability in outputting HD video to a second display located in another room. The Ethernet port is also located on the same row of HDMI ports. The rest of the ports are easy to understand as they are color coded and properly labeled.
Below is the back panel layout. Click on image to enlarge for a clearer view.
The TX-NR828 is quite identical to its smaller sibling, the $899 Onkyo TX-NR727 in terms of features. Compared to last year’s TX-NR818 Onkyo has addded built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, however there is a 5W drop in power output to 130 watts per channel and a scaling down of Audyssey to MultEQ instead of MultEQ XT32 as part of its cost cutting measure. For Audyssey’s top of the line MultEQ XT32 feature you’ll have to go up one model to the TX-NR929.
Like other recent Onkyo models, the TX-NR828 uses a discrete amplifier design harnessing Onkyo’s proprietary Wide Range Amplifier technology to combat those distortions as well as reduce signal noise. The Phase-Matching Bass technology complements the amplifier design quite nicely as it makes the vocals and bass sound more defined.
The support for Powered Zone 2 and Zone 2/3 line-outs allow you to make good use of the 7.2-channel specification. You can naturally set up a standard 5.1-channel speaker system and still have room for setting up a 2.1-channel system complete with an HDTV with its own source for a smaller room such as a bedroom. You also have the option to set up a separate speaker system, which simply serves as an extension where both systems are playing back the same source.
For an optimal sound experience, it is best to use the Audyssey MultEQ room calibration feature so each speaker can be configured to sound good. It can be tricky to manually adjust each speaker since the best settings depend on the position of the speaker relative to the listening area. Audyssey’s solution works by using a microphone to capture the test sounds generated by each speaker so the receiver can then make the necessary calculations in order to come up with optimal settings. Other Audyssey technologies implemented in the TX-NR828 include the Audyssey DSX for soundstage expansion and a combination of Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Audyssey Dynamic Volume technologies for volume normalization. A normalized volume level means that you can switch to another source without being overwhelmed by a sudden change in volume. Because of all these sound improvements and studio-quality specifications, the NR828 is THX certified. THX certification is a big deal if you like watching movies and really want that cinematic experience you feel in the movie theatres.
One of the coolest things about the Onkyo TX-NR828 is the built-in support for both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. No adapters are other accessories are needed so you are good to go in setting up a complete networked home theater system if you have a wireless router in the house. You can still rely on the Ethernet port if you really need faster home networking. Although AirPlay support is puzzlingly absent, you can still use a variety of smartphones and tablets including Apple devices to control the receiver. The Onkyo Remote app is in charge of this and it is available as a free download in Google Play for Android devices and the iTunes App Store. The app is very simple to use so you can do things like zone management and input switching in no time. If you prefer a more direct method to high quality audio streaming, you can switch on your mobile device’s Bluetooth and connect directly to the TX-NR828.
Connecting to the Internet through the wireless router opens up even more music streaming possibilities as the Onkyo TX-NR828 has access to a number of popular music streaming sites including Spotify, TuneIn Radio, Rhapsody, Last.fm, Pandora, Slacker and SiriusXM. With all these options available, the TX-NR828 is one of the better choices if you are deeply into music discovery.
Overall audio and video performance are terrific. Video improvements are fairly noticeable thanks to the Marvell Qdeo technology that can upscale sources to 4K resolution if the connected TV supports 4K. Otherwise, visuals max out at 1080p or the maximum resolution your TV supports. This is helpful if you have older components connected to the home theater receiver. Upscaled visuals end up looking good on a large display.
There seems to be a realignment by Onkyo in terms of product level for this year’s receivers. The Onkyo TX-NR828 is priced $200 cheaper than the TX-NR818 at launch but with lower specs like the Audyssey MultEQ and a small dip in power. At $1299 the TX-NR929 is closer in specs to last year’s NR818. So if the slightly lower specs is not a big deal for you, the TX-NR828 still delivers the goods with excellent picture and sound quality at a reasonable price.
Update: There is a newer model > Onkyo TX-NR757