Onkyo TX-NR656 Review
THE VERDICT:
The Onkyo TX-NR656 is an all around solid performer with good dynamics. Onkyo's new simplified remote is an improvement over past models. The upgraded control app seems prepped for FireConnect multi-room audio, however limited support for FireConnect restricts its usability.

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Design9
Value8
Features8.5
Sound Quality9
The Good
  • The 656 supports 4K video as well as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It also has an array of audio streaming options. As is the case with most Onkyo's, the 656 sounds great for movies.
The Bad
  • Still waiting for Onkyo's multi-room audio system, FireConnect, to take-off.
8.6Overall Score

Every year AV makers push out a new set of incremental features on their new amps hoping to separate us and from our wallets. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X have been the most talked about features the past few years. 4K (Ultra HD) video has also been on the laundry list. All of these features are on the Onkyo TX-NR656. In fact, when I received the amp for testing I was greeted by a firmware update message that activated DTS:X on the receiver.

 

The new “It” feature is multi-room audio, not be mistaken with multi-zone audio. Multi-room audio has been dominated by Sonos for several years, but now nearly every AV manufacturer is coming out with their own flavor of multi-room audio. Onkyo and Pioneer have decided to run with the FireConnect multi-room system on their offerings. FireConnect has potential, however lack of support means it comes up short when compared to Sonos and MusicCast.

 

Design

Believe it or not, Onkyo has actually given their receivers a bit of a design overhaul this year. Before you get excited, the Onkyo TX-NR656 is still just your basic metal black box. Onkyo has moved some things around on the face of the 656. As you’d expect, you’ll still find the volume knob, input select and tone control buttons on the front. The biggest change that you’ll notice is that the listening mode buttons have been replaced with a knob so you’ll need to cycle through the selections. Not a big deal. Especially if you’re like me and rarely use the buttons on the face of the amp anyway. An HDMI input is located on the front as are 3.5mm and headphone inputs. Onkyo has kept the USB input on the back of the unit, which I still find to be a little inconvenient.

Onkyo TX-NR656 Review

The remote partnered with the 656 is light years better than previous iterations. Onkyo has gotten rid of the number pad on the remote which has made the remote far easier to navigate and use.

 

If you prefer to use your smartphone or tablet to control the receiver, Onkyo has a control app that’s a free download from the Google Play and iOS App store. The overall look and feel of the app is reminiscent of Yamaha’s MusicCast. Once I synchronized the 656 with the app I was able to assign it to a specific room. Clicking on the panel for the TX-NR656 pulls up the input select screen.  From here, if you click on the menu button in the upper left corner you can get to the main settings of the amp. Overall, the app is intuitive, easy to use and better than previous versions.

Onkyo Control App

Connectivity

With the Onkyo TX-NR656, you get an ample supply of analog connections, as well as component and digital inputs. Onkyo doles out a generous supply of HDMI inputs. The 656 has two outputs and eight inputs. Inputs 1-3 on the receiver are HDCP 2.2 compatible and support 4:4:4 color space, High Dynamic Range (HDR) video, with BT.2020. As far as 4K video is concerned, the 656 is pretty future proof. It’s worth noting that the Onkyo TX-NR656 is capable of upscaling 1080p video to near 4K quality, however since most 4K TVs can do this as well I’m not sure how useful this feature really is.

Onkyo TX-NR656 Connections

 

Onkyo TX-NR656 Features

Onkyo has always had a reputation for loading up their receivers with a bevy of features. In fact, I think because of this they’ve forced much of their competition to do the same thing. From WiFi and Bluetooth to 4K support, the Onkyo TX-NR656 has nearly every feature you could want in a mid-range receiver.

 

Dolby Atmos and DTS:X

As I stated earlier, right out the gate the 656 is ready, willing and able to decode Dolby Atmos. When I hooked-up the review unit and got it on my network, the receiver notified me that an update was available. About 20-30 minutes later after the update was complete, a message appeared on the screen that the receiver was DTS:X enabled.

 

The Onkyo 656 is a 7 channel receiver, so you have to pick and choose your Atmos or DTS:X arrangement. The receiver can be setup in a 5.1.2 configuration which means you can relegate two of your channels for overhead sound effects. Some people will knock seven channel receivers for only supporting two overhead channels, but to be honest, if you want more Atmos/DTS:X speakers you simply have to pony-up more cash for a 9 or 11 channel receiver.

 

Hi-Resolution Audio & Multi-Room

After years of being subjugated to compressed audio, discerning music lovers have been flocking to hi-res audio solutions. The Onkyo 656 incorporates 384 kHz/32-bit Hi-Grade DAC to handle digital to analog conversions. The amp can decode WMA Lossless, FLAC, WAV, Apple Lossless, and DSD 5.6 MHz.

 

If you need to setup multiple audio zones in your house, the Onkyo TX-NR656 supports up to 2 zones. If you have a pre-amp in another room you can use the zone 2 line-out to send audio into another room and still get 7 channel goodness in the main room. If you need to power a set of stereo speakers in the 2nd room you can do that as well. The only caveat is that you’ll be limited to only 5 channel playback in the main room.

 

This year you’ll see that many of Onkyo’s AV receivers are equipped with FireConnect connectivity. In theory with FireConnect you’ll be able to blast audio from any device connected to the receiver to a FireConnect compatible speaker. This is basically Onkyo’s answer to Yamaha’s MusicCast. The difference is that Yamaha has a wide range of MusicCast compatible speakers on the market. Besides a few speakers from Onkyo, you’ll be hard pressed to find any FireConnect speakers available.

 

Streaming Options

WiFi and Bluetooth come built-in to the Onkyo TX-NR656 which is no surprise since nearly all amps in this price range include both. The 656 also includes AirPlay and supports an ample list of internet streaming services. Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, TuneIn and Tidal are all present. Google Cast is said to be coming with a future firmware update, although as of the writing of this review it has yet to be unlocked.

 

Setup & Sound Quality

To calibrate the Onkyo TX-NR656, Onkyo includes a setup microphone that you only have to place in one location in your listening room. The receiver handles it from there and uses the data from the microphone to set the appropriate crossover frequencies, distances, etc. This year Onkyo includes a reflex optimizer which is designed to specifically calibrate Atmos and DTS:X speaker modules. The entire setup takes only a few minutes to complete.

 

Dolby Atmos has a big lead over DTS:X with the number of movies currently supporting Atmos over DTS:X. That being said I’ve managed to get my hands on a couple DTS:X movies for listening purposes. Gods of Egypt, while not a Hollywood masterpiece, did give me a glimpse of what DTS:X has to offer. When the movie’s protagonists enter the Sphinx’s pyramid, the scope of the DTS:X sound track was apparent. Sand apparently swished overhead. The 656 also seamlessly transitioned from the front speakers to the rear creating a cohesive dynamic sound field.

 

The same could also be said for Dolby Atmos.  Jupiter Ascending’s heavy action scenes sounded far more expansive with Atmos. Deactivating the overhead speaker modules I was immediately able to tell the difference. The listening area sounded smaller and more closed in.

 

When comparing the Onkyo TX-NR656 to last year’s 646, this year’s model is a little mellower in the bass department. That doesn’t mean that the 656 is a lightweight. In the final chapter of Jupiter Ascending as the floating fortress is collapsing, the falling debris and crunching metal rumbled and screeched. The 656’s acumen with sound effects was mirrored by its crisp and clear dialogue reproduction.

 

Music on the 656 was solid if not spectacular. Throwing a few Jazz tracks at the Onkyo 656, it showed good dynamics and detail. Switching over to classic rock, the amp showed that it had lots of power on reserve enabling me to crank the volume without it breaking a sweat. My only issue with its audio performance was that it sometimes sounded slightly recessed and didn’t have the punch I was looking for on some tracks. Despite this, the 656 sounds better than most receivers in this price range.

 

Conclusion

Overall, the Onkyo TX-NR656 is a solid AV receiver with an excellent set of features and very good sound quality. Onkyo’s made some changes this year which mainly have to do with user experience. The updated remote is simpler and easier to use. The control app also received a face lift that squarely puts more focus on multi-room audio, however the lack of FireConnect support means that Onkyo has some catching up to do in this department.


Where to Buy:

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