The Onkyo TX-NR696 is the latest iteration of one of the most popular receivers at Onkyo. Just like the Denon AVR-X2600 this is an av receiver with many possibilities that allows owners to taste what a better device can offer. Onkyo clearly wants to stay ahead of the competition in one area: streaming. The collaboration with Sonos is the icing on the cake with this streaming sample.
Introduction Onkyo TX-NR696
The TX-NR696 is a brand new receiver from Onkyo for model year 2019. Unlike most competitors, Onkyo (and sister brand Pioneer) is planning to launch a relatively large number of new receivers this year, including this competitively priced device. It is a 7.2 receiver, which are sufficient channels to build a basic but complete home theater. You can build a 5.1.2 setup with it, for example, or simply keep it at 5.1 and use the two remaining channels for a second zone in another room. The price tag of 650 euros makes the TX-NR696 a mid-range in the entry segment, a rival for devices such as the Denon AVR-X2600H or the Yamaha RX-685. The striking sticker on the front immediately reveals what Onkyo bets on when unpacking: streaming. Because streaming, that is possible in the TX-NR696 in very many ways.
Onkyo TX-NR696 – Solid and predictable
The price tag that dangles from the TX-NR696 is not that immense, but this Onkyo looks pretty good. The front radiates more premium allure than you would expect with a sub-600 euro device, yet from a distance. From close up it appears the front panel made of plastic, well disguised as metal. However, the large knobs give you the necessary confidence when you turn it. The build quality seems solid.
Onkyo still strongly believes that you should be able to do everything via the buttons on the receiver itself, a position that other brands are gradually giving up. That is why the TX-NR696 also has a lot, which makes the device look more “technical” and more complex. A good example of the Onkyo attitude: where many brands let you switch through the inputs via a rotary knob, here you have a row of twelve buttons below the display. It is also unusual that there are two small knobs with which you can adjust listening modes and tone control, whereby two separate push buttons are used to make larger choices. For example, you can choose from Movie or Music modes via a push button, with a rotary knob below it to then go through Stereo, All Channel Stereo, Direct, etc. And so there are surprisingly many buttons and buttons on the TX-NR696. One thing is certain: if you lose the remote between the seat cushions and your tablet, you can still move to your TV furniture on your knees and set the receiver directly as you wish.
Talking about the remote : Onkyo provides a relatively simple remote control. That sounds like criticism, but actually we think it is one of the best remotes available. Although the build quality is only mediocre, it is. It does not do everything, but presents fewer buttons just to increase the ease of use. Where a Denon remote presents the complexity of a Boeing 747 dashboard – and invites your partner to press the wrong button – the Onkyo remote is simply very pleasant to use.
Onkyo TX-NR696 – Equipped as expected
The back of the TX-NR696 is a bit cleaner than the rival Denon AVR-X2600H that we had a few weeks earlier. Just as Onkyo opts for a sober, sleek interface, the Japanese company opts for the same in terms of connections. No (largely unnecessary) legacy video inputs here, but only the essence. That makes it less confusing for people who are not very familiar with AV receivers. The speaker terminals are slightly better models that are suitable for banana plugs or spades, but are a bit cheaper than with Denon. A detail, that’s right.
In terms of HDMI inputs and outputs, the TX-NR696 is the right choice. There are six HDMI 2.0 inputs and two HDMI outputs. One thing to watch out for: the higher HDMI inputs are not assigned to an input name by default. It is handy that Onkyo provides a USB port in addition to the HMDI inputs. This way you can easily insert a Chromecast stick. For the ‘new’ Chromecast Ultra dongles, however, the port does not have enough power and you will still have to use a separate adapter.
In terms of audio inputs, the Onkyo receiver offers what you expect on this. price point. The phono input had been an asset a few years ago, but now middle-class receivers are all equipped with it. A handy feature is the pre-out that you can use for a second zone with its own amplifier. There is an AM / FM tuner but no DAB radio – that is becoming a requirement on a new receiver, we think.
Onkyo TX-NR696 – Sleek and to the point
The TV interface of the TX-NR696 appears very familiar. Onkyo has apparently changed little since our review of the TX-RZ830 last year. It is very austere by the standards of the A-brands among the AV receivers. You are offered relatively few choices, all in a very strict framework. That makes navigation easy, although you also have fewer options at the same time. It is a huge difference with the interface of a Yamaha, where you can set more things. Is that good or bad? That depends on you. Someone who likes to tune will not like the Onkyo interface, while people who find ease of use important will just like the Japanese approach. It should also be noted that the Pioneer VSX-LX304, which we received for testing at the same time, runs on the same software platform, but still offers slightly more options, including room calibration. Offering more or fewer options seems to be a way for Onkyo-Pioneer to distinguish between the two brands.
It is also not the case that the Onkyo interface was made infantile. At the screen where you set your speaker configuration, we see plenty of options for a typical living room installation. For example, you can choose the height channels from different speaker types, which is important. A height channel built into the ceiling behaves differently than a speaker hanging high on the wall.
This Onkyo also comes with features that promise the experience of height channels, but only with surround speakers at ear height. Dolby Atmos Height Virtualizer and DTS Virtual: X sound intriguing, but were not yet present when we got the receiver. Comes with a future firmware update, says Onkyo. We are curious about the performance of these two upscaling techniques, but you cannot expect that they can expect discrete height speakers.
The interface itself is – like rivals – not in 4K, but it does scale up well to  Ultra HD . We hope to finally see receivers that will make the move to 4K in 2020, because this all looks a bit less attractive on a 4K projector.
Choose how to stream
With Chromecast,  AirPlay 2 Bluetooth, DLNA support, Play-Fi and its own FlareConnect platform on board, the Onkyo TX-NR696 offers an incredible amount of options for playing music wirelessly on the receiver . Let us note that this opulent range is present on almost all Onkyo devices and with the new Pioneer devices. As a result, you can also see any Pioneer devices present in Onkyo apps, and vice versa. The platform also includes devices other than AV receivers, such as Sonos-style wireless speakers.
Offering many streaming options is a way to prevent a manufacturer from making the wrong choice. It is like a host who has doubts about what to offer and then creates an immense celebration. It is up to the guests to take what they want. But: many choices make it confusing. The Onkyo solution is to work with multiple apps, with Onkyo Controller as the main app. Fortunately, it is a very clear app, which we think is a bit inspired by the MusicCast app from Yamaha. Each device appears in a main screen as a large photo (adjustable, even with its own image), making the selection of a room easy. If you have a receiver with multiple zones, such as the TX-NR696, then each zone shows as a separate room. Handy! You can also play a different source per zone, which is not possible with everyone (such as Denon). Strangely enough, you cannot bring anything that plays on Zone 2 from the receiver to the main zone via the app. It is also not possible to stream different music in the two zones.
The Onkyo Controller app is clear in appearance and relatively intuitive. It reacted regularly with us, especially when we chose one of the streaming options, such as Tidal. In the end we found it quicker to dive and cast in the Tidal app.
If you don’t like the Onkyo Controller and you don’t want to work with AirPlay or Chromecast for some reason, you can still work it out completely go alternative. After all, Play-Fi is still there. You then install an Onkyo version of the Play-Fi app, after which you play streaming services, internet radio and your own files via a compact and boring interface. An advantage: in Play-Fi you will find support for streaming services that are not included in the Onkyo Controller app, such as Qobuz.
Before you can play with all this, you must of course connect the TX-NR696 to the network. This is very simple, especially if you have an iPad / iPhone at home or install the Google Home app on your phone. Via the WiFi settings of iOS (where the Onkyo appears as an AirPlay speaker to be configured) or via the Home app you can connect the receiver to your WiFi network. You do not need to enter a password. We have tried the two methods, and both work very smoothly.
Works with Sonos
Onkyo has its own wireless speakers, but that doesn’t stop the brand from entering into an alliance with Sonos. This has led to the Works with Sonos function, which allows you to integrate the Onkyo TX-NR696 into a Sonos system relatively easily. Well, it is a half integration. The Sonos software is not really embedded in the receiver, just a few settings that make it easy to pair with a Sonos Connect streamer.
The Works with Sonos feature is present on almost all Pioneer and Onkyo devices. Instead of explaining everything to you again, we refer you to our first test of Works with Sonos on the Pioneer VSX-933. It works quite the same with the TX-NR696.
The summary: the Sonos integration works well, up to a certain level. If you play music on the Connect in the Sonos app, the Onkyo receiver will automatically switch to the correct input so that you hear the song on your surround speakers. However, the volume control in the Sonos app is not linked to the Onkyo receiver (or rather: it works, but “100” in the Sonos app is equal to the volume level at which the Onkyo is now set). Anyway you have to invest in a Sonos Connect (449 euros) to bridge the gap between your Onkyo receiver and the Sonos system.
We connected the TX-NR696 to our fixed loudspeaker setup consisting of Dali Rubicon LCR and Vokal, supplemented with Alteco height speakers and a Monitor Audio Silver W12 subwoofer. As sources we use an Xbox One X, Oppo UDP-203 and Panasonic DMP-820.
In the past we have not always been convinced by the results of AccuEQ, but the mighty car chase on the tones of a track of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in the beginning of ‘Baby Driver’ (Ultra HD Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos) sounds pretty well integrated. At the front of the room, the three speakers are well matched. The subwoofer sometimes tackles it a bit too violently, for example when Baby switches or the bandits in their Subaru get in the way. By the way, for surround and music lovers, the next film sequence, with Baby running in sync through the streets on the tones of “Harlem Shuffle,” is a real feast. The surround field is full of all sorts of fun sound effects, which gives a huge sense of being there. We also go through Dolby’s standard Dolby Atmos test videos, such as ‘Amaze’ and ‘Audiosphere’, and hear a good integration and height channels that discreetly connect with the surround channels at ear level.
Also with the spectacular escape of the terrorist Walker in ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’ through the streets of Paris (Ultra HD Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos in Direct mode) the Onkyo performs surprisingly well. We miss the fine micro-detail a bit (we have already heard better with Dirac systems), but when it comes to immersion, it certainly appeals. Despite the inevitable exaggeration when it comes to power, the TX-NR696 has enough horsepower to expect the big noise peaks. It does depend a bit on how loud you like to listen (and the sensitivity of your speakers, of course), because at top sound levels the Onkyo does run into some limitations. This fragment ends with a piece in which the MI team sails through the sewers of Paris with a boat on the tones of the MI theme, played by a military fanfare. If we heard this on, for example, the Arcam AVR-850 or Anthem MRX-1120, then this part sounded larger and more enveloping.
Onkyo has been bragging with the THX label for years. But what is the point of it? After all, THX is not a guarantee of quality, but rather a book full of rules about how you can best display surround. Yet on the TX-NR696 you have a number of THX sound modes in addition to the classic sound modes. We were curious if they would be so much different or better than, for example, the Direct mode. After switching back and forth when viewing “Venom” (Ultra HD Blu-ray, DTS: X), we conclude that THX Cinema is worth the effort. It sounds a bit tighter, more detailed but also less enveloping and bombastic. When we think back to Fallout in Direct mode, it was a bit more impressive. A question of taste, perhaps.
On the musical level, the Onkyo receiver managed to “catch” us a bit less. The display wasn’t bad, but sometimes we thought it was too clinical and distant. Although we have to admit that “Trainwreck” from De La Soul and “Off Peak Dreams” from Ghostpoet via DTS: Neural X tempted us to continue listening with upsampling to 5.1.2 switched on. But most other music modes, including THX Music, sounded rather lousy. In our opinion, music lovers strive for a good combination of slightly warmer, easily controllable speakers with this receiver.
Conclusion of Onkyo TX-NR696
The TX-NR696 is a great all-rounder for people who want to build a home theater at a reasonable price. . It has enough power for a living room and is great for a classic 5.1 setup – with or without two pairs of height channels. We would particularly recommend this Onkyo if you are looking for a surround receiver to fit into a Sonos system or if you like to listen to music via streaming. Paradoxically for a streaming sample we find the NR696 just stronger for film.