I’ve been waiting for Dolby Atmos to hit the market since last spring, and the rules of the game is the expensive models get all the niceties, well before the entry-level choices. But what if a company like Onkyo decided do to things the exact opposite of what was expected as with the TX-NR636 7.2-Ch Network AV Receiver.
It’s a boon for people who clamor for the latest without concerning themselves of the relentless and utterly confusing push of encryption standards, demand of audio enhancements, and healthy competition for ever-tightening budgets. It appears that the TX-NR636 rewards impatience even if it comes in a colossal but otherwise nondescript exterior, only with individual buttons for each input instead of huge rotary dials, but not a whole lot more aesthetically.
Turn the black box around and you’ll find connectivity is plentiful enough, and we doubt that normal people will go wanting with seven HDMI inputs and two zones output (7/2 HDMI I/O), two coaxial, optical digital, component, and a decent bevy of RCA analog inputs (or just study the images).
Bluetooth along with Wi-Fi DLNA are well accounted for, as well as a host of audio streaming services like AUPEO!, Pandora, Spotify, SiriusXM, Slacker, to name a few derivative apps. What I do give a crap about though is the NR636’s panache for hi-res audio, and if you’ve got DSD, FLAC, and WAV files then you should have no problem listening up to 24-bit/192KHz clarity, whether you’d be able to hear the differences or not.
Almost every receiver nowadays have a calibration process and Onkyo does the same with their new AccuEQ system, dutifully replacing the cumbersome Audyssey MultiEQ where you had to position the microphone in at least five locations for the same results. This fits in the same proprietary vein as Pioneer’s MCACC where you put the mic in the center and are walked through with on-screen prompts and sequential test tones from each speaker channel within a minute or so. If you’re familiar with AVRs over the past few years then this should be a breeze, when AccuEQ correctly identified the size, distance, and crossover frequency (Hz) of drivers and subwoofer on the first attempt. You can also change things manually and we did so for the sake of this review.
My listening impressions of the TX-NR636 is largely focused on Dolby Atmos, which came ready with the latest firmware already installed strictly for a 5.1.2 (channel/subwoofer/upward height) setup. The room featured a pair of ceiling-mounted Bose 301 Speakers, a Klipsch RF-7 Reference II Home Theater System, and a Sony XBR-65X950B 65” 4K Ultra HDTV.
I watched Transformers: Age of Extinction, which, if nothing else (because Atmos releases are also next to none right now) is a thorough example of how object-based surround performs outside the theater. The battle in Hong Kong where frenzied bullets whizzing by, random explosions, and the aerial dominance of Dinobot Strafe was a acoustic warzone. As a whole, the revamped method of multichannel audio enveloped me in a more convincing fashion, rather than a vague interpretation of things happening around you.
For more conventional movies and its quality in amplification, the latest “Dolby Surround” upmixer, replaces the venerable Pro Logic (I/II/IIx) and transforms conventional sources to a more engaging Atmos-like configuration. Low-end bass is weighted, although a comparative quick ear between the Sony STR-DN1050 and Denon AVR-X1100W on hand portrayed those AVRs with a better sense of depth and dynamic range during the Tyrannosaurus Rex chase scene in Jurassic Park. But the TX-NR636 still brought enough warmth for a medium-sized room and can get pretty loud without too much harshness piercing through.
The included remote control (RC-880M) does fall short with a cluttered mess of buttons and just plain dated by design. The same also goes for the equally poor on-screen display (OSD) that looks straight out of the Windows 3.1 heyday with long folder lists and scroll bars, I wish I was exaggerating when I say it was tedious to endure and found that listening to music was ultimately a chore.
Native 4K passthrough and upscaling is a provisional draw with Marvell’s Qdeo video processor and a Silicon Image SiL9679 chipset, making both HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 compliance standard on the TX-NR636 and other Onkyo receivers. However, performance is limited to a bandwidth of 10.2 Gbps and is only capable of a 4:2:0 color space rather than the ideal 4:4:4 range.
Unlike previous reviews from other publications that only mentioned the coming of its potential capabilities and constant complications from first and third-party PR; going hands-on with the TX-NR636 7.2-Ch Network AV Receiver is pretty noteworthy as the most affordable gateway for Dolby Atmos surround and futureproofed 4K UHD.
Despite the perks, the TX-NR636 does feel like a transitional purchase for the absolutely restless. At best, I recommend cross-shopping this receiver at its cheapest (currently $430 on Amazon).