Every year, the receiver manufacturers launch new models on the market and it is not always easy to present innovative and / or useful products to the customer. In the case of the Onkyo TX-NR686, however, there are some useful improvements over the predecessor TX-NR676E (test in issue 9-2017).
First Look at the Onkyo TX-NR686
A new addition to the Onkyo 6-Series is the THX Select certification, which is not only rare in the entry-level class. THX is no longer important to many manufacturers. Thanks to the THX standard, the 650-euro AV receiver fulfills the THX standard specifications for small to medium-sized rooms. Added to this are the THX sound circuits “Cinema”, “Music” and “Game”. The streaming section has also been upgraded: The Google assistant for voice-controlled music streaming now joins Google’s Chromecast. However, this requires a compatible speaker that sends voice commands to Google – such as Onkyo’s Smart Speaker G3. In addition, the engineers in Onkyo’s controller app integrated the service Amazon Music; Spotify, Tidal and Deezer are also available.
Onkyo: The clear remote control of the TX-NR686 also has lower, sharp corners. Positive: The volume keys are freely positioned.
Equipment and technology
The appearance of the receiver, which is available in black or silver, has hardly changed compared to its predecessor, the TX-NR676, but the smoothly running volume wheel has been redesigned; it is now a bit deeper and is thus more tangible. On the back everything remained the same: There you will find 2 HDMI outputs and 6 HDMI inputs according to the 2.0 standard; the front HDMI interface also accepts 4K or HDCP 2.2 signals. 6 analog stereo RCA inputs are joined by a phono board and 3 digital S / PDIF inputs.
Well equipped Onkyo TX-NR686: All 9 HDMI sockets (one at the front) understand 4k / 60p as well as the HDCP 2.2 copy protection. To 6 analog RCA inputs join 3 digital S / PDIF jacks and a phono input for the record player. The two folding antennas are to ensure the best Bluetooth and WLAN reception.
The speaker layout also remained unchanged: Since the TX-NR686 has only 7 power amplifiers, it can be used to realize a maximum of 7.2 or 5.2.2 layouts with 2 ceiling speakers for 3D sound. Due to the lack of pre-outs, the multi-channel sound is limited to 7 channels plus 2 subwoofers; 9-channel sound and more are only available from the larger RZ series at Onkyo. Free power amplifiers can also be used for the bi-amping of the main speakers or the active sound of a second room; alternatively, the pre-outs provide audio signals for a second listening zone.
Onkyo TX-NR686 box setup: For 7.1 or 5.1.2 channels is over. Ceiling boxes can be placed in front, in the middle and in the back.
The box configuration allows the two height boxes to be positioned as “height” spokes in the front and rear, in “top” positions in front, in the middle and in the back. Of course, Dolby-Enabled speakers are also supported. For their timely radiation Onkyo relies on a phase calibration by means of “Accu-Reflex”. Unfortunately, the two subwoofers that can be plugged in can not be controlled separately; the same signal always sounds from both outputs.
The manual equalizer has 15 bands, of which only 9 can be activated at the same time.
Onkyo’s automatic calibration “AccuEQ” is limited to only one measuring point and also provides only an equalized EQ target curve, which is optionally applicable to all speakers or the main speakers omitted. The equalizer may also be activated in parallel with AccuEQ, but it only works with boxing pairs. Of the 15 bands, 9 can be activated simultaneously, the filters range from 25 to 16 kHz. Schelte is there for the large distance and level steps of 3 centimeters respectively 1dB units; better would be 1 centimeter or 0.5 decibels. We have nothing to complain about in crossover management, which provides crossover frequencies between 40 and 200 hertz for each pair of speakers, and between 80 and 120 hertz on the subwoofer.
The cross-format upmixing is now also possible with Onkyo, as the menu photo testifies.
The decoders for Dolby Atmos and DTS: X are joined by their upbeat Dolby Surround and DTS Neural: X. At Auro 3D you have to do without Onkyo in 2018. Unlike older home AV receivers, the TX-NR686 allows cross-format upmixing. Thus, DTS signals can be played back with Dolby decoders and vice versa. The exception is native 3D sound. The three THX sound programs do not support height boxes and work with all sound signals except Dolby Atmos and DTS: X.
Video and multimedia
The video board of the TX-NR686 processes 4K / 60p signals including HDCP2.2, HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG and is still up to date. Receivers with HDMI 2.1 will probably not be released until next year. You have to do without a video scaler and video equalizer, which costs points. The device scans video signals 1: 1. The manually adjustable Lip Sync Delay has a wide control range from -100 to +500 milliseconds.
Comfortable music listening and multiroom applications are made possible by Onkyo’s “Controller” app. With FlareConnect, DTS Play-Fi and Chromecast, the receiver offers many streaming technologies. In addition, the Onkyo makes contact with the music via AirPlay, Bluetooth, DLNA client and USB, the media player accepts Hi-Res files (including FLAC, WAV, AIFF, ALAC) with 192 kHz / 24 bit as well as DSD files up to 5.6 MHz. For the D / A conversion is a AK4458 chip with 384 kHz / 32 bit from AKM responsible.
That’s DTS Play-Fi
“Play-Fi” is a streaming protocol by sound specialist DTS, whose features are similar to the competition (HEOS, MusicCast, FireConnect, etc.): The free “Play-Fi” app enables music streaming to “Play -Fi “-enabled devices as well as the setting up of multiroom systems and their control by one or more users.
In addition, you can access the main online services such as Spotify, Deezer, Napster, Qobuz and Tidal, also network streaming with DLNA is possible. It supports lossless audio transmission at up to 24 bits / 192 kHz via Wi-Fi, Ethernet and power. Unlike the competition, the “Play-Fi” app is not only available for Android and iOS devices, but also for Kindle Fire and even normal Windows PCs (Windows 7+).
Onkyo TX-NR686 Sound Quality
In the measuring lab, the TX-NR686 was able to build on the values of its predecessor in most disciplines: 175 or 149 watts per channel with stereo (4/6 ohms) are excellent in this price range and even with 7 simultaneously used power amplifiers delivered the small receiver always still 82 or 69 watts (4/6 ohms). Our test sample in 5-channel operation made a crack at 4 ohms: Here, the power per channel dropped by about 20 watts compared to the previous year’s model. 98 watts into 6 ohms, however, corresponded to the 5-channel performance of the TX-NR676E.
In the hearing test, however, this played virtually no role. Here, the Onkyo turned out to be no child of sadness, he played dynamic and powerful, rock music was particularly lively and fun with a lot of fun. Classical recordings, on the other hand, lacked suppleness, as revealed by 5.1-baroque music by an SACD. Also, the TX-NR686 did not resolve complex orchestral arrangements as audibly and widely as the more expensive AV receivers can.
The measurement was fast and without complications, but we had to readjust the crossover frequencies and distances a bit. With active AccuEQ next rotated Atmos trailer in the player: In the “Amaze” clip pressed the “Powerful Bass” very neat and contoured – and not as excessive, as we are accustomed to that of Onkyo devices sometimes. The flying effects could be located cleanly in the room, even if the sound field could have been a bit bigger. In “Audiosphere”, the Japanese raised the synthesizer sounds well perceptible, but not as accurate as it would be possible with four ceiling speakers. In the action finale of “Ghost in the Shell” (Dolby Atmos) the Onkyo convinced us with a large and sensible effect, only the bass we wanted a bit more precision and depth.
Even with stereo music in Pure Direct mode, which bypasses all components that are not absolutely necessary for the playback, the Onkyo made a lot of fun with its direct, powerful and finely resolved playing style.
Onkyo TX-NR686 Conclusion
When it comes to multimedia, multiroom and 4K video, you do not have to compromise on more expensive models with Onkyo’s THX entry-level TX-NR686. The 7 power amplifiers also convince with their powerful and dynamic sound. A better receiver will hardly be found for 650 euros.