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Onkyo TX-NR3030
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page 4 Sound Quality
page 5 Conclusion
page 6 Measured Performance
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ONKYO TX-NR3030 AV RECEIVER REVIEW

From Hi-Fi World - February 2015  issue
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Charles Atmos

 

Martin Pipe bulks up his multichannel muscles with Onkyo’s TX-NR3030 AV receiver.

 

In the worlds of cinema – domestic and professional – Dolby’s new ‘Atmos’ audio technology is a hot topic of conversation. Launched in 2012, Dolby Atmos is intended to provide convincing localisation of sounds from all around the room. Commercial cinema-goers are literally-surrounded by speakers, Atmos-ready venues being equipped with up to 64 of ‘em - hidden in the ceiling, along walls and behind the projection screen. The basic idea is that you’re immersed in the sound, which comes from all directions – including overhead.

   Atmos starts at the production stage, the technology being radically different from the movie sound-mixer’s perspective. Instead of defining, via a conventional mixing-desk (or software application), the surround channels to which a particular soundtrack component should be directed,  Atmos is based on what Dolby calls sound ‘objects’. Up to 128 of these dynamic soundtrack elements (like ambient babble, gunfire, weather, screams...) can be placed anywhere in three-dimensional space alongside more traditional soundtrack components – like dialogue – that are carried via the regular audio channels (‘beds’ in Atmos-speak) that you’ll hear with non-Atmos gear.

   As far as the film-maker is concerned, the Atmos approach is thus a more intuitive way of working with sound. Atmos does have some potential for effects-rich rock/pop music – an example of which was on the excellent Dolby Atmos demo disc we managed to get our mitts on – but in my opinion there’s little it could do to enhance the comparatively-static classical-music experience. Atmos is, first and foremost, about enhancing movies – although ‘audio-only’ drama could by definition be similarly-enhanced (I’d love to hear a Drama on 3 radio-play given the Atmos treatment!). 

The first Atmos-encoded movie was Pixar’s Brave; others have since followed. 

 

 

Lots of things may be going inside, but Onkyo has neatly laid out the interior of the TX-NR3030. Note the use of three mains transformers for various power supplies - the middle one serves the eleven power amplifiers. Towards the top of the picture, the receiver’s sophisticated digital circuitry can be seen.

 

What starts off at the cinema usually ends up at home, and Atmos is no exception.  Atmos-encoded soundtracks can be included onto lossless ‘TruHD’ 7.1 audio streams of Blu-ray discs – the first of which was Transformers: Edge of Extinction. 

   It’s also compatible with the lossy Dolby Digital Plus codec (meaning that on-demand streams and HDTV broadcasts could be accompanied by Atmos-encoded soundtracks). Any Blu-ray player can be used – set its HDMI audio output to bitstream – although you’ll need new Atmos-ready equipment. 

   Of these, the most important is a decoder/amplifier capable of rendering those Atmos soundtrack objects.  All key manufacturers are beavering away on suitable product. 

In the UK, Onkyo was first to market with the TX-NR3030 receiver examined here – all 22kg of it! Although you can use any existing surround speakers (front, centre, surround and back) you’ll need new Atmos ‘height’ speakers for best results. 


   Not everyone can put speakers into their ceiling, and so Onkyo have also introduced SKH-410 Atmos speakers with full-range drivers that are placed on top of your existing front/rear speakers. They fire upwards, and ‘bounce’ overhead sound to your ears via the ceiling.  The result is a clear step forward from the conventional 5.1 and 7.1 systems we’re used to at home – and an improvement over Dolby’s own Pro-Logic IIz (which offered a basic ‘height’ capability). 

   Up to three pairs of  these purpose-designed Atmos height speakers can be accommodated by the TX-NR3030 in its full eleven-channel-plus-two-subwoofers (11.2) configuration, although the Atmos spec allows for as many as 34 speakers in total! Since Atmos is scalable, though, you can get away with 5.1 plus one pair of height speakers. The more speakers you have, the more precise the positioning. Two pairs of the aforementioned SKH-410s – assigned to front and surround-height – were employed for this review. Accurate matching of timbre is essential to preserve realism – especially considering that effects ‘move between’ speakers.

 

 

These are the dedicated ‘Atmos-enabled’ speakers that Onkyo sells for use with AV receivers like the TX-NR3030. Based on an 8cm. full-range driver, they’re placed on top of the relevant 5.1/7.1 speaker, and fire upwards. The ceiling reflects the ‘height’ channel audio to the listener.

 

Thankfully, the TX-NR3030’s ‘AccEQ’ auto-calibration system – powered internally by twin 32-bit DSP engines – looks after all this stuff, as well as room-acoustics and speaker configuration/layout. Plugging the mike into a dedicated front-channel input kicks off the menu-driven process. This lurks under a flap, as do basic controls and a sensible brace of connectors – HDMI, headphones, optical digital/analogue stereo audio and composite video. Although the fluorescent function display is bright, the control/connector legends are difficult to make out in subdued lighting. 

   Onkyo would rather you used the remote – which is rather baffling on first encounter, as many buttons have multiple functions depending on what mode the receiver is operating in. Thankfully, a very good app (which will also stream music from your mobile device via Wi-Fi) is available as an alternative; RS232 control is another possibility. 

   As the TX-NR3030 is designed to be networked – wirelessly or via Ethernet – it shouldn’t shock you to learn that some functions can also be controlled from a web page. Networking also facilitates DLNA playback, streaming music services like Spotify and Internet radio stations. Still on the wireless-music tip, Bluetooth is also on board.

   The remote is busy, but so too is the TX-NR3030’s rear panel. To this mighty collection of terminals can be connected an awful lot of peripheral devices. The eleven binding-post terminals will deal with more modest speaker complements, the channels unused for surround being redeployable to jobs like bi-amping large front-channel speakers and/or driving up to two pairs of speakers in adjacent rooms (‘zones’ 2 and 3) from different audio sources. All decoded channels have line-level outputs too, with front-channel balanced XLRs to feed – for example – an audiophile-grade system, possibly in another room.

   Then there are the inputs. Seven HDMI inputs, plus three outputs (one for Zone 2) jostle for panel-space with seven analogue inputs (one of which, ‘Phono’, is reserved for a turntable with MM or high-output MC cartridge).  


 

 

The TX-NR3030’s densely-packed rear panel. Note the Wi-Fi aerials and the presence of no fewer than seven HDMI inputs. You also get a full set of multi-channel outputs (but alas no such inputs for older source-gear). The XLRs allow this prodigious unit to be integrated with high-end two-channel audio. For a 11.2 Dolby Atmos rig, all those speaker terminals must be busy!

 

Analogue video inputs (three composite, two component, one RGBHV/VGA) can be converted to HDMI by the ISF calibration-ready video processing; there’s some ‘multi-zone’ potential here too. Also on offer are five digital inputs, three of which are coaxial. You cannot get anything higher than 24-bit/96kHz into these; however, HDMI poses no such limitations. 

Indeed, the HDMI ports (which are 4k and 3D-compatible) will even pass DSD soundtracks from compatible SACD players to the  TX-NR3030 for decoding natively (also game are DSD files from network sources – both 2.8MHz and 5.6MHz). 

Finally, we have connections for external remote sensor, 12-volt triggering and FM/AM aerials (the TX-NR3030’s tuner doesn’t cater for DAB, but do you really need that with Internet radio on board?). The good news is that, after you’ve mastered that remote, this extraordinarily sophisticated and internally-complex piece of equipment is fairly easy to drive. The menus, which use graphics where possible, are laid out sensibly. I particularly like the room layout visualisation!


 

As can be seen from the display, Onkyo have fitted an FM tuner - and it’s a goody too!  The front-panel AV inputs (which, like the numerous setup controls, are hidden behind a flap when not required) are of significant practical value; unfortunately, the legends for these controls are barely visible in a darkened room. Backlighting next time, please?

 

SOUND QUALITY

Watching Dolby Atmos-encoded material was little short of revelatory. Yes, it really does make an impact.  And Transformers: Edge of Extinction (played here on a Cambridge Azur 751BD and heard with a Rogers GS6/GS5/C33/ASB60 speaker system) is just the sort of action-driven effects-laden picture that can harness the potential of the system. From the start of the film, during which the alien ‘Creators’ wipe out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, you’re hooked. Spacecraft, fighter-jets, cars, Transformers (both ‘man-made’ and ‘authentic’) and rain show off the positioning prowess and sheer scale that the TX-NR3030 can impart.

   But it’s not just the bombast that works. In one scene, a miniature drone whizzes around the entrance of a corporate headquarters with the intention of scanning an employee ID card for subsequent forgery. As the object moves around, you can audibly place it in the soundscape, thanks in no small part to the Atmos height channels. They buzz around your ears just like the fly you can never swat – and I suspect that was probably the intended effect. In other respects, we’re onto a winner. Detailing is tremendous, while bass (explosions and machine sounds) is tuneful and tightly-controlled. 

It’s maybe a little too sharp on occasions, but treble/bass tone controls are available if you need them. At no time did the TX-NR3030 show any signs of running out of steam – those eleven amplifiers are capable of outputting 185 Watts each into a six-ohm load; we measured considerably more. 

   Surround-sound music also benefits from such punch. I particularly enjoyed listening to the Pure Audio (music-only Blu-ray) of Queen’s classic A Night at the Opera. Here all of the studio tricks have been applied to the multi-track master tapes to yield a 5.1 surround mix of what was originally a stereo album. It does take a while to get used to Brian May’s instantly-recognisable guitar-playing coming from behind you. I wonder what the remix engineers would have done with this album had Dolby Atmos been available?

   The analogue radio tuner may not be the TX-NR3030’s main selling point, but it’s certainly worth talking about. I found the RDS-equipped FM section to be sensitive, tonally-balanced and capable of a natural stereo soundstage with quality live broadcasts from the likes of Radio 3. I was also impressed with the wide choice of stations available from the ‘TuneIn’ Internet radio service. As there are thousands of stations out there, some of which are capable of fine sonics, it’s good that personal ‘favourites’ can be preset. My only beef is that the TuneIn user interface can be sluggish, and it’s too easy to ‘overshoot’ the desired item.

   USB and DLNA playback are excellent, and a wide range of codecs are supported – among them MP3, WAV/FLAC (up to 24-bit/192kHz), Apple Lossless, WMA, OGG Vorbis, AAC and DSD. There is a short gap between tracks if you’re playing them from a DLNA server. This can be annoying if you’re listening to one of those albums where one track joins into another – mix CDs, for example. Funnily enough, the very same album played via USB suffers from no such gaps! In sound quality terms, there’s little to fault here. A rip of The Easy Star All-Stars’ dub-reggae reworking of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (CD) was introduced via the USB port. 

   The insistent rhythms of the drum ‘n’ bass tinged reinterpretation of On The Run were conveyed with the speed and bite due, while the wonderful heavy-reggae low-end that permeates the album was clean yet powerful. 

   Interestingly, switching to TX-NR3030’s Pure Audio mode – which disengages the DSP – yielded a noticeably more ‘forward’ sound. 

Finally, we have the phono stage. This makes for a good introduction to vinyl playback; the sound proved to be warm and acceptably-detailed with my ‘stock’ Technics SL-1200 quartz-locked Direct-Drive with Philips GP412 cartridge – the modern equivalents of which could be comfortably-partnered with a receiver of this nature.


CONCLUSION

I’ve been reviewing AV amps and receivers for nearly twenty years, and I have to say that – in raw excitement terms – my experiences with the TX-NR3030 rank alongside the first time I sampled the discrete 5.1 of Dolby Digital at home. I certainly look forward to more Dolby Atmos sound-tracked movies, but hope that intelligent use – rather than tiresome ‘sonic ping-pong’ gimmicks – will be made of this worthwhile new technology. 

   The TX-NR3030 also works well with ‘standard’ Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1/7.1 Blu-ray and DVD soundtracks; the Pro-Logic and DSP modes could also enhance two-channel material.  Compared to dedicated two-channel audio (like Roksan K2 BT) there’s a slight loss of transparency and finer musical detail when listening to well-recorded material. But given its complexity, the TX-NR3030 fares very well as a music reproducer – intelligent design, a hefty power supply and the use of decent 32-bit Burr-Brown DACs help here.

 

ONKYO  TX-NR3030  £2,500

 

OUTSTANDING - amongst the best 

 

One of the most exciting surround-sound receivers I’ve yet had the pleasure of using. Onkyo have done it again...

 

FOR

- Dolby Atmos is a real boon 

  with appropriately-encoded 

  material

- can play just about anything!

- great with movies – much 

  better than expected with 

  music

 

AGAINST 

- remote takes a while to get 

  used to

- ‘Gaps’ with DLNA playback

 

Onkyo 

01628 473350

www.uk.onkyo.com/en


Measured by a Rohde&Schwarz UPV - the world's most advanced audio analyser

 

MEASURED PERFORMANCE

The TX-NR3030 produced a massive 180Watts into 8 Ohms under test, and 290 Watts into 4 Ohms. It ran just warm under test but a cooling fan kicked in after a while. It was able to cope with delivering high power for a long period without getting too hot.

   Distortion levels were low, reaching a maximum of 0.018% at 10kHz, 1W output into 4 Ohms. This is low, and our harmonic structure analysis shows classic crossover distortion, but it is kept well under control. 

   An analogue input signal, through the ADC caused overload above 2V, but this limit is avoided by selecting Direct to route around the ADC. ADC noise was low at -90dB; noise measured a low -102dB in Direct mode (no ADC). High input sensitivity of 220mV allows the Onkyo to accommodate external low gain phono stages for anyone wanting to run an MC cartridge perhaps; the phono input fitted is MM only.

   Onkyo always fit a good VHF/FM tuner and this one was no exception. Frequency response measured flat to 7kHz (-1dB), after which treble rolled away slowly to measure -1.5dB at 10kHz. The mpx filter imposed a sharp cut off at 16kHz to reject 19kHz pilot tone. This response will give a slightly warm or ‘easy’ sound balance. Distortion was unusually low at full modulation, measuring 0.1% against a usual 2%, so this may well be a SDR tuner; if so it is a good one. Hiss was low at -68dB (IEC weighted) at full quieting, from a modest 0.8mV (p.d.) from the aerial. Measured IHF 50dB stereo sensitivity was good at 34uV.

   The MM Phono input was accurate in equalisation, having flat frequency response across the audio band. With low noise, normal sensitivity and overload figures it performed well all round.

Frequency response for CD through the D/A convertors  via the optical S/PDIF digital input was absolutely flat, reaching 20.3kHz (-1dB). Distortion wasn’t so low, measuring 0.27% at -60dB - not a great result for 16bit where 0.2% is common. With high resolution digital (24bit PCM) just 0.06% distortion was measured at -60dB, a good result, so on balance the ‘3030 is no disgrace. Surprisingly, neither electrical nor optical S/PDIF digital inputs would accept a sample rate higher than 96kHz, the receiver remained silent when fed 176.4kHz or 192kHz digital, a peculiar and significant limitation nowadays.

   The TX-NR3030 measured very well in most areas. The VHF tuner is a very good one, giving fine results all round. With CD (16/44.1 PCM) digital input performance figures were good, as is to be expected nowadays. Inability to handle high resolution PCM above 24/96 was a surprise but 24/96 bandwidth and linearity were good enough to reveal sound quality improvement over lower resolution digital. NK

 

FREQUENCY RESPONSE

 

DISTORTION

 

 

Power 180W

Frequency response (Direct) 6Hz-100kHz

Separation 83dB

Noise (A/D, Direct) -90/-102dB

Distortion 0.02%

Damping factor 25

 

DIGITAL

Frequency response (-1dB) 4Hz-41kHz (24/96)

Separation 102dB

Noise -112dB

Dynamic range (EIAJ) 112dB

Distortion (-60dB) 0.06%

 

VHF TUNER

Frequency response 20Hz-7kHz

Stereo separation 56dB

Distortion (50% mod.) 0.08%

Hiss (CCIR) -68dB

Signal for minimum hiss 0.8mV

Sensitivity (stereo) 34µV

 

PHONO

Frequency response 6Hz-20kHz

Stereo separation 68dB

Distortion (50% mod.) 0.04%

Hiss -82dB

Sensitivity 4mV

Overload 70mV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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