Pros: LOTS of Power, LOTS of cinema sound field settings, Audyssey XT32
Cons: Sub EQ HT would be nice
Overall, it's hard to imagine being happier with Onkyo's 9.2 channel TX-NR929 receiver. This unit replaced my TX-NR818 and although similar, it is definitely an upgrade. I actually purchased this unit and the Yamaha RX-A3030 at the same time and did an A/B comparison to see which unit I'd end up keeping and which went back to the store. Thanks to a local supplier for allowing me to check out these two units in my own home, with my own speakers, and ensuring I have the exact system I want and need - hopefully one I could live with for many years to come.
The system is connected to RSL Speakers (www.rslspeakers.com) 7.2 system, with an upgrade to the dual-driver, 4 ohm-rated CG24 speakers for not just the Center channel, but also using them on the Front Left and Right channels. This was made purely to help fill out 2 (or 2.2 in my case) channel stereo listening, not for home theater use, but it certainly can't hurt for movies. Because of the 4 ohm speakers, I set up the system using the 4 ohm option in the configuration menu, even though the 4 surrounds were all 8-ohm rated. This was specifically suggested by Howard Rodgers at RSL. The Onkyo certainly doesn't have any issue managing the varied resistance ratings of the speakers and Audyssey XT32 made sure they don't sound disjointed when running together.
To "torture test" the equipment, I ran a marathon session of Marvel's Avengers, GI Joe Retaliation and Iron Man, all on Blu-Ray using the DTS HD Master Audio tracks. Running these three moves back-to-back-to-back allowed me to not only annoy my wife, but to see how much heat these units threw off under as much load as I could realistically throw at it, for as long as most sane people would possibly consider reasonable. I was surprised to find the TX-NR929 ran noticeably cooler than its predecessor, the TX-NR818 on the same material. The Yamaha also didn't break a sweat on these tests - no heat issues for either of these systems. -As most negative forum posts about Onkyo equipment typically revolve around HDMI board issues caused by overheating their receivers, this was quite a relief.
Another change from the last-generation TX-NR818 receiver is the dropping of the HQ Vida video chip. This changed the placement of some functions in the setup menu, but still provided all the options I’d want to use, plus one more being added. Because Marvell Qdeo now manages all video, the 929 is now capable of not only upscaling video to 4k, it also can now use passthrough mode –an oversight on the TX-NR818. I also noticed less latency and Lip Sync issues when playing MKV files from my NAS, through a Popcorn Hour A-400 and on through to my venerable BenQ W500 (720p native) projector. This was an unexpected benefit and one I’ll gladly take!
Sonically, there wasn't a noticeable different between the Yamaha and the Onkyo system -even though the Yamaha was rated with a higher power output, it didn't translate into any increased volume in my home theater when running at reference levels and testing with an SPL meter. Where the differences started to become noticeable was in the additional flexibility the Onkyo brings to the table. It has every conceivable option for home theater use: DTS HD Master native, DTS Neo:X, THX Cinema, THX S2 Cinema, Theater Dimensional (3.x surround mode with phantom rear surrounds,) Dolby PL IIx, PLIIz (when my additional height speakers were connected - I had a pair of older Polk Audio Classic II satellite speakers I was no longer using, so I have now also hooked those up as the Front Height speakers, giving the option to use all 9 channels of amplification the Onkyo brings to the table.) These speakers were also connected as the Front Presence speakers on the Yamaha, although the sound mode setups don't give you quite the same level of control turning them on and off.
The on-screen menu for the Onkyo is beautiful - it offers two modes: a Full setup menu over a black screen, giving you full access to configure every option in the menu system, and a “Quick Setup” menu that is overlaid on top of whatever video content you have playing. This gives you “on the fly” ability to quickly change the video processing setting, or bump up the center channel if your content demands it. You can't do everything from the Quick Setup menu, but within two button clicks, you have access to 75% of the settings available and pretty much anything you'd want to adjust during playback.
By comparison, the Yamaha's on-screen menu looked very dated and clunky. My wife, having seen both systems during the week-long auditions, noted that the menu setup on the Yamaha reminded her of an old Nintendo (8-bit graphics) system we used to have a long time ago. This may not be important to you if you're the type of person that sets up their equipment once, gets it nailed down how they like it, and never changes it, but as a constant "tweaker" that simply cannot help but try to adjust something every time, the more classic (archaic?) menus of the Yamaha were a real turn off – especially at a higher price point.
The remote controls for both systems weren't stellar. I'd have to give the edge there to Yamaha as they backlit the remote allowing for much easier use in a darkened home theater. To me, this is a complete non-issue however as both Yamaha and Onkyo give you very good apps to replace their remotes. Being on a phone (or iPad or iPod) backlighting a physical remove is irrelevant and this is likely the reason for Onkyo to ignore this feature. to their credit, Onkyo does backlight the most-recent input button used, although I'm really not certain as to how that helps, when it lights up only AFTER the button is used, instead of somehow allowing you to see which button you're going to use next.
What ultimately sealed the deal in favour of choosing Onkyo over Yamaha was the sound fields. Yamaha offered TONS of options like Cathedral, Hall, Jazz Club, Church, etc. but only straight decoding of multichannel signals included in almost all DVDs and Blu-rays. For example, the Onkyo lets you immediately compare and contrast between DTS Neo:X Cinema and Dolby PL IIz sound fields, swapping between them easily. This is a feature I use ALL the time as some recordings sound better in the Neo:X sound field, and some I prefer in Dolby PL IIz or the THX sound fields. Again, as a "tweaker" I love the extra control that was simply missing in the Yamaha's design.
Onkyo’s addition of integrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi is a nice touch. Already having Gigabit Ethernet run to my receiver’s location, I used the available RJ-45 port on the back instead of using the wireless option.
About the only thing I find missing from this rig is Audyssey Sub EQ HT. Having dual subs, I would appreciate being able to have Audyssey configure them separately and ensure I have the best bass possible with the subs located in different areas of the home theater. Because this 9.2 channel receiver lacks the ability to EQ the subs separately, I opted to put the two RSL Speedwoofer 10’s next to each other as shown in their manual. Audyssey still configures them, just not independently as I would prefer. A pretty minor gripe for a receiver that otherwise acts like a Swiss Army knife when it comes to having everything you’d want in a home theater receiver.
At the end of the day, both systems sounded clean and had more than enough power to run my home theater to its potential, but only the Onkyo had the flexibility to allow my "Inner A/V Geek" to come out and play -and really, getting the most enjoyment from your investment has to be high on everyone's list when you're up in this price point for receivers. Thanks Onkyo - I couldn't be more satisfied.