The TX-SR876 features a sophisticated new graphical user interface (GUI) and set-up menu that is even more intuitive than that of the already good TX-SR705 I tested last year. Be aware, though, that there are lots of menu options, not all of which are completely self-explanatory. Let me emphasize again that to understand and use all the features this AVR has to offer you’ll need to read the manual (just do it; you can thank me later).
Because Audyssey’s MultEQ XT room/speaker EQ system is a vital, integral part of the TX-SR876, its set-up and control procedures should be part of our User Interface discussion. My finding was that the Onkyo (GUI) guides you through Audyssey automated speaker setup in a simple, foolproof manner. But here are four important hints for best Audyssey results:
There are two small criticisms I would offer regarding the TX-SR876’s Audyssey controls. First, I’d like to see Onkyo provide onscreen graphs to show the EQ curves Audyssey applies for each speaker. Second, I wish the TX-SR876 offered the option of applying either “standard” or “flat” Audyssey EQ curves (the Onkyo provides the standard curve only). Both features are offered on some of the other Audyssey-equipped AVRs now on the market.
The TX-SR876 comes with a backlit remote that, in most respects, is a model of clarity and intuitive operation (the surround mode controls are particularly nicely done and easy to use). One change I would suggest, however, would be to provide an Audyssey control button to allow toggling through various EQ options on the fly.
The Onkyo’s HQV Reon VX processor does a good job of upscaling lower resolution sources to 1080i/p levels while producing very smooth, film-like images. Not surprisingly, the processor performs very well on tests found the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD—especially on that disc’s difficult jaggies tests. This said, however, I found the HQV processor’s overall image sharpness was not quite the equal of the Gennum processor used in our lab’s reference Anthem A/V controller. Small details, such as the louvers or vents seen in the concert hall ceiling in the Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City Music Hall Blu-ray disc, look much sharper through the Gennum/Anthem combo than through the more softly focused HQV/Onkyo system. But the tradeoff is that the HQV processor never exhibits jaggies or flickering motion artifacts, which is a great blessing.
The TX-SR876 takes the basic elements of Onkyo’s house sound—namely, a good measure of clarity and articulacy coupled with smooth, unexaggerated natural warmth—to a higher level of refinement than I’ve ever heard from any Onkyo receiver. But what also sets the TX-SR876 apart from many receivers in its class is its ability to serve up serious dynamic wallop without ever breaking a sweat. The Onkyo exhibits a kind of confident swagger, no matter how demanding the program material may be (though the TX-SR876, like all Onkyo AVRs of recent memory, does tend to run pretty warm).
The receiver sounds very good with its EQ options turned off, but for many speaker systems—even for some very revealing ones—bringing the built-in Audyssey EQ system into play can elevate performance to an entirely different level. Specifically, Audyssey gets rid of room/speaker response anomalies while preserving the subtle tonal and textural qualities that give each speaker system character. The net effect is of hearing your chosen speaker system sound better than it ever has, with most “problem spots” (hey, all speakers have them) either removed or mitigated and with markedly improved surround sound imaging. Audyssey MultEQ XT is one of the few EQ systems that passes muster even by the finicky standards of veteran audiophiles.