David Price looks back to a simpler time as he auditions Onkyo’s ultra-modern take on the classic stereo receiver, the TX-8150
Ah yes, the stereo receiver, how quaint! The last time the breed was really fashionable, many of us were wearing flared trousers and dreaming of buying our first Ford Capri. Once upon a time, receivers sold like hot cakes from dealers’ showrooms. Audiophiles generally regarded them with derision because some were pretty poor, but others were simply the same circuitry used in a company’s high-quality separates, put into a single, neater-looking package. Beyond the rarefied world of seventies hi-fi magazine reviewers, they had really wide appeal.
Receivers enjoyed a renaissance in the early noughties. This time they had the prefix ‘AV’ and at least five channels of power amplification built into them. And, now, it’s time for the rebirth of the stereo receiver – in the crisp shape of Onkyo’s TX-8150.
You can be reassured that this machine is designed to do what your average 21st century stereo-type will want. Which is to say, it plays vinyl (there’s an op-amp based MM phono stage, with a pretty standard sensitivity of 3.5mV/47kohm), it handles line sources (of which we all now have many; it has six), it has a radio (DAB/DAB+, FM and internet variety via TuneIn) and it is network-capable so you can play music from your NAS. It has (four) digital inputs too, so you can plug your swanky new telly or Blu-ray into it, and enjoy far superior sound. It’s AirPlay and Bluetooth equipped (although sadly not aptX), and there’s a USB socket so computer audio files can be piped in direct. Then, via wi-fi , there’s Deezer and Spotify. And there was me thinking that my old seventies Sony receiver, with its twin tape monitors and aux input was versatile!
The power output is quoted as 135W (into 6ohm), which translates to 94W RMS per channel into 8ohm. That’s a lot for a product of this price, and of course in another league to stereo receivers of yesteryear. Interestingly, it’s Class AB too – so doesn’t take the Class D road to cheap power. Project leader Takao Ogawa says the circuitry isn’t based directly on any of its amplifiers, but “uses the same design concept” with Onkyo’s proprietary Wide Range Amplifier Technology circuitry. Inside, you see the familiar Onkyo EI toroidal transformer and two custom-made 8,200μF high-current capacitors in the power supply. The digital heart of the TX-8150 is the Asahi Kasei AK4452 DAC chip. This is placed on Onkyo’s anti-vibration Oval Chassis; for the price the unit feels sturdy. The brushed aluminium fascia is a thing of beauty, even if the pressed steel casework is a little resonant and there’s a plastic volume knob.
The DAC is 32-bit/384kHz capable, but this doesn’t extend to all inputs; the front panel USB handles 24/96 PCM and DSD 2.8MHz. The fascia also sports a large fluorescent display; although it has a three-stage dimmer it isn’t particularly inspiring in these days of crisp OLEDs. You get a headphone socket, input selection, speaker A/B switching, tone and volume controls on the front, plus a Pure Audio switch that defeats the tone controls. One nice touch is that the unit wakes up if it detects an optical digital signal – perfect for the aforementioned TV viewing. The tuner has 40 nameable station presets, and four quick-access front panel presets which work across FM, DAB and internet radio – another pleasing feature.
Anyone familiar with Onkyo’s A-9010 (UK) entry-level integrated amplifier (our Group Test winner last issue) will notice the ‘house sound’ of the TX-8150; although not the same, it’s not a million miles away. This makes for a smoother, richer sound than some budget rivals, with a nice rhythmic fl ow. It’s absolutely ideal for the type of environment this receiver is likely to find itself in, where a little warmth doesn’t go amiss. There’s definitely a subtle richness to the upper bass, which leads up to a smooth midband and sweet but quite lively treble. The Onkyo has a big-hearted personality with a solid bottom end and confident demeanour, but it’s only mortal and so at high volumes it does begin to lose some of its dynamic prowess.
No matter which source you choose, this receiver is an enjoyable music maker that likes to get into the groove. Via its phono input, the TX-8150 sounds very pleasing indeed. Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love via a Technics SL-1210 deck fitted with a Shure V-15VxMR cartridge is fun, despite this not being the best recording ever committed to disc. There’s a lot of processing to the sound, and the album from which it’s taken does seem a little tonally dull, yet the Onkyo delivers a large scale, widescreen performance with lots of space within. Some budget amplifiers can sound tonally rather thin and bereft of life, but this receiver gets into the song and keeps me mesmerised throughout. The electronic percussion comes across in a powerful and rhythmic way, sounding far more animated than one might expect at this price. Kate’s voice is as icy and fragile as ever, but is carried in an accurate and immediate way. Impressively, things never get harsh or brittle, yet it doesn’t sound bland either. It has a better phono stage than I’d expected at this price too and is admirably devoid of hiss and hum.
Via a line-level analogue input, the sound opens up a touch more. I play Prefab Sprout’s seminal Appetite from an Audiolab 8200CD silver disc spinner, and am greeted by an animated performance with an enjoyably fluid bass that underpins the song, even on the crescendos where on lesser amplifiers, it can be overshadowed by other elements in the mix. Midband is clean and carries lots of fine detailing from the recording right out to the listener. Instruments are well placed spatially, but again there is a slight two dimensionality to proceedings, which isn’t entirely unexpected at this price.
Switch to one of its digital inputs, and it’s soon apparent the TX-8150 contains a decent DAC. True, it isn’t going to render mid-to-high-end digital sources obsolete, but it stages an impressive attempt to carry the power and the glory of any music you care to play from silver disc. For example, a CD of Gregory Isaacs’ Night Nurse proves lots of fun, with an innate charm. There’s obviously a slight softening of the lowest bass notes (there’s plenty of them on this track), but a little further up the range the receiver really gets into its stride, and bounces along beautifully. True, the bass is a little loose, but it’s excused because of its obvious tunefulness. This syncopates nicely with a clean, matter-of-fact midband that carries a decent amount of detail. In absolute terms, it does sound a little ‘over-etched’ in the upper-mid, with a subtle sense of chromium plating – but it’s nothing to worry about at the price. Treble proves crisp, but it lacks any real sweetness or delicacy in absolute terms.
Indeed, across all sources, the TX-8150 proves itself to be an accomplished if not earth-shattering performer with real charm. Its pleasing tonality includes a subtly generous upper bass, which is ideal for small standmounting speakers for example, and there’s plenty of detail in the midband and real life and sparkle up top. Dynamically it’s strong, and doesn’t run out of grunt until your fl ares are really fl apping; rhythmically it will have you tapping your feet. I am impressed by the FM sound, which isn’t as poor as I’d feared, and it does a sterling job with DAB broadcasts. Indeed whatever input you choose, it’s consistently clean and glitch-free.
There’s a lot to like about Onkyo’s TX-8150 – it offers an unusually diverse range of sources and/or inputs and sounds strong across them all. It has plenty of useful features, is built well and isn’t unattractive to look at. In use, this budget box doesn’t draw attention to its affordable price tag. Overall then, thumbs firmly aloft for this thoroughly modern stereo receiver – just like the good old days, but without having to suffer polyester shirts and kipper ties.
● Quoted power output: 2x 135W (6ohm)
● FM/DAB/DAB+ tuner with 40 presets
● Inputs: 6x RCA line-level; 2x coaxial; 2x optical digital
● Bluetooth, AirPlay and wi-fi network playback
● MM phono stage
DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 435 x 149 x 328mm