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Review: Onkyo TX-8020 Stereo Receiver

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We've used a lot of top-notch stereo receivers throughout the years, many of which still work just as well as when originally released over two decades ago. But if classic equipment is still good, why are companies like Onkyo introducing new stereo receivers? It's because audio technology continues to improve, and a growing number of consumers are realizing that high-fidelity music reproduction provides that kind of release you just can't get from basic sound systems.



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We took the time to check out the Onkyo TX-8020 stereo receiver to see what a modern take on a classic is all about.

Ergonomics

Priced under the US$200 mark, the Onkyo TX-8020 is definitely a stereo receiver that won't break the bank. The control layout on the TX-8020 is so straightforward and intuitive, that we found ourselves reaching for the correct knob or button without having to look at any of the labels. Big knob? Volume adjustment. The one next to it? Tuning for AM/FM radio. And below are various knobs for input selection, bass and treble control, and balance. We particularly like how there is a direct button on the front (the little one to the far left) that allows us to bypass the default tone controls.

Compared to an A/V surround-sound receiver, the TX-8020's back panel is almost empty. We've heard plenty of people lament the demise of the A/B speaker output on receivers, which lets you hook and operate two sets of speakers (individually or together) using front-panel switches.

 

While the Onkyo TX-8020 does feature the A/B speaker switch, it's actually located on the back panel alongside a 1/4-inch headphone jack. Now that's some old-school glory! But even though this stereo receiver nods to classic design, it does feature labeled inputs for CD/DVD, dock, and TV – the kinds of modern sources we use these days.

Before performing any comparisons with the Onkyo TX-8020, we spent some casual time listening to some audio: music through the CD input (from a Panasonic Blu-ray player), records from a Pro-Ject RM 1.3 turntable, and various local FM radio stations. We paired all of this with a set of Revel Performa3 F206 speakers – these can run about eight times the price of just one TX-8020! It's a real kick to be able to use a plain stereo receiver for a change. The remote is so much easier to operate versus a typical A/V receiver remote, and, of course, there's no hassle with navigating through onscreen menus. It's incredibly easy to browse through radio stations, play with the tone controls (also included on the remote), and switch inputs. While the Onkyo TX-8020 comes with a manual, you're not likely to need it.

Performance

We started the listening experience with cherished vinyls, such as Sanborn's first, Taking Off – we had been inspired from reading Jazz Guide Michael Verity's recent interview with saxophonist David Sanborn. It's simply a great experience; We had no problem relaxing and getting into the music, and not once were we ever distracted by any sonic flaws or weaknesses of the Onkyo TX-8020 stereo receiver.

After playing several more records, we switched to our CD of carefully chosen test tracks, cranked the level up on the TX-8020, and let it fly. Not once did the receiver distort or compress, even when playing heavy metal favorites, such as The Cult's song, "Wild Flower," or deep-bass torture tests, like the recording of Saint-Saens "Organ Symphony" from Boston Audio Society's Test CD. It's apparent that 50 W of power is plenty enough for a typical, residential living room with a standard set of speakers.

Using the modular switcher we've built specifically for audio testing, we compared the Onkyo TX-8020 to a favorite amplifier, the Krell S-300i; we wanted to be able to see how the TX-8020 would stack up against something really good. We also tested the TX-8020 against a Denon AVR-2809ci A/V receiver (running in Direct mode) to determine if Onkyo's plain stereo receiver might have some sonic advantage over a complex A/V receiver (or vice versa). All of these amps/receivers were paired with the same Revel F206 speakers.

What most surprises us about this comparison is that the Onyko TX-8020 and the Denon AVR-2809ci sound identical. Of course, this is a small sample with just two products. But the sound output is so close, it seems that you wouldn't be sacrificing much audio quality (if any) by opting for the inexpensive Onkyo TX-8020 over the much fancier Denon A/V stereo receiver. And this is even after performing all the proper tweaks to get the best performance.

Although the Krell amplifier sounds better than both the Onkyo and Denon receivers, the differences are there, but may not be so significant to everyone (for the price). We can hear a deeper and more detailed soundstage with the Krell, along with smoother upper mids and treble. Instruments in lush recordings, like Toto's "Rosanna" or jazz trumpeter Orbert Davis's take on "Milestones," seem like they are spread more naturally throughout space in a real room. With the Onkyo and Denon receivers, the instruments and vocals don't exhibit the same level of natural precision as the Krell, almost as if they're playing in an acoustically dead room. The music reproduction tends to sound a little glaring.

Final Take

Maybe you want to put together an affordable, traditional stereo system in your living room. Maybe you want to replace a vintage stereo receiver with a new model, but don't want to have to learn how to work all sorts of complicated features. Maybe you just need a decent receiver to bring music to a garage or workroom. No matter what your goal, the Onkyo TX-8020 stereo receiver can be an ideal choice for many.

One could possibly enjoy improved sound by going with audiophile-oriented equipment, such as the NAD C 316BEE amplifier. But considering the Onkyo TX-8020 stereo receiver's excellent and highly-underrated power output, ease of use, and ability to contribute to a budget-friendly stereo system, you could choose to invest in a better pair of speakers instead. Whether from Pioneer, Monitor Audio, Fluance, Polk, Paradigm, Definitive Technology, JBL, Boston Acoustics, or any other respected audio manufacturer, we guarantee that the Onkyo TX-8020 stereo receiver is more than up to the task of driving any quality speaker.

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