Internet radio has been around for a while, but it's historically been delivered by personal computers and laptops. But recently AV receivers have started featuring a network connection, bringing internet radio stations into the living room. Onkyo, a leading brand in home theater receivers, has nearly a dozen models with an internet connection with prices running the gamut from low-end to high-end.
What is Internet Radio (IR)
IR started over a decade ago with individual web sites streaming audio to personal computers - sometimes for free, sometimes for a monthly fee. This was followed by many over-the-air stations also launching online streaming, usually of their regular broadcast at no charge. Since then many IR stations have become more like networks, offering numerous channels.
There are several major internet radio sites to choose from. Pandora is perhaps the most popular. It stands out from the crowd by automatically creating custom selections for you. You can choose individual artists, and Pandora will stream out their recordings plus some by other artists with similar styles, sounds, and topics. It's free with embedded commercials, and you can eliminate the audio ads for a small monthly fee. Other services like Rhapsody and Napster are more like on-demand downloads. For a monthly fee you get unlimited access to songs you select yourself. SiriusXM is the most like broadcast radio, with music, news, talk, and sports available by satellite or internet. It's commercial free with a monthly fee. Fees for these services are relatively moderate, ranging from $10 to $20 per month.
It's great to listen while working on your PC, but even better to enjoy it on your high-quality home entertainment system. This used to mean having a PC connected up to the audio system or plugging and unplugging a laptop. The sound quality was often limited by the PC's electronics. More recently laptops and some PCs include an HDMI port that transfers the digital sound without any analog degradation. But you still have to make a PC part of the home entertainment system, or hook up a laptop when you want to listen.
Onkyo Internet Radio Models
Now days many AV receivers have a network interface built-in, so that a PC or laptop just isn't needed. Onkyo has some 10 models with this feature, ranging from the low-end TX-NR509 at around $300 way up to the TX-NR5007 at around $3000. The internet sound quality is always the same - the more expensive models offer greater analog sound quality, higher watts per channel, and more features.
The Onkyo TX-NR609 is a great lower-cost model and arguably offers the best bang for the bucks. It delivers 7.2 channels of surround-sound at up to 100 watts per channel. This model offers the features and quality you'd expect in a much more expensive receiver. It's Audessy sound processing includes automatic equalization. It can switch up to 6 HDMI video channels and upgrades any source to high-resolution with noise reduction and edge enhancement. So it's very well suited to home theaters.
With regards to internet radio, this and other Onkyo models perform audio processing to improve the sound of compressed sources such as MP3s and many IR services. This means you'll get more than just a better amplifier and speakers. Firmware provides compatibility with Napster, Pandora, Rhapsody, SiriusXM, Slacker and a couple more. You can even control sites like Pandora using a hand-held remote and the on-screen-display graphical user interface. That's also common across the various Onkyo models with network interfaces.
If you're tired of mass-market on-air radio stations, internet radio is a delightful breath of fresh air. No longer limited to personal computers and high-end home audio systems, it's now widely available and quite affordable.
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