For most people the hi-fi is dead. The days of needing two large speakers and a central unit to play music died when we switched to MP3s and AAC audio tracks from the likes of the iTunes store, or Amazon MP3. It wasn't that people didn't want CDs anymore, it was just a lot easier to enjoy music from your phone, or even dedicated MP3 player.
So, while the quality is almost never as good, people have ended up using docks, or their home cinema, or even just use some nice headphones with their portable device. Most people don't want a separate box anymore. But that's a shame, because a good standalone hi-fi has so much more to offer in terms of quality than a portable, and music really should be listened to out loud whenever possible.
Enter the Onkyo CR-N755, which aims to bring hi-fi, at an affordable price, to the generation that has forgotten how nice it is to walk up to a piece of equipment, put a CD in and listen to some music.
There are two options here, black or silver. Usually, with Onkyo we prefer the black, because silver feels a bit too 1990s for us. In this case, we sort of think the black is slightly too dark, with the button labels being a bit hard to make out. Silver on the other hand looks quite smart. Of course, colour is a personal thing, so you chose the one you like best.
On the front of the 755, there is a decent number of controls. A screen sits above the CD tray, both of them offset to the left. On the right is a large volume control and beneath that are controls for eject, stop and play/pause.
There are also controls for power, inputs, tone and a dial used for selecting various options. There's a USB input here too, along with another at the rear. Onkyo sells a few USB accessories for this unit, including one that adds Wi-Fi, so you might use the rear socket for that, although if you have your music stored on a large USB drive, then you might prefer a rear socket for this.
The remote control is long and thin, but has all the buttons you'll ever need. You can control from an Android or iOS app too, should you want to keep hold of your smartphone in this difficult transition back to the world of playing CDs.
Our recommendation is that you set the N755 to its "direct" mode and then give it a CD or a lossless source from a PC or other digitally connected device and sit back and enjoy. We found most types of music were nothing short of exceptional for a device as cheap as this. But actually, not just for a device this cheap -they'd be exceptional on a device twice this price, and arguably, it's a pretty close contender in a race that contains systems four or five times more expensive.
It's not all perfect though. We found on certain pop and electronic tracks, it sounded like there was a bit too much going on at any one time. The reason we suggest using "direct" is it seems to improve that situation. Of course, our speakers weren't the highest quality imaginable - we're pretty sure normal customers won't pair this with super-expensive speakers either - so there could be some improvements made here. But it's worth being clear, we're not talking about a disaster here, we're talking about a side to the Onkyo that is perhaps a little weaker than its incredibly strong side.
There's plenty of volume on tap here too. Crank it up, and the room fills with sound, and distortion shouldn't be a problem, depending on the speakers you pair it with. Bass was accurate, but if you want a bit more of a kick, there is an option to add a subwoofer. This will transform the 755 into a different beast, but will also be useful for those who might want to use it as a way to improve their TVs sound.
Despite the CD player, Onkyo really sells this as a network player, and with good reason. You get access to an unlimited amount of online radio stations, music from every DLNA device on your network, and even services like Spotify.
The Spotify playback is actually very good, although it's at its best when dealing with playlists because the screen isn't large enough, and the remote isn't quick enough to let you search well through the whole library. Apart from that, the quality is great and the convenience of all that music at the touch of a button is almost too good. For parties, this is a fantastic way to set up a playlist.
In terms of radio stations, you can opt to choose from either vTuner stations, or from those you manually enter via the device's web interface. We added our favourites in, as it's easier, but you can search by genre too, which makes it a bit easier to find the station you're after. All of this kind of renders the FM tuner obsolete, as the quality is generally excellent and doesn't require the hassle of installing any sort of antenna.
Some wasted opportunities
While the sound from CDs, the internet and digital inputs is all fabulous, there are some basic things that we find ourselves annoyed by.
First, the display is no better than the sort you'd have on a CD system from 10 or even more years ago. While it's not important from a musical point of view, the Onkyo is fiddly in menus and that could have been sorted out by a more comprehensive screen. Imagine the information that could have been presented, from album art, through to a more comprehensive navigation system.
But perhaps most unforgivable of all is the lack of CDDB or CD Text support. Both of these technologies are as old as the hills now, and to have them in place here would have made CD listening a bit more enjoyable. It's always nice to know what song you're listening to, without having to translate a track number via the sleeve notes.
You do get more information from sources like digital radio, and MP3 playback, which is good, but there's still that feeling that the screen is too small and from days gone by.
One of the things we really have come to appreciate about the CR-N755 is the Onkyo app for your phone. Learning a little, it seems, from Airplay, it's possible to take your phone and use it to play music to your Onkyo sound system. We've used systems like this before, and they don't always work brilliantly. Here though, the Onkyo app does a really good job.
You're not tied to the Onkyo app either, you can use any DLNA capable media player to shuffle music from any DLNA device on your network, to either the Onkyo or, for that matter, any other DLNA enabled player. We've always found video via DLNA to be a very mixed bag, but when it comes to audio it tends to be much more reliable.
Of course, you can also use DLNA to send audio from your PC, using Windows Media Player or other, similar apps. This makes the Onkyo more of a centrepiece of your whole home network, and really puts it in the league of Sonos and the like, although having a CD player makes it more useful in the living room than a Sonos system, which expects you to rip music before you play it. Onkyo also has all-in-one units that are aimed at the same market as Sonos, so there's clearly some competition going on here. Of course, having standards-based streaming is great, because it means you can use it with a wide range of devices, something that has always frustrated us about Sonos.
It's something of a shame that there's no Airplay support built-in, as that system is brilliant if you have any Apple products, or even if you use iTunes as your main music management application. You can add a iDevice dock if you want, and that brings with it Airplay support, but at a cost of £150. We're pretty sure sticking with DLNA is going to be the better move here.
In some ways, the Onkyo is a bit old school. It's like a micro hi-fi from years gone by where most people still used CDs as their main method of listening to music. But, in fact, it's actually a super-modern take on the whole thing.
We've been using it as a speaker system for our PC, as well as a CD player - we found some of those silver discs languishing in the loft - and as a device to stream music to from all manner of devices. There's nothing complicated here, it really does just work.
Lack of built-in Wi-Fi is honestly annoying, because it's such an easy thing to add and that display makes everything more difficult. But those niggles aside, the device itself is so good at doing what it does, we can easily forgive its small shortcomings. Oh, and there is a wireless dongle available too, should you be desperate for wire-free operation.
But it's sound quality that matters here, and the Onkyo doesn't disappoint. We'd avoid adjusting the "tone" controls and keep it set to its "direct" mode for the best possible audio, it is truly impressive to hear.
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