TX-NR636 phono stage

D

diddilydoo

Audiophyte
#1
Hello;

I purchased a tx-nr636 onkyo receiver to be paired with a turntable. For digital sources, the Onkyo is amazing. However, the phono input, paired with a Carbon using a 2M red cartridge sounds absolutely horrible. Is this thing broken, or is this how they wanted it to sound?

It basically sounds like AM radio on my polk audio tsi500s. It is loud, but lacks detail; painful to listen.
I have noticed the high hats, cymbals etc. are greatly reduced compared to any digital source. Using good headphones, Sennheiser 598s, the bass is overly present and sounds muddy. I was very surprised by this, since both the receiver and turntable have universally great reviews.

Any suggestions?

Thanks!
 
highfigh

highfigh

Audioholic Warlord
Ratings
2,709 9 4
#2
Hello;

I purchased a tx-nr636 onkyo receiver to be paired with a turntable. For digital sources, the Onkyo is amazing. However, the phono input, paired with a Carbon using a 2M red cartridge sounds absolutely horrible. Is this thing broken, or is this how they wanted it to sound?

It basically sounds like AM radio on my polk audio tsi500s. It is loud, but lacks detail; painful to listen.
I have noticed the high hats, cymbals etc. are greatly reduced compared to any digital source. Using good headphones, Sennheiser 598s, the bass is overly present and sounds muddy. I was very surprised by this, since both the receiver and turntable have universally great reviews.

Any suggestions?

Thanks!
What turntable, and did you make sure to align the cartridge properly and according to the instructions? The 2M Red is highly regarded as a very good value because it sounds better than the competition. If the tracking weight is excessive, it can sound bad.

You might want to check the tone and EQ settings, in case they're source-specific and set incorrectly for the Phono input. If you see a MM/MC switch, make sure it's set for MM. However, it's doubtful that am AVR at this price will have the MC feature.
 
D

diddilydoo

Audiophyte
#3
What turntable, and did you make sure to align the cartridge properly and according to the instructions? The 2M Red is highly regarded as a very good value because it sounds better than the competition. If the tracking weight is excessive, it can sound bad.

You might want to check the tone and EQ settings, in case they're source-specific and set incorrectly for the Phono input. If you see a MM/MC switch, make sure it's set for MM. However, it's doubtful that am AVR at this price will have the MC feature.
Thanks for the response.
The Cartridge came preinstalled to the tone arm. The weight was set according to the manual (played around with weight settings which made no difference). I am also using "direct mode" that doesn't allow for EQ settings. But even when you use the EQ it still sounds awful. I can't EQ away the horribleness of this sound.
Also, the receiver only supports MM.
 
slipperybidness

slipperybidness

Audioholic Spartan
Ratings
2,393 7 3
#4
Did you level and set up the TT? Even if the cart is pre-installed, you still need to do some setup work.

How long are your RCA cables b/w the TT and the Onkyo?
 
D

diddilydoo

Audiophyte
#5
Did you level and set up the TT? Even if the cart is pre-installed, you still need to do some setup work.

How long are your RCA cables b/w the TT and the Onkyo?
Yep. Balanced it according to the manual. The RCA cables are only about three feet from the player to the receiver.
 
highfigh

highfigh

Audioholic Warlord
Ratings
2,709 9 4
#6
Yep. Balanced it according to the manual. The RCA cables are only about three feet from the player to the receiver.
OK, now that we know the TT and cartridge should be OK, what is the condition of the albums? If they're not dark black and shiny, you hear a lot of background noise and distortion, they could be the cause. If you have a new recording and it sounds bad, I would contact the seller. Also, make sure the stylus is fully in place- the mounting screws shouldn't be too long to slide it all the way into position. If the top of the red stylus body has a wide gap, this may be the problem.

Also, it might be a good idea to call the seller and find out how they aligned the cartridge on the tonearm. If they say something like "We do them all the same way", it doesn't guarantee correct alignment and being too far forward or back on the headshell or skewed to one side can make the best equipment sound like garbage.

Try another input, to see if the high frequency response improves. You will need to crank the volume control setting because the output from a cartridge is far lower than any other source, but if you can get a passable sound by maxing the bass and reducing the treble even if it's too quiet, it might indicate a problem with the phono section of the receiver. It happens, but not often and Onkyo is no stranger to turntables and phono preamps.

They didn't sell you a phono preamp, did they? If so, return it- you don't need one with that receiver and the way you described it- "loud, but lacks detail; painful to listen.
I have noticed the high hats, cymbals etc. are greatly reduced compared to any digital source." sounds like the result of using a phono preamp to feed the signal into a phono preamp. It will overdrive the phono stage in the Onkyo and because the gain and RIAA equalization will occur before it hits another stage of gain and RIAA equalization, the result will be: muddy, distorted, no highs, loud and painful to listen to. If you connect the cables to an Aux input (or CD, Tape, anything else like it) and the sound improves, this would indicate that it has a phono preamp- is it the Carbon USB DC? If so, that has a phono preamp built in.
 
highfigh

highfigh

Audioholic Warlord
Ratings
2,709 9 4
#7
OK, now that we know the TT and cartridge should be OK, what is the condition of the albums? If they're not dark black and shiny, you hear a lot of background noise and distortion, they could be the cause. If you have a new recording and it sounds bad, I would contact the seller. Also, make sure the stylus is fully in place- the mounting screws shouldn't be too long to slide it all the way into position. If the top of the red stylus body has a wide gap, this may be the problem.

Also, it might be a good idea to call the seller and find out how they aligned the cartridge on the tonearm. If they say something like "We do them all the same way", it doesn't guarantee correct alignment and being too far forward or back on the headshell or skewed to one side can make the best equipment sound like garbage.

Try another input, to see if the high frequency response improves. You will need to crank the volume control setting because the output from a cartridge is far lower than any other source, but if you can get a passable sound by maxing the bass and reducing the treble even if it's too quiet, it might indicate a problem with the phono section of the receiver. It happens, but not often and Onkyo is no stranger to turntables and phono preamps.

They didn't sell you a phono preamp, did they? If so, return it- you don't need one with that receiver and the way you described it- "loud, but lacks detail; painful to listen.
I have noticed the high hats, cymbals etc. are greatly reduced compared to any digital source." sounds like the result of using a phono preamp to feed the signal into a phono preamp. It will overdrive the phono stage in the Onkyo and because the gain and RIAA equalization will occur before it hits another stage of gain and RIAA equalization, the result will be: muddy, distorted, no highs, loud and painful to listen to. If you connect the cables to an Aux input (or CD, Tape, anything else like it) and the sound improves, this would indicate that it has a phono preamp- is it the Debut Carbon USB DC? If so, that has a phono preamp built in.
 
D

diddilydoo

Audiophyte
#8
Thanks for the replies.
The records all have less then 30 hours on them and are in good condition. Surface noise isn't an issue, in fact I am impressed by how well the record player performs.

It isn't the DC version either, so it needs the preamp. I tried hooking the player up to the CD input, but the volumes are simply too low to determine anything.

I am pretty sure my cheap Sony player is actually outperforming it. Maybe I should get a test record...
 
highfigh

highfigh

Audioholic Warlord
Ratings
2,709 9 4
#9
Thanks for the replies.
The records all have less then 30 hours on them and are in good condition. Surface noise isn't an issue, in fact I am impressed by how well the record player performs.

It isn't the DC version either, so it needs the preamp. I tried hooking the player up to the CD input, but the volumes are simply too low to determine anything.

I am pretty sure my cheap Sony player is actually outperforming it. Maybe I should get a test record...
If it didn't come with an alignment protractor, go to www.vinylengine.com and download one. The cartridge alignment and overhang need to be correct in order for the tip to be seated in the groove properly. You might want to call the seller, too.
 
D

diddilydoo

Audiophyte
#10
So it is confirmed; After comparing the onkyo preamp with one that is homemade using the same record player, the high frequency roll off is actually due to the onkyo preamp. Unbelievable that at a price point of $500, they would put a cheap, bad sounding Phono Stage in this thing. Disgusting, really. Don't buy onkyo receivers if you want a good preamp. For digital sources, this receiver is amazing. But that phono stage is unacceptable.
 
highfigh

highfigh

Audioholic Warlord
Ratings
2,709 9 4
#11
So it is confirmed; After comparing the onkyo preamp with one that is homemade using the same record player, the high frequency roll off is actually due to the onkyo preamp. Unbelievable that at a price point of $500, they would put a cheap, bad sounding Phono Stage in this thing. Disgusting, really. Don't buy onkyo receivers if you want a good preamp. For digital sources, this receiver is amazing. But that phono stage is unacceptable.
Any plans to contact Onkyo about this?
 
T

tcarcio

Audioholic General
Ratings
292
#12
I just purchased an entry level TT and will be useing my Onkyo 809 with it. I will see how it sounds when I get it all set up but I would like to hear from anyone else that is using an Onkyo with their TT. I don't think just saying Onkyo receivers are junk to use with a TT is really fair because I haven't heard many other people saying the same, unless I missed something. I will have my turntable sometime next week and hopefully it will sound fine.
 
markw

markw

Audioholic Overlord
Ratings
3,626 5 19
#13
Has it occurred to you that your particular unit might be defective? It's unlikely that such a major player in this field could survive so long by consistently offering junk.
 
Johnny2Bad

Johnny2Bad

Audioholic Chief
Ratings
346 6 4
#14
I'm not familiar with the tx-nr636 specifically but am with the table + cartridge. Having said that, I'm not surprised the phono section underwhelms. First of all, built-in phono sections have traditionally never equaled a competent standalone phono preamp until you get into the mid-to-high end integrated, stereo or multichannel receivers. This was true even in the "Golden Age" when CDs were just an engineer's dream at SONY/Phillips.

In the late 70's PS Audio, Peter Moncrief and DB Systems introduced the first High Fidelity standalone phono preamps at prices around $200~400 and they outperformed built-in phono sections available at the time in most cases, the exceptions being the premium gear.

Today, you are more likely to get a good built-in phono section in a stereo receiver than a multichannel unit ... just because multichannel is less likely to cater to the record-playing enthusiast. There is only so much money to spend on a given feature and multichannel features get the attention.

I would not be too hard on Onkyo ... you are not likely to see a better phono section from a HT receiver from any of the majors at the $500 price point.

You should seek out a dealer that will let you try out a standalone phono pre. Although like everything cost does matter, you can still get a good phono unit for reasonable cash outlay.

I would suggest on the budget side trying an ART DJPre (MSRP $85) to start. Your table and cartridge do have the resolution to exploit a higher quality phono section, but the choices are too many for a brief post like this, and the ART punches above it's weight.
 
slipperybidness

slipperybidness

Audioholic Spartan
Ratings
2,393 7 3
#15
I'm not familiar with the tx-nr636 specifically but am with the table + cartridge. Having said that, I'm not surprised the phono section underwhelms. First of all, built-in phono sections have traditionally never equaled a competent standalone phono preamp until you get into the mid-to-high end integrated, stereo or multichannel receivers. This was true even in the "Golden Age" when CDs were just an engineer's dream at SONY/Phillips.
In the late 70's PS Audio, Peter Moncrief and DB Systems introduced the first High Fidelity standalone phono preamps at prices around $200~400 and they outperformed built-in phono sections available at the time in most cases, the exceptions being the premium gear.
Today, you are more likely to get a good built-in phono section in a stereo receiver than a multichannel unit ... just because multichannel is less likely to cater to the record-playing enthusiast. There is only so much money to spend on a given feature and multichannel features get the attention.
You should seek out a dealer that will let you try out a standalone phono pre. Although like everything cost does matter, you can still get a good phono unit for reasonable cash outlay.
I would suggest on the budget side trying an ART DJPre (MSRP $85) to start. Your table and cartridge do have the resolution to exploit a higher quality phono section, but the choices are too many for a brief post like this, and the ART punches above it's weight.
But, his complaint "sounds like AM radio" really suggests that there is a problem in his system somewhere. Doesn't really suggest a "poorly designed and cheap phono stage".
 
Johnny2Bad

Johnny2Bad

Audioholic Chief
Ratings
346 6 4
#16
Dull highs, lack of dynamics, maybe even some noise with no record playing? Sounds like "AM radio" to me.

I'm not ruling out the possibility his receiver is defective, but honestly, my money is on the inherent limits of the section Onkyo can afford to stuff into a receiver that has a lot of HT and amplification features to account for.

Like I said, and I stand by it ... record playing is not a priority for the targeted buyer of a $500 HT receiver, where probably 90+ % will never plug in a turntable, let alone one like the Debut Carbon / 2M Red, which is a very competent combination.

Trust me, I've listened to more than a hundred phono sections, both built-in and standalone. The OP's experience is no surprise to me whatsoever.

I think maybe he should try my earlier suggestion, if he can afford it. I'm confident he won't return the ART.
 
Last edited:
D

diddilydoo

Audiophyte
#17
Dull highs, lack of dynamics, maybe even some noise with no record playing? Sounds like "AM radio" to me.

I'm not ruling out the possibility his receiver is defective, but honestly, my money is on the inherent limits of the section Onkyo can afford to stuff into a receiver that has a lot of HT and amplification features to account for.

Like I said, and I stand by it ... record playing is not a priority for the targeted buyer of a $500 HT receiver, where probably 90+ % will never plug in a turntable, let alone one like the Debut Carbon / 2M Red, which is a very competent combination.

Trust me, I've listened to more than a hundred phono sections, both built-in and standalone. The OP's experience is no surprise to me whatsoever.

I think maybe he should try my earlier suggestion, if he can afford it. I'm confident he won't return the ART.
I am trying to get in touch with Onkyo support regarding this. It is tough to say if it is defective, or if it is actually designed this way. I read another guys review on amazon and he made the same comments regarding his Onkyo. Most people never use the phono preamp, so there are few reviews on them. And I can't find any specs on the preamp anywhere, so who knows how it is supposed to sound. I am thinking about getting the Emotiva XPS-1 Phono Preamp if I have to.
 
highfigh

highfigh

Audioholic Warlord
Ratings
2,709 9 4
#18
I am trying to get in touch with Onkyo support regarding this. It is tough to say if it is defective, or if it is actually designed this way. I read another guys review on amazon and he made the same comments regarding his Onkyo. Most people never use the phono preamp, so there are few reviews on them. And I can't find any specs on the preamp anywhere, so who knows how it is supposed to sound. I am thinking about getting the Emotiva XPS-1 Phono Preamp if I have to.
The specs show that the phono section overloads at 70mV, so overload shouldn't be the cause, but I'd bet that they use an op-amp, which could be faulty. How old is this receiver? If it's very new and under warranty, they'll repair/replace on their dime (unless you need to ship it).

There's no reason to assume the phono preamp should sound like crap- it's not that hard to make a good one and if the Art unit retails for $89, that should tell you something about the complexity. If they could put a decent phono preamp in a cheap receiver in the late-'80s, they can do it now.
 
slipperybidness

slipperybidness

Audioholic Spartan
Ratings
2,393 7 3
#19
The specs show that the phono section overloads at 70mV, so overload shouldn't be the cause, but I'd bet that they use an op-amp, which could be faulty. How old is this receiver? If it's very new and under warranty, they'll repair/replace on their dime (unless you need to ship it).

There's no reason to assume the phono preamp should sound like crap- it's not that hard to make a good one and if the Art unit retails for $89, that should tell you something about the complexity. If they could put a decent phono preamp in a cheap receiver in the late-'80s, they can do it now.
I agree with you.

While an AVR phono preamp may not be "the best", you should still be able to listen to it and it should "sound pretty good". Even on a cheap AVR, it should at least be listenable without any real complaints.

He says "it sounds horrible". Which tells me that the preamp section being the problem is HIGHLY UNLIKELY!!!

Back to the problem.....have you looked at the TT itself? Did you do the initial setup? I realize the Debut comes with the cart pre-installed, but you still need to set tracking force etc (see my avatar pic!).

My $ says that a standalone preamp may not solve the problem. But, at least if you try it then you can mark that off the list of possible problems.
 
highfigh

highfigh

Audioholic Warlord
Ratings
2,709 9 4
#20
I agree with you.

While an AVR phono preamp may not be "the best", you should still be able to listen to it and it should "sound pretty good". Even on a cheap AVR, it should at least be listenable without any real complaints.

He says "it sounds horrible". Which tells me that the preamp section being the problem is HIGHLY UNLIKELY!!!

Back to the problem.....have you looked at the TT itself? Did you do the initial setup? I realize the Debut comes with the cart pre-installed, but you still need to set tracking force etc (see my avatar pic!).

My $ says that a standalone preamp may not solve the problem. But, at least if you try it then you can mark that off the list of possible problems.
He wrote that a home-built phono preamp sounded better and that's why I think it's in the phono stage.

I have seen some tonearms that only have a pair of holes for the cartridge, not slots. I got a ProJect for a customer and I need to go to their house tomorrow, so I'll look at it to verify. I do know that it's a darn nice turntable and, after mounting literally hundreds (if not thousands) of cartridges, if it's not the phono preamp, it may be that the cartridge is mounted all the way back in the slots- only a few cartridges need to be that far back and I don't think this is one of them. The photo on the Projet site shows the screws in the middle of the slots, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was set up properly- might just have been an aesthetic decision for the photo.
 

Latest posts


newsletter
  • RBHsound.com
  • BlueJeansCable.com
  • SVS Sound Subwoofers
  • Experience the Martin Logan Montis