Surround Sound Speaker Systems
- Written by Cory Potts
- Published on 30 November 2009
I have a living room that is well over 6000cu/ft, so the fact that the Onkyo system sports only 3-1/8" drivers made me a little nervous. The devil is in the details, or in this case, Onkyo's crack team of engineers, though, because this little system has the ability to produce a big sound, even in a fairly large room.
I used this HTiB with my Sony SXRD TV, PS3, and Time Warner Scientific Atlanta HD-DVR. The receiver has five HDMI connections (4 in, 1 out) and two sub-outs, all of which functioned fine, no complaints here!
I was quite excited about the Dolby PLIIz option as I've been very critical of the idea of the old standby four surround channels behind the listener, at least since the day I had the corrective surgery to make my ears start facing forward. On both movies and music, I A-B'd PLIIz vs. DD and DTS and found that it did give a slight bit of depth to the front channels (not so much height) at the expense of a focused soundstage and localized imaging. It tended to diffuse the sound a bit , which isn't good for dialogue through the fronts, so I left it off for most of my listening/viewing.
I ran through my usual lineup of test material including the Blu-ray intro of Flight of the Phoenix, Ironman, Coraline and several other BDs (as well as some everyday TV watching and Netflix discs Weeds Season One). While the system was impressive in its ability to sound bigger than its size and price might indicate, its real value resided in the fact that the towers, and to some extent, the center channel, have mostly overcome the "hole" in frequency area where male dialogue resides.
To my surprise, after running the Audyssey setup, not once did I have to go into the setup menu and bump the center channel level up a notch (which is usually mandatory on all HTiBs). Even in low level listening of Weeds and HDTV feeds, dialogue was always clear, intelligible, and articulate (and I was sitting ~25 degrees off axis!)
My wife even mentioned that these speakers are more intelligible in low level listening than my Paradigm Studio 20s. Also, while the tower speakers don't win any bass contests, I was consistently surprised that, when I disconnected the sub, I could go in the other room and still hear the low frequencies that the towers were making. The bass tended to be a little congested in the most bass heavy scenes, but in general, it did pretty well. All of these factors make the Onkyo system sound bigger and overall better than it should for the price.
The box didn't come with the HD radio antenna, which is a shame, as I have been curious about this technology for some time but did not get to review it on this unit. I didn't realize this until my wife mentioned it, but the receiver has a bad habit of clicking twice each time it drops/picks up an HDMI signal. This isn't much of a problem in a two hour movie, but while watching Weeds Season One on BD from my PS3, every time I started, stopped, fast forwarded, or rewound an episode, I got the "click-click" and it's pretty audible. The same was true for an Onkyo receiver I owned last year, but not all receivers do this. How much of a problem this is depends on how much it bothers each user, and Onkyo might want to look into a fix for this on their newer receivers. (Editor's Note: My SSP makes the clicking noise too, and I think it is just the receiver renewing its handshake with the source. Remember, part of the HDMI thing is that sources and components down the signal line communicate with each other to make sure that everything is compatible, so when you stop a player, then start it again, the receiver and source have to redo the handshake. Apparently, some receivers are just a bit noisier in doing this than others.)
I also noticed that all three of the front speakers are touchy about placement, especially from the back wall. In short, place them as far away from back walls and shelves as possible.
Finally, I could not get the receiver to pass a video signal through the receiver while it was off. My Denon lets me watch cable or PS3 and use the TV volume if I don't want to turn the receiver on (it defaults to the last input used when the receiver was turned off). I can't think of a situation where this would be a deal-breaker, but it would be important to some. I also did not have cause to test the upconversion of this receiver, as the receiver passes through 1080i/p, which is all I used for the review.