In our April 2008 issue (still on sale, by the way), we cast the First Test spotlight over Onkyo’s LS-V501. It’s a stylish £600 home cinema in a box system, and we found that it was worth three stars – most of the blame for this rather disappointing showing was laid at the door of the 2.1 loudspeaker/subwoofer system.

The somewhat more impressive front end, the DR-S501, is available individually for £400, so we thought it was only fair to give it a crack without being hamstrung by its rather pedestrian loudspeaker partners.

So in this exclusive online review we've tested it with a pair of Monitor Audio's impressive BR2 speakers.

Onkyo DR-S501

Home cinema in a box (without speakers)

£400

4 stars?

?For: Simple and logical to use; detailed, colourful images; punchy sound if partnering speakers are sympathetic

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?Against: Some picture noise and uncertain edge definition spoils the show

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?Verdict: Unimpeachable convenience and sturdy build quality, but we’d want a bit more composure to our pictures before the full five stars was forthcoming

What the DR-S501 gives you is a DVD drive, capable of playing CDs, SACDs and DVD-Audio discs too, with 720p/1080i video upscaling and HDMI pass-through. Amplification is rated at 50 watts per channel, and there’s FM/AM radio reception on board.

There are sufficient inputs and outputs to make the Onkyo capable of driving a modest home entertainment system – and this is all housed a robust chassis no bigger than the average CD player.

Unsurprisingly, our second-time-around findings as regards the Onkyo’s picture quality haven’t really changed. There’s enjoyable punch from the colour palette, cleanly described contrasts and natural skin tones. Textures are described believably and details are well represented across the board.

But the Onkyo’s tendency towards picture noise and grain, and an inability to draw edges as cleanly as we’d like, are just as familiar as the good points.

Better speakers, better sound

Sound-wise, though, things are much improved by attaching a pair of Monitor Audio’s superlative Bronze BR2s instead of the rather impoverished speaker/sub set-up provided with the LS-V501.

You miss out on the sheer bass extension a subwoofer provides but, as we suspected, the DR-S501’s amplification is capable of more than those speakers were – the low frequency stuff drives with discipline, and the tendency to hardness at volume we noticed is all-but eradicated.

Even stereo music reproduction, so impoverished in the LS package, is acceptably spacious and fluent.

In short, then, the DR-S501, though by no means flawless, is a more enticing proposition as a stand-alone unit than when working with an ostensibly matched speaker package.

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Also consider

Samsung HT-X200

£350

4 stars October 2007

Great picture quality from this two-channel cinema-in-a-box – well worth investigating if you’re on a budget

Onkyo DR-815

£275

5 stars December 2007

Trouble from close to home for the DR-S501: the DR-815 is a fine one-box solution and usefully compact too ??

Technical specs

Power (w): 50

Plays: CD, CD-R/-RW, DVD-V, DVD-A, SACD, WMA, JPEG, DivX

Surround modes: Dolby Digital, DTS, DTS 96/24

Composite out: Yes

S-Video out: No

RGB Scart out: Yes

Component out: Yes

HDMI out: Yes

Audio outs/ins: 0/2

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