What Hi Fi Sound and Vision Wed, 24 Sep 2008, 11:00am

Onkyo HT-S9100THX

Tested at £750
60100
3

This system offers a heck of a lot for the money, but the overall sound delivery is too much of a compromise

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For

  • Excellent specification, from upscaled 1080p pictures to HD audio support and 7.1 speakers
  • DVD player and receiver are very capable performers

Against

  • Speakers let the side down with poor weight, punch and dynamics
  • distinctly budget looks and build

Over the past year or two, home cinema in a box systems have tended to comprise a compact all-in-one disc/amp unit, and a number of (often style-friendly) speakers.

These are sometimes bad, and sometimes very good, but in almost every case we'd recommend a separates system for performance.

This Onkyo package, though, is effectively a number of bona fide separate components in one hefty box. Instead of a compromised, compact all-in-one, you get a five-star rated DVD player, a full-spec surround receiver, and 7.1 channels' worth of full-size speakers. That's good, isn't it?  Well, yes, yes, and no.

So, the first ‘yes' – that DVD player. It was only last month that the DV-SP406 emerged victorious from a hard-fought DVD Group Test, and our opinion of it hasn't diminished since then.

It might not be a luxurious design, but the 1080p upscaled picture it produces is brilliantly detailed, natural and punchy, and motion is exceptionally well controlled for a unit costing just £100 on its own, and half that as part of this package.

DVD and amp are accomplished
In fact, when used as part of this system, the couple of reservations we had over the DVD player become less of an issue.

The cheap, cluttered remote can be ditched in favour of using the far better one that comes with the receiver, and the thinness of the 'SP506's sonic delivery is countered by the meatiness of the HT-R960 receiver.

The amp itself is accomplished, both in terms of specification and overall sound delivery – it's a typically meaty unit from the company that reinvented the affordable surround amp.

Unfortunately, the speakers rather let down the very capable electronics.The front three speakers are identical, orientated horizontally or vertically for use as a centre or front left/right.

The four surrounds are fairly chunky, yet shallow, and the subwoofer is rather massive and cheap-looking, even compared to the rest of the basic speaker package.

The bass box is also the weakest link in terms of sonic delivery, producing low frequencies that lack power, weight and definition. This slight softness robs a soundtrack like that of the Die Hard 4.0 DVD of a fair degree of its drama.

Some subwoofer shortcomings
What's more, similar shortcomings also creep into the midrange, which is a bit thin and short of body. Mid frequencies also seem to be a little recessed, with a slight mugginess reducing the clarity of dialogue.

It's not all bad of course, and the Onkyo impresses by producing a fairly sweet and detailed treble, which avoids harshness, and although the system can't compare with the best in terms of coherence, it steers effects pretty well.

It sounds as if we're being harsh on this system, given its specification for the money, but there's a minimum performance quality you should expect, and this system, thanks to those speakers, falls short.

If you want a decent, full-sized surround system, you should simply be prepared to pay a bit more.

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