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7.1 channel surround sound
Attractive speaker design
Excellent sound quality
No receiver included
Sound quality declines at lower volume levels.
The Onkyo SKS-HT540 is an inexpensive 7.1 surround sound system that offers excellent sound quality and an attractive, sturdy design.
It’s not often you come across a product like the Onkyo SKS-HT540 7.1 for such an attractive price. It turns out this system isn’t just great at this price point, but would be a bargain even if sold for hundreds more. You would normally expect to pay close to a thousand dollars for a set of speakers that produce this level of quality audio.
The SKS-HT540 is a basic, attractive set of surround sound speakers. They’re designed to be subtle and blend into a room, not particularly dramatic or attention grabbing. The bulk of their design is composed of a sturdy composite board with a black wood grain exterior.
The rear surround speakers, though mostly rectangular, have a subtly contoured front. The subwoofer is similarly shaped and features a wide, plastic aperture near its base with a glowing red power status LED. The plastic here is somewhat on the cheap side, but since it’s silver it doesn’t show the easily acquired scuffs and dirt that we have noticed in the black plastic of this variety of plastic in other systems we tested. On the back of the subwoofer, in addition to the power cable and audio jack, there’s a control dial with which to manually adjust the level of the subwoofer.
The system provides an excellent, immersive listening experience that engulfs you in music and draws you into films and TV shows.
The speaker grilles are universally covered with a standard, unremarkable black mesh material. On the center and front surround speakers, these are removable for a slight improvement in audio quality. However, the difference is almost entirely negligible, and without them the silver front of the speaker appears quite dated and tacky. Also, the mesh front protects the delicate speaker elements themselves and is designed to prolong the life of the system. It should be noted that the edge of the silver face of the speakers is still visible with the cover installed.
One potential downside to the SKS-HT540 is its size—these speakers are pretty large compared to competing surround sound systems. It certainly looks impressive, but if you have limited space to work with or don’t want your sound system to be really obvious in the room this could be an issue.
Of course, the speakers can all be mounted to the walls if desired, which can potentially reduce the issue of finding a place to place each unit. It might also improve sound quality depending on the acoustics of your room, but will have the side effect of making the system more noticeable.
Setting up the SKS-HT540 is like setting up any typical wired speaker system. We arranged them around the room according to the layout indicated by the instructions, then connected the included color coded wires to the speakers and corresponding ports on our receiver. Your experiencing setting up the system will vary based on your room and receiver, but it’s essentially identical to the setup process of any wired surround sound system.
It may be difficult to find a good location for speakers this numerous and large. Also, it should be noted that in a particularly large room the included audio wires may not be long enough, which would necessitate less optimal speaker placement and/or poor wire routing. You may find it necessary to purchase extra long cables depending on the size of your room.
We were really impressed that Onkyo is able to deliver such good audio quality at such a reasonable price point. As a 7.1 system the SKS-HT540 features four rear surround speakers, two surround front speakers, a center speaker, and a subwoofer. This provides an excellent, immersive listening experience that engulfs you in music and draws you into films and TV shows. We found that those extra speakers provided a much more even soundscape (with a lot more power in the rear of the room) than the 5.1 systems we tested.
It should be noted that your experience with the SKS-HT540 will depend on the receiver you use to drive them. We tested them using the Onkyo HT-R695 receiver that comes bundled with Onkyo’s high end HT-S7800 5.1 surround system, but any system that supports a 7.1 channel system with ports for six channel audio cables will work. Just be aware that sound quality will vary from system to system.
Listening to “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles, we appreciated the crisp vocals and punchy guitar track, with even sound quality in the mid, high, and bass ranges. We particularly enjoyed listening to this and other Beatles songs, which the SKS-HT540 reproduces particularly well.
Though it's not the absolute best system we’ve ever heard, it’s very good, especially at this price point.
“Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver showed off the systems range with exceptionally clear high notes, as well as the benefits of those extra rear speakers as the music swelled and filled the room. Comparatively, the bass is a bit of a weak point. While it’s powerful and capable of rumbling the room, it doesn’t provide the greatest clarity.
Watching “Solo: A Star Wars Story” we experienced the thrill of the speeder chase as the action enveloped us. Surround sound really pulls you into films, and we felt every explosion and laser blast as they zinged past our ears from one side of the room to another. The SKS-HT540 makes even a small screen seem much larger.
The rumble of carriage wheels in Robert Downey Jr.’s first “Sherlock Holmes” flick clattered over cobbles as if they were there in the room, and the frantic cellos of the soundtrack blended beautifully with the action. Despite the boisterous accompaniment, the system did an impressive job of rendering defined vocals, and dialogue was always crisp and clear.
Though the SKS-HT540 sounds great at high volumes, we noticed a distinct drop off in audio quality as the volume level was decreased. However, we were never overly disappointed by the audio performance of the SKS-HT540, and though it's not the absolute best system we’ve ever heard, it’s very good, especially at this price point.
For an MSRP of $399 the SKS-HT540 provides plenty of value, and since it can frequently be found for nearly half that price, it is impossible to deny that it’s a terrific bargain. Paired with an inexpensive receiver you can enjoy excellent 7.1 surround sound at a cost that won’t break the bank. However, the lack of an included receiver means an additional expense.
Speakers are a very personal purchase. What you need will vary based on a number of factors: the size, layout, and aesthetic style of the room, what you’ll be listening to, and of course how much you can afford to spend.
Logitech Z906: If you’re looking for a complete surround system that includes a receiver but won’t cost you much more than the SKS-HT540, the Logitech Z906 will serve you well. It’s very easy to set up and operate, though the audio quality is slightly less impressive than the SKS-HT540’s. It’s also only a 5.1 surround system and lacks the two additional speakers bundled with the SKS-HT540.
Onkyo HT-S7800: For a much higher-quality listening experience, the Onkyo HT-S7800 offers truly excellent quality...but costs three times as much as the SKS-HT540. However, the HT-S7800 system includes Onkyo’s excellent HT-R965 receiver, which we used to test the SKS-HT540. That receiver represents a large portion of the value of the HT-S7800, and if you are going to invest in an equally expensive receiver you might as well buy the complete system. If you already have a 7.1 channel receiver, or can find a good one for a few hundred dollars, then the SKS-HT540 makes a lot of sense.
Enclave Audio CineHome: If you absolutely can’t stand the thought of dealing with all those audio wires, then you might consider the Enclave Audio Cinehome. However, that system does not sound as good as the SKS-HT540 but costs nearly as much as the premium HT-S7800. The CineHome is also only wireless in the sense that the system connects without the need for the traditional six channel audio wires—each of its six speakers still require their own power cable. The CineHome is hard to recommend unless you’re truly desperate to eliminate audio wires.
Maximum quality, minimum cost.
The Onkyo SKS-HT540 is proof that you can spare your wallet and enjoy high quality sound at the same time. Though there are better speakers out there and you’ll need to pick up a seperate receiver, there’s no denying the immense value this system represents. It’s a beautifully designed, elegant (though somewhat bulky) 7.1 channel surround sound system that should provide many happy years of pleasant listening.
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