Thanks to the popularity of flat-screen plasma and LCD TVs, speaker manufacturers are putting their newest designs on a diet. Thin is in, but a lot of skinny speakers sound lightweight. Somehow, Onkyo's gorgeous new flat-screen-friendly 6.1 speaker package, the SKS-HT240 ($499 list), is a heavyweight knockout.
A mere 3.5 inches thick, the extruded-aluminum satellite speakers are fashionably skinny, and their mix of curvy, chrome, brushed-metal skin and black cloth grilles infuses their looks with high-end flair. The sats' backsides come equipped with keyhole slots and threaded inserts that accept 1/4-inch machine screws--perfect for wall mounting on either side of a flat-panel TV. Alternatively, the 17.3-inch-wide center speaker can be positioned in its integral stand, while the 19.75-inch-tall front left and right speakers can sit atop their supplied metal table stands. The three surround speakers resemble the front speakers, but they're a bit shorter--just 13.4 inches high.
The muscular 30.9-pound subwoofer measures a substantial 20.4 inches high, 10.8 inches wide, and 16.4 inches deep. It's finished in a tasteful dark gray, with a curved front baffle that takes its styling cues from the sats.
The front and center satellites each deploy two 3.2-inch woofers and a 1-inch dome tweeter. The three surround speakers use the same drivers but make do with a single woofer and tweeter per speaker. Unfortunately, the flimsy spring-clip speaker wire connectors aren't up to the speakers' fit 'n' finish quality standards. The 8-inch subwoofer boasts a built-in 150-watt amplifier. Since the subwoofer's connectivity is limited to just a single RCA line-level input, it can be used only with receivers that have a line-level subwoofer output. Thankfully, just about every A/V receiver is so equipped.
Most stylish speaker systems forfeit sound quality, so we were happily taken aback by the SKS-HT240's poise under pressure. On The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King DVD, the potent subwoofer not only provided a solid foundation for the satellites, it performed with the right combination of power and finesse. Dialogue, including everything from Gollum's tortured squawks to Treebeard's rumblings, was well served by the slender center-channel speaker. Howard Shore's expansive score had the sort of gravitas we associate with larger and more expensive speaker systems.
Unlike many smaller sat/sub combos, the HT240's prowess extended beyond home theater to classical music and jazz. It didn't flinch when asked to pound out Nirvana's In Utero CD at room-filling volume, but it's still a long way from satisfying headbangers. The skinny speakers have definite limits, so better not to plan on using them in rooms larger than 400 square feet or so. That said, the HT240's low-distortion sound is easier on the ears than that of most affordable speaker packages.