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The Onkyo HT-S580 system features four satellites, a dedicated center-channel speaker, a substantial subwoofer, and a fully appointed A/V receiver. The plastic-bodied satellites are almost completely covered by shapely rounded grilles, an elegant styling touch that distinguishes the 8-inch-tall satellites from the more typical pint-size, cheap-looking competition. The curvy 4.25-inch-wide center speaker carries over the same look, and the speakers' backsides are fitted with keyhole slots and threaded inserts to simplify wall mounting.
The dark gray subwoofer is constructed from medium-density fiberboard, a major improvement over plastic cabinet posers we see packed with other econo systems. It weighs 17.2 pounds and measures 9.1 inches wide, 17.1 high, and 15.5 deep.
The S580's speaker package is pretty darn impressive for a $299 HTIB, and the A/V receiver's look and feel is comparable to standalone models' costing that much. Its substantial weight (19.4 pounds) speaks to its robust build quality. Setup chores are pretty straightforward--we had the S580 up and running in less than 20 minutes. No complaints about the remote, either; its buttons are nicely organized and partially backlit, so it's easy to use in dimly lit rooms.
The S580 doesn't include a DVD player, but you probably have one anyway.
The receiver boasts six 100-watt channels and a full complement of Dolby and DTS surround modes, and their processing is expedited with a set of 192kHz/24-bit digital converters--pretty upscale for a $299 HTIB! Another bonus: if you ever want to upgrade to better speakers, the receiver's versatile crossover options--60Hz/80Hz/100Hz/120Hz or 150Hz--will aid in optimizing their sound quality.
Connectivity is adequate for small home theaters, but don't expect to wire up too many components for digital surround sound beyond a DVD player and a gaming system. You get four inputs and two outputs for video, two digital audio inputs (one optical, one coaxial), and two inputs and one output for stereo. A/B speaker switching is onboard for the option of multiroom audio, a rarity in budget systems.
On a side note, all the speaker connectors are spring-clip types, not the five-way binding posts you'd see on mid- and high-end receivers. And we should make clear that video-switching services cover only composite-video connections; you'll have to run S-Video or component-video cables directly from your DVD player or cable box to your TV. The receiver also lacks a line-level RCA subwoofer jack, but you can still hook up powered subs with speaker-level connections.
As for the speakers, not only are all of them genuine two-way designs with 3.2-inch woofers and 0.75-inch tweeters, but the center speaker also conforms to the classic woofer/tweeter/woofer arrangement. The 8-inch passive subwoofer runs off one of the receiver's 100-watt amplifiers.
The Cube Zero DVD used a densely textured soundtrack to create tension. This psycho thriller's grisly sounds, ghostly voices, and spectacular percussion accents sweeping around our home theater kept us on the edge of our seats. The scenes inside the Cube's master control center were always accompanied by the sound of water dripping from a far-flung corner of the room, and the Onkyo HT-S580 successfully mapped every square foot of the space. Dialogue was detailed and full-bodied. And the subwoofer's foundation of deep bass rumblings added a palpable foundation to the horror show.
The heavy metal thunder coursing through Metallica's St. Anger DVD didn't unglue the S580's baby satellites--this just might be the most powerful system we've ever heard for this kind of money. It's just the ticket for dorm rooms, but this budget kit can comfortably fill even midsize home theaters with sound.
The S580 didn't falter when we played all sorts of CDs, and Bright Eyes's trippy acoustic masterpiece, I'm Wide Awake, sounded naturally sweet. Guitars and fiddles had a woody glow, and Conor Oberst's ethereal duet with Emmylou Harris didn't elicit stumbles from the perky satellites. The subwoofer's dexterity was obvious when we played Morphine's The Night CD. The bass/baritone sax/drum trio dishes up heavyweight sounds, and the HT-S580's sure-footed bass locked onto the band's funky grooves. Yes, the sound suffered when we cranked the volume too high, but that's true of most HTIBs. All in all, Onkyo's HT-S580 trumps the competition in the sound-per-dollar sweepstakes.