A question of balance
Though the $500 HT-S650 doesn't come with a DVD player--more on that later--it does boast a component-grade surround receiver and a that includes five two-way sats and a 150-watt, powered subwoofer.
The left-/right-front speakers are 16.5-inch-tall monitors that feature dual 5.25-inch woofers, while the full-sized center channel employs a pair of 4-inch woofers. The surround speakers, on the other hand, use a single 4-inch woofer. All of the speakers feature high-efficiency, 1-inch dome tweeters, and their extensively braced fiberboard cabinets come decked out in a black-oak finish.
The receiver delivers 100 watts to each of its five channels. Surround-processing abilities include DTS, Dolby Digital, and Dolby Pro Logic II. Connectivity options are fairly generous. Around back, you'll find a full selection of composite and S-Video connections; assignable digital-audio inputs; DVD-Audio/Super Audio CD 5.1 inputs; and A/B speaker switching. On the front panel, there are A/V jacks for connecting video cameras and game systems. It's too bad that component-video switching facilities didn't make the cut, though.
Setup chores were straightforward, as the display is informative and easy to read. However, the smallish, preprogrammed remote has crowded, tiny buttons, making it a bear to use in the dark.
Listen to it rock!
The Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter DVD kicked butt; when we heard Keith Richards cut into the opening chords of "Honky Tonk Woman," we were sold. The concert footage from New York City's Madison Square Garden sounded uncannily alive. We pumped up the volume, and the S650 didn't flinch until it was really loud. This $499 kit filled our large room with the kind of sound that leaves virtually all of the loudness-challenged, ultracompact, double-the-price competition in the dust.
Deep, deep bass extension hardly threatened the structural integrity of our listening room, but it was more than respectable on the opening battle sequence of the Saving Private Ryan DVD. The subwoofer steers clear of any overt boom or thickening and is remarkably tight and clean. The sats produced detailed, warm, and natural sound; overall, the S650 brought out the best in every DVD that we sampled.
While most kits are optimized to deliver home-theater impact and excitement, the S650's charms extend to music as well. The CD that awakened America's interest in Cuban music, Buena Vista Social Club, was recorded live in a lovely, old Havana studio. Hearing those rich-sounding voices, acoustic guitars, basses, and percussion with the sort of layered depth that we associate with higher-end systems was a special thrill. This is one $500 kit that we can wholeheartedly recommend to music lovers.
But what if you don't own a DVD player? No problem--Onkyo offers two other systems built around the S650's receiver and speaker package. The $699 HT-S653DV adds a single-disc DVD player, while the $799 HT-S655DVC includes a five-disc DVD changer.