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Onkyo HT-S770 (black) review: Onkyo HT-S770 (black)

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Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.

7.7

Onkyo HT-S770 (black)

The Good

Component-style 6.1-channel receiver; full-size speakers; 10-inch powered subwoofer.

The Bad

You need to supply the DVD player; not exactly the prettiest HTIB on the block.

The Bottom Line

If you can handle a bulky setup with big speakers and a bigger sub, this is the go-to HTIB.
Intro
As you can see from the picture, Onkyo's HT-S770 won't be mistaken for one of those trendy home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems with towering tallboy speakers and futuristically slender receiver/DVD players. The HT-S770, successor to last year's excellent HT-S760, instead offers a component-size 6.1-channel receiver, unabashedly boxy speakers, and a full-size powered subwoofer. It won't hide in your room, but on the other hand, this Onkyo sounds much better than most of its high-style competitors. Best of all, it retails for just $500. Only mundane styling prevents this standout from earning our Editors' Choice award. The A/V receiver included with the Onkyo HT-S770 is a near twin of the company's TX-SR502, and it's nowhere near as compact or flashy as most HTIB receivers. The 22.5-pound component measures 17.2 inches wide and 14.8 inches deep.

The partially backlit remote is pretty special. It's large, yet easy to maneuver, and offers direct access to A-B speaker switching, individual speaker volume levels, and bass and treble controls. This clicker is among the best we've ever seen included with an HTIB.

Onkyo's main left and right speakers are full-size bookshelf models with rear-mounted ports, so they won't sound their best crammed into a cabinet or a bookcase. The main speakers stand 16.5 inches tall, the matching full-size center is 15.25 inches wide, and the three wall-mountable surround speakers are each 10.5 inches tall. The main front speakers weigh 12.1 pounds each, and their wood cabinets, along with those of the center or surround speakers, are more substantial than typical plastic speakers that come packed with most HTIBs. Curved grilles add a touch of spice. Finally, the subwoofer is a 30-pound beast that measures 20.3 inches tall, 10.75 inches wide, and 16.25 inches deep.

This seven-piece speaker package (SKS-HT520) is also sold separately, without a receiver, for $279. The entire HT-S770 system is available in black or silver finishes. If you don't need a 6.1 system, you can check out the HT-S670, which also has a less well-endowed receiver and main speakers.

Please note: the HT-S770 package doesn't include a DVD player, so if you need one, move on up to Onkyo's $700 list HT-S777C. It's a close cousin of the HT-S770 but includes a six-disc DVD changer. Then again, if you're on the lookout for an HTIB that delivers sweet sound and head-turning style, check out Onkyo's LS-V955, available at a suggested retail price of $1,000.

The receiver is rated at 130 watts for each of its six channels--curiously, much higher than the 75-watt-per-channel TX-SR502 receiver it so closely resembles. The 6.1-channel processing modes include Dolby EX and DTS ES. Connectivity options are excellent for an HTIB. You get two component-video inputs, four A/V inputs and two outputs, four digital inputs, two stereo ins and one out, and a full set of front-panel-mounted connections. Don't worry, Onkyo didn't forget the 5.1 SACD/DVD-Audio inputs. The speaker connectors are all heavy-duty binding posts that accept banana jacks, except for the B speaker connectors; they're spring-clip types that accept bare wire only.

We've reviewed far more expensive HTIBs with single-driver (woofer-only) satellites, so we were excited to note that the Onkyo HT-S770's main left and right speakers each sport two 5.25-inch woofers and a 1-inch dome tweeter. The center speaker features a pair of 4-inch woofers flanking a 1-inch dome tweeter. The three surround speakers each use a pair of the same drivers found in the center speaker. The subwoofer features a downward-firing 10-inch woofer powered by a 220-watt amplifier. That's plenty of woof--before now, 8-inch woofers were the biggest we'd seen in this price class.

We were skeptical about the Onkyo HT-S770's hefty 130-watts-per-channel power rating, but our high-volume listening tests with the Hellboy DVD were a blast. This is the sort of DVD that falls flat on most HTIBs, but the HT-S770 rocked and rolled in all of the right places. Surround effects were seamlessly portrayed, and when we doused the lights, the six speakers' locations disappeared. Hellboy's battles with scaly evildoers were accompanied by wham-bam dynamics and room-shaking bass. We credit the 10-inch subwoofer with a big part of the HT-S770's home-theater gusto; its low-frequency oomph and definition were impressive. Yes, the system can fill a fairly large room with sound.

Our DVD auditions out of the way, we ran a stack of our favorite CDs. The White Stripes' bluesy workouts on their Elephant CD definitely passed muster. When Meg White pounded away on her drums, the HT-S770 let us feel every wallop, and Jack White's thrashing guitar and vocals hit their marks. Roxy Music's Avalon CD had the sort of crisply defined bass we associate with pricier systems.

Acoustic music revealed a lack of refinement in the HT-S770's capabilities. Vocals sounded strained, pianos were a tad strident, and violins exhibited a steely edge. Even so, we'd be hard put to recommend a comparably priced HTIB that could better the Onkyo on acoustic music. OK, it's not perfect, but for sound-conscious, budget-minded buyers, the HT-S770 is the go-to choice.

7.7

Onkyo HT-S770 (black)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 9