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Onkyo HT-S780 review: Onkyo HT-S780

Onkyo HT-S780

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
4 min read
After lugging Onkyo's HT-S780 into our listening room we dubbed it the HTIVHB, or home theater in a very heavy box. We're not kidding: the S780 weighs a solid 113 pounds and contains a 7.1-channel A/V receiver and a hefty eight-piece satellite/powered-subwoofer system. But all that weight gives this Onkyo bundle a physical and sonic gravitas that competing all-in-one home-theater systems can't match. To say the HT-S780 sounds far more substantial than its legions of pint-size competitors is an understatement. No, its blocky component design and boxy speakers won't blend seamlessly with your flat-panel TV. But with a list price of just $500, the Onkyo costs less, sounds better, and offers more features than most lifestyle-oriented HTIBs.

The Onkyo HT-S780 features a 7.1-channel A/V receiver that's a near clone of the Onkyo TX-SR503's receiver--one of the best budget receivers CNET has seen this year. It is 17 inches wide, 6 inches high, and 14.75 inches deep, and it weighs 20.7 pounds. Even before we cruised through the S780's setup menu, the sound balance was acceptable--you'll be able to live with the default settings if you'd rather not bother dealing with setup tweaks. Of course, we took the plunge and adjusted the sound balances, noting that the stock setting's subwoofer level was a tad low. As an aside, the receiver's partially backlit remote earns high marks for its layout and ease of use.


Onkyo HT-S780

The Good

Component-grade 7.1-channel receiver; component-video switching; A/B speaker switching; three full-size bookshelf speakers plus four smaller satellite speakers; 230-watt, 10-inch powered subwoofer.

The Bad

You supply the DVD player; blocky speakers may turn off style-conscious buyers.

The Bottom Line

The Onkyo HT-S780's winning combination of extraordinary value, features, build quality, and sound quality will attract the attention of performance-oriented buyers.

The front-left, front-right, and center speakers are full-size models, standing 17.1 inches high by 6.25 inches wide and 8 inches deep. The woofers and tweeter are mounted in raised silver-plastic housings that add a bit of style to the speakers' otherwise stark look. The four wall-mountable surround speakers are 11 inches tall but just 4 inches deep. The speakers' wood cabinets feel considerably more robust than the plastic shells most HTIB speakers have. The 30-pound subwoofer measures 20.3 inches tall, 10.25 inches wide, and 16.25 inches deep; its build quality is comparable to that of some of the $200 to $300 subs we've tested. The entire HT-S780 system is available in a black or silver finish.

If you're already happy with your A/V receiver and just looking for an amazing value on surround speakers, the S780's full 7.1-channel set is available separately for $249 as the SKS-HT530 (in black finish only).

The receiver component of the Onkyo HT-S780 is rated at 110 watts for each of its seven channels; it uses 192KHz/24-bit digital-to-analog converters and a powerful 32-bit DSP engine to provide a full suite of surround-processing options for Dolby Digital, Dolby EX, Pro Logic IIx, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS Neo:6, and DTS 96/24.

The HT-S780 has excellent connectivity for an HTIB, highlighted by three A/V inputs--including three component-video connections--plus a front-panel input. The receiver also has four digital audio inputs (one coaxial and three optical) but no digital outputs. There are SACD/DVD-A 5.1-channel analog inputs as well as a stereo analog input. The receiver's RI (Remote Interactive) jack works with Onkyo's new DS-A1 ($100) iPod docking unit. You also get high-quality speaker-binding posts for the seven main channels and spring-clip connectors for the B stereo speakers.

The front-left, front-right, and center speakers feature a pair of 5-inch woofers and a high-quality 1-inch dome tweeter. The four surround speakers use a 3.2-inch woofer and a 0.75-inch tweeter. The subwoofer has a 10-inch woofer and a 230-watt amplifier.

The Onkyo HT-S780's musical talent ranks with that of the best HTIBs, but we'd expect that from any system whose satellites sport dual 5.25-inch woofers. By contrast, a surprising number of the competition's HTIBs handicap their satellites with one or two 2-inch or 3-inch "woofers" and no tweeters. Tracy Chapman's folk tunes sounded fairly clear and present; her guitar had an unprecedented naturalness. Moving on to Moby's Play CD, "Find My Baby" put the S780's subwoofer to the test, and the system exceeded our expectations for HTIB sound. Deep bass potency was as good as it gets, though acoustic music revealed the sub's pitch definition to be merely very good.

The Sin City DVD's heavyweight sounds never came close to overtaxing the HT-S780. Mickey Rourke's brooding narration barreled out of the speakers like a freight train. Everything about the film has an overblown zeal--gunshots, fistfights, car screeches--and the gruesome sound effects splattered with an authentic glee.

Our old favorite, the Sessions at West 54th music video DVD, didn't disappoint. The first track found jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis belting out big-band jazz with a rare confidence. The atmosphere of the recording studio surrounded us, proving that the smaller surround speakers' sound quality was more than up to snuff. The S780 has what it takes to fill even fairly large home theaters of up to 500 square feet with sound.

If the upgrade urge strikes, HT-S780 owners can add higher-quality speakers, such as Polk Audio's RM6900, and enjoy much better sound from the S780's A/V receiver. Most competing HTIBs' receivers employ unique equalization that works with only the supplied speakers, negating any possibility of upgrading.


Onkyo HT-S780

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 8