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Onkyo HT-S907 review: Onkyo HT-S907

Onkyo HT-S907

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Steve Guttenberg
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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.

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9 min read

Each component comes with its own remote, but we found it easy enough to use the receiver's remote to control both units. It's partially backlit, and the button layout out is pretty decent.

8.3

Onkyo HT-S907

The Good

Home theater in a box with component-grade 7.1-channel A/V receiver with analog video upconversion to component video and switching for two HDMI sources; full-size six-disc DVD changer with 480p, 720p, or 1080i output over HDMI; wall-mountable two-way/three-driver satellite speakers and powered 10-inch subwoofer; advanced auto-speaker-calibration system; XM Satellite Radio capability with Neural Surround.

The Bad

The HDMI options fall short of optimal: the receiver doesn't convert analog video to HDMI, and its onscreen menus aren't viewable over the HDMI output.

The Bottom Line

Onkyo's HT-S907 delivers an extraordinary combination of excellent features and impressive sound quality at a very competitive price.
Intro
Most home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs) are riddled with design compromises. They look high-tech, but too often they make do with less than stellar electronics and speakers. While an HTIB can be greater than the sum of its parts and offer reasonable performance, few manufacturers would dare sell its HTIB electronics and speakers separately because frequently they're just not up to snuff. Onkyo HTIBs are better than that; most come with component quality A/V receivers, and in the case of the HT-S907 ($1,099), all of its component parts are available separately. Its TX-SR604 receiver ($599) and DV-CP704 six-disc CD/DVD changer ($239) offer cutting-edge HDMI audio and 480p/720p/1080i video connectivity--albeit with a few caveats. Even the SKS-HT740 eight-piece satellite/subwoofer package is sold on its own for $399. Do the math and you'll see the HT-S907 package saves $138 over the MSRPs of the individual components. Even better, the HT-S907 is sold online at less than $850, making the savings--and the value--of the combined system even more unbeatable. As indicated, the Onkyo HT-S907 comes with an A/V receiver, six-disc carousel DVD changer and an eight piece speaker/subwoofer system. The receiver and changer are attractively styled, unlike many trendily slick HTIB electronics, the Onkyos look like what they are: components. Stacked together, the receiver and changer take up a lot more room than any combo receiver/player we can think of; the two Onkyo components together are 10x17.1x17 inches (HWD). Since it's the receiver that generates most of the heat, we sat it atop the changer. You could alternatively place them side-by-side or separately.

The TX-SR604 receiver's onscreen menus don't appear via the HDMI (the DVD changer's does), so we had to connect another cable just for that purpose. Yes, the auto-speaker-setup and calibration are handled by the Audyssey 2EQ, but you still have to navigate the menus to assign inputs and deal with the fact that the receiver's factory default HDMI audio is off, so you'll have to search through the menus to turn HDMI's audio on. Since the HT-S907 is sold with an HDMI player, why would Onkyo design engineers not setup the system to make it work at its best right out of the box? We also think it would be great if the systems speaker levels came preset to the correct volume levels, but that's rarely the case.

Auto speaker setup is becoming common on upmarket HTIBs, but the HT-S907's Audyssey 2EQ automatic system is the most advanced system we've seen on a HTIB. That's great, but the Audyssey requires the user to run the setup program from three different positions in the room. It's easy enough to do--just plug in the supplied microphone and respond to the onscreen prompts. After the Audyssey finishes sending test tones, the receiver adjusts the speaker-size setting, the subwoofer crossover points, the channel volume level, and the time-delay settings for each speaker. We haven't always been impressed with the sound quality enhancements from auto setup and calibration systems, including Audyssey's, but this time it was a different story. The improvement to the HT-S907's sound quality after Audyssey 2EQ was very significant, especially for music. The midrange and treble were less harsh and easier to listen to with the Audyssey engaged. We strongly recommend using it.

Onkyo's speakers are usually boxy and blandly styled, so we were surprised to see the HT-S907's are attractively curved, thin-profile designs. They're set off with high-gloss end caps and tasteful, black cloth grilles. Instead of differently sized front, center, and surround speakers, this system includes seven identical speakers that produce the smoothest possible surround imaging. The seven black-plastic speakers are somewhat larger than typical HTIB fare. They're 6.3x13.4x3.6 inches (WHD); the center channel speaker is identical to the others, but designed for horizontal placement. It can be set in its cradle-stand or, like the others, wall-mounted via keyhole slots. Since they're a mere 3.6 inches deep, the speakers will look right at home next to a flat-panel TV.

The subwoofer is a good deal larger than most HTIB subs, and its medium-density fiberboard cabinet feels nice and solid. The 18.6x10.75x16.8 inch (HWD) sub is finished wood grain, black vinyl with a black cloth grille. It weighs 25.4 pounds. The 7.1-channel receiver dishes out 90 watts per channel and offers the usual assortment of Dolby Digital, Dolby EX, Pro Logic IIx, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS Neo:6, and DTS 96/24 surround processing modes. It also supports XM Radio's Neural surround format.

The TX-SR604 receiver has a total of five A/V inputs (including the front-panel set), plus three component and two HDMI inputs. The HDMI connection carries Dolby Digital, DTS, CD, DVD-Audio, and uncompressed PCM audio--as well as high-def video--between the source and the receiver, so you won't need to hook up a digital audio cable. While the TX-SR604 will convert composite and S-Video sources to component-video output, it will not do analog-to-HDMI video conversion. Thus, as mentioned above, HDTV owners will need to run component and HDMI cables to their set. If you don't need HDMI connectivity at all, it's worth checking out Onkyo's cheaper HT-S990THX--that system is THX certified, but it lacks a DVD player.

We counted six digital audio inputs (two coaxials and three opticals on the back panel, one optical up front), and one optical digital output. Compatibility with Blu-ray, HD DVD, or SACD/DVD-A players should be guaranteed, thanks to the HDMI inputs and 7.1-channel analog inputs. Like every receiver currently available, it cannot decode the new highest-resolution soundtracks (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master) on Blu-ray and HD DVD discs, so make sure your high-def disc player can decode these formats internally if that's important to you. There's also one stereo analog input, plus a tape in/out set for use with a cassette or CD recorder. XM Satellite Radio, including XM's Neural Surround, is available with the addition of an XM Mini-Tuner/antenna and a subscription. The RI (Remote Interactive) jack can be used with Onkyo's DS-A1 or DS-A2 iPod docking units. There are also high-quality speaker binding posts for seven amplifier channels. One final note for analog purists: there's no phono jack, so you'll most likely need to invest in an external preamp to enjoy your record collection.

The receiver doesn't offer switching for a set of "B" stereo speakers, but if you're using only five of the receiver's seven channels, you can hook up a set of stereo speakers to the Zone 2 speaker connections. The arrangement is actually better than "B" speakers, because you can listen to a different source--say, the XM radio in Zone 2--while someone else is watching a DVD in the main room. Other multiroom connectivity options include stereo audio outputs, as well as infrared and 12-volt trigger outputs.

The DV-CP704 DVD changer sports HDMI, component, S-Video and composite video outputs. The HDMI output can upscale DVDs 720p and 1080i resolutions. The benefits of upscaling are subtle, but the overall idea is that it can make an improvement if the video processing in the DVD player is better than the video processing in the TV--see the Performance section for more information. Like virtually every DVD player we test, it cannot upscale over its component video output. As a side note, we were happy to see the DV-CP704 came with an HDMI cable.

Audio connectivity on the DVD changer includes both coaxial and optical digital audio outputs, as well as stereo analog outs. Note there are no multichannel analog outputs--these are often used to carry the dying high-resolution audio formats SACD and DVD-Audio, and since the DV-CP704 can't play them, they're not needed. In addition to CDs and DVDs, the DV-CP704 is also capable playing MP3, WMA, and JPEG files burned onto CDs and DVDs.

One feature we were happy to see on the DV-CP704 is basic aspect-ratio control. To make a long story short, some older nonanamorphic wide-screen DVDs won't show up properly on the vast majority of DVD players--everything will look stretched horizontally due to being displayed in the wrong aspect ratio. The DV-CP704 has a 16:9 Compressed mode that allows you to squeeze the picture into the correct aspect ratio, although the image will be windowboxed--in other words, there will be black bars on all four sides of the screen. Unfortunately there is no zoom control, which would have been ideal, but we think the windowboxed image is preferable to an improperly stretched image. Also, some TVs are capable of zooming the image, which may help fill the screen.

The HT-S907's seven satellite speakers feature a pair of 3.1-inch woofers flanking a 1-inch dome tweeter. The spring-clip speaker wire connectors accept the cables that come with the system. If seven satellite speakers seems like overkill for your living room, Onkyo also offers a similar five-satellite speaker system--the HT-S894--although it has only a single-disc DVD player.

The subwoofer has a front-mounted 10-inch woofer powered with a 230-watt amplifier. The sub's port is located upfront, just under the woofer, so the bass won't be unduly affected by corner placement. The rear panel houses a single RCA line-level input and a volume control.

The HT-S907 earned its home theater stripes when we played the Mission: Impossible III DVD. The helicopter chase sequence in the field of windmills--with rockets firing and things blowing up every minute--places enormous demands on the system, so sure, we detected the satellites straining to keep up. The subwoofer maintained control, but it wasn't as powerful as the sub Onkyo is using in the ="="" reviews.cnet.com="" onkyo_ht_s990thx="" 4505-6740_7-31934315.html"="">HT-S990THX HTIB. When the action level scaled back in the scene where Tom Cruise enters Vatican City, the HT-S907 sounded full-bodied, with impressive dynamic range and beautifully balanced, natural dialog.

The TH-S907 did a great job on Led Zeppelin's eponymous DVD; the huge surround mix filled our home theater, and the front three speakers' soundstage had a nice sense of depth. Jimmy Page's guitar raw distortion sounded great, as did Robert Plant's vocals. The little speakers can rock out.

A lot of HTIBs stumble when they play CDs, but here again, the Onkyo shines. The satellites' sound was certainly crisp and clear on jazz pianist Hank Jones' West of 5th CD. The subwoofer provided musical bass free of boom or bloat.

As much as we respect what Onkyo has achieved with the SKS-HT740 speaker package, it is the HT-S907's weakest link. However, bettering its sound will require an investment approaching a very significant percentage of the cost of the entire HT-S907. The Mirage Nanosat 5.1 System ($799) and Klipsch's Quintet III ($500) with its Synergy Series Sub-10 ($400) would deliver substantially upgraded sound with superior tonal quality and more powerful bass.

The XM radio sound was, as usual, not so different than a low-bit MP3, but we did note the TX-SR604's FM radio was better, with greater overall clarity, treble detail and "air"--however, it had more background noise and hiss than the satellite radio.

We also took a quick look at the video performance of the DV-CP704 DVD changer, starting with Silicon Optix's HQV test suite. The Onkyo started off on the right foot, acing the first resolution test by depicting all of the detail without any flickering. The next test wasn't as great; the rotating line broke up quickly as it approached horizontal positioning. The shifting three lines test was even worse--all three lines were filled with jaggies and the entire test pattern juddered along. The rest of tests followed a similar pattern--the Onkyo isn't a great upscaling DVD player, but it's also not that bad for one that is included in an HTIB. For the vast majority of people, the DV-CP704 is perfectly capable DVD player.

The Onkyo HT-S907 is an outstanding value, but if you don't need its HDMI connectivity, the DVD changer, and the small speakers, check out the Onkyo HT-S990THX. Both models are among the best-sounding HTIBs you can buy.

8.3

Onkyo HT-S907

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8