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The 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. They're 16.5 inches tall, while 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 a hefty 12.1 pounds each, and Onkyo built the center and surround speakers to the same substantial standard. The main left and right speakers each sport two 5.25-inch woofers and a 1-inch dome tweeter, the surrounds have one of each, and the center speaker features a pair of 4-inch woofers flanking a 1-inch dome tweeter. The speakers' curved grilles add a touch of spice to the designs, but if you remove the grilles, you'll see the white woofers--which, in our opinion, look really cool.
Equipped with a 220-watt amp and tipping the scales at 30 pounds, the subwoofer looks and feels like it costs $300 by itself. It measures 20.3 inches tall, 10.75 inches wide, and 16.25 inches deep. Since it has a single RCA input and no speaker level connectors or crossover control, it should be matched with an A/V receiver that has a subwoofer output--fortunately, most do.
The system is available in black or silver. If you'd like to add a receiver to the mix, check out the company's HT-S770 home-theater system, which shares the HT520's speakers. If these speakers seem a little chunky, you might be more comfortable with the SKS-HT240. The company also offers a 5.1-channel system, the SKS-HT320 ($199 list), with much smaller satellites (each has a 3.13-inch woofer plus a tweeter) and a 100-watt powered 8-inch subwoofer.
Our first listening session featured The Passion of the Christ on DVD, and the SKS-HT520 system never faltered. The speakers' open sound added to the experience, and the depictions of Christ's torture and execution by crucifixion sounded excruciatingly vivid. The surround effects were seamlessly distributed throughout our large home theater, and the vast scale of the musical score's choirs and instrumentation was impressively rendered. The HT520's low, low price never crossed our minds; it compares with systems at least double the price.
Moby's Play CD demonstrated the subwoofer's prowess. Not only can it effortlessly reproduce deep bass, its pitch definition was also excellent. Our acoustic jazz CDs sounded quite detailed, but the cymbals came across as overly bright, sometimes bordering on harsh. Saxophones weren't as rich sounding as they are on our Polk Monitor 30 speakers, but the Polk Monitor Series system is many times more expensive than the HT520.