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Onkyo SKS-HT540 review: Onkyo SKS-HT540

Onkyo SKS-HT540

Steve Guttenberg
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.
4 min read
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Onkyo is one of very few manufacturers of home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs) confident enough to sell its speakers separately. The eight-piece speaker package we're reviewing here is included with the $500 Onkyo HT-S790 HTIB, but if you already have an A/V receiver, Onkyo sells the speakers separately as the SKS-HT540. Available for less than $300 online, the 7.1 package is a truly exceptional value.

The first thing you'll notice is the speakers and subwoofer is that they are a good deal bigger than the silver-plastic models packaged with most HTIBs. They're finished in black ash, and the front three speakers' rounded, metallic-silver front baffles are hidden behind curved grilles. The front-left, -right and -center speakers measure 17.1 inches by 6.25 inches, and they're nearly 8 inches deep. The four wall-mountable surround speakers are 10.5 inches tall, 6.8 wide, and 4 deep. If you don't want or need to run all four surround speakers, go ahead and stick with standard 5.1 channel surround; you can hook up the extra two speakers to your receiver's B speaker outputs and put them in another room. The 25.4-pound subwoofer, meanwhile, is comparable to separately sold models that go for the price of the entire SKS-HT540 system. It's 18.6 inches tall, 10.75 wide, and 17.75 deep. All of the speakers and the subwoofer are fitted with black cloth grilles, but only the front three speakers' grilles are removable. (Unlike the silver or black flavors of the HT-S790, the standalone speakers come only in black.)


Onkyo SKS-HT540

The Good

The Onkyo SKS-HT540 is an eight-piece surround speaker set that combines seven large two-way, multidriver speakers and a 10-inch, 230-watt powered subwoofer. The speakers offer sturdiness and sound quality not found in many models that are twice as expensive.

The Bad

The speakers and subwoofer might be too big for some buyers.

The Bottom Line

The Onkyo SKS-HT540 is the best-sounding surround-sound speaker package you can get for less than $300.

The front-left, -right and -center speakers feature a pair of 5-inch woofers and a 1-inch dome tweeter--by comparison, many HTIB speakers typically make do with a single 2- or 3-inch woofer, and some don't even have tweeters. The four surround speakers use a 3.1-inch woofer and a 0.75-inch ceramic dome tweeter. The one budget-imposed limitation we noted was that speakers rely on spring-clip wire connectors instead of higher-quality binding posts.

The SKS-HT540's subwoofer boasts a 10-inch woofer and a 230-watt amplifier. The sub's port is located up front, just beneath the woofer, so it won't be adversely affected by corner placement. The sub's single RCA line-level input is your only connection option, but line level is always our first choice for subwoofer hook up--so make sure your receiver has either a subwoofer output jack or "pre-output" jacks. The subwoofer is available separately as the SKW-204, for about $120.

If we didn't know the MSRP of the Onkyo SKS-HT540, we would have pegged it closer to $600. Music of all types sounded natural, so we could freely indulge without considering the system's rock-bottom price. Acoustic jazz sounded especially good, so we spent some time listening to Duke Ellington's big band swing CDs. The brass had just the right balance of presence and warmth. On Duke's smaller group sessions, you get to hear his piano more, and again, the Onkyo speakers nailed the instruments' scale and power.

Rock music via the Onkyos had plenty of kick, so Sonic Youth's new Rather Ripped CD could be enjoyed at high volume without strain. These speakers and subwoofer can easily fill even a large room--as big as 500 square feet--with sound for parties. Don't expect that sort of performance from minisatellite speakers and 6-inch subwoofers--they won't get remotely close to the SKS-HT540's big sound.

Action packed DVDs' chest-thumping dynamics were a treat. The speakers and subwoofer blend was exceptionally smooth--the system had the weighty impact that we associate with tower speakers. The center speaker treats dialogue well, sounding resolutely full-bodied and natural. The subwoofer's low bass and definition are decent, albeit no match for the better $500 subs we've tested.

Summing up: If you're on a budget and want the best bang for your home-theater buck, these Onkyo speakers are an easy recommendation. If you're looking for an all-in-one solution, consider the HT-S790, which includes a capable A/V receiver; if you already have a receiver, the speakers-only option of the SKS-HT540 is the way to go. The only real caveat is that they don't look as great as they sound; anyone more concerned with aesthetics may want to spend a bit more for the Onkyo SKS-HT240 speakers, which offer a more stylish design.

Onkyo speaker systems compared:

Model Quick take Price
Onkyo SKS-HT240 This 6.1-channel speaker set features a stylish look designed to match flat-panel TVs. (These speakers are also bundled with the Onkyo LS-V955 HTIB.)
Onkyo SKS-HT540 This affordable 7.1-channel speaker set boasts full-size satellite speakers and a 10-inch subwoofer. (These speakers are also bundled with the Onkyo HT-S790 HTIB.)
Onkyo CB-SP1200 The Onkyo CB-SP1200 is a TV stand with three speakers (the front-left, -center, and -right) built directly into its body.

Onkyo SKS-HT540

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8
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