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Onkyo SKS-HT594 review: Instant Atmos speaker kit could use some polish

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MSRP: $599.00

The Good The Onkyo SKS-HT594 is one of the least expensive speaker systems designed to play back Dolby Atmos and DTS:X formats. The six-piece package includes a pair of large bookshelf speakers that feature a special "height" top-mounted driver, plus center and surround channel speakers, and a 10-inch, 120-watt powered subwoofer.

The Bad Some less expensive, non-Atmos systems sound better. The height channel capabilities are limited to only the front-left and -right channels, not the surround height channels. The speakers' fit and finish feels budget, and its spring-clip wire connectors don't provide as secure a grip as banana connectors.

The Bottom Line The Onkyo SKS-HT594 takes advantage of Dolby Atmos soundtracks and doesn't break the bank, but it's not the best value option.

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7.1 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 9
  • Sound 7
  • Value 7

First the good news: the Onkyo SKS-HT594 six-piece speaker/subwoofer package slashes the cost of entry for the latest home theater formats, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. These two new surround schemes add height channels to standard 5.1- or 7.1-channel surround, promising an even greater sense of envelopment.

The bad news is that the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X rollouts have crept forward at a snail's pace. Dolby Atmos-encoded Blu-rays are slow in coming, with little more than a dozen on the market since the format was released a year ago, while DTS:X just recently debuted and so the selection is currently limited to just a single title, "Ex Machina."

Meanwhile receivers such as the Pioneer Elite VSX-90 and Onkyo TX-NR646 have done a poor job demonstrating what Dolby's height channels bring to the party. Also, there are currently no receivers that support DTS:X yet, so while many 2015 Atmos receivers promise upgrades to DTS:X too, we are unable to test the differences between the two formats for ourselves.

While the SKS-HT594 is the cheapest Atmos-capable speaker system on the market, it's still a relatively poor value. The Onkyo HT-S5800 system adds a receiver to the same kit for around $100 more, making it a better buy overall, but your dollar still goes further with other speaker systems.

Design

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From the black vinyl-wrapped particle board cabinets to the nonremovable satin cloth grilles, the SKS-HT594 system has the sort of low-budget look and feel we associate with cheap home theater-in-a-box systems from back in the day.

The five speakers are reasonably compact. The front left and right bookshelves measure 18.1 inches high by 6.1 inches wide and 7.3 inches deep; the center speaker is 16.1 inches across and roughly 4.5 inches high and wide, while the surround speakers are really little, just 9.1 inches high and 4.5 inches by 3.75 inches.

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The sub is the brute of the family, a hulking 18.25 inches high, 12.5 inches wide and 15.6 inches deep! That bad boy has a large bass port on its front baffle and a blue LED you might find distractingly bright in a darkened home theater.

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Sarah Tew / CNET

Owners of home theaters with side and rear surround channel speakers, take note: the SKS-HT594 system comes with just one pair of surround speakers, and Onkyo doesn't separately sell extra pairs of surround speakers.

Features and setup

The SKS-HT594's front left and right speakers each have two sets of drivers. The front baffle hosts a 5-inch woofer and a 1-inch dome tweeter, and the top panel has a 3.25-inch midrange/woofer. That's why these speakers have two sets of spring-clip wire connectors, one for each set of drivers.

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Sarah Tew / CNET

As with other Atmos speakers, the top driver is only intended for use with Atmos or DTS:X receivers. The top driver fires up towards your ceiling, so if you want to get the best Atmos or DTS:X effects, these speakers should not be placed inside a cabinet or other types of furniture. Of course you can use the SKS-HT594 with non Atmos or DTS:X receivers, just don't hook up the top driver channel's spring clips to the receiver.

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