Onkyo is known for having speaker expertise, even though it's not primarily a speaker company. That's because of Onkyo's success selling home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs), which combine a speaker system and an AV receiver in a single box, taking some of the confusion out of putting together your own system. The Onkyo SKS-HT870 is a 7.1 speaker system that is sold as part of the Onkyo HT-S7200 HTIB, but it's also offered separately. While the speakers packaged with most HTIBs wouldn't be worth buying separately, the SKS-HT870 is an exception, with excellent sound quality given its low price. Our only complaint about the SKS-HT870 is that it's boxy and a little unrefined, especially compared with a similar system like the Energy Take Classic. However, if you're looking to maximize your audio performance on a budget--and don't mind the SKS-HT870's look--the SKS-HT870 is a top choice.
Design and features
The SKS-HT870 features a pair of slender tower speakers, a dedicated center channel speaker, four surround channel speakers, and a powered subwoofer. It's a budget-priced system, but as with previous generations of Onkyo speaker systems, the SKS-HT870 is an incredible value.
All eight pieces feature medium-density fiberboard cabinets, nicely finished in wood-grain black, and the speakers have nonremovable black cloth grilles. The towers and center speaker's come with gloss black panels fitted to their tops and sides (respectively). The towers' circular metal bases are packed separately; you attach them with four screws each, and while you're assembling the speakers, take a peek inside the rear-mounted, bass-enhancing port. You'll see Onkyo's engineers used the speakers' full internal volume to maximize their bass producing potential (few HTIB towers do the same).
The towers' bases are 10.3 inches in diameter and the speaker is 41.3 inches high; the center speaker is 16.9 by 4.5 by 4.75 inches; and the surround speakers are 4.5 by 9.1 by 3.75 inches each. The towers and center speaker are two-way designs outfitted with twin 3.25-inch woofers and a 1-inch dome tweeter. The surround speakers each have one 3.25-inch woofer, but no tweeters.
Speaker connectors are spring-clip types, which only work with stripped bare wire ends or cables terminated with pin connectors. In either case, spring clips don't provide all that secure a grip on the wires, so they can fall out with a slight tug. We prefer banana connectors, but they're probably too expensive to be used in this budget-priced system.
The matching subwoofer's gloss black front baffle makes for an upscale look; a large port on the baffle augments the bass supplied by the 10-inch down-firing woofer. A 290-watt amplifier drives the woofer and the sub's rear panel hosts a single RCA, line-level input and a volume control. Measuring 10.8 by 19.9 by 16.2 inches the sub qualifies as a full-size model; it weighs 25.6 pounds. The cabinet is well built, but when we wrapped our knuckles against the sides or top of the cabinet, it didn't feel as well braced as more expensive subs. Again, we're not surprised; in the context of a budget-priced 7.1 channel speaker/subwoofer system, the SKS-HT870 is a terrific bargain.
To conduct our listening tests, we paired the SKS-HT870 with our Denon AVR-3808CI reference AV receiver. The very first thing we noticed about the SKS-HT870's sound was that it didn't do anything badly. We rarely say that about budget-priced speaker packages, which either have embarrassingly awful subwoofers, or overly aggressive tweeters, or both.
The SKS-HT870 sounds right, and even though the surround speakers lack tweeters, timbre was remarkably consistent through all seven speakers. The subwoofer is so well matched to the speakers we didn't really think about the sub much, and that's always a good sign.
We were so confident about the SKS-HT870's abilities, we cranked up the opening car chase scene from the "Quantum of Solace" Blu-ray and were blown away by the sound. James Bond drives his Aston Martin to the limit and the sounds of horse and firepower blasting out of the SKS-HT870 were plenty potent. Shock and awe dynamics were good, though not as freewheeling as they can be over our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD 5.1 speaker/subwoofer system ($1,569 MSRP) when it's used with a great receiver.
The SKS-HT870's center speaker handled dialog duties with the finesse; it was clear, clean, and articulate. Concert DVDs and Blu-ray Discs demonstrated the room-filling talents of the SKS-HT870's front and rear speakers. The spaciousness of the sound, floating free of the speakers themselves, was of the sort we associate with more expensive systems.
Jack Bruce's bass and Ginger Baker's drums on the "Cream: Royal Albert Hall" DVD had no shortage of visceral impact, and bass definition was decent. Eric Clapton's tasty guitar licks were warm and sweet. Yes, if we pushed the volume too far the SKS-HT870 sound thinned out and turned hard. Backing down the volume smoothed things out again.
CDs sounded just as good as DVDs and Blu-rays, the "rightness" of the SKS-HT870 was apparent with all kinds of music. We mostly listened to CDs in stereo, with just the front tower speakers and the subwoofer, and the soundstage was wide with a good sense of depth. The SKS-HT870's subwoofer doesn't have the gutsy punch and seriously deep extension of higher priced subs, but it was a superb match with the system's speakers. That seems like a smart design compromise to us.
While we didn't directly compare the SKS-HT870 with Energy Speakers' Take Classic 5.1 speaker system, the Onkyo system has size advantages that let it play louder, with lower distortion in larger rooms. We still love the Energy system for what it can do, but it's better suited to smaller rooms. Both the Energy and Onkyo systems are highly recommended.