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Onkyo's terrific tower speakers

Priced at $349 a pair, the SKF-4800 speakers look and sound like a much more expensive speaker system.

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.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read
Onkyo SKF-4800 tower speakers Onkyo

Onkyo has a long history of making high-performance, budget-priced speakers. Even their home theater in a box speakers were a cut above the speakers Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, Yamaha, and so on were making, back when I was reviewing scads of HTIBs years ago. Then again, the Onkyo speakers were usually a good deal larger than the competition's, and it didn't hurt that most Onkyo speakers were made of wood instead of plastic, and had larger woofers and better-quality tweeters than most HTIB speaker systems. No wonder Onkyo HTIBs were, year after year, the best-sounding HTIBs. So when I heard Onkyo was about to introduce a new set of budget-priced towers I immediately requested a set.

The $349-per-pair SKF-4800s' black wood grain finish is nicely done, and the understated design is quite handsome. It's a big speaker, a little over 40 inches tall, 11.5 wide, and 12 inches deep. Each one weighs 28.7 pounds (the pair of speakers is shipped in one large carton). The front baffle has two 6.3-inch woofers and a 1-inch dome tweeter; impedance is rated at 6 ohms. The rear panel houses a bass port, and a set of connectors that accept banana plugs, pins, or stripped, bare wires, like the pair of 11.5-foot-long speaker cables that come packed with the speakers.

Bass punch and power are so outstanding some SKF-4800 buyers might be tempted to forgo a subwoofer! Home theater dynamics are excellent...this tower is a force to be reckoned with. I didn't have the Pioneer SP-FS52 towers on hand for a direct comparison, but I know that speaker well enough to say the SKF-4800 has a fuller, richer sound balance, but the SP-FS52 wins on overall clarity. Thing is, the SP-FS52 definitely needs a sub for home theater duty, while the SKF-4800 does not. The SKF-4800's dynamics kick butt, I threw everything at these towers, played them nice and loud, and they never complained or distorted.

The SKF-4800 really connected with cellist Yo-Yo Ma's superb "Goat Rodeo Sessions"; the all-acoustic song collection had a sweet and natural tonal balance. The instruments' sound had a full-bodied dimensionality that's rarely heard from budget-priced speakers like these. Up to this point I was using an Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player and an Onkyo TX-8020 stereo receiver ($199) with the SKF-4800, but I was curious to see if the $219 Emotiva Mini-X stereo integrated amp would change my opinion of the SKF-4800's sound. It did not; these towers should click with just about any electronics.