Surround Sound Speaker Systems
- Written by Cory Potts
- Published on 30 November 2009
My first Home Theater in a Box (HTiB) was a Sony unit about 10 yrs ago that went into a 500 sq/ft college apartment and, I thought for the time, sounded pretty good (I bought it on clearance from for $200 including DVD player, receiver, satellites and passive sub). I realized later that there were several important elements lacking from this system (mainly midrange and anything below 200Hz). Then I upgraded to the HSU Ventriloquist, also bought on clearance from a chain electronics store that went out of business, for $119 (just 5.0 , no receiver/DVD/sub) but it was a major step up in sound quality as HSU overcame a major limitation in HTiBs affectionately known as the "hole" between 80-200Hz. So, I got a little nostalgic when I was offered a chance to review the new Onkyo HT-S7200 system which includes a receiver and complete 7.1 speaker package (with subwoofer).
- Design: 7.1-Channel Home Theater Package, Including Receiver, Seven Speakers, and Powered Subwoofer
- HDMI v1.3a Repeater (5 Inputs, 1080p-Compatible)
- 1080i Upscaling Powered by Faroudja DCDi Edge
- TrueHD, DTS-HD Decoding
- Subwoofer: 10" with 290 Watt Amplifier
- Powered Zone2
- iPod Dock
- Includes 1 Pair of Speaker Stands for the Front Mains (AS-140)
- MSRP: $899 USA
Since this is an HTiB, and will be purchased by many first time home theater fans, I should mention that included in the box is a "Quick Start" guide with a very effective, colorful, and well-labeled diagram on how to connect the source components and speakers (color coded wires and color coded receiver/speaker connectors). The full instruction manual can be referenced later, but all you really need to know after connecting the speakers is to plug in the Audyssey microphone and go through the prompts of setting up your system.
I tried the towers out the first night with my Denon receiver and they sounded a little thin and crackly (and it was obvious that they were far less sensitive than my Paradigm Studio 20s), which made me thankful that the Onkyo receiver utilized 130 WPC instead of the 90 in my Denon. I think it's important to note how cool this receiver runs. I had an Onkyo a few years ago with the same power rating, and I could barely touch the exhaust vents, which made for a poor choice when paired with a PS3 (also runs very hot) inside an enclosed cabinet or equipment rack. Nevertheless, make sure the Onkyo receiver is well ventilated.
After connecting the towers with the rest of the entire Onkyo system, the sound was anything but thin and crackly. Take the time to run the Audyssey setup program, as it will help you get your system arranged correctly (when it says its playing the Front Left speaker, make sure the sound isn't coming out of the Surround Right, etc.) and it will make then entire system sound a little more focused and cohesive.
I have a living room that is well over 6000cu/ft, so the fact that the Onkyo system sports only 3-1/8" drivers made me a little nervous. The devil is in the details, or in this case, Onkyo's crack team of engineers, though, because this little system has the ability to produce a big sound, even in a fairly large room.
I used this HTiB with my Sony SXRD TV, PS3, and Time Warner Scientific Atlanta HD-DVR. The receiver has five HDMI connections (4 in, 1 out) and two sub-outs, all of which functioned fine, no complaints here!
I was quite excited about the Dolby PLIIz option as I've been very critical of the idea of the old standby four surround channels behind the listener, at least since the day I had the corrective surgery to make my ears start facing forward. On both movies and music, I A-B'd PLIIz vs. DD and DTS and found that it did give a slight bit of depth to the front channels (not so much height) at the expense of a focused soundstage and localized imaging. It tended to diffuse the sound a bit , which isn't good for dialogue through the fronts, so I left it off for most of my listening/viewing.
I ran through my usual lineup of test material including the Blu-ray intro of Flight of the Phoenix, Ironman, Coraline and several other BDs (as well as some everyday TV watching and Netflix discs Weeds Season One). While the system was impressive in its ability to sound bigger than its size and price might indicate, its real value resided in the fact that the towers, and to some extent, the center channel, have mostly overcome the "hole" in frequency area where male dialogue resides.
To my surprise, after running the Audyssey setup, not once did I have to go into the setup menu and bump the center channel level up a notch (which is usually mandatory on all HTiBs). Even in low level listening of Weeds and HDTV feeds, dialogue was always clear, intelligible, and articulate (and I was sitting ~25 degrees off axis!)
My wife even mentioned that these speakers are more intelligible in low level listening than my Paradigm Studio 20s. Also, while the tower speakers don't win any bass contests, I was consistently surprised that, when I disconnected the sub, I could go in the other room and still hear the low frequencies that the towers were making. The bass tended to be a little congested in the most bass heavy scenes, but in general, it did pretty well. All of these factors make the Onkyo system sound bigger and overall better than it should for the price.
The box didn't come with the HD radio antenna, which is a shame, as I have been curious about this technology for some time but did not get to review it on this unit. I didn't realize this until my wife mentioned it, but the receiver has a bad habit of clicking twice each time it drops/picks up an HDMI signal. This isn't much of a problem in a two hour movie, but while watching Weeds Season One on BD from my PS3, every time I started, stopped, fast forwarded, or rewound an episode, I got the "click-click" and it's pretty audible. The same was true for an Onkyo receiver I owned last year, but not all receivers do this. How much of a problem this is depends on how much it bothers each user, and Onkyo might want to look into a fix for this on their newer receivers. (Editor's Note: My SSP makes the clicking noise too, and I think it is just the receiver renewing its handshake with the source. Remember, part of the HDMI thing is that sources and components down the signal line communicate with each other to make sure that everything is compatible, so when you stop a player, then start it again, the receiver and source have to redo the handshake. Apparently, some receivers are just a bit noisier in doing this than others.)
I also noticed that all three of the front speakers are touchy about placement, especially from the back wall. In short, place them as far away from back walls and shelves as possible.
Finally, I could not get the receiver to pass a video signal through the receiver while it was off. My Denon lets me watch cable or PS3 and use the TV volume if I don't want to turn the receiver on (it defaults to the last input used when the receiver was turned off). I can't think of a situation where this would be a deal-breaker, but it would be important to some. I also did not have cause to test the upconversion of this receiver, as the receiver passes through 1080i/p, which is all I used for the review.
This system is a great choice for someone who just wants everything in one package, including a full array of seven speakers, subwoofer, and receiver. The quick start directions can have you up and running in an hour or two.
While this system will win over very few audiophiles, it will do nicely for smaller rooms with less critical listening, or for those who just dropped $5K on a display and are letting their pocketbook catch its breath before the next flogging!