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.)
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.