Onkyo HT-S9100THX Integrated System
Say Hello to THX I/S Plus
Why are home theater products littered with logos? Because manufacturers don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Rather than design its own loudness enhancement, auto-setup program, or video-processing chip, a company like Onkyo will license one of these goodies from THX, Audyssey, or Faroudja. Or in the case of the HT-S9100THX integrated system, it will use all three.
Of those three items, the newest and most novel is THX Integrated System Plus certification. Like any form of THX certification, it ensures that the system includes all of the THX listening modes (Movie, Music, Game, etc.). It also sets benchmarks for volume, dispersion, and noise at the THX reference level of 85 decibels. Like any form of THX certification with loudness in the name, it includes Loudness Plus. This feature compensates for sonic losses that naturally occur below the reference level due to the nature of human hearing.
What makes the Onkyo shiny and new is the “integrated system” part of the title. (Don’t dare call this a home theater in a box, or Onkyo will smack you upside the head.) The HT-S9100THX is an all-in-one system with components—speakers, A/V receiver, etc.—that are designed, tested, and certified to work together, and I mean that literally. These speakers and receiver are equalized to work with one another, not with other components.
Longtime THX buffs may point out that other THX-certified products are also designed to work together. But they are intended to be reasonably interchangeable; they aren’t necessarily designed and sold together as a dedicated single system. With this Onkyo model, you get all your THX joy in one box. THX further specifies that its I/S Plus system functions at a viewing (and presumably listening) distance of 8 feet.
Audyssey’s licensed contribution to the system is the 2EQ automatic setup and room-correction system. It measures the system’s acoustic output at two listening positions, which allows more than one listener to enjoy equalized fine-tuning. Another version of Audyssey, MultEQ, measures from six positions. Most one-brand proprietary room-correction systems measure from only one position. So 2EQ might be the happy medium for a budget product like this one.
Finally, the system’s HDMI 1.3a output is graced by Faroudja DCDi video processing, which is a well-known picture smoother and jaggie killer. This version of HDMI also allows the system to deliver a full panoply of surround codecs, including the new lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. It also has their improved (and underrated) lossy cousins, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio.
What a battered trench coat is to a secret agent, boxy black aesthetics are to this system. There is no cosmetic finery to indicate the true identity of these eight speakers and receiver as undercover performers. All the speakers have black vinyl enclosures, charcoal-gray baffles, and keyhole mounts in back. The only thing that makes each speaker unique is the set of color-coded binding posts, which correspond to the supplied color-coded speaker cables. Since my banana-plug Monster M1.2s cables were already laid in, I used them instead.
While every piece of the system has a separate model number, you can only buy the components as a single item (in a single gut-busting box). One reason for this is the fact that the electronics are optimized to work with these specific speakers while maximizing output. That includes the use of a fixed EQ, which is separate from the Audyssey 2EQ. While it’s possible to attach different speakers to this receiver—or a different receiver to these speakers—it’s really intended to be used as an integrated system.
The non-sub speakers fall into two size categories. The SKF-960F front and SKC-960C center speakers have the same two-way woofer-tweeter-woofer array with 5-inch A-OMF coned woofers that flank a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter. A-OMF is Advanced Onkyo Micro Fiber, a cotton weave with additional toughening from a synthetic material. The soft-dome tweeter’s diaphragm is plastic. The SKM-960S surround and SKB-960 back-surround are two-way speakers with a single slightly larger woofer and the same tweeter.