Onkyo HT-S9300THX Integrated System
Certified to the Max
Once a year, I pack several Gucci suitcases with cash and FedEx them to the folks who develop licensed technologies for surround systems. Without these fine people, products would be festooned with fewer logos, toy critics like myself would have less to write about, and that in turn would hasten my journey down the slippery slope toward obsolescence, incontinence, and death. Each new licensed technology is a further stay of execution. It is in this spirit, much like a dog whose owner has been out all day, that I greet the Onkyo HT-S9300THX compact home theater system with THX I/S Plus, as well as auto setup, room correction, and low-volume listening modes licensed from Audyssey. This isn’t the first THX I/S Plus system, but it is the first one to combine I/S Plus and 3D capability.
THX I/S Plus is a version of THX certification, scaled down for smaller rooms and closer seating distances. Its better-known sisters, Ultra2 and Select2, appear in surround separates, A/V receivers, and speakers. THX Ultra2 is designed for rooms up to 3,000 cubic feet with the viewer 12 feet or more from the screen. THX Select2 is for rooms up to 2,000 cubic feet with the viewer 10 to 12 feet from the screen. And I/S Plus is for AVR-and-speaker packages for “a small home theater or dorm room,” says THX, with a viewing distance of 6 to 8 feet. There’s also THX certification for desktop multimedia, with a recommended viewing distance of 28 inches.
The I/S in THX I/S Plus stands for integrated system. The Plus refers to THX Loudness Plus, a low-volume listening mode. In general, THX-certified systems are designed to operate at the standard reference level of 85 decibels, with 20 dB of headroom, resulting in peaks of 105 dB. This is fine for movie theaters but may be too loud for many home listeners. Unfortunately, when the master volume drops below reference level, perception of low and high frequencies changes, as does the relative balance from front channels to rear. Dialogue often gets harder to catch as well, but THX Loudness Plus applies processing to all channels to rebalance response and levels. The process is dynamic and varies with the given listening level.
In addition, this integrated system includes a suite of Audyssey technologies. Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume approach similar lowlevel listening problems as THX Loudness Plus. They operate on the foundation of Audyssey 2EQ, which spares HT newbies from the rigors of system setup and ameliorates the cruelty of bad room acoustics. With all these licensed technologies, this AVR-and-speaker package is ready to rock.
With THX, an Only Child
The HT-S9300THX ($1,099) is the most fully featured of three new Onkyo integrated home theater systems. Also new, at slightly lower prices, are the HT-S7300 ($899) and HT-S6300 ($749), which have skinnier speakers and no THX certification. All three models have 3D-capable HDMI 1.4a connectivity, Faroudja DCDi video processing, the Dolby Pro Logic IIz height-enhanced listening mode, the Audyssey features mentioned above, and the same rated power. All have seven speakers and the same number of amp channels, so you can enhance the standard 5.1-channel array with your choice of front-height or back-surround speakers. The two bottom models also include an iPod dock at no extra charge. The model reviewed here can accept either the dock or an HD Radio tuner, but neither is standard equipment.
Like Onkyo integrated systems in general, this one is a speaker-and-A/V receiver package. Everything is packed into a single carton that is, to state the obvious, rather heavy. Printed on top is a logo showing two human figures carrying a large rectangle with the notice: “Given its size, two people are at least recommended for carrying this equipment.” Good advice. Don’t try to lift this thing into your hatchback or up even a small flight of steps without assistance.