I've wanted to get my hands on the Onkyo HT-S7700 home theater system for review since I heard of its imminent arrival. While 4K has been the big news on the video side of the home theater world, nothing has been bigger than the arrival of Dolby Atmos on the audio side. In case you're unfamiliar with what Atmos is or just want a little refresher, take a look at Dennis Burger's overview.
The reason I've been so excited about testing out the Onkyo is not simply that it is a Dolby Atmos-enabled system. If you follow the product-release trends, it looks like most receivers/preamps being released in the foreseeable future by major manufacturers like Onkyo, Denon, Marantz, Pioneer, and many others will be Atmos-capable. So then what's unique about this Onkyo? You see, amidst all the positive energy surrounding the launch of Dolby Atmos, the naysayers have a few legitimate concerns regarding the execution of Dolby Atmos in the home theater and why it won't work out in the end. One way to set up Dolby Atmos at home is to install in- or on-ceiling speakers that radiate sound directly at the audience. The drawback to this approach is the added cost of buying two or four extra speakers and drilling holes in the ceiling to install (if you're even able to do such a thing in your particular space). The other way to do it is to use Atmos-capable upward-firing speakers--either in the form of standalone upward-firing driver modules or, in the case of the Onkyo product in question, built-in upward-firing drivers that are contained in the same cabinets as the front left/right speakers. Those who have not yet heard properly executed Atmos-enabled speakers may be suspicious of whether reflected sound can actually sound good. Would the Onkyo HT-S7700 home theater system be able to remove that doubt? That's exactly what I wanted to find out.
For a modest retail price of $899, the HT-S7700 gives you a features-packed 7.2-channel receiver (or 5.2.2 channels, when used for Dolby Atmos material), an Atmos-capable front speaker pair with upward-firing height channels, a pair of surround speakers, a center channel, and a powered subwoofer featuring a 10-inch down-firing driver.
Calling the HT-S7700 a home theater in a box would be misleading. When I think of a traditional HTIB package, I think of one of those smallish boxes that you can you can tote around under your arm and lug out to your car from the big-box retail store. You know the kind I'm thinking of--one that includes a bunch of flimsy satellite-sized speakers, a subwoofer that barely equates to what a midrange woofer would look like on a normal bookshelf speaker, and the cheapest receiver you can find. That certainly wasn't the case here. The "box" was more like a crate, and it weighed 82 pounds. There was even a figurine on every panel with instructions of caution that indicated this was a two-person job to carry. The subwoofer itself is a hefty 21.2 pounds with a respectable 10-inch driver. The included receiver is designated as the HT-R693; but, after careful comparison, I surmised that the features and specs (from power-handling capabilities of the amplifier section all the way down to the host of connectivity features) look very similar to the TX-NR636 that we previously reviewed, so I'll direct you to that review for the full rundown on the receiver's many features and connection options.
Once I unboxed all of the components, setup couldn't have been easier. All the included speaker cables were color-coded to matching terminals on the back of the speakers and receiver. The subwoofer connection was just as simple: I plugged the subwoofer's attached power cord to the nearest wall outlet and used the included subwoofer cable to connect the subwoofer out at the back of the receiver to the input in back of the subwoofer.
Configuring the speakers via Onkyo's AccuEQ automatic setup tool was just as quick and painless. Because the same binding posts can be used for hooking up the Atmos height or surround back speakers, you need to tell the Onkyo which setup you use. In the speaker settings menu, I left the Front Speakers Type setting on normal, which is the default, indicating that I use height, not surround back, speakers. Next, I selected Bundled Dolby Enabled Speakers in the Height Speakers Type field to indicate that I have front upward-firing drivers installed. I then plugged in the included microphone and placed it where my listening position would be. At the touch of a button, the software created test tones one speaker at a time in sequence, then it spent about 90 seconds calculating and making the necessary adjustments.�
Connecting the sources was just as easy. As promised, Dolby Atmos does not require you to buy a new Blu-ray player; you can use the one you currently own, since the Dolby Atmos information is encoded on the Blu-ray disc and gets decoded by the Atmos-capable receiver. I did make sure to set my Oppo BDP-105 player to output a bitstream signal instead of PCM so that the decoding could be performed by the Onkyo. I used Blue Jeans HDMI cables to connect the Oppo to the Blu-ray input on the back of the Onkyo receiver. Next I connected my AT&T U-Verse DVR to the Cable/Sat input. With that, I was ready to go...
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...