Everyone likes the idea of home cinema but for some people incorporating rear speakers (and the cables that come with them) into their living environment is a step too far. That's why we've seen an influx of 2.1-channel systems hitting the shelves, catering for those who want to take movie sound beyond the confines of their TV's speakers but don't have the room (or permission) for full 5.1.
Onkyo is the latest name to launch such a system but its LS-V501 takes a more audiophile approach to the concept, placing its emphasis on performance. As a result, the amp/DVD unit (DR-S501) boasts many of the features found on the company's acclaimed 2007 range of AV receivers.
As for looks, one word springs to mind: class. The main unit's understated black styling and large dials make it look like a piece of high-end hi-fi kit, with no contrived cosmetic gimmicks or bandwagon-jumping to cheapen the design. Likewise the wall-mountable bookshelf front speakers sport a pleasant black finish and stylish circular stands.
The active subwoofer is similarly styled in black but it's a bit of a beast, which could make it difficult to conceal. It's able to pound out an impressive 100W of bass power, and features its own volume control on the rear panel (the level can also be trimmed using the main unit's front display). Its build quality is also impressive, which goes for the entire system.
The main unit can be purchased separately for around £200 less than the full 2.1 package, and combines a 50W-per-channel amplifier and a DVD player that also spins DVD-Audio, SACD, and CD - alongside digital media formats like MP3, WMA, DivX and JPEG. Playback of both hi-res audio formats earns it the ‘universal' label, but with only three channels you won't get the full benefit of multi-channel DVD-A and SACD discs.
The main unit also upscales DVDs to 720p and 1080i, but Onkyo has missed a trick by not offering 1080p. On the audio side it decodes Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, plus the Theater Dimensional DSP circuit, which generates a virtual 5.1-channel effect for movie playback. Also on board is an FM/AM radio tuner with 40 presets, and iPod owners can snap up one of two optional Onkyo docks and integrate their player into the LS-V501's operating system.