- DAB, FM, CD and iPod all from one box
- Simple muted design
- Great sound quality
- Clunky remote
- Not the most elegant design
- Limited auxiliary inputs
- Review Price: £249.99
- DAB, FM, CD, USB and iPod playback
- Separate stereo speaker arrangement
This very conventional looking mini Hi-Fi system may seem unassuming but it packs a CD player, FM and DAB radios, an iPod dock, and USB playback into its body and comes bundled with a good quality set of stereo speakers so is both feature packed and ready to go right out the box.
The central unit, which is available in either silver or black, measures 300 x 215 x 90mm so should easily fit into most TV cabinets and Hi-Fi shelves, or alongside your TV. It is a bit deep to simply nestle on a window sill or book shelf but one should probably aim to give such a system a better home than that anyway.
The main chassis is all metal with a high quality paint finish in the case of the black model, and a brushed aluminium for the silver. It all feels very well put together, and its fairly hefty weight of 4.2Kg only adds to this sense. The hole for the USB port on the front fascia does catch the eye somewhat but it’s not enough to concern. Plug a USB stick into this port and you can playback mp3 files thereon.
Also on the front, from top left to bottom right, are buttons for power, input, tone/balance, eject, track skip/preset skip, stop and play/pause along with dials for adjusting the tone/balance and volume. All are machined from aluminium to match the chassis and, in the case of the black version, given an anodised coating. They all feel securely mounted and exhibit a light but defined click in the case of the button. The tone/balance dial is a notched infinite spin affair that is wonderfully accurate while the large volume knob has a stiff but smooth infinite spin action.
Hidden behind a chunky plastic flap on the top is the iPod dock that, unlike the ingenious universal docks on the B&W Zeppelin and Fatman iTube ValveDock, uses the standard Apple dock inserts for fitting different iPod types. A selection of black ones are included in the box but as we’ve become accustomed to, none seem to fit the latest iPods and iPhones so you’ll have to source the right dock adapters yourself – and an iPad won’t fit at all. It’s fully compatible with iPhones and we noticed no squeals and beeps when a phone was docked.
Other connectivity is very limited with just a headphone jack on the front and Line In, Video Out, Antenna, Subwoofer Pre Out, and Speaker connections (both banana clip and bare wire is compatible) on offer. The video output is for piping videos from your iPod to your TV but because it’s only a composite connector, quality is going to be so poor as to not be worth bothering with. So while this system is ideal for a living room sound system, by virtue of it being easy to setup the speakers either side of your TV and it having most basic sound sources on offer, you’ll have to rely on other means to manage all your AV connections from such sources as Blu-ray players and Sky boxes (one solution is to hook the Onkyo to the stereo audio output from your TV and leave the TV to manage the rest).
Looking a bit more closely at the 250 x 225 x 150mm speakers, they’re sturdily built from fibre board with a black textured veneer covering the top, bottom and sides. This could be mistaken for a faux wood effect but is in fact more of a brushed metal style that looks very attractive. Each contains a pair of drivers with a 12cm woofer and 2.5cm tweeter up front, a bass port on the back and of course the connectors as well. Standard cloth covers are included, which can be removed if you want a slightly edgier look. All told, they look classy and feel well made.
The mains cable for the amp is hard wired in so can’t be replaced by a longer or shorter one as per your preference but at around one metre in length it seems ample for most people’s needs. The same can be said of the included speaker cables, which are of a decent thickness and made of pure copper. They lack proper connectors (though this is typical for HiFi equipment) but are of a decent 1.5m length. You can of course easily and cost effectively replace these if you need extra length.
Turn the unit on and the two line display is revealed. It shows basic track, station, time, and song information and is clear with good viewing angles. Some of the finer text can be a little hard to read from across a modest living room but general navigation is easy.
Pop a CD in the drive and the unit works as intuitively as you would expect with the front controls letting you get to the right input, start playback, move through tracks and adjust volume. However, fire up the radio or dock an iPod and you’ll be stuck without the remote.
Sadly, the remote isn’t the most elegant or intuitive design we’ve ever encountered. Its square edges, stumpy form, plastic construction and rubber buttons all combine to make it feel somewhat cheap while the layout is at best perfunctory and at worst, somewhat unwieldy. For instance, you’re basically unable to control ipod playback properly beyond skipping tracks and play/pausing – navigating albums is a nightmare – while there are seemingly unnecessary dedicated play/pause buttons for USB, iPod and CD. Meanwhile you have to resort to the fast forward buttons to skip through radio stations (again, this is something you can’t do without the remote).
With time you learn its idiosyncrasies but quite how a company that makes such quality products in terms of performance can still come up with such a rudimentary remote, we don’t know. It would be nice to have backlit buttons as well, though that omission is more understandable given this unit’s price.
Thankfully, what the Onkyo CS-545UK lacks in usability (and inputs) it more than makes up for with performance. From classical music through the latest grimy beats to the most bombastic of movie sound tracks, this unit’s all-round sound allows it to shine.
Starting our testing with a quick rotation of our favourite CDs, it quickly impressed with its involving stereo reproduction and warm even sound. The lack of a dedicated sub woofer means some dance music doesn’t quite rumble as much as some might like but the twin 40W output is very much more than adequate to fill a house with loud undistorted music when it comes to party time.
You won’t be surprised, given this unit’s price, to hear that detail levels don’t quite reach truly mesmeric levels with the top end feeling a little flat but there’s more than enough to make for a very involving and pleasing listen.
As mentioned, navigating radio stations can cause a bit of head scratching, and handling presets is almost a a complete waste of time. So long as you tend to listen to the same one or two stations, you shouldn’t get too aggravated but otherwise this may not be the system for you.
Moving onto movies and TV through the line input, the lack of a central channel means you don’t get quite the perfect dead centre reproduction of dialogue that a surround set would give you, and again the lack of a dedicated sub results in less than bowel moving rumbles during explosive scenes. However, the overall experience is very enjoyable with again a warmth and evenness of tone that means you’re never left struggling to hear dialogue or being defend when the action starts. Certainly this makes for a great upgrade to the vast majority of standard TV speakers.
Looking at alternatives, you could opt for a dedicated surround system and simply plug in an iPod dock but you of course loose the CD and radio functionality. There are also a number of alternative mini systems but few have the integrated iPod dock or offer the same audio quality for the price. Meanwhile compact all-in-one systems like the Pure Contour can’t be setup round your TV and tend to offer less impressive overall audio.
While not a super stylish all-in-one iPod dock, a bombastic high-end HiFi, or a mega multi-channel surround system, the Onkyo CS-545UK is a great all-rounder. With DAB, FM, USB playback, an iPod dock, and CD player onboard, it will cover most music listening needs, while the line input and separate stereo speaker arrangement means you can use it as an easy upgrade for your TV’s audio, making for a complete living room audio solution. However, a slightly cumbersome interface keeps it from getting a higher score.