This 5.1 combi system doesn’t offer much mileage from its onboard 3D audio decoding, but in other ways it offers solid value for money, reckons Mark Craven. Read our ONKYO HT-S3910 Review.
AVR/5.1 speaker system combi
POSITION: Towards the bottom of Onkyo’s surprisingly extensive systems range
Onkyo HT-S5805; Yamaha YHT-1840
ALL-IN-ONE HOME CINEMA systems, which were the darlings of the AV market at the turn of the century, have fallen so far out of fashion that practically all manufacturers have given up on them. At first glance, you might think Onkyo’s HT-S3910 is a lone holdout against the soundbar revolution, but then you clock that it lacks the integrated disc player that made all-in-one systems so convenient.
So what is it then? Basically, it’s an AV receiver and speaker package, bundled together and shipped with the necessary speaker cables. In the streaming age of 2020, you could argue it’s all that’s needed to graduate from a TV sound system to genuine home cinema.
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Should not buy anything from AudioAffair.
See also TOP 10 Subwoofers
You could also argue that the HT-S3910 is a bit of a conundrum, because while its feature list includes Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding (as befits a 2020 AV receiver), its channel count is only five. Furthermore, the system’s touted 3.1.2-channel Dolby Atmos playback transpires not to come from Dolby-enabled upfiring units tucked into the front L/R speakers (as you might reasonably expect), but the use of the surround models as front heights. Which isn’t what most people will think of as Dolby Atmos, and isn’t much of a mass market proposition (because, at the very least, it involves hammering away at walls). Of course, it’s better to have Atmos/DTS:X processing than not (it’s an upgrade path, after all), and it’s joined here by virtual variants.
Elsewhere, the specification of the AV receiver element of the HT-S3910 is pretty solid. There’s a quartet of HDMI inputs, and one output (ARC-enabled for an easy connection to a TV); 4K HDR passthrough (with Dolby Vision support); Bluetooth audio streaming; 4K upscaling; a full-size headphone output; Zone B linelevel output; FM/AM tuner; and a powered USB port on the rear to feed any HDMI streaming stick you might want to connect.
So what’s missing? Ethernet/Wi-Fi connectivity (this isn’t a networkable receiver) and any form of automated EQ (which, in Onkyo’s case, would be AccuEQ). Speaker setup therefore borders on plonk-and-play, although manual configuration of crossover, distance and level is provided. When up and running, there’s also a tone control function and dialogue enhancement tool (accessed by the ‘Vocal’ button on the remote), plus audio modes including All Channel Stereo.
All this isn’t a bad haul considering the system price, although the budget nature of the accompanying speakers shows where the money has gone. Onkyo’s six cabinets are all fairly agreeably designed (by being non-descript) but you’ll immediately notice they feel lightweight.
The system contains four identical smallscale cabinets (front L/R, and surround), a wider centre channel, and a boxy passive subwoofer that takes its power from the AVR unit. It has a down-firing 6.5in driver, which doesn’t raise hopes of chest-crushing bass.
All the satellite speakers use a single full-range driver (even the centre channel, although its enlarged cabinet size helps it claim a slightly deeper frequency response). On the back are spring-clip terminals to accept Onkyo’s bare-wire speaker cabling, and keyhole wall-mount fixing.
Not having to run auto calibration, or configure a wireless connection, makes setting up the HT-S3910 refreshingly quick if you’re happy with the default 120Hz subwoofer crossover setting, and either except the unit’s default speaker distance measurements (3.6m for L/C/R, 2.1m for surround) or are confident enough to guess without recourse to a tape measure. With speakers placed fore and aft, an Oppo Blu-ray player plumbed in via HDMI and the AVR connected via HDMI ARC to my TV, I was ready to listen.
Going to war
With its reasonably powerful onboard amplification (Onkyo claims an improbable 100W per channel into its accompanying 6 ohm speakers), the HT-S3910 wastes no time in making itself heard with the soundmix of Overload (4K Blu-ray). It doesn’t want for energy or soundstaging skill, but it can sound a little rough and ready.
Letting the side down, unfortunately, is the subwoofer. This made-to-a-cost item exhibits the usual failings of a budget woofer, being primarily concerned with making a crowd-pleasing boom without having much in the way of nuance, slam or genuine depth. That’s not to say it doesn’t play its part – LF effects (gunfire, explosions, droning aircraft engines) all gain impact from its rumblings, giving you a flavour of what the soundmixer intended that you just won’t get from most TV speaker systems. But when Overlord‘s onscreen action calls for really deep and vicious bass hits (most notably in the opening parachute drop sequence), it’s found wanting. You can tweak the sub level, but this just makes it louder, not more accomplished.
The sub glosses over a lack of bass heft from the other cabinets (you wouldn’t want to listen to this setup in traditional stereo), and serves to tie the disparate parts together into one cohesive system. With all five speakers in play, there’s a decent sense of a large soundfield.
Having actual physical surround speakers always beats a soundbar’s virtual processing, and this is one of the HT-S3910’s selling points. Onkyo’s fourth and fifth channels are a tonal match for the front L/R, and this helps tighten up front-to-back effects pans, and means surround details aren’t demoted to also-ran status. With an active multichannel mix, your listening position becomes enveloped. Careful positioning helps overcome the speakers rather narrow presentation.
Top-end delivery is actually rather impressive, with a crisp nature to high-frequency effects that’s enjoyable but not fatiguing. Yet between this and the subwoofer, this system misses out on some mid-range body, meaning score and dialogue elements can occasionally feel thin and buried in the mix.
One of a kind
Evaluating the overall appeal of the HT-S3910 isn’t simple, because it occupies such a rare spot in the AV market.
It’s easy to say it doesn’t offer the same broad specification and skillset as, say, Denon’s also AVR-X1600H [see p48], but that doesn’t come with its own surround speaker set. And while there are soundbars at this price that go down a similar fuss-free route, none have the upgrade potential here, nor that genuine multichannel delivery.
In fact, it sets out to do what it does fairly well, give or take some sound quality shortcomings that should perhaps be forgiven at this level. It can imagine it finding favour in a second room gaming den or kid’s bedroom.
I still don’t quite understand the Dolby Atmos tease, though. If you’re going to give us the decoding skills, give us upfiring drivers too…
The sound performance here has both strengths and weaknesses, and there are no upfiring Atmos speakers, but for plug-and-play home cinema this is flexible and often fun.
Best ONKYO HT-S3910 prices in the US ?
Best ONKYO HT-S3910 prices ?
See also TOP 10 Subwoofers
DOLBY ATMOS: Yes DTS:X: Yes IMAX ENHANCED: No MULTICHANNEL INPUT: No MULTICHANNEL PRE-OUT: No MULTICHANNEL OUTPUT (CLAIMED): 5 x 100W (into 6 ohms) MULTIROOM: Yes. Zone 2 audio line-out AV INPUTS: 1 x digital optical audio input; 1 x digital coaxial audio input; 3 x analogue inputs HDMI: Yes. 4 x inputs; 1 x output COMPONENT VIDEO: No VIDEO UPSCALING: Yes. To 4K DIMENSIONS (AVR): 435(w) x 328(d) x 160(h)mm WEIGHT (AVR): 8.2kg
FEATURES: 2 x subwoofer pre-outs; Bluetooth receiver; Dolby Height Virtualization; DTS Virtual:X; HDMI ARC; Advanced Music Optimizer; Vocal Enhancer; tone control (front L/R channels); 4K HDR passthrough (including Dolby Vision); powered USB port; AM/FM tuner; onscreen display; AKM 384kHz/32-bit; supplied with 5.1 speaker system (4 x full-range satellites; 1 x full-range centre channel; 1 x 6.5in subwoofer)
AMAZON FIRE STICK 4K: Onkyo includes a powered USB port on the rear of the HT-S3910’s amp to connect to an HDMI streaming stick. Amazon’s Fire 4K model is the best of the bunch, and comes with a remote with Alexa voice control.
Bought it a year ago. Very disappointed. Sound is simply missing lower bass, something bad happens and sound gets super low when going from center channel to left or right. You sometimes can’t even hear what people are saying.
Thanks for your sharing !