One of the emerging trends of 2013 has been the speaker base. They've appeared from all quarters - including Onkyo, here with the LS-T10 - looking to resolve that issue of poor TV sound, but without treading down the full AV receiver and surround sound speakers path.
It's an evolution of the soundbar idea, packing all you need into one box. And rather than taking up extra space around your TV, it's ready to double-up as a stand on which your TV can sit.
Has Onkyo - a company known for its range of impressive receivers and soundbars - got it right in the LS-T10? Will it solve your TV sound woes and outperform the competition?
The Onkyo LS-T10 is essentially a black slab to look at. We don't mean to sound disparaging as we think this is perfectly acceptable: as a speaker base it's designed to sit under your TV, so anything eye-catching would perhaps detract from the TV viewing experience.
In addition to the black box there are mesh sides and a black front grille. There is a central Onkyo logo and a through the grille you can make out the four front-facing drivers behind it. We like the subtle depth as there's no mistaking what you're looking at, although we can't decide whether this is a design feature or not.
On the top, on the leading edge, there are a number of button controls to switch inputs, power, volume, and finally to flip through the sound profiles on offer.
We like the no-frills approach of the T10. It's unobtrusive but it's still a rather large box, measuring 700 x 350 x 105mm. As it's designed to have a TV standing on it of up to 35kgs in weight, it's also a sturdy bit of kit.
Connection and control
Around the back of the LS-T10 is where connections are made. But unlike a receiver, the T10 isn't littered with options: there are audio inputs - optical, digital coaxial and 3.5mm analogue and a USB connection - and a the power connector. That’s it.
There is no HDMI as this isn't designed to be a pass-through device. It's designed to be easy for wiring up audio from your TV to the unit. We hooked up an older 40-inch Samsung TV, which sat comfortably on the top, and tried two setups: first with audio coming direct from the TV; and second incorporating the Xbox One to feed the audio.
Setup is incredibly straight-forward thanks to the single cable nature of the Onkyo, so it was a case of five minutes moving the boxes around and that was it.
There's a supplied remote control of the credit-card-footprint kind, which, frankly, feels small and cheap - and will probably be easily lost. However, the T10 comes pre-programmed with the codes of a number of different major manufacturers should you want to utilise or buy in to an alternative remote.
We found the LS-T10 responded to the remote from our Virgin Media TiVo box, Samsung remote as well as (inadvertently) the commands via Xbox One, so we had no problems adjusting the volume at any time. The speaker would also power on when the TV/Xbox One was turned on.
The controls on the supplied remote will let you switch sound modes, and gives you basic USB playback controls, but importantly it also gives you control over the down-firing 12cm subwoofer to set the bass to your preferred level.
You also have the option of Bluetooth, meaning you can pair with your phone and play your music through the T10. That’s something the Orbitsound competitor didn’t have. We had no problem making the connection, with the T10 automatically selecting the music sound profile for the best possible results.
We've mentioned that there's USB connection too. This will let you plug in an external drive with music. From here you can play music and skip through tracks using the supplied remote, but it's a basic experience as there's no way to navigate without any on-screen display.
Inside the LS-T10 there are four-front facing 7cm drivers and one on either end - making a total of six - as well as that subwoofer. There’s no doubt it’s a substantial upgrade over the speakers built into your TV.
The subwoofer provides the bass that's so obviously missing from televisions - because physical space is required for this to work, and that’s something TVs just don’t have - but the combination of speakers makes for a wider soundstage than you'll ever get from your TV.
That means you get noticeable stereo separation, as you do from a soundbar, without going to whole hog with a separate speaker system. With Dolby Digital support, you'll get those immersive surround sound effects that your TV otherwise wouldn't give you and we're impressed with the quality and richness that the speakers provide.
The AuraSphere sound profiles - that’s what Onkyo calls them, folks - make a substantial difference to the sound output too: movie widens the sound stage for the immersive cinema experience; news puts an emphasis on keeping the dialogue clear; and music pushes up the bass and balances things out for room-filling sound.
We found the movie and music suited our needs, with movie providing the best results for gaming when using the Xbox One as well. Listening to the roar of engines whilst playing Forza Motorsport 5 and the crackle of gunfire in Call of Duty: Ghosts is really impressive.
When listening to music, crank up the volume on the Onkyo LS-T10 to antisocial volumes and there’s still fidelity. The bass remains crisp and punchy with plenty of detail across the range. If you need an ad hoc party system for music, it will do very nicely.
Speaker base or bigger system?
One of the appealing things about the Onkyo LS-T10 and other systems of this ilk is that it's incredibly easy to setup and use. There's no mess, it's a single box solution and connecting up is just a case of hooking up the power cable and one audio cable.
The downside is that the price is £349. Priced as such, you could almost get an AV receiver package, with 5.1 speakers, for the same or less money. A separates system will give you much more flexibility, much more control, as well as things like true DTS-HD and Dolby HD.
The downside to a separates system is that you might have cables trailed everywhere and more confusion than you actually need. Soundbars have been falling in price at the same time, with some offering fantastic performance. Although, again, you'll be left having to accommodate the separate and typically ugly subwoofer somewhere in your room. So we think there will be plenty who find that a speaker base fits well into their living room for its simple and clean looks and impressive performance.
It's the performance of the Onkyo LS-T10 that really impresses. It delivers great quality sound from a wide variety of sources, with the USB and Bluetooth as additional benefits. As an all-round solution to improving the sound coming from your TV, including all your connected devices, the Onkyo LS-T10 is a great performer.
We're less impressed by the supplied remote which is rather cheap, especially as it's the only option you have for changing the bass level - if you lose that remote, you're stuck.
The Onkyo LS-T10 enters a fledgling market that's already competitive with an impressive performance. Dip the price a little and the deal would be that much more appealing.