Reviews 1 - 2 (2 Reviews Total)
a AudioPhileDate Reviewed:
February 1, 2010Bottom Line:
Hsu Research HB-1 Mk2
Gathering a first impression of the Hsu’s I was reminded of the irascible Audio Critic, Peter Aczel, who, upon reviewing the peerless Morrison ELAD preamp, used the term “agricultural” to describe the plain and straightforward exterior design of the unit. In satin black, the HB-1’s lean in that direction, especially with grill covers detached, as the controlled-directivity horn housing of the tweeter gives the cabinets something of an agri-industrial look. Otherwise the speakers felt sturdy, well made with bull-nosed edges, evenly applied paint, and grill covers that look good and adhere via magnetic attraction instead of flimsy nibs that will ultimately break, not unlike the qualities of a couple of last minute prom dates I had back in the 70’s.
Speaking of disco days, looking at the tweeter housing I took a ride in the Wayback Machine to 1979, when I was deejay at a skating rink where we hung four Klipsch LaScalas. Were these little horns good for some of that raucous, bombastic, unyielding, big Klipsch sound?
First, the HB-1’s are part of an epic audition process, the goal of which is to replace a pair of Revel Concerta F12’s. In actuality, I’m attempting to find a suitable replacement for the speakers that preceded the F12’s, the musical and warm Linn Tukan -- the spousal unit’s all time faves, my selling of which she has yet to forgive.
What drew me to audition the Hsu’s, besides persistent emasculation?
1. Compelling reviews.
2. Hsu Research legacy.
4. 92dB SPL (for movies and music in a great room).
The HB-1’s followed Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 for audition and many of my observations are comparative. Opinions of the full list of speaker models auditioned are as follows:
Amphion Helium2 – Exquisite; pricey; hard to find a U.S. dealer. Para me, this speaker sets the standard: neutral with a capital N, transparent and absolutely, positively, unfailingly musical; apparently able to defy the laws of audio physics and produce a scale of sound that belies their size.
Aperion Audio 5B’s – Musical and communicative but so inefficient they never would get up and boogie and absolutely nothing – zero, zip, nada -- below 75Hz.
Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 – Near equal of the Helium2; won’t play as loud or with the same sense of scale; breathy, clean tweeter; bass heavy and struggled with mid-range clarity at low volume.
Axiom M22 – Extremely forward, bright, glaring and unyielding.
B&W 685 – Sounded like every other B&W we’ve heard, as if a heavy beige quilt was draped between us and the music -- lifeless, flat, uninvolving and harsh when pushed.
Monitor Audio GS10 – Enjoyable, very well made and as gorgeous to look at as to listen to; typical Monitor Audio forward presence and brightness with that audible MA metallic tang to the sound. Thus far the only recipient of the vaunted S.A.F., thanks, in part, to the fine cherry finish.
Monitor Audio RS1 – A less capable GS10.
NHT Classic 3 – Inefficient, yet good in so many ways; even more compelling now that NHT has resurfaced as a buy direct company and offers this model for $700/pair.
Paradigm Studio 20 – Typically PS bright and coupled with a somewhat muddy midrange.
Phase Technology Premier PC3.5 –Expensive and uniquely designed but revelatory and very, very good with few weaknesses.
The set-up in our great room (approximately 27’x30’, living/dining/kitchen) was thus: Sitting atop 24” sand-filled stands there was 65” between the tweeters (flanking a 50” plasma TV); 6” from the rear port to the back wall; main listening seat was 13’ from the grill covers. Components at work were an ATI AT-1502 amp, B&K Reference 5 preamp, Sony DVD/CD player, Canare and Beldon cables, and an Energy S10.2 subwoofer called into action during bang-zoom movies. And to ensure the Hsu’s lasted for a full audition, the grill covers stayed on.
Issue: Location, location, location. I’ve been an A/V dweeb long enough to know placing a pair of speakers on both sides of a 50” sheet of glass and expecting the ultimate in undistorted, dimensional audio reproduction is an exercise in futility. Nevertheless, that’s the lay of the land here in Casa Nearprairie and the speakers chosen will have the ability to make the best of the challenging environment.
To warm up the HB-1’s and get them acclimated to the new locale after their long journey from the west coast I played Jimmy Dale Gilmore’s One Endless Night, Emmy Lou Harris’ Spyboy, The Proclaimers’ Persevere, Asleep At The Wheel’s Ride With Bob and lots of TV . Fresh out of their packing and playing at low volume the HB-1’s sounded promising, not bright, lots of rich mid-range, a wide soundstage and what sounded like the possibility of decent upper bass. Definitely not Klipsch.
Everything played on the HB-1’s had two distinct sonic characters depending on volume. Below -20dB (in our room),”Fast Train,” on Solomon Burke’s Don’t Give Up On Me, sounded perfectly soulful and played with plenty of audible bass. I suspected the Hsu’s were playing lower than the 65dB rating. Between -15 and -10dB higher notes and vocals began to sound piercing, and beyond 10’ the sweet spot shrank and it was easy to hear which driver was making which sound. And that sonic switcharoo was consistent no matter what was played -- Iz Kamakawiwo’ole’s Facing Future, Holly Cole Trio’s Don’t Smoke In Bed, Johnny Cash’s Unchained, Alison Krauss’ Forget About It, Eagles Long Road Out Of Eden, et al.
As for movies, the high efficiency combined with such clean treble playback at low volume made for easy viewing whether it was Up!, Star Trek, or one of the greatest movies ever made, The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai, Across The Eighth Dimension, it was all there – clear dialogue, broad soundstage and robust sound. As the preamp was dialed toward unity gain to recreate theater-like playback, however, hard, piercing sound and that shrinking sweet spot were back in play.
Issue: Production sweet. Between CD’s the audition continued via TV audio. Some speakers do it well (Aperion 5B’s), some struggle, like the Sierra-1’s, which sounded thick and bass heavy at low volume as to obscure the mid-range. The HB-1’s were so good at this task they reminded me of studio monitors I’ve used to mix and sweeten soundtracks. Near field or sitting 13’ away, low-to-mid volumes, the Hsu’s sounded effortless and exact reproducing production mix TV. Uncanny.
My concluding opinions and observations about the HB-1’s in our room are as follows:
1. When it comes to bass, though there is sufficient output, they are not as weighty and saturating as the Sierra-1’s.
2. Treble was smooth at low volume, hard and piercing at high volume.
3. Thanks to their high efficiency rating they can easily fill a mid-to-large size room with audio and don’t require over-engineered, overpriced components to play loud.
4. Listening beyond 10’ it was easy to locate which speakers/drivers were making which sounds.
5. Much cleaner at low volume than the Sierra-1’s.
6. Ideal TV speakers.
7. Cabinets not as solid and damped as the concrete-like Sierra-1’s; was possible some of high frequency harshness was due to cabinet resonance .
8. A superb speaker at low-to-mid volumes, bright and piercing at higher volumes.
And as to whether the high efficiency tweeter design predisposes them to sound like Klipsch speakers, in our room they certainly leaned that direction at higher volumes, but the HB-1 Mk2’s sonic signature may vary depending on each customer’s placement and room size. Caveats aside, never mind all the self-serving yak-yak about how these inexpensive speakers sound as good as speakers for five times the dough, when played within their limitations the Hsu Research HB-1 Mk2’s are simply very good speakers, period.
Post script: And thanks to Hsu Research rep, Pete, for timely answers to my queries.
Used product for: Less than 1 month
Duration Product Used: AudioPhile
Product model year: 2010
Reviews 1 - 2 (2 Reviews Total)