Let's face it, everyone loves a genuine bargain and home theater enthusiasts are no different. The reality is that there is no better time to be a budget-conscious home theater enthusiast than right now. Each year, more and more affordable products are introduced to the marketplace to compete favorably with product lines that have grown stale in comparison. While the subject of this review, Internet darling HSU Research's HB-1 MK2 Bookshelf Speaker isn't wholly new - it's been around for a few years now - it's still a genuine bargain and a worthy competitor to many of today's newer offerings. How much of a bargain is the HB-1 MK2? Try $298 ... per pair.
• Read more bookshelf speaker reviews from the HomeTheaterReview.com staff.
• Find an amp to drive the HB-1 MK2 in our Amplifier Review section.
• Explore subwoofer options to pair with the HSU Research speaker.
The HB-1 MK2 is a modest-sized bookshelf speaker, which comes in your choice of Satin Black ($149 each) or real wood Rosenut veneer ($179 each). The HB-1 MK2 itself measures fifteen inches tall by eight inches wide and eight inches deep. It's rather hefty given its simple shape, driver complement and MDF construction at fourteen-and-a-half pounds each. The magnetic grilles cover the HB-1 MK2's two drivers, an improved horn tweeter and a six-and-a-half-inch woofer. The two drivers, along with the speaker's rear-vented design, give the HB-1 MK2 a reported frequency response of 60Hz to 20kHz plus or minus two dB, which is impressive, though the HB-1 MK2 is designed to be used in conjunction with a subwoofer, crossed over at 80Hz. This shouldn't come as a surprise, as HSU Research is primarily a subwoofer company, so their speakers naturally would mate well with their core product line. Sensitivity is rated at 92dB and impedance is listed at eight ohms, making the HB-1 MK2 ideal for amplifiers with as few as ten watts on tap on up to 250 watts. The HB-1 MK2 are single-wire speakers and feature a pair of robust gold-plated binding posts that can accept everything from bare wire to spade-terminated speaker cables.
I connected the HB-1 MK2 to my reference setup, consisting of my Parasound 5250v2, Integra DHC 80.2 AV preamp, Dune HD Max Blu-ray player/Media player and dual JL Audio Fathom f110 subwoofers. Everything was connected via interconnects and speaker cable from SnapAV. I only had two HB-1 MK2s on hand for review, as they were borrowed from a friend, as opposed to being supplied by the manufacturer. I had initially borrowed the pair of HB-1 MK2 to use as a comparison for another bookshelf speaker review I was working on and was so impressed by the HSU's performance that I asked to keep them for a few more days so that I could share my thoughts with all of you. Since I did not have HSU Research's center channel or rear channels on hand, I used them in conjunction with my Noble Fidelity in-ceiling loudspeakers to create a makeshift 4.2 surround system. Obviously, for music playback only, the HB-1 MK2s were used, along with my JL Audio subwoofers.
Upon initial listening, I came away with the impression that the HB-1 MK2 was a bit muffled and rolled-off up top. After about ten minutes of listening, I discovered my initial thoughts were wrong, and in reality many speakers -at least the ones I had on hand for comparison - were merely more forward and, in some cases, more aggressive. To say that for a sub-$200 speaker the HB-1 MK2's neutrality is rather staggering would be an understatement. More impressive, it's the first horn-loaded speaker I've heard that didn't sound "shouty" at volume. In fact, the HB-1 MK2's high-frequency response is practically the very definition of smooth. Does the HB-1 MK2's tweeter sparkle and shine the way many newer, more esoteric tweeters do nowadays? No, not exactly, but in not sounding like (or should I say chasing) what others are doing, it manages to be unique in its own right and the result is nothing but natural - not to mention non-fatiguing.
The HB-1 MK2's midrange is a real treat, for it is virtually without color and as close to neutral as I think I've heard at this price point and even several clicks above. The upper midrange is so organic and textural that it manages to put to shame a lot of other quality bookshelf speakers costing three and even five times as much. The HB-1 MK2's midrange performance, especially with well-recorded vocals and dialog tracks, is absolutely sublime. Speaking of sublime, the HB-1 MK2's soundstage is stunning and better in my room than even my reference Bowers & Wilkins. The air, detail, dynamics and three-dimensionality found in the HB-1 MK2's soundstage is simply amazing and one of the speaker's best attributes. Equally impressive is the level of detail and delineation that can be heard within the soundstage. While I've heard speakers with better focus, the HB-1 MK2 gets so much of the equation right that you'll come out of pocket a lot more before you begin to improve upon what the HSU's provides you out of the box.
Because of its relatively high sensitivity, the HB-1 MK2's dynamic prowess is quite good, though because its driver integration is so good and its sound so neutral, dynamics carry with them an organic, almost analog quality, as opposed to being explosive or in your face. Again, it might sound like this is a bad thing, but in reality it's quite something, for this little horn speaker manages to make other speakers sound "shouty" or aggressive when pushed. Furthermore, at loud volumes, the HB-1 MK2 doesn't collapse and/or fall to pieces, though it does need a subwoofer to augment its bottom end in all but small rooms. Push the bass driver too hard with a solid signal and it will distort, but match it to a capable subwoofer and the aural presentation afforded you by the HB-1 MK2/subwoofer combo will be epic. With a subwoofer in the chain, the HB-1 MK2 can easily play into the high 90dB range without breaking a sweat. For those with larger room or a tendency to play things a little more on the loud side, I would recommend stepping up to the larger HC-1 MK2 horn center channel, which can also pull double duty as left and right mains.
Read about the high points and low points of the HB-1 MK2 on Page 2.