HSU HB-1: 2-Way Satellite Speaker Bargain of 2006?

First off, I have no association with HSU research beyond owning one of their TN1220HO Sub woofer systems since 2000. I contacted HSU Research recently, hoping to order a second 1220HO to expand my sub bass system, but they no longer offer that product so I started to review their current product offerings.

I noticed a NEW item that HSU had recently introduced; HB-1; a smaller satellite speaker - 15"Tall x8"x8" - (6' woofer and horn tweeter in a rear ported MDF box) with a 7 Year warranty. The HB-1 is somewhat larger than the standard bookshelf speaker, but small enough to consider for other needs I had, like a second room or as home theater satellites. HB-1’s are also designed for wall mounting, and a simple mounting plate comes installed on the speakers. The appearance of the HB-1's is ‘nothing fancy’, but I think they look ‘o.k.’ with or without their grilles...besides, I like black. For $250.00/Pair, I wasn't expecting much aesthetically or sonically. But based on the positive comments from those who have tried HB-1's so far and the quality performance of the HSU 1220HO, I decided to order a pair of the HB-1's as a curiosity...just to see if they might live up to some of the preliminary reviews and possibly be acceptable as satellites to my main system.

I received the HB-1's 5 days ago and hooked them into an office system that runs an older pair of 3-way Precise Monitor speakers that I have always kept around because of their 'flat' response, excellent midrange, decent bass, good imaging and overall ‘honest’ sound. I just placed the HB-1's on top of the monitors and hooked them up with cheap speaker cables...I was trying to disadvantage the HB-1's as much as possible, not anticipating that a modest looking $125.00, 2-way horn speaker would have a chance against my old monitors…I was immediately proven wrong…

After a few days of casual and critical listening I really couldn’t find much fault with the HB-1’s… Moving them onto decent metal pedestals and placing them into a more reasonable listening location only made them perform better – providing more bass extension and a better appreciation of how well the horn tweeters performed. Being played a few days seemed to break them in fairly well. I finally moved them into my main listening room and placed them next to a pair of Aktiv-Triamped Linn Kabers. Again the HB-1’s seemed at home wherever I placed them. They would certainly work well as satellites for the Kabers in an HT system. Running the HB-1’s with the HSU TN1220 also proved very musical for 2-channel listening, which is what they were actually designed for; to be part of a 3-way or 4-way system. (A new HSU mid-bass speaker to mate with the HB-1 and a Subwoofer is planned for release very soon)

I could go on at great length about the impression the HB-1’s have made in the short time I have had them. There is plenty of interesting reading about them at the links below. All I can say is that this unassuming looking product took me quite by surprise and deserves serious consideration for HT applications and perhaps MUCH more. Is it possible that ‘audiophile quality’ speakers are available for $125.00 each? Each must decide for themselves, but at this price point I would say the HB-1’s are going to attract many happy customers.

In the HSU discussion threads there is mention of another, soon-to-be-released product, the MBM-12, a mid bass cabinet designed to be placed closer to the listener and I believe there is also a center channel product planned to match the HB-1. HSU already has a good reputation for the performance and value of their Sub-Woofer systems and customer service. It looks like the HB-1 and forthcoming MBM-12 will only add to this reputation. In any case, I would not rule out the HB-1’s as a serious 2-channel speaker, unless you are more driven by fine cabinetry found elsewhere. I believe that HSU offers a 30 day trial on their products, and the HB-1 is one product that must be heard to be believed.

HSU HB-1: Discussion at Hsu site.

Reviews: http://blog.ultimateavmag.com/he2006/060206Hsu/

HSU: Discussion of Pending new Mid Bass product
I'm sure there are plenty of bargain speakers out there that would compete with these. Have you tried the Onix X-LS speakers, or something from Ascend Acoustics? Similar price points and good sound, too.
Agreed, bargains abound thanks to the industrious fruit of Communist Chinese Labor. Thanks for the recommendation. I was just surprised at how good a $125 speaker could sound. I have no brand loyalty and like most, usually end up purchasing components that meet my sound requirements and looks good too. Paying for appearance often costs more than the price of the replacement parts inside the cabinets. I still look to Hsu for the best value high performance Sub Woofers for the price. Apparently Hsu is also involved in design of speakers for Bic, sold under the brand Acoustech. http://www.bicamerica.com/

I'm not going to discard my 'impressive' main system any time soon, but I will no longer ignore less impressive looking products either.
Further to all of this: I appreciate the tip for ONIX speakers. I ordered a pair of the Reference-1's and have to say that they are outstanding speakers, beautifully finished and very musical! They are a great match for the Onix SP3 Tube amp... But amazingly enough, the Hsu HB-1's (6.5" Woofer) stand their ground in many respects against the Reference 1's and surpass them in a few areas.

The reason for this is that the Reference 1's sound a bit too heavy in the bass and just seem to by trying to reach too low and do too much. The 5.25" woofer/ported design of the Reference-1 isn't up to the challenge and sounds strained to me when played past mid level with 'heavy' music. (My opinion)

For the price, either the HB-1 or Reference 1's are a great value, with the Reference 1's winning for overall detail and musicality for low to mid-volume listening and for being beautiful to look at.

The HB-1's are better able to handle more power (up to 250W RMS) and play quite loud without sounding too bass heavy, strained or harsh, but the Reference-1's can easily be over driven by amps other than the SP3. Both HB-1 and Reference-1 would need a sub-woofer for serious bass extension, but the Reference-1 might be harder to integrate with a sub, given its' more pronounced bass extension.

I heard from AV123 that they may introduce a new monitor speaker later in 2007, with a 6.5" woofer. Based on the outstanding initial performance of the Reference 1's, this new XPRO(?) model might be worth the wait and should be a step up from the Reference-1.

In any case, the Reference-1's are an excellent product and would make outstanding 'near field' monitors, with more than enough bass for a smaller room. But given the price of $250/pair for the vinyl-coated HB-1's, the HB's should not even be able to have a chance against the visually stunning, musical/articulate sounding Reference-1's. Although the Reference-1's are slightly better than the HB-1's at subtle details, the HB-1 is more versatile and efficient as a general purpose 'kick-around' 2-way satellite/monitor, bookshelf speaker.

There is no intention here to inflate the HB-1 or to de-value the Reference-1. It's perhaps not fair to compare these two different designs from different price points. If I had a specialized need for what the Reference-1's do best, I'd keep them. But for 'generic' satellite speakers, the HB-1's are still 'keepers'...too bad they aren't available in a nice Rosewood cabinet like the Reference-1's. No doubt they would sound even better in a more stylish enclosure(?)

Nevertheless, the Reference-1's have created a desire for a more capable reference mini-monitor...perhaps Von Schweikert VR-1's are next? The quest continues.