Harman Kardon's designers got this kit just right, balancing the audiophile's desire for a sophisticated midrange and smooth treble with a seriously gutsy home-theater subwoofer. And they finessed the bean counters' budgetary constraints; amazingly enough, the midpriced HKTS 12 ($649 list) speaker package scores well on the sound- and build-quality fronts. This kit's combination of style, value, and performance earns it an Editors' Choice award. For starters, the HKTS 12 was designed to match the appearance of Harman Kardon's A/V electronics lineup, including products such as the AVR 225 receiver. The speaker package consists of four 10-inch-tall sats, a low-slung center speaker, a full set of cables, and a large subwoofer that measures a substantial 20.5 by 16.5 by 15 inches. The sub is basically a big, black-ash-finished box, but a gently swept-back front baffle softens the component's hard-edged, boxy look.
When viewed from the front, the sats look generic, but from the side, their crisply tapered profiles will raise eyebrows. We hope that most HKTS 12 owners will use the attractive, included wall brackets, as the sats' small footprints and uneven weight distribution make them somewhat tipsy when they sit on a shelf. If you have a Dolby EX or DTS 6.1-channel system, Harman Kardon will happily sell you separate sets of HKTS 12 satellite speakers ($249 per pair) for use as the surround back channels or for other applications.
While most midpriced sub/sat systems are best in small to medium-sized rooms, the HKTS 12's 40-pound subwoofer has the oomph to shine in spaces larger than 500 square feet. In fact, this system's high output capabilities might overwhelm a small room with an overabundance of low-end boom. According to HK, the sats' titanium-laminate-dome tweeters are mounted in specially designed waveguides to project a smooth frequency response over a wide listening area. The 4-inch woofers are fabricated from a proprietary Polyplas cone material. The center speaker employs a woofer-tweeter-woofer array, while the sub packs a 150-watt amplifier and a rather muscular-looking 12-inch woofer.
The sub's backside is decked out with high-quality speaker- and line-level connectors, as well as with our favorite subwoofer connection, an unfiltered input that eases setup chores with Dolby Digital/DTS A/V receivers. The sats feature sturdy binding posts rather than the cheesy, spring-clip jobs that we see on lesser designs. Great home-theater presentation requires a multifaceted sonic skill set. With that in mind, we popped on The Fast and the Furious DVD and reveled in the flick's nonstop depiction of blinding speed, pounding horsepower, and whining engines--all underpinned by a thumping music score. We hammered the HKTS 12 with cranked-up volume in our large room, and the system never faltered.
The center speaker sounds particularly good, so dialogue--even Vin Diesel's mutterings--was articulate and tonally well balanced. Yes, we knew from the get-go that the HKTS 12 was in the top rank of midpriced speaker packages, but its butt-kicking sub clinched the deal.
We next tried something a bit more subtle: Neil Young's track on The Last Waltz DVD. As Young tunes up, you can hear the ambience of the ballroom, and Joni Mitchell's ethereal harmonizing gave us goose bumps. When The Band kicks into gear, the sound has a nice sense of weight. Which reminds us: On "The Weight," Levon Helm's drum kit throbbed convincingly, adding to the power and the realism of the music.
Obviously, we really liked the HKTS 12 system, and though the sub/sat blend is awfully good, its midrange and treble don't sound as refined and clear as those of Polk Audio's RM6700 package. Then again, the Polk's spunky sub, while quite good, doesn't reach nearly as low as the HKTS 12's mighty thumper. The Polk system is better suited to smaller rooms, while this HK is happier in larger spaces.