KEF HTB2 subwoofer
When it comes to subwoofers, style and deep bass performance rarely go together. Most of the great subwoofers are big, cube-shaped things, but KEF's engineers didn't get that memo: the HTB2 ($799) is round, a mere 7.7-inches thick, and still manages to go deep into the bass. It's a vertically oriented design, standing 15.4-inches tall, which might make it easier to place in your home theater than a cube-shaped model would be. If you prefer, it can be placed horizontally instead.
The subwoofer sports front- and rear-mounted 10-inch woofers. However, only the front woofer is powered by the 250-watt onboard digital amplifier--the rear woofer produces bass passively, motivated by the internal air pressure created by the movement of the front woofer. Build quality is exceptional, and the HTB2 is available in two finishes, high-gloss black and high-gloss silver, to match the respective colors of KEF's FiveTwo and Home Theatre series speaker systems. We think the HTB2 is one of the coolest-looking subwoofers around, but we also have to point out that the woofers are exposed. KEF doesn't provide grilles to cover them, so don't place these beauties any place they would be vulnerable to wear and tear from kids or pets.
Unlike most subwoofers, the HTB2 lacks both a volume control and a crossover network, leaving those functions to be handled by your A/V receiver's bass management system. We found that arrangement somewhat inconvenient during setup because we couldn't fine-tune the subwoofer's volume level by merely turning the volume control, but we didn't miss it in day-to-day use. The HTB2's base is fitted with a three-position, deep-bass boost switch and a phase control. Connectivity is limited to one RCA input.
We evaluated the HTB2 while testing the KEF FiveTwo Series Model 11 virtual surround speakers. The subwoofer's musical talents were immediately evident when we played jazz CDs with acoustic bass; the taut definition exhibited none of the boom we associate with compact subwoofers, so it was easy to hear the exact pitch of each note. The Superman Returns DVD required a different set of subwoofer virtues--and the thundering scene with the space shuttle came through loud and clear on the HTB2. The subwoofer also went deeper into the low bass in our large home theater--below 35Hz--than any similarly sized subwoofer we can remember.