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Speakers

Here’s an unconventional, terrific-sounding bookshelf speaker

The Hsu Research CCB-8 speaker delights the Audiophiliac!

Hsu Research is best known for its line of high-performance, yet affordable subwoofers, but it also makes speakers. This one I have here, the CCB-8, is a large bookshelf model with a single "coaxial" 8-inch polypropylene driver, with a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter nestled in the center of it. The sound is hugely satisfying, high in resolution, with wide stereo imaging. My review samples an impeccable satin black finish version that runs $699 per pair. The CCB-8 is also available with real rosenut wood veneers for $859 a pair.

The Hsu Research CCB-8 speaker.

Hsu Research

It's not all that small: The CCB-8 measures 15x10x12 inches and weighs a hefty 22 pounds. I didn't find the speaker's yellow driver all that attractive so I popped on the magnetically attached perforated metal grilles. The CCB-8's rear end has two bass ports and sturdy metal speaker wire connectors that accept banana plugs, bare wires, or wires fitted with spades or pins. As shipped the ports have "bung" plugs in place that seal the ports, but I used the speakers with the plugs removed. Room acoustics vary -- I recommend listening with and without the bungs and decide which sounds better for yourself. Before I forget to mention it, nominal impedance is rated at 6 ohms, and minimum impedance is 4 ohms. Hsu's warranty runs seven years, two years longer than what you get from most speaker companies nowadays.

While I used the CCB-8 as part of a stereo setup, you can lay it on its side for use as a center channel speaker in a home theater. That way you would have three identical speakers for the front left, center and right channel positions, which tends to sound better than using different speaker models for the front and center speakers. You can also use CCB-8s as surround speakers, or opt for Hsu's HB-1 MK2 ($139 each), or its HIW-1 in-wall/in-ceiling speakers ($299 per pair).

Paired with a Sony STR-DN1080 AV receiver the CCB-8's sound was richly balanced, with gobs of detail, and center focus between the two speakers was excellent. With great recordings like Eriks Esenvalds' "The Doors of Heaven" with the Portland State University Chamber Choir the CCB-8 cut loose with a tremendous sound stage that filled the CNET listening room. Sound stage depth of the choir was impressive, I just wished I had the Outlaw Audio RR 2160 stereo receiver on hand for these listening tests -- it's the best sounding receiver I've heard for a long time. I'm guessing the CCB-8 would sound even better with that receiver.

The Hsu Research CCB-8 speaker, shown without and with metal grille.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I was eager to compare the CCB-8 with another, similarly priced speaker with a single coaxial driver, namely the KEF Q350 ($650/pair) I reviewed just a few months ago. Right away the CCB-8's richer balance and fuller tone made it sound like a much larger speaker, but it's just slightly bigger. Rocking out to Jarvis Cocker's "Fat Children" on the "From the Basement" live music DVD, the CCB-8 conveyed more energy, and there was more bass impact. Returning to the Q350, the sound was more restrained. Vocals sounded smaller too: The CCB-8 gave them more room to move. On the upside, the Q350's treble was more present and clear, and I felt its tonal balance was more accurate than the CCB-8's. That said, the CCB-8 was more fun to listen to. They're both recommendable, but they sound very different.