Acoustic Research HC5 review: Acoustic Research HC5

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The Good Very small, extruded-aluminum satellites; nicely finished, powered subwoofer; heavy-duty speaker cables.

The Bad Doesn't sound so hot.

The Bottom Line This is an attractive, well-crafted system that's handicapped by poor subwoofer/satellite matching.

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5.0 Overall

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On the surface, Acoustic Research's HC5 home-theater speaker system looks like a contender, with a nice design and an affordable price. However, we wish that it sounded better. On the surface, Acoustic Research's HC5 home-theater speaker system looks like a contender, with a nice design and an affordable price. However, we wish that it sounded better.

Attractive package
The HC5 is outfitted with a quartet of ultracompact sats, a dedicated center speaker, and a powered subwoofer. Available in anodized black or silver, the 5-inch-tall sats look extracool, as AR's designers nixed the oh-so-boring box shape and went with a triangular cabinet. Instead of the typical molded-plastic or fiberboard construction, these two-way sats' cabinets are crafted from extruded aluminum and feature 3-inch woofers and 0.5-inch tweeters. The center speaker, which measures just 8 by 3.5 inches, is similar and conforms to the standard woofer/tweeter/woofer configuration. Adjustable wall-mounting hardware is included, or you can pick up AR's matching floor stands for $80 a pair.

The subwoofer uses a downward-firing, 8-inch woofer and incorporates an aerodynamically optimized port set into a flush-mounted aluminum trim piece. A built-in 100-watt power amplifier supplies the juice. Connectivity choices include line- and speaker-level inputs and outputs. Unlike the sats, the sub isn't shielded, so it needs to be at least a foot or two away from a TV, or it may interfere with the set's picture. The wood subwoofer's finish matches that of the silver or black sats.

As a nice bonus, AR includes a complete set of heavy-duty, high-quality speaker cables. Most speaker packages don't come with wire, and if they do, it's usually the skinniest, cheapest cabling that the company can get away with.

A matched set?
We set up the HC5 system in our listening room and immediately noticed that the subwoofer's sound was oddly balanced. The sub was powerful enough, but it didn't have much in the way of midbass, and since the sats don't have any low-frequency oomph, we heard a rather large gap in the midbass region. Little Feat's The Last Record Album sounded awfully lean, and Kenny Gradney's big, fat, juicy bass was mostly missing in action. We said mostly because the lowest notes were definitely there, but the bass instrument's middle range was undernourished. We had stashed the sub near a corner, so we experimented with alternate placement strategies and finally achieved the best, flattest bass when the sub was 40 inches away from any walls and just in front of our TV stand. In that setting, the sub/sat gap narrowed, and Gradney's throbbing bass lines filled out a bit. As for the sats, male vocals remained curiously lightweight. The treble was detailed, but it frequently crossed the line and became harsh.

We next moved to the home-theater portion of our listening tests with the Fight Club DVD. The midbass shortfall was still apparent, dialogue lacked body, and the music score didn't have the requisite gusto. We sampled a few more DVDs, and the HC5's flaws remained obvious. On a more positive note, the little speakers' imaging exhibited pinpoint precision.

Summing things up, we unsurprisingly cannot recommend the $599 HC5. However, we should note that the next model up in the line, the $799 HC6, has garnered raves in some audiophile magazines.

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