When we first hooked up the Harman Kardon HKTS 14-speaker package and listened to a handful of DVDs, we mistakenly assumed it was an $800 to $900 system. What threw us off was the size of the subwoofer. You just don't often see a moderately priced, stylish speaker package that comes with a whopping 12-inch, 200-watt sub. Of course, not everybody has room for a boomer this hefty, but if you have the space, the Harman Kardon HKTS 14, which can be had for less than $500, is certainly a bargain. The satellite speakers' metal-mesh grilles wrap almost completely around the cabinet, creating a look that's both distinctive and modern. Looking straight down at the three-sided satellites, we noted they're shaped like large guitar picks. The speakers are 9.5 inches tall and 4 inches wide and deep, with a weight of 2.2 pounds.
Harman supplies wall-mount brackets for the four satellites, and we think the front two would look perfectly at home flanking a thin-screen TV. The matching horizontally oriented center speaker, also 2.2 pounds, is 9.5 inches wide. And then there's that matching silver subwoofer--one of the biggest we've ever seen in such an affordable speaker package. Measuring 20.5 inches high and 14.5 inches deep and wide, it weighs 48 pounds. This baby's solidly built.
The HKTS 14 system looked great paired with Harman Kardon's receiver; their matching silver accents perfectly complemented each other. In case the sub's just a little too big, Harman also makes the HKTS 7 ($449 MSRP). This step-down package includes a 10-inch subwoofer with a 100-watt amplifier, four smaller satellites, and the HKTS 14's center speaker. The four satellites and the dedicated center speaker share the same woofer/tweeter/woofer-driver arrangement, with twin 3-inch drivers straddling a 0.75-inch dome tweeter. The little guys boast an unusually high power-handling rating of 120 watts. One small gripe: Whenever we moved the speakers, their sound cut in and out. The satellites' spring-clip speaker wire connectors were at fault; they don't provide a fully secure grip. However, most people don't move their speakers around while they're listening to them, so this isn't a deal breaker.
In this price range, most competing systems offer 8-inch or, at best, 10-inch subwoofers, with 100- to 150-watt amplifiers. The HKTS 14's subwoofer boasts a downward-facing 12-inch woofer powered by a 200-watt amplifier. The sub's connectivity suite is considerably more accomplished than that of most competing models. Not only does it feature stereo speaker-level inputs and outputs, but stereo line-level (RCA) inputs and a mono, crossover bypassed RCA input are onboard as well. HKTS 14 owners with A/V receivers will opt for the latter because it's both the easiest setup route and the one likely to produce the best sound quality.
The HKTS 14 package also includes a complete set of color-coded speaker cables (three 20-foot cables and two 40-foot cables) and a 15-foot subwoofer interconnect cable--nice. Based on the oversize subwoofer, we had a hunch the HKTS 14 would score well in our home-theater auditions. It didn't disappoint. The sound was lively, detailed, and surprisingly dynamic, and while dialogue wasn't as full bodied as we've heard from larger center speakers, it was clean and clear. The Men in Black DVD's surround effects were presented with a great sense of depth, and the formidable subwoofer can fill even fairly large home theaters with room-shaking bass.
When we played the Buena Vista Social Club CD, the HKTS 14 ensemble sounded, well, noticeably smaller than it did when we played DVDs, but that's not unusual for speaker ensembles equipped with minisatellites. Still, we'd rate the HKTS 14's musicality as above average--at moderate volume levels. Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" sounded strained when we pumped up the volume. The midbass gap between the satellites and subwoofer was all too apparent, so we experimented with the subwoofer's placement and moved it out of the corner, closer to the front three sats, which improved the system's overall bass response. Bass definition was also enhanced, but we're still not about to recommend the HKTS 14 system to headbangers.
We recently tested Hsu Research's wonderful little $499 / sat/sub package, which sounded less detailed and more mellow than the HKTS 14. However, thanks to its far more powerful subwoofer, the HKTS 14 can fill larger rooms without strain. That said, some buyers might prefer the Hsu's more laid-back tonal balance for music.