Harman Kardon has a reputation for exceedingly stylish design, and the HKTS 20BQ 5.1 speaker system is no exception. Aesthetics are subjective, but the Harman Kardon is easily among the best at this price range, along with the Energy Take Classic 5.1 and Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 systems. The Harman offers particularly detailed sound quality and we appreciate that Harman includes handy swivel wall-mounts, a step-up over some other packages.
However, as much as we like the Harman Kardon HKTS 20BQ, we'd still recommend most buyers go for the Energy Take Classic 5 instead, as it sounds just a little better and generally is a little cheaper, too. (And Pioneer's SP-PK21BS sounds significantly better, although it's a much larger system.) But if you're a fan of Harman's style, the HKTS 20BQ is a very solid value if you can find it for less than $500.
Design and features
The HKTS 20 six-piece system is composed of four satellite speakers, a center channel speaker, and a subwoofer. The black gloss plastic satellites come with premounted table stands, and the stands neatly conceal sturdy metal push-type wire connectors. Unfortunately, those connectors accept only bare wire ends, so you can't use banana plugs, spades, or pins. The center speaker also features an integrated table stand; wall-mount brackets for all five speakers are included.
The satellites weigh 2.1 pounds each and are 8.5 inches high, 4.3 inches wide, and 3.5 inches deep, with each speaker featuring a .5-inch dome tweeter and a 3-inch woofer. The 3.2-pound center speaker is 4.4 inches high, 10.4 inches wide, and 3.5 inches deep. Its .75-inch dome tweeter and dual 3-inch woofers are visible behind the curved perforated metal grille. As far as style goes, these speakers are among the most attractive, elegantly styled designs in their price class.
The subwoofer, finished in gloss black with gently rounded edges on all four sides, is also one of the most attractive we've seen. It sports a 200-watt amplifier powering an 8-inch woofer mounted on its bottom panel. Connectivity is a little unusual in that it boasts stereo line-level and dedicated LFE (RCA) inputs. Since most buyers will be using the HKTS 20 with a receiver with a subwoofer output they'll use the LFE connection.
The sub's rear panel also has an "External Trigger Input" that can be used with compatible receivers to turn the subwoofer on and off. That's nice, but this sub, like almost every sub on the market has an auto on-off feature that turns the sub on when it receives signal, and turns the sub off when it hasn't received signals for more than 15 minutes. The sub has a "Bass Boost" On/Off slide switch that adds, well, more bass. We didn't hear a big difference with Bass Boost on or off, so we left it on.
With speakers as small as these, we expected that the AVR-1912's subwoofer-to speaker crossover setting would be fairly high, so we switched between all of 100 and 150Hz settings as we listened to movies and music. The 110Hz setting was best, so we did the bulk of our listening with that setting. Of course, the exact setting will vary depending on taste, room size, and acoustics.
The HKTS 20's sound immediately impressed us with its abundant detail and clarity on Paul Simon's new "So Beautiful Or So What" CD. The hand percussion accompanying Simon on "Dazzling Blue" sounded remarkably present and life-like, the guitars and other acoustic instruments were vivid. Listening to the same passage on the Energy Take Classic system had a warmer tonal balance and Simon's vocals sounded more natural.
We continued the comparison between the two systems with the "I Am Legend" Blu-ray. Robert Neville (Will Smith) is alone with his dog in a post-plague ravaged New York City. The quiet buzz of insects and singing birds that forms the aural backdrop of many scenes was easier to hear with the HKTS 20, and we loved the way the five speakers effortlessly produced a wrap-around soundstage in the CNET listening room. The speakers' excellent treble detailing gave the illusion of height to the sound of wind coursing through the city streets. The Take Classic's softer balance wasn't as detailed as the HKTS 20's, but we preferred the Take Classic's midrange authority and more natural-sounding dialogue. Both systems have terrific subwoofers; the HKTS 20's wins on definition, but lacks the oomph of the Take Classic's sub. In the end it was the Take Classic's superior sub/sat blend that put it ahead of the HKTS 20 in our estimation.
Comparing the HKTS 20 with Bose's Acoustimass 6 Series III system, there was more of a day and night difference. The Bose system's more prominent bass will appeal to many buyers, as will its much smaller, 3 inch tall satellites, but the Acoustimass 6 Series III's sub is a lot bigger than the HKTS 20's, and it sounds it. There's a scene in "I Am Legend" where a lion attacks and kills a deer, and when the deer's body hits the ground the Bose sub produced a deeper thud. But the Bose system's rolled-off treble is nowhere as open, clear or airy as the Harman Kardon's.
The HKTS 20's sound really shined with prog-rockers Porcupine Tree's "Anesthetize" concert Blu-ray. The music was recorded over two nights in Tilburg, Holland in October 2008, and the concerts featured tracks from the band's long career. The you-are-there surround mix was excellent, and the HKTS 20's five speakers virtually disappeared. We did note that the sound turned hard and bass definition went south when we pushed the volume way up. The Energy Take Classic played somewhat louder without distress, but we preferred the HKTS 20's clarity at more moderate volume levels.
The HKTS 20BQ is the resolution champ among small subwoofer-satellite systems. The detailing is superior and the subwoofer's definition is likewise ahead of the others. But the HKTS 20BQ can at times sound too lean, and we think the Energy Take Classic has a smoother, more balanced sound.
If you prefer the look of the HKTS 20BQ to the Energy Take Classic, you won't be disappointed in the system, but we think the Energy system is the better overall buy for speakers of this size and price.