Harman/kardon HS 100 - home theater system - 5.1 channel review: Harman/kardon HS 100 - home theater system - 5.1 channel

The HS 100 is the most elegant and affordable of Harman Kardon's HTIBs. If you want to spend more and get more flexibility, connectivity options, and power, consider the CP 15 ($1,000), the CP 25 ($1,400), or the CP 35 ($1,900). Each of them is a component-based home-theater system that bundles separate Harman A/V receivers and DVD players, along with speaker packages similar to the HS 100's.

Harman Kardon's 2006 HTIB models compared:

Model Quick take Included components Price
Harman Kardon HS 100 Harman Kardon's most affordable HTIB is also its most attractive: this slick-looking system is anchored by an all-in-one receiver/amplifier/disc player that's not much bigger than your average DVD player. All-in-one receiver/DVD player; HKTS 7 5.1-speaker package
Harman Kardon CP 15 This system offers HK's entry-level 2005 receiver, 5.1-speaker package, and matching DVD player in one package. AVR 135 receiver; DVD 22 DVD player; HKTS 8 5.1-speaker package
Harman Kardon CP 25 The step-up to the CP 15 includes a better receiver and a 7.1-speaker system--as well as a DVD player--in one package. AVR 235 receiver; DVD 22 DVD player; HKTS 7 (5.1) plus one pair of HKS 3 speakers
Harman Kardon CP 35 HK's top-of-the-line HTIB bundles the AVR 335 receiver, the DVD 31 DVD player, and a 7.1-channel version of the capable HKTS 14 speaker package. AVR 335 receiver; DVD 31 DVD player; HKTS 14 (5.1) plus one pair of HKS 4 speakers
The Harman Kardon HS 100's 35-watt-per-channel amplifiers and teensy satellites couldn't convey the impact and dynamic punch from special-effects-driven DVDs such as Revenge of the Sith. The subwoofer menacingly rumbled and quaked, but the satellites sounded strained on the battle scenes coursing through The Thin Red Line DVD. Reducing the volume helped a bit, and the special-effects-free series finale of the Six Feet Under HBO series put the HS 100's home-theater talents in a better light. The sound from that DVD was crisp and clear, and we lost ourselves in the heart-wrenching drama.

Johnny Cash's Live from Austin concert DVD was a treat. The first thing we noticed was that Johnny's big baritone voice wasn't reined in by the small satellites, and we could play the HS 100 louder with music than we could with The Thin Red Line. Oh, and while the subwoofer sounded powerful enough to fill even a large room with bass, the bass wasn't as defined as what we heard from the sub in the Denon DHT-486DV ($749) HTIB.

Bowie's David Live DVD-Audio disc couldn't demonstrate the advantages of the format's higher-resolution sound. These shows, recorded in 1974 at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia, have impressed us on separates-based systems, but the HS 100 squashed the sound, taking the life out of Bowie's music. Then again, what DVD-A-compatible HTIB could? We can't think of one.

Plain vanilla CD sound was actually pretty decent. The soulful voices of Dr. John, Irma Thomas, and Eddie Bo communicated a deeper level on the Our New Orleans benefit CD. The pianos on this CD had remarkable weight and power, thanks to the HS 100's subwoofer. All in all, we were most happy with the sound of the system when playing CDs, and that's rarely the case for HTIBs. We'd recommend the HS 100 primarily to buyers who play more music than watch movies and want a great-looking system.

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