Klipsch HD Theater 500
Editors' note: This review has been updated as part of a recent budget speaker roundup and its rating has been changed accordingly.
If you're putting together a home theater on a budget, the first options that probably come to mind are sound bars and home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems, but that's too bad. Budget 5.1 speaker systems like the Klipsch HD Theater 500 are available for less than $500, and once you pair them up with a competent AV receiver, they sound drastically better--it's not even close. Sure, the Klipsch HD Theater 500 has more pesky speakers to deal with, but their compact size and tasteful finish really won't tarnish your living room decor.
While the HD Theater 500 system certainly puts HTIBs and sound bars to shame, it fares less well compared with other 5.1 speaker systems available for less than $500. If you like to turn the volume up even moderately loud, the Energy Take Classic 5.1 sounds significantly better at higher volumes, and if you're OK with huge speakers, the Pioneer SP-PK21BS delivers truly outstanding sound for the price. The Klipsch HD Theater 500 offers competent sound for a budget 5.1 system, but we like most of its competitors more.
Design and features
The HD Theater 500 is a six-piece system that comes with four satellite speakers, a center channel speaker, and a subwoofer. The curvy ABS plastic speaker cabinets are attractive and finished in a combination of satin and high-gloss black; the speakers all have removable black cloth grilles.
The satellites are just 6 inches tall, 3.6 inches wide, and 3.85 inches deep. The center is slightly larger, at 3.6 inches high, 9 inches wide, and 3.85 inches deep. The build quality of the speaker cabinet feels solid, but the speakers' plastic spring-clip wire connectors look and feel cheap. The spring-clips' grip on the wire doesn't feel secure, so even a moderate tug on the wire may pull the wire out. The clips only accept skinny bare wire ends, so you can't use banana plugs, spades, or pins.
The satellites' speakers feature horn-loaded 0.75-inch aluminum tweeters and a 2.5-inch midrange/woofer. The center speaker is a larger version of the satellites and features dual 2.5-inch woofers and the same horn tweeter. The horn projects the sound forward, reducing the wall, floor, and ceiling reflections that you get with more typical dome tweeters, and that benefits the sats' imaging accuracy. The horn design also increases the speakers' efficiency, which means you need a less powerful amplifier to push the system louder.
The included wall-mount brackets can be positioned either 20 degrees left or right of center, so you can "aim" the speakers toward the listening position. The center-channel speaker can be wall-mounted or placed on a shelf.
The HD Theater 500's matte black, vinyl-covered, medium-density fiberboard subwoofer has an 8-inch fiber-composite woofer mounted on its bottom panel and a rear-mounted port. The built-in 100-watt amplifier's connectivity runs to stereo speaker- and line-level (RCA) inputs. The subwoofer looks huge compared with the miniature sats, but it's not that big for a subwoofer, measuring 13.9 inches tall, 12.5 inches wide, and 12.5 inches deep.
We used a Denon AVR-1912 receiver and an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player for all of our HD Theater 500 listening tests.
With speakers as small as these we always experiment with the subwoofer-to-speaker crossover settings. We started with a 120Hz setting on the Denon, but there was clearly a large gap in the system's bass response, so we tried 150Hz, and that was better, but still not right. The 200Hz setting was best, and we did the bulk of our listening tests with that setting. Of course, the exact setting will vary, depending on taste, room size, and acoustics. We did note that the sub's rear-mounted volume control is very sensitive, so even the smallest of adjustments produced large changes in bass output. It takes a light touch to get it just right.
The left and right speakers sound best when the tweeters are pointed directly at the main listening position, and with the speakers not spaced too far apart from each other (in the CNET listening room they were 6 feet from each other). Also, when using satellite speakers this small, it's important to place the subwoofer within 4 or 5 feet any of the three front speakers to ensure the best possible sound.
The HD Theater 500 did a good job of reproducing the "Tron: Legacy" Blu-ray's low throbbing bass that serves as a foundation for much of the film's action; dialogue was clear and surround effects created a tremendous sense of space. The "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray's fierce battle scenes and explosions were more revealing of the HD Theater 500's dynamic-range limitations. The subwoofer did pretty well, but the satellites couldn't keep up. They sometimes distorted and the sound grew harsh, or the sound didn't get louder when the helicopter crashed. The little satellites crushed soft-to-loud dynamics when we played the movie fairly loudly. When we lowered the volume, the HD Theater 500 regained its composure.
We compared the HD Theater 500 directly with the competing Energy Take Classic system. The Energy system handled those dynamic assaults without strain, so we weren't as aware of the Energy's size limitations when the action heated up. When we played a less demanding movie like the "Across the Universe" Blu-ray, the performance differences between the Klipsch and Energy systems grew smaller. The Beatles songs that run through the film sounded amazing, and our favorite, "Let It Be," with its rousing gospel choir, sounded wonderful on both systems.
CD sound was less convincing with the HD Theater 500, especially when we played CDs in stereo. The satellites' small size was more evident, so we mostly listened to CDs in Dolby Pro Logic II surround, which filled out the sound a little. The high-resolution surround mix on R.E.M.'s "Green" DVD-A album never really jelled on the HD Theater 500. The front three speakers and surround speakers sounded too separate from each other, and the band's guitar, bass, and drums were a tad thin and lightweight. The drums' cymbals sounded coarse and tinny when we listened at even moderately loud volume.
The HD Theater 500 was a competent home theater performer and sounds best in small rooms at moderate volume levels. That said, the Energy Take Classic 5.1 was superior on all counts and we don't think its slightly larger speakers would impinge much more on your living room decor.