HTD Level Two review:

HTD Level Two

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CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Very good sound; low price.

The Bad Big, boxy design.

The Bottom Line The Level Two system sounds terrific, especially considering the price, but it's not the best-looking system we've ever seen.

8.0 Overall

Home Theater Direct's Level Two speaker system will appeal to would-be audiophiles on a shoestring budget. The four surround speakers, center channel, and powered subwoofer deliver a full, rich sound that belies the kit's sub-$500 price. But the plain, black speaker boxes are neither the smallest nor the most attractive you've ever seen. If you're more concerned about sound quality than looks, this speaker kit is an excellent deal. Home Theater Direct's Level Two speaker system will appeal to would-be audiophiles on a shoestring budget. The four surround speakers, center channel, and powered subwoofer deliver a full, rich sound that belies the kit's sub-$500 price. But the plain, black speaker boxes are neither the smallest nor the most attractive you've ever seen. If you're more concerned about sound quality than looks, this speaker kit is an excellent deal.

Not the most inspired design
The four identical, rather spartanly designed, bookshelf-sized speakers for the front left and right and surround channels measure 12.6x7.1x9.4 inches and are larger than most satellites in this price range, as is the 12.6x7.1x9.4-inch center channel. The speakers' size and weight (the surrounds weigh 10.5 pounds each) make them a little difficult to hide in your living room, and the rear-facing bass port requires you to leave at least a few inches of space between the speaker and the wall. HTD does offer matching stands and wall-mounting brackets. All five main speakers are housed in plain, black wood cabinets and have gold-plated five-way binding posts that make it easy to hook up bare wire, spades, or banana plugs.

Filling out the bottom end is a 10-inch powered subwoofer that weighs a somewhat hefty 36 pounds. Its internal 125-watt amp provides plenty of grunt. You'll find all the standard sub features, including line and speaker connections and level and crossover controls.

More sound than you paid for
It took some trial and error to properly adjust the controls on the sub, but once we got it right, the whole system delivered a level of performance that was surprisingly close to what we've heard from speakers in the four-figure price range. Due in part to their large size, the satellites and center channel can reproduce sounds down to around 50Hz, which is pretty low. This helps ensure a transparent transition between the very low sounds of the sub and the rich midrange vocals you want to hear from the satellites.

We did hear a few minor flaws. For one, sounds tended to flatten out as they panned across the center channel, although the tonal quality remained consistent. A fifth identical satellite rather than the center channel might have improved this. We also felt that the high middle and upper registers sounded too bright, almost harsh, especially when listening to symphonic scores. This was particularly noticeable in the quieter movements from the "Firebird" sequence in the DVD of Fantasia 2000.

Those gripes aside, the Level Two speaker system, which sells for $479, is a pretty remarkable deal. It faithfully reproduces everything from classical music to action soundtracks. We also like the company's 30-day money-back guarantee, which means you can give these speakers a try in your own home. And if you decide to keep them, they're backed up with a five-year warranty. There are better-sounding, more attractive home-theater speaker packages available, but you'll have to pay more for them.

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