Acoustic Research HC6 Home Theater System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Tim Hart   
Tuesday, 01 January 2002

Introduction
Life is full of compromises. There is always a situation when you wished that you had paid the extra money, or waited a bit longer for something that would have been more satisfying had you stuck to your guns, instead of bowing to the pressure of other influences. When it comes to consumer electronics, the strongest influence is predictably cash. Another can be what I call "Spousal Acceptance Factor," or "SAF." In my case, statements like "you’re not putting that in my living room" can be common. Aesthetics play a big part. You want to make a physical statement to yourself and those around you with your speakers. Then there is size. Speakers have to fit into your existing environment without detracting from your living space. With all of this in mind, you are ready to start shopping for real loudspeakers.

One option that can please a fairly wide range of tastes and situations comes from Acoustic Research. The attractive HC6 system ($799) consists of four identical satellites that have a surprising weight to their eight-inch high, five-and-three-eighths-inch wide and six-and-three-quarter-inch deep gloss piano black MDF enclosure. A two-way design, the magnetically shielded, vented enclosure houses a one-inch tweeter above a three-and-one-half-inch woofer, which at first was glance looks like a Kevlar-type material. Upon closer examination, the driver material has this pattern printed on it.

The frequency response for these little guys is 80Hz – 20kHz +/-3 dB, with a sensitivity of 88 dB, and their recommended power handling capability is 20 – 100 watts at eight ohms. The speaker connections will allow bare wire, one-quarter-inch spade lugs, or banana jack connections for a hook-up that was challenging for my big fingers. The knurled thumbnuts are recessed in a circular alcove, which can make access a bit of a chore.

Also included is the center channel loudspeaker. It is also a two-way unit, with two horizontally mounted four-inch woofers surrounding the same one-inch tweeter. Deviating from the vented satellite enclosures, the center channel is a sealed design that measures six inches high, 13 inches wide, and six-and-three-quarter-inches deep. The frequency response is 80Hz – 20 kHz +/-3 dB, with a sensitivity of 88 dB. Power handling also is 20 – 100 watts at eight ohms.

Although you could assume a good match between satellite and center channel by looking at the specs, I questioned the reasons for having a mix of sealed and vented enclosures in the same system and was told that speaker matching dictated the deviation. My past experience has shown me that you get a different response with these two approaches, as a sealed design does not allow the air captured behind the driver to escape during high excursion. This has benefits and a downside. The benefit is that the negative and positive pressure in the enclosure helps to bring the driver more quickly to neutral than a vented design, giving a faster, tighter response which can produce more detail. The downside to this approach is a higher power requirement to overcome the enclosure’s pressure trying to restrain the driver, possibly making the task of matching all of the speakers that much harder. The designer has to weigh all of these parameters for a balanced presentation. If it was easy, anybody could do it. I’ll let you know in a bit what I’ve found.

The subwoofer provided with the HC6 package utilizes a 16-and-one-eighth-inch high, 10-inch wide and 14-and-three-eighths-inch deep port-tuned enclosure, with a single eight-inch-long throw driver, which has a response of 28Hz – 150Hz +/-3 dB. The cabinet proportions are similar to the satellite speakers, looking like a large version of the satellite. The subwoofer has an LFE jack for the input and has the ability to run the satellites through its onboard speaker terminals. Alternatively, you can run them directly from your receiver, as I did. To start off, I adjusted the crossover so that the crossover frequency didn’t go much above the 80Hz that the satellite speakers could produce. I mounted the four satellites on 24-inch stands one-and-one-half feet from the front wall and four feet from the sidewalls for both front and surround channels. I basically had to sit the satellites on the stand, which didn’t give me a good comfort level. I didn’t see any provisions for stand mounting on the satellites, nor did I find any stands AR recommended for these. The Energy Take 5.2 system that I reviewed a few months ago provided a pretty cool mounting bracket that allowed stand or wall mounting, and it looked fairly inexpensive, considering the convenience it provides for a wide variety of situations. I had to use the Energy Research stands ($75), but that was a reasonable price to pay, and they looked pretty cool as well. I prefer all speakers to be away from the wall to avoid early reflections that can add boom to the lower octaves and affects the detail of the higher frequencies.

When positioning the subwoofer, I found that the right corner outside of the right main satellite was a good location for my NHT SubOne i subwoofer. I therefore positioned the AR in the same location, as it offers good bass reinforcement in that corner. The center channel was put on top of the TV. Once I hooked up the 150-watt-per-channel B&K 307 receiver, I set up the speakers accordingly, did a few tweaks and was all ready to go.

Movies and Music
I love to use "Saving Private Ryan" (DreamWorks Home Entertainment) on theater systems because of its no-holds-barred assault on all frequencies. It is truly an equal opportunity sonic offender. It will push any speaker system to its limit, and it gives the reviewer a very good tool to gauge how well all of the speakers in a theater package work together, whether it be their dynamics, transients, detail, clarity, level matching, and low level authority, to name a few qualities.

In the opening scene, where the soldiers are storming Normandy Beach, the subwoofer is put to the test, reproducing the wallops and thumps of explosions with surprising dexterity, not the deepest to be heard, but visceral and satisfying. Some of the blasts did overwhelm the subwoofer once or twice, but this was at some pretty high volumes. The sound of bullets traveling underwater, moving from speaker to speaker, was also seamless and fairly balanced, one channel never appearing to overshadow the other. I did hear a slight disparity in loudness between the center channel and the main channels, the center being a little more forward, but not overly so. I also noticed a small yet detectable gap between the subwoofer and satellite that could have been attributed to my large room. When I changed the crossover to see if I could remedy the issue, the midrange seemed plodding and muddied, which actually made the issue more noticeable. On the B&K 307, I changed the speaker settings from small to large to see if that was the cause. After fiddling with the subwoofer crossover some more, I was able to minimize the gap, but could not eliminate it entirely.

The Energy Take 5.2’s did a better job at sorting out more of the detail at higher volumes than I had heard with the HC6 system. Bullets clanging off of metal had a little less presence than the Take 5.2’s, although they both play well at moderate volumes. In Acoustic Research’s defense, it is tough to match a small driver to a larger one. Blending a subwoofer with satellites is a big challenge for any setup, due to differences in driver sizes in the sub/satellite combo, the complexities in your room and the interaction of the components with said room. I feel that some of what I was experiencing had to do with room interaction.

The space battle towards the end of "Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace" (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), the HC6 gives the listener the experience of being in the middle of the battle with star fighters flying around you. If you just sit back, the HC6 does make it fun to watch and listen to high quality sources

DVD music is something that is attracting more and more people. To have a concert recorded in 5.1 high resolution playing in your living room is one of the coolest things about the format. I popped in Dave Matthews Listener Supported (RCA Records) to check out what the HC6 did for music. The HC6 do have a little trouble sorting out some of the more complex musical scores on "Rapunzel." The snappy, complex beat is engaging, and the tonal balance is lean yet enjoyable, but lacks the musicality that I got from the Energy Take 5.2’s. The 5.2’s do a better job of presenting me with more of the detail at higher volumes and a little better midrange bloom than I hear with the HC6 system.

Next up was Sting's Brand New Day (DTS Entertainment). On the track "A Thousand Years," all of the channels come into play on this mellow atmospheric piece. The HC6 system does a credible job of filling my living room with this moody melody. Although lacking a tiny bit of the full-bodied presence I’ve heard with the 5.2’s, it still makes for an enjoyable experience. The mid and higher frequencies aren’t quite as resolute, although the lean presentation is very similar to the Take 5.2’s in this regard, which is definitely attributable to the smaller drivers in both products. Dynamics are surprisingly good for a small driver, highlighting the crack of a drumstick on the edge of the drum kit and the subtle cymbal taps on "A Brand New Day" as a strong point with the HC6.

The Downside
Despite the HC6 package's ability to present an enjoyable movie and music experience, the small size does have its limitations. Transients and detail are not quite as good as I’ve heard on comparable systems, like the aforementioned Energy Take 5.2’s. Just because they sound "big" does not mean they will fill a big room. They need the midrange and bass support a smaller room will give them to balance the lean presentation. The lack of a provision for stand or wall mounting is also a glaring omission.

Conclusion
When you keep in mind what the HC6 system was designed for, it’s hard to be too critical of their performance. But when I compare them to the similarly-priced Energy Take 5.2’s, I am compelled to take a negative stance. The HC6 dynamics and subwoofer blending are very good for this level, but lack some of the resolution and detail offered by the Take 5.2 system. With the large number of micro-sized theater packages available, one should be cautious when investing their money on any one product before doing a thorough audition. Because there are differences between every one of these packages, you need to find the one that best suits your tastes.
Manufacturer Acoustic Research
Model HC6 Home Theater System





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