HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



January
2002

Reviewed by
Jeff Van Dyne
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2002


Acoustic Research
HC6
Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: HC6 speakers (front and surround)
Dimensions: 8"H x 5.375"W x 6.75"D
Weight: 8 pounds each

Model: HC6 center-channel speaker
Dimensions: 6"H x 13"W x 6.75"D
Weight: 11 pounds each

Model: HC6 subwoofer
Dimensions: 16.125"H x 10.5"W x 14.5"D
Weight: 30 pounds

System price: $799 USD

Warranty: Five years parts and labor


Features
  • 3.5" poly-cone woofers (satellites)
  • 4" poly-cone woofers x 2 (center)
  • 1" soft-dome tweeters (center and satellites)
  • 8" poly-cone woofer (subwoofer)
  • Video shielded (satellites, center)
  • Variable volume (subwoofer)
  • Crossover adjustable from 50Hz to 150Hz (subwoofer)
  • Phase switch (subwoofer)
  • Auto on/off (subwoofer)
  • 100W (continuous) built-in amplifier (subwoofer)
  • Gold-plated low-level RCA inputs (subwoofer)
  • Speaker-level inputs (subwoofer)
  • Gold-plated binding posts
  • Gloss-black piano finish

As audiophiles go, I'm relatively sane, although most of my friends and co-workers probably don’t think so. Witness the reference systems of some of my fellow reviewers here at Home Theater & Sound. I think some of them have more money tied up in cables than I do in speakers. On the other hand, I have as much invested in my system as some of my friends have in their cars, so I guess all things are relative.

When non-audiophile friends ask me to suggest some hot new speakers to replace the JBLs they bought 20 years ago in college, it’s a pretty safe bet they’re not looking for Wilson WAMMs. At a suggested retail price of $799 for five speakers and a powered subwoofer, the Acoustic Research HC6 is the kind of system my friends typically ask me about. The only question is: Can I wholeheartedly recommend it?

The speakers

The HC6 system -- four satellites, a center-channel, and a subwoofer -- arrived in a single large box about the size some subwoofers come in. It's a pretty compact system. Unpacking the speakers turned out to be a bit of a shock though, since they are finished in an incredibly elegant piano-black lacquer. This was entirely unexpected for a system sporting such a reasonable price. The grilles add to the luxe look -- they're stretched over thin frames that stand off the face of the speakers on four small chrome posts that insert into rubber grommets.

There are four identical satellites, each with a 3.5" woofer and a 1" soft-dome tweeter; a conventional center-channel speaker using two 4" woofers flanking a single 1" soft-dome tweeter; and a subwoofer sporting a single 8" driver. The back of the satellites features an integral rounded port and a set of all-metal gold-plated binding posts. While the binding posts are a huge improvement over the spring-clip connections found on much of the competition, they don’t allow the use of banana plugs. The satellites and center-channel also have threaded inserts on the back for optional wall- or ceiling-mount brackets.

The ported subwoofer has the standard connections: line-level and speaker-level inputs, a phase switch, and variable crossover and level controls. Oddly enough, the binding posts for the speaker-level inputs on the sub do allow the use of banana plugs.

When the system arrived, I had yet to receive pricing information and from the look I initially estimated the cost to be somewhere in the $1200 to $1500 range. The fact that the system lists for $799 speaks volumes for AR’s cost containment in construction. Of course, the immediate question this arises is whether or not the company sacrificed sound quality for looks. Happily, this turned out not to be the case.

Setup

My initial reaction to this system was that of terrific satellites in search of a decent sub. I was dead wrong. They’re terrific satellites with a damn fine sub. It took me a while to come to this conclusion, however, as it took the system a while to break in fully, and the sub proved quite sensitive to location. After several weeks, out of frustration, I moved the sub two feet further away from the corner and a foot further out from the wall than I had previously placed it. The difference was astonishing. Not only did the sub finally integrate fully with the satellites, but the sound tightened up considerably as well.

I spent some time positioning the satellites too. I found that I preferred the satellites with the tweeters a few inches above ear height and toed-in toward the listening position. While the satellites have threaded holes on the back for wall-mount brackets, I wouldn’t recommend placing them that close to a wall because of the rear port. However, I had the backs within a foot of the wall without any obvious consequences. As with most other small systems where the main speakers all have roughly the same frequency response, I found that I preferred the HC6 system set up with the satellites and center-channel operating full range and the subwoofer blended in, using its own integral crossover.

Movies

One of my standard reference DVDs is Contact. In the scene after Ellie found out that her department was losing use of the telescope array, you can hear her car cooling off on the right side of the room and the sounds of insects all around. The same was true of the dinner party, where the background chatter and sound of glasses clinking completely envelops you, but each sound is distinct at the same time. With the HC6 system, the detail and placement of these sounds is as precise as with any system I’ve had in the house.

During the test sequence in Contact, the explosion of the gantry and subsequent breakup of the machine are presented with real power, a testament to the capable bass the HC6 system exhibits. The sub booms ever so slightly in this sequence, and it doesn’t quite pick up the lowest frequencies, but I was asking it to work far beyond what you would expect an 8" driver to handle. I expected the HC6 sub would fail this torture test miserably, but it didn’t. On the contrary, it succeeded beyond my wildest expectations.

During Almost Famous, I was taken completely by surprise by the bass drum during the Fever Dog concert scene. Again, I was expecting the little AR sub to wimp out when compared to larger designs. I needn’t have worried. It produced plenty of clean bass for this scene to work.

More importantly, the system was always accurate in its portrayal of the action on the soundtrack. And the sense of space and soundstage during the concert scenes was always convincing and involving. This shows excellent integration of the surrounds with the three front speakers. This is an element that must be present for good home theater.

Next I loaded up The World is Not Enough. The center-channel speaker presented the softer dialogue in its talky scenes clearly. The center-channel could sound slightly muted at lower volume levels; however, this was corrected quickly once vocals ramped up in level.

This movie did present one of the few times during the course of the review that the subwoofer showed some weakness due to its diminutive size. There are several scenes with extended passages of low bass, and it was here that the AR sub had trouble keeping up. The fact that it produced most of what was on the soundtrack is downright scary in the context of a $799 system.

Music

One of my favorite CDs of the past few years is from former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman and The Rhythm Kings, Struttin’ Our Stuff [Velvel/Bottom Line I0R1]. This is a collection of very hip electric blues -- not exactly what you might expect from a former Stone, huh? The AR system really kicked butt with this CD. From the bass drum and piano in "Motorvatin’ Mama" to the electric organ in "Hole in My Soul," to the electric guitars in "Tobacco Road," everything was right on target. It had me doing a lot more than just tapping my toes.

If Struttin’ Our Stuff is one of my favorite CDs, then Holly Cole is definitely one of my favorite vocalists. On "I Can See Clearly Now" from Don’t Smoke In Bed [Blue Note CDP 077 7 81198 2 1], Cole’s voice is natural and airy without any of the nasal qualities I’ve heard from most systems in this price range. The breadth and, to a lesser extent, the depth, of the soundstage on "So And So" was more than merely excellent; it was almost breathtaking. Placement of instruments within the soundstage was spot on.

Next up was Yo-Yo Ma’s Inspired by Bach: Six Gestures - Cello Suite No.6 [Sony Classical S2K 63203]. The HC6 system reproduced the richness and warmth of the instrument, maintaining solid image placement while, at the same time, providing enough ambience that there was no hint that I was listening to a moving-coil speaker instead of a ribbon or electrostat.

Comparison

The AR system is close in size and price to the PSB Alpha Intro I reviewed several months ago. The HC6 system looks considerably more expensive in its black-lacquer finish than the PSB in its pebble-grain vinyl. The AR satellites are also somewhat larger than the PSBs, although both systems sport similarly sized drivers. Both systems come with 8" subwoofers.

Overall, the sound of the two systems is very similar. While the PSB center-channel speaker is slightly clearer at lower volume levels than the AR, its sound is also somewhat leaner overall.

Both subs do a respectable job of producing bass down in the 35Hz to 40Hz range, although the AR sounded cleaner once it was positioned properly. The PSB subwoofer was a little less sensitive to placement than the AR, though if you have some flexibility, this should pose no problem.

Compared to the Paradigm Atom loudspeakers, the ARs are a little more extended and open-sounding at low volume levels, making them easier to listen to. However the Atoms are better balanced at extremely high volume levels. Soundstaging and imaging are very good with all three systems, and I would have a hard time picking one over another using this area of performance alone. However, for overall balance, I like the middle ground that the AR HC6 system represents best. It was slightly warmer than the PSB system, making it my preferred system for music. The AR's detail and extension surpass those of the Paradigm, which makes late-night listening a pleasure.

Conclusion

Used within the limitations of its design, this is a stunning system in all respects -- one that should not be ignored due to price or size by anybody looking for a top-notch system capable of doing justice to both music and movies in a small- or medium-sized room.

AR has achieved something significant with the HC6. Here is a system priced well under $1000 that not only can reproduce both movies and music faithfully, but also has the finish of a much more expensive system. To me, this is truly exciting stuff. This is the price range most of my friends and co-workers live in, and I’m thrilled to finally have something I feel is worthy of recommendation. As far as I’m concerned, this is the new reference standard for its price point.

Review System
Receiver/processor - Sherwood Newcastle R-925 (used as a processor only)
Amplifiers - Rotel RB-976 amplifier
Sources - Sony DVP-S300 DVD player, Adcom GCD-600 CD player
Cables - Straight Wire interconnects and digital cable, Monster Cable speaker cable
Monitor - Proscan 35" direct-view monitor
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Acoustic Research
2950 Lake Emma Road
Lake Mary, Florida 32746
Phone: 1-800-969-AR4U

E-mail: abtechservices@mindspring.com
Website: www.acoustic-research.com

 


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