Round 1: Polk Audio Monitor 30 vs. Hsu Research HB-1
Round 1 Price Category: $200 - $250
Clint DeBoer: To us, we were listening to "Speaker 1" and "Speaker 2" but since this writing is occurring after the fact we will divulge information in a "hindsight" fashion as if we knew exactly which speaker we were listening to at the time of the face-off. This makes for easier reading and much less semantics as we explain what we heard. As we began, the Polk Audio Monitor 30s came up first and the first thing I heard was some hard-hitting upper-mids with somewhat crispy highs (perhaps a tad overaccentuated). Imaging was excellent - both wide and spacious. After some time we felt that the system was slightly fatiguing on the ears - keeping in mind of course that we were putting some serious power through these speakers due to the room size and acoustics. The Hsu HB-1 came across with somewhat muddy mids and loose bass. There is a nice tight bass line and kick drum on the "Chant" track by Fourplay and it wasn't nearly as pleasing on the Hsu as with the Polk Audio speakers. The speakers sounded recessed and imaging seemed to localize to the speaker whenever you moved your head to the side. It would be assumed that when paired with a good subwoofer, the bass would not be as much of an issue, but it seemed that the system went too low for its own good and the results were unflattering. The Polk Audio speakers took this competition, though I would have to listen at somewhat lower levels to avoid fatigue.
Gene DellaSala: I think this is one face off we all reached a consensus on. Switching between the Polk’s and HSU’s was literally a night and day difference. i was quite surprised that the little Polks were outgunning a speaker that was nearly twice its size. In a non-acoustically controlled room, I could see the Polk’s getting irritating real quickly so it’s really best to know your environment and listening preferences when choosing between speakers. I concur with J that the grills should definitely be left on with the Polks and I recommend no toe in and perhaps a small degree of toe out with these speakers. The HSU’s should be setup in more of a nearfield listening environment and bass managed to get the best performance out of them. It’s hard to really complain about speakers in this price class so it's important to keep that into perspective when reading our critiques.
Tom Andry: In my mind, the Polks were the clear winner in this contest. While I recognized the extreme treble (these speakers could quickly become fatiguing), the imaging and soundstange was significantly superior to the competition. The HSU HB-1's just seemed to be swallowed up by the room and I had a hard time discerning any sort of soundstage or detail. The lack of detail was most confusing as that is an attribute generally associated with horn-loaded speakers. The Polks were harsh, but from a consumer's perspective, that is something that could be tamed with a tone control or placement. You can get rid of too much treble; it's hard to get it when the speaker isn't producing it.
J. Walker Clarke: The Polk's were immediately impressive to me because of the detail in their higher frequency reproduction. The highs were bright, crisp and well defined. It could be argued that they were at times a little harsh, but as long as the grills remained on I found them to be pleasing to my ear. Detailed highs, with moderately tight bass for their size. The HSU's has much less definition in the high end, and displayed a noisy midrange. They had a more robust bottom end, but overall lost out to the Polk Audio pair. When listening to Steely Dan, I found them to sound muffled next to the Polk's, as if someone had thrown a quilt over them. The Polk Audio's were the clear winners to my ears.
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