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Hsu Research CCB-8 Bookshelf Speaker Listening Tests


In my approximately 24’ by 13’ listening room, I set up the speakers with the approximate stand-off distances between the backwall and sidewall suggested by the owner’s manual. This left a roughly equal distance between speakers and listening position, with tweeter at ear level and the speakers toed-in in front of the listening position for a roughly 15 degree angle facing the listener. A Pioneer SC-55 receiver was used in ‘Direct’ mode, so no tonal processing would interfere with the speakers’ natural sound. Subwoofers were used when listening to these speakers with crossover frequency set at 80 Hz. These speakers are intended to be used with subwoofers. Speaker distance from listening position was about 10 feet.

Music Listening

I always try to start listening to TheRaven.jpga review speaker by using a cleanly recorded vocal track, because that is typically where problems can most easily be noticed on a speaker, since human hearing is so heavily ‘tuned’ for the sound of a human voice. For this review, I procured a copy of Rebecca Pidgeon’s ‘The Raven,’ a classic album that is now a part of the set list of any audiophile demonstrating the verisimilitude of their system. ‘The Raven’ is folk music with some jazz sensibilities that is mostly a showcase for Rebecca’s clear and smooth soprano delivery. As with all albums produced by the Chesky label, this album is impeccably produced and has a superb level of sound quality. 

Of course, the fidelity of an album cannot sound better than the system that it is being reproduced on, and I am happy to report that ‘The Raven’ sounded terrific on the Hsu CCB-8 speakers. Rebecca’s voice was rendered with exceptional clarity. What struck me right away was the outstanding imaging. The positioning of the vocalist and the instrumentalists had no ambiguity. The soundstage was broad but still extremely well defined. The illusion of a full band from just two points of sound always impresses me, but I have to say the CCB-8s do take that ‘aural holography’ to a level I have not previously heard in my own system. Other aspects of the sound produced by the CCB-8s were fine and left me with nothing to complain about, but their imaging was so uncanny that it what held my focus for the duration of the album. After listening to ‘The Raven’ on the CCB-8s, I am left eager to hear the other albums I have queued up for these speakers.

For something on a less intimate and far grander scale, I Mythodea.jpgturned to ‘Mythodea,’ an epic choral symphony recorded in 2001 that has an enormous scale. The music was composed by Vangelis and performed by the London Metropolitan Orchestra, the Greek National Opera, two Greek percussion ensembles, additional performers such as vocalists Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman, and, of course, Vangelis himself on keyboards. Altogether, well over 200 performers were used for ‘Mythodea.’ ‘Mythodea’ was used to celebrate the 2001 Mars Odyssey’s orbit of Mars, and the album was released on the same day that the Mars orbit was achieved. The sound of this recording is immense, as one would expect. It is a sweeping, spacious sound that was recorded at the Megaro Moussikis concert hall in Athens, which is renowned for its acoustics.

As with every other aspect of this recording, the sound engineering is top-notch, and this makes ‘Mythodea’ good for demonstrating the dynamic range and soundstage of a sound system. The CCB-8s had no trouble keeping up with the bombast of ‘Mythodea.’ The design of the CCB-8s suggest a higher than average dynamic range for bookshelf speakers, and here it was proven. The CCB-8s brought this enormous ensemble of performers into my family room with visceral power and precision. The sound was larger than life. The Greek National Opera towered above all and were foremost in the soundstage, but the orchestral elements did not get lost amidst the furor. If you do not have room for 200 plus musicians and performers in any one of the rooms in your home but still want to experience Mythodea, my experience was that a pair of CCB-8’s and a capable subwoofer will do nicely as a substitute.

Moving back to a simpler music, I decided for a solo instrumentaFantasies_Impromptus.jpgl album, and one could hardly ask for a purer sound than that of the harp. One harp recording that comes highly recommended is ‘Fantasies and Impromptus,’ performed by acclaimed harpist Lavinia Meijer, which, as the title suggests, is a collection of fantasies and impromptus. Fantasies and Impromptus are musical composition styles that have a sense of improvisation even though they are prearranged compositions. As such, they lend themselves to a playfulness that has to be very attractive to a harpist. The recording quality is extremely good, as one would expect from a SACD of performances from one of the world’s foremost harpists. Lavinia’s performance can be dazzling, with dizzying glissandros and powerful, fierce crescendos. Her mastery over this archetypal instrument is clear in this recording. 

This lovely album sounded exquisite on the Hsu CCB-8 speakers. It was easy to discern the close microphone placement in this album, and the resultant sound was as though the listener was seated only a couple meters away from the harp. One striking thing I did not expect from a solo harp recording was the tremendous dynamic range in the recording, perhaps as a consequence of the vast dynamic range of the SACD format. Perhaps I am too accustomed to those harps recordings that only serve as mood music for relaxation, whereas the arresting dynamics of this serious performance demand attention. The harp as recorded here could be soft and subtle and also powerful and resounding. The string plucks can have a striking attack, and the harpist controls the decay which can be made to either linger or suddenly cease. This dynamic range combined with the sharp attacks of the harp showed off the razor-sharp transient abilities of the CCB-8. If you are looking for background music, this recording is certainly not that; the CCB-8s brought this harp performance to the fore with a terrific energy but without losing its subtlety. 

Turning to something closer to how pop or rock music wouldInto_Deep.jpg be mixed, in other words, something with a lot more instrumentation, effects processing, and compression, I loaded up L.S.G.’s electronic music masterpiece ‘Into Deep.’ ‘Into Deep’ is one of those albums that is meant to be listened to in it entirety, from beginning to end. The music itself lands somewhere between ambient and techno; it is a melodic, psychedelic journey that drifts back and forth from mellifluous, spacious sweeps into hard-driving thunderstorms of percussion. Analog synthesizers have their day in ‘Into Deep,’ as the album is almost entirely composed of the warm, otherworldly sounds save for some sampled percussion instruments and some sparse female vocals.

While I have listened to this classic album many times over the years, I haven’t quite given it the kind of presentation that I listened to with the CCB-8s. I had only ever listened to it on headphones, desktop computer speakers, bedside speakers, and so on. Now, on a serious, full-range system in a properly-setup room, I was giving this album the treatment it deserved, and it was as though this old favorite had been completely remastered. I had never heard this album with any real imaging before, due to the systems I had previously heard it on, and the difference was stunning. I will say that the CCB-8s knocked this particular piece of music out of the park. The soundstage was wide and enveloping, but imaging was still precise when the recording called for it as it was on the percussion and vocals. I didn’t feel the dynamics were hindered even when I cranked it for moments of heavy percussion. ‘Into Deep’ was a great album to revisit, and hearing it on the CCB-8s setup in a suitable environment allowed me to hear elements that I had not noticed before.    

Film and Television

One film that I used to look at the CCB-Drive.jpg8’s dynamic range is the 2011 movie ‘Drive.’ While that might not seem like anyone’s first choice to evaluate a speaker in that respect, I think ‘Drive’ is a superb movie for this, because dynamic range means the difference between loud moments and quiet moments in a sound mix. Some of the movies that are used to demonstrate dynamic range are always loud, but in reality that is a poor choice because there is no contrast against quiet or medium loudness levels. Similar to compressing a song recording for radio, if the loudness level stays relatively constant, the dynamic range has been squashed. In comparison, ‘Drive’ has stretches of quietude punctuated by bursts of some kind of violence. This is a great movie to watch loud as a result, since when something does happen, it can be quite startling.

The CCB-8 speakers proved to be a good fit for the ‘Drive’ sound mix. They were able to match the large swings in dynamics without any problem that I could hear. The retro-80’s synth pop music sounded great as well as Cliff Martinez’s brooding electronic score. The car chases roared to life on the CCB-8s, and the gunshots were jolting. Dialogue intelligibility was never a problem. I did not feel this terrific sound mix was held back in any way by these speakers.

Another movie I decided to watch was ‘Oblivion,’ the 2013 Tom CruOblivion.jpgise science fiction vehicle. This movie looks and sounds great. There are a host of neat elements in the sound mix, but what really stands out for me are the robot sounds of the combat drones. For me, that is the best part of the movie, and it cannot be played loud enough. It isn’t just the robot sounds themselves, it is the way they are incorporated into the sound mix. It is a really bizarre and quite wonderful sound creation. The rest of the sound mix is fine too. The score is quite derivative of the ‘Tron Legacy’ score, and you can just hear the producer or director telling the composers to make the music like ‘Tron Legacy,’ since that turned out to be such a popular soundtrack. It isn’t bad at all, just not very original. However, as far as I am concerned, the ‘Oblivion’ sound mix belongs to the robot.

I cranked the volume for ‘Oblivion,’ and the CCB-8 speakers were up to the task. In a very diverse sound mix, thought the CCB-8s acquitted every element of it well. Airships flying through thunderstorms, drone laser blasters dueling against .50 cal machine guns, nuclear explosions, and giant alien robots: all sounded convincing however far-out the movie scene was. ‘Oblivion,’ as a movie, sounds big and cinematic, and the CCB-8s were able to convey that effect. As loud as I pushed the volume, I did not run into anything I thought was distortion. While these speakers would doubtlessly run into distortion if pushed hard enough, I think that for most people’s tastes, they are able to stay clean at louder levels than most would ever run them at. As I heard with the ‘Mythodea’ album, the CCB-8s can scale to immense soundscapes as well as well as softer and more intimate scenery.

For a sound mix of more conventional television programming, I decided to give season 2 oFearTheWalkingDead.jpgf ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ a go. I had the blu-ray set kicking around for awhile but had not come around to watching it yet, and I guessed it would be a good demonstration of dialogue intelligibility, music, and effects sounds that are typical for a television show. I was certainly correct about dialogue, since ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ season 2 was rather talky for a TV show about a zombie apocalypse. The music was mostly atmospheric pieces for establishing mood by ex-Tangerine Dream member Paul Haslinger, but the score was sometimes punctuated by a pop or rock song from the likes of David Bowie, Surfer Blood, and even Patsy Cline. The Hsu CCB-8s were not challenged by this sound mix. Dialogue was always perfectly clear as was music and action. Dialogue was not washed out by groaning zombies, although it could be argued that the zombie groaning itself is also dialogue. The occasional bouts of action sounded spot-on; zombie skulls getting bashed in had a nice, sickening crunch. The opening titles music had a jarring buzz noise, which the CCB-8s recreated with sufficient alarm. Overall I was hoping for more actual zombies than what ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ season 2 delivered, but I have no complaints about the sound reproduction by the Hsu CCB-8 speakers. The show sounded great with them.

Since the coaxial design promised a good near-field sound, I tried the CCB-8s as desktop speakers. As expected, they sounded fine as desktop computer monitors. They sound as good at two feet as at ten feet. The desktop surface does change the sound character, but that would occur to any speaker from changing the acoustic environment. Most people likely would not have desktop space for such large speakers, but for those who want extreme overkill desktop speakers, these do work in that application. As mentioned before, care should be taken to eliminate acoustic reflections off of the desktop surface itself for any speaker used in that setting.


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Recent Forum Posts:

JengaHit posts on May 27, 2021 20:47
-Jim-, post: 1486174, member: 71509
Hi Gents,

I noticed this review is now “Featured” review. I happened by the HSU CCB-8 web page and saw the black cone version for the first time.

That should certainly help with the WAF for most of you. (I didn't even tell mine -OMG- when I bought our Front 3!)
I listen to mine with grills on, so the yellow cones aren't noticeable. And the grills do look nice. I haven't taken measurements re grills on/off, but to my ears subjectively there's no noticeable roll-off of highs or reduction in sound quality. Very satisfied with these speakers, especially the huge and deep soundstage, holographic imaging, and super-wide sweet spot.
-Jim- posts on May 27, 2021 12:44
Hi Gents,

I noticed this review is now “Featured” review. I happened by the HSU CCB-8 web page and saw the black cone version for the first time.

That should certainly help with the WAF for most of you. (I didn't even tell mine -OMG- when I bought our Front 3!)
-Jim- posts on April 17, 2021 15:11
Hi Gents,

As a very satisfied owner of 3 of these HSU CCB-8s for our Atmos HT Room for the past couple of years, I was pleased to see them still in the Top Six $700/pair rankings for 2021. See Audioholics Top Six $700/pair Bookshelf
Danzilla31 posts on November 14, 2019 11:16
shadyJ, post: 1350019, member: 20472
For those who feel that the yellow cone of the CCB-8 gives it a loud appearance, Hsu informs me that they are releasing a version with a black cone, and that should be available sometime in the next few days. Personally, I like the yellow, but hopefully a black cone will gain these speaker wider appeal. It's too good of a speaker to get passed over due to the cone color.
Good to know hey Shady are these good options to be used as a surround speaker I'm going to be looking at options to options to upgrade my surrounds in the next couple months and am narrowing the field
shadyJ posts on November 14, 2019 09:22
For those who feel that the yellow cone of the CCB-8 gives it a loud appearance, Hsu informs me that they are releasing a version with a black cone, and that should be available sometime in the next few days. Personally, I like the yellow, but hopefully a black cone will gain these speaker wider appeal. It's too good of a speaker to get passed over due to the cone color.
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