Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Home Theater Direct HTD Level 2 Bookshelf Speaker Review

Home Theater Direct HTD Level 2 Bookshelf Speaker Review

I’ve wanted to review a Home Theater Direct product for a while now and when a deal on them came up I couldn't resist picking up a pair of HTD Level 2's. As one of the more popular direct internet speaker retailers, the whole line has been well received. Their Level 3 speakers with their ribbon tweeters being considered some of the best speakers in their price point.

So how does the comparatively Plain Jane HDT Level 2 stack up against some of the more mass market speakers? I compared the HTD's with both the Pioneer BS22's and the Definitive Technology SM45s. Both are easily available speakers just above and just below the price point of the HDT Level 2.

Before we look at the graphs and talk about how they sound, let’s take the HTD Level 2 apart and see what's it's made of.

Side by side with the Pioneer BS22  
It's a bit shorter than the BS22 and significantly heavier. Build quality is no joke on the HTD Level 2

The rear and terminals 

Tweeter Removed 
Not all that interesting. Uses a small neodymium magnet. 

Mid range removed 
Not very interesting, the driver is listed as 6 ohms. I couldn't find anything regarding the part number

Good amount of stuffing for a budget speaker 

What is this? That’s part of the port. These are slot/transmission line ported.

The crossover 
Look at all those resistors. What does it all mean!

Internal bracing
Starting to make sense as to why this is so heavy.

As you can see, construction is top notch. I don't know anything about xover building, but it is big, and bigger is better right? Maybe someone can tell us more about it.

Close Mic of Individual Drivers 1/12 Smoothing

The HTD level 2 does not appear to be ported all that low. About 80 hz by the close mic measurements. There is also some pretty large spikes centered at ~400hz and ~850hz. I believe that these will be seen later in the 1m measurements.

The grill isn't too bad. It tames the output a little bit; but at 1m or greater distances it doesn't have much effect. They are pretty transparent overall.

Drivers @1m 1/12 smoothing 

In this instance of measurements there is a deep but narrow null at 400hz. I experienced the perfect inverse of that in a previous measurement. I'm going to conclude that both the null and the spike are somehow due to the spike in the port response. 

The bumps at ~850hz and 1.2khz match pretty well with the close mic measurements of the mid range.

The difference between tweeter response with and with the grills becomes pretty negligible

Full speaker @ 1m with port overlaid 1/12 Smoothing 

Trying to show if there is any relation to the point noise and some of the peaks and dips in the 1m graphs.

The 400hz peak coming out of the port does line up with both the peak and dip seen at 1m and the peak at ~850hz. And possibly even the peak from ~1.2-1.8khz

As seen later, when smoothed to 1/6 db per octave these are a +/- 3db speaker. Though it's a wavy one.

Off axis Responses 

Horizontal off axis response 

Horizontal off axis responses, overall it stays pretty consistent until you break past 20 degrees off axis.

Vertical off axis response 

Vertical off axis responses. Getting even a little bit above the tweeter makes things ugly right at the xover point. Being below the tweeter doesn't have nearly the negative effect.

Comparison With Competitors 

HTD Level 2 Bookshelf speaker: Comparison 1/3 octave smoothing 
Here we are comparing the HTD Level 2 with a number of other common popular bookshelf speakers.

Level matched @ 100hz

HTD Level 2 = BLUE
Def Tech StudioMonitor 45 = RED
Pioneer BS22 = GREEN
Infinity Primus p153 = PURPLE

HTD Level 2 vs Pioneer BS22 

HTD Level 2 vs Def Tech SM45

HTD Level 2 vs Infinity p153 

TL;DR and How Do They Sound?

The HTD Level 2's are a great looking basic black speaker. Build quality is exceptional, these are literal tanks that make music and if matte black or any other wood grain finishes are something you like then they will look great in your room. As far as performance is concerned, they are a +/- 3db speaker (at 6db per octave smoothing at least) but it's a pretty inconsistent 3db's.

The HTD Level 2 is not a bad speaker (I'm looking at you Pinnacle BD 500), there are no overtly distracting issues, and overall they are enjoyable enough.

But they don't stand out in the crowed, I was not wowed by either objective measured accuracy or their subjective fun.
At times they sounded very similar to the Pioneers, so if you have Pioneers already I don't think the HTD level 2's much of an upgrade. If you are looking between the two, the Level 2's can be a touch more exciting if there is a lot of activity in the areas of the frequency response that are boosted a bit, (700hz-1.5khz or anything after 8khz) but it never seemed to be a consist difference.

I found the Definitive Technology SM45's to be both a slight more accurate speaker for most of the spectrum, though the last octave might not be for everyone as it is elevated though never harsh. But more importantly the SM45 were a far more fun speaker, throwing a huge bright sound stage that just grips you into the music.

Overall I’m not sure how the HTD Level 2 fits into anyone’s go to recommendation of a good budget/entry level speaker. While a good speaker itself, the Pioneers can be had for much less, and are a much smoother and accurate speaker, though mellow in the treble area. The Definitive Technologies can be found for just slightly more money and equal the HTD’s in construction and IMO best them in performance in every way. And while not directly talked about here, the Infinity Primus line remains a great and my personal favorite budget option as well.