- Manufacturer & Model
- HSU Research CCB-8 Bookshelf Speaker
- $369 each (Satin Black), $449 each (Rosenut Wood Veneer)
Coaxial driver design, moderately priced, versatile cabinet placement, highly detailed full-range sound, excellent build quality.
HSU Research’s CCB-8 Bookshelf Speaker offers a unique coaxial driver design, making it an interesting alternative to other bookshelf speakers on the market. The very nature of concentric drivers creates a sound field that’s evenly dispersed across a listening area, allowing the CCB-8 to be placed upright or on its side. Overall build quality and customer support is top-notch, with the backing of one of the industry’s highly respected Internet Direct speaker companies. Sound quality produced by the CCB-8 is loaded with character and detail, making it a desirable speaker for listeners that appreciate high quality sound.
This is the first of a two-part review investigating the CCB-8’s performance capabilities. Part One evaluates the CCB-8 as a standalone stereo speaker, while Part Two will focus on HSU’s powerful ULS-15 MK2 subwoofer (giving the CCB-8 a chance to playback movie and music material as a 2.1 system).
Coaxial By Design
HSU Research certainly deserves praise for bringing a radical speaker design to the bookshelf segment, especially considering its price point ($369 each and $699/pair in Satin Black; $449 each and $859/pair in Rosenut). That kind of cost cracks the door for moderately budget-minded buyers, providing access to a truly versatile speaker that can be used to fill any number of roles in a home theater environment.
HSU describes the CCB-8 as its first “constant directivity coaxial loudspeaker,” which refers to the speaker’s concentric driver array. At its core, a coaxial design utilizes a driver stack that emits sound from the same source point. In the case of the CCB-8, HSU incorporates a centrally located 8-inch woofer with a single aluminum dome tweeter mounted on the back of the driver. When looking at the speaker’s woofer, the tweeter isn’t readily visible because it’s hidden beneath the driver’s acoustically transparent dust cap.
The use of a coaxial design helps to address a number of audio problems introduced by traditional driver arrays. Primarily, it eliminates lobing, which is an acoustics phenomenon that results in poor off-axis sound (typically heard as a dip or null), an issue that’s especially problematic along the plane in which drivers are aligned. Horizontally arranged drivers (such as those found on Center Channels) are notorious for suffering from lobing, causing off-axis listening positions to hear less than stellar audio. It can result in a soundstage that’s disjointed, dialog that’s difficult to understand, and the removal of vital lower midrange and bass material.
Coaxial loudspeakers emit sound from a single source point, which limits interference of sound waves generated by the speaker’s drivers. The result is a uniform response across an entire listening area, even when sitting outside of the sweet spot. This makes for a more pleasurable audio experience no matter where a listener is seated.
Adding to the speaker’s attractiveness is its easy to drive nature. The CCB-8’s overall 94 dB sensitivity rating indicates that it can be played rather loudly without the use of a powerful amp – another bonus to buyers looking for great sound without ruthlessly expensive equipment.
The CCB-8’s cabinet is slightly on the large side for a bookshelf, measuring 15-inches tall x 10 1/2-inches wide x 12-inches deep. Keep in mind its coaxial driver array allows the speaker to be oriented on its side, so both height and width measurements are technically interchangeable (depending on how you choose to sit the speaker). And at 22-pounds, the CCB-8 is more than manageable to handle.
Our review samples arrived with HSU’s signature Satin Black finish, which offers a subdued sheen and low reflectivity of light. The finish isn’t impervious to smudges from hands and fingers, but those are easily remedied by rubbing with a microfiber cloth. When the finish is visually combined with the speaker’s gently rounded corners and smooth surface, the CCB-8 looks every bit the part of a HSU Research speaker: simple and unassuming. The speaker does have some physical spark, however, which is revealed by removing its front grille. What you’ll find is an eye-catchingly cool yellow woofer (and an instant punch of visual confidence).
Speaking of grilles, the CCB-8 is furnished with a magnetically attached circular grille cover. Its rigid metal mesh surface is artfully depressed in a concave manner, adding some character to the speaker’s presentation. The grille is easy to remove and adjust, allowing users to match the cover’s “HSU” markings to the speaker’s orientation.
The backside of the cabinet features dual ports (for better low frequency extension) and gold plated binding posts (which accept banana plugs, spades, and bare wire). HSU includes two foam plugs for the ports, allowing users to tune the bass response to their liking. And the binding post assembly can be unscrewed and rotated to account for speakers that are placed horizontally.
Overall fit and finish is exceptional, matching my experience with other HSU products.
Out of the Box
The CCB-8s arrived in a single heavy-duty double walled cardboard box. Internally, the speakers were encased in form-fitting foam and individually wrapped in soft protective bags. Buyers should have no concern about potential shipping damage from cheap or lacking packaging – both speakers were in pristine condition.
HSU ships the speakers with a relatively simple instruction manual that includes information on unpacking, optimal speaker placement, proper toe in recommendations, wiring, and general set up instructions. It also details the speaker’s seven-year warranty inclusions and limitations.
We captured the entire unboxing process on video, which can be viewed by clicking on the image below.
(AV NIRVANA) Photo of speaker positioning taken mid-evaluation.
The speakers were evaluated in a 12 1/2-foot wide x 17-foot long x 9-foot tall room; single GIK Acoustics 4A Alpha absorption/diffusor panels were situated at the first reflection points along the sidewalls.
The CCB-8s sat on IsoAcoustics Aperta isolators perched upon 28-inch tall speaker stands (for a total height of 31-inches), positioned 34-inches from sidewalls and 58-inches from the front wall. Spacing between the speakers and the primary listening position was approximately 80-inches.
After initial listening tests, I opted to run the speakers with one port plugged (which offered a great balance of deep bass and perceived tightness). Overall bass response in that configuration began to roll off around 40Hz (in-room). While two ports opened performed fine, I did find a sealed tuning to be somewhat limiting in the low frequency department.
(AV NIRVANA) For purposes of discussion: Ground plane, 1/3 smoothing
(AV NIRVANA) One port open configuration.
Following Dr. Hsu’s recommendations, I began initial listening tests by toeing the speakers inward, allowing the tweeter axes to cross several feet in front of the middle listening position. According to Dr. Hsu, the speaker is designed to be optimally heard at 15-degrees off axis. I ultimately tweaked positioning to a wider toe-in (still somewhat aggressive), which played better to my ear.
Associated test equipment included a Pioneer Elite VSX21-THX AVR and an OPPO UDP-205 4K UHD Blu-ray Player.
(Images: Alexi Murdoch)
From the first moments of my initial listening session, the CCB-8 confidently exposed its most potent strength: detailed sound. It’s a revealing speaker that prefers to operate as a sonic microscope, audibly etching musical detail with laser-guided precision. In fact, new details nestled within some of my favorite albums sprung to life – which, frankly, shocked my ears.
The CCB-8 proved to be an extraordinarily fun speaker to demo. As referenced above, musical detail was simply off the charts, magnifying every breath, string squeak, lip smack, and recording imperfection. It also exhibited beautiful depth of sound (especially in the bass region) where the vibrancy and subtle characteristics of low frequency reproduction where handled nicely. Music was layered with an organic low-end and mid-range character; songs sounded shaped, controlled, and artfully crafted.
In my room, the speakers presented with uber clean and super sharp highs; the phrase “crystal clear” comes to mind. That kind of crispness helped the CCB-8 speakers to possess a lifelike nature. If you think of a spotlight illuminating figures cloaked by darkness, then you can imagine the CCB-8’s ability to expose sonic subtleties in the high frequencies – revealed detail was that dramatic.
The soundstage produced by the CCB-8 was lively and expansive. Not only was it loaded with imaging between the speakers, but also presented a fair amount of details outside of the speakers. I also noted a consistent depth of soundstage, with plenty of sound appearing to exist on a distant vertical plane. There were instances of a forward presentation, but they were far and few between. Overall, imaging and airiness of sound was pleasing to the ear.
The following is a selection of notes taken during listening sessions:
Alexi Murdoch Four Songs (CD)
Alexi Murdoch’s introductory EP contains four songs layered with flowing vocals, delicate acoustic guitars, and rolling bass. The CCB-8s delivered tantalizing amounts of detail, revealing beautiful subtleties contained within each track, including: Murdoch’s breaths between lyrics, finger rubs on guitar strings, and tiny background sounds dancing through the air. The speakers weren’t shy about delivering a crispness that punctuated high-frequency sounds, and the CCB-8’s natural bass proved to be a perfect counter balance. That balance was on full display during “Orange Sky,” with Murdoch’s voice accentuated with razor-sharp pop, and the song’s bass guitar and bass drum gently punching with a controlled presence. This is a song where bloated bass can dominate the presentation, and the CCB-8 speakers kept fantastic control of the low-end.
Overall imaging was focused, allowing the songs’ various components to occupy their own areas of space. The speakers also exhibited pleasing depth to the soundstage.
The Orb The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld (CD)
Shifting gears, I wanted to experience the CCB-8’s capabilities when fed challenging bass heavy material. The Orb’s seminal album, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, is loaded with plenty of chest thumping beats. The presentation proved to be majestic, with bass that was harnessed and delivered with poise. The speakers didn’t exhibit any driver or port noise during playback.
The soundstage created by the CCB-8 speakers was massive and deep. “Back Side of the Moon” sent samples dancing through the air as vintage NASA communications wrapped around the edges of the room. It was a mesmerizing listen, as voices appeared to crawl along the walls. “Perpetual Dawn” played to the CCB-8’s strengths, with sharp symbols and pulsating waves of techno rhythms bubbling outside of the soundstage.
Norah Jones Come Away With Me (SACD)
Come Away With Me is a Top Five demo disc in my audio world, and an album that my ears have enjoyed hundreds of times. The CCB-8 speakers injected lively spunk into its presentation, accentuating the upper-end feel of its music. Jones’s voice popped with vibrancy and life in a way I’d never heard – occasionally tripping into what some might categorize as a controlled brightness. The vocal’s fine details, however, were absolutely exquisite and accentuated by the smallest of details.
“Turn Me On” was a highlight listen, delivering pleasing bass that dripped with soft texture. The song’s Hammond organ was also mesmerizing, as it appeared to gently float in the background of the soundstage.
Pink Floyd The Wall (CD)
Pink Floyd’s The Wall quickly became my favorite demo disc during the CCB-8’s evaluation; it contains an inordinate amount of fine details to capture your ears’ attention. The speakers delivered a solid performance, loaded with a rich soundstage and sharp imaging. “Comfortably Numb” rolled with perfectly rounded bass punctuated by precision, while Waters and Gilmour’s haunting vocals rang with a metallic air. And “The Trial” was one of many songs that allowed the speakers to show off soundstage capabilities (most noteworthy being clopping footsteps that appeared to echo away from my listening position).
Yello Touch (CD)
The CCB-8s were right at home with Touch, happily accommodating the album’s dynamic nature. “The Expert” was presented with sounds living well outside of the speakers; synths, guitars, and samples danced in the center of the soundstage as the song’s vocals exploded to the room’s sidewall boundaries. A tremendous amount of character and detail was on display, with the most minute of sounds appearing. And “Bostich (Reflected)” had beautiful bass pounding away as small clicks and beeps floated in mid-air. Imaging for “Bostich” was flat out phenomenal, once again presenting a three-dimensional auditory experience that pushed away from the primary listening position.
Various Artists HSU Demo Disc (CD)
Dr. Hsu kindly included a disc stocked with his favorite demo tracks (what a delightful listen!). Many of the tracks are vocal heavy with songs that allow the CCB-8 speakers to show off their incredible ability to relay highlight details. Track Two presented Rebecca Pidgeon singing “Spanish Harlem.” The CCB-8s took her vocals and reproduced them beautifully, complete with fine echoes and sharp details. Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Calypso Minor” also sounded fantastic, with crystal clear imaging, an expansive soundstage, and a nakedness of sound that made it appear as if the instruments were in my listening space. And a rendition of “Hallelujah” had vocals that seemed to rise into the thinness of air, with minutia (like the smallest breath or lip smack) raw and present.
Other tracks featuring string and brass instruments relayed that same sense of intricately layered detail and composition.
The CCB-8 Bookshelf Speaker is the latest in a line of impressive loudspeaker offerings from HSU Research, and was incredibly fun to audition; it’s truly a master of reproducing fine sonic character. While the speaker possesses warmth in the low frequency realm, it certainly has a presentation that’s driven by its sharp presence. If you’re a listener that appreciates unique speaker designs, versatility, a budget friendly price-point, and exactness in presentation, then the CCB-8 should be on your shortlist. And with HSU’s generous 30-Day return policy, it’s an easy speaker to recommend.
CCB-8 Bookshelf Speaker Specifications
- Frequency Response: 50Hz – 20kHz +/- 2 dB at 15 degrees off axis
- Sensitivity: 94 dB / 1m / 2.83V in Half Space
- Recommended Amplifier Power: 10-400 W RMS Per Channel
- Woofer: 8-Inch
- Enclosure Type: Vented ; 3⁄4” MDF
- Recommended Impedance Setting: 8 ohms
- Enclosure Dimensions: 15” H x 10 1⁄2” W x 12” D
- Dimensions with Grille: 15” H x 10 1⁄2” W x 121⁄2” D
- Weight: 22 lbs
- Warranty: 7-years