Kenwood HTB-506 Review

Highs

  • Great for home theater applications

Rating

Our Score 7
User Score 6

Lows

  • Slight trace of boxiness in the overall system sound
If you need an all-in-one receiver-and-speakers solution and you are on a limited budget, this system is worth checking out.

The Kenwood HTB-506 provides one with an easy to setup and simple to use home-theater-in-a-box system. It has some shortcomings here and there which was especially noticeable only in music applications, but it is quite satisfying in home theater applications. If you need an all-in-one receiver-and-speakers solution and you are on a limited budget, this system is worth checking out. For $500 and with 6.1 capability, the HTB-506 represents a very good value.

Introduction

Home-theater-in-a-box is a solution for someone who needs a straightforward surround sound system, but doesn’t have the room or the resources for a big and fancy system. It is also a popular solution for a bedroom system or second system in a small room.

The HTB-506 system reviewed here is one of the latest home-theater-in-a-box offering from Kenwood. It consists of a receiver (VR-707), 6 satellite speakers, and a powered subwoofer. It carries a $500 price tag, which falls into a “very affordable” category. This receiver packs a set of impressive features, which belies its price, most notably its 6.1 capability.

Features and Design

The heart of the HTB-506 system is the VR-707 receiver, which is also sold separately for $250. This receiver packs a set of impressive features, which belies its price. Even its appearance is quite attractive with silver front and gray side/top panels. This receiver can accommodate up to 5 analog stereo inputs (with 2 record out loops), one six-channel analog inputs, and 3 digital inputs (2 coaxial, 1 optical). Three composite video and two S-video inputs are also provided, so you can use this receiver as your video switcher if desired. The VR-707 receiver packs 6-channel amplifier capable of delivering 100 W per channel (with one channel driven in surround application or two channels driven in stereo application). The speaker outputs on the back are of the spring-clips variety. As expected at its price point, the receiver is not designed to drive speakers with difficult load (4 ohm or less). Kenwood specifies 8-16 ohm speakers to be used with this receiver. A low-level subwoofer output is also provided, as well as two switched AC outlets. A set of AM and FM antennas was also supplied with the VR-707 for its tuner.

The surround processing in the VR-707 receiver was done digitally using a 24 bit DSP chip. It is capable of decoding Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital EX as well as DTS through its digital inputs. The surround processing modes for analog inputs include Dolby Prologic II (Music and Movies) and some surround fields such as Arena, Jazz club, Theater, Stadium, and Disco. An Active EQ mode is also provided to better equalize the speaker package with the receiver.  It is effective in all listening modes, and tailors the receiver to better match the type of speakers that are being used with it, to achieve a better blend between the speakers and subwoofer. It also has modes that tailor the response for Music, Movies and TV sound. The receiver also has tone controls, but I suggest leaving them at their default settings.


The front panel of the VR-707 Receiver

The front panel of the VR-707 is quite neat and clean. The grouping of the buttons and knobs on the panel is well organized.  The mode and status of the receiver can be found on the small dimmable LCD display with white lettering, located on the middle upper of the front panel. The only receptor found in the front panel is an output for headphone jack. Pretty much all the functions of the receiver can be accessed from the provided remote control. The remote control feels rigid and can be setup to operate other popular brand devices. The codes to setup the remote are given in the receiver’s manual. Although code-searching method is discussed in the manual for devices that are not in the list, I was not successful in setting up the remote to operate two of my unlisted components. The buttons on the remote are organized in three colors, but no backlight, so you have to be familiar with the location of the buttons in order to use it in dark environment. I felt that ergonomically the remote was not very easy to use, mainly because the buttons were too small.


The rear panel of the VR-707 Receiver

The six satellite speakers of the HTB-506 have plain black-ash box appearance with black cloth grills. They consist of two bookshelf front speakers, a small center channel, and three small surround speakers. All the speakers are of acoustic suspension design. Each of the front and center speakers have a 1″ super dome tweeter and two 4″ woofers, and they are magnetically shielded.  The surround speaker uses a 1″ balanced dome tweeter and a 4″ woofer. A built-in wall-mount bracket can be found on each of the surround speakers. The build quality is not bad, but is just average, typical to what you’d expect in a $500 complete system. Unlike typical audiophile quality speakers, they are quite light and for sure they won’t pass the knocking test, as when you knock on them, they don’t sound well-damped. Of course, corner has to be cut somewhere for Kenwood to be able to offer this system at this very affordable price.

The SW-37HT powered subwoofer that is included in the system matches the appearance of the satellite speakers. It has an 8″ driver driven by 150 W amplifier in a bass-reflex enclosure. All the usual subwoofer controls can be found on the back, such as volume control, crossover setting, crossover filter switch, auto on/off switch, and main power switch. No phase control is provided, but with such a small and easily moveable subwoofer, this doesn’t pose a serious limitation. This subwoofer only accepts mono line level input, and a basic subwoofer cable is included.

A set of color-coded speaker wires at about 10 ft long for each channel is also provided. They are the type of speaker wire you can easily find in your hardware store. You can, of course, replace them with a better type of wire, but you have to remember that the spring-clip speaker connectors on the VR-707 receiver and on the HTB-506 speakers can only accept a maximum of 16 gauge of wire thickness.

System Setup and Performance

The Kenwood HTB-506 system is easy to setup. The Quick Start Guide that comes with the system explains the step-by-step setup procedure quite clearly. Unless your room is very small, the supplied speaker wires most likely are not long enough to reach your surround speakers. For this evaluation, I put the front speakers on the stands about two feet away to the left and right of my 32 inch television. Their distance from my listening position was about 10 ft. The center channel was put on top of the television, while the surround speakers were put about one feet higher than my ears: two on the side and one behind my listening position. After carefully calibrating the speakers, I let the system warmed up for many hours before starting my evaluation.

The VR-707 receiver is quite easy to use and as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t have serious operational quirk. The receiver doesn’t have an on-screen display feature, so one has to refer to the receiver’s display to find out the status of the receiver. If no setting is changed, the big lettering in the middle of the display shows the active input. This main part of the display can easily be read from 10-12 ft away. If a setting is changed, for example the volume level or the surround mode, the main display shows the changed setting for about two seconds before displaying back the active input. The surround mode, as well as the speaker configuration, is shown on the display all the time, but they are too small to see from farther than 3 or 4 feet away. One of the nice features of the receiver is that it remembers the last surround setting associated with an input. Hence, you don’t have to cycle through the receiver’s surround modes every time you change the input.

The FM reception of the receiver using the supplied antenna was rather weak. I couldn’t get clear reception of some stations, which I could easily get using my mini system or car tuner. I didn’t try the AM function of the receiver as I never listen to one, so I had nothing to use as a reference. To improve the radio signal reception of the VR-707 one might have to use a powered antenna. Unfortunately, I couldn’t plug my Terk powered antenna on the VR-707 to try, as the plugs were incompatible.

For home theater, the system performed respectably well. The fact that it could handle DD-EX is a plus. It didn’t produce an enveloping surround effect as smooth and as transparent as some separate surround processor with multi-thousand dollar set of speakers, but nevertheless, the surround effects the HTB-506 system produced were quite good and enjoyable. The Auto EQ function expanded the sound space a little bit and added sparkles to the sound, which I found to be desirable for some movie program materials. Your personal taste would dictate whether you would use this function or not. The provision of Prologic II was very useful for getting the most out of your analog video sources or TV watching experience. If you are not satisfied with your small TV speakers when watching regular TV programs, I found this system to be an excellent solution for improving your TV watching experience. The fact that it could handle DD-EX, which is a 6.1 format, is a plus, especially considering its sub $500 price

The center channel of the system, even though small, was capable of delivering quite clear and intelligible dialogs in the movies. The other speakers complemented the center channel nicely to deliver nice surround effects. The powered subwoofer that comes with the system didn’t have the finesse and the impact of the other big boys subwoofers out there, but it was sufficient to provide some oomph for home theater effect. Unless you listen to your system at ear-piercing level, the subwoofer output level should be sufficient to fill medium sized room with some authority. In my setup, this subwoofer could go down to slightly below 40 Hz easily. It wasn’t a deep-bass subwoofer by any means, but it did provide nice base for the sound coming from the satellite speakers of the HTB-506 system.

The weaknesses of the HTB-506 system were exposed more in music applications (either stereo or multi-channel) than in home-theater ones. Especially noticeable was a slight lack of transparency of the speaker sound. There was a slight trace of boxiness in the overall system sound, but this was only obvious on some songs. The midrange of these speakers was rather recessed and the highs were not that extended when compared to the better speakers out there. But expecting perfection from a $500 system is really asking for too much. Despite all those shortcomings, the HTB-506 system served its purpose as small all-in-one system well and produced nice overall sound.

Conclusion

The Kenwood HTB-506 provides one with an easy to setup and simple to use home-theater-in-a-box system. It has some shortcomings here and there which was especially noticeable only in music applications, but it is quite satisfying in home theater applications. If you need an all-in-one receiver-and-speakers solution and you are on a limited budget, this system is worth checking out. For $500 and with 6.1 capability, the HTB-506 represents a very good value.

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