Friday, February 5, 2010

NHT Classic Three 7.1 Surround System Review

Up for review is a speaker system from NHT. NHT stands for Now Hear This, and if you are familiar with them, you know they also stand for audiophile quality on a budget. Today we will be reviewing the NHT Classic Three system. The system consists of six Classic Three bookshelf speakers and a Classic Three C center channel.

NHT has claimed that their fourth generation bookshelf speaker Classic Three is the best bookshelf speaker that they have ever made. With the quality of bookshelf speakers they have done over the last 22 years, that is saying a lot. With the look, design, and sound that the Classic Three’s bring out, I am a believer. The Classic series replaced the Super Audio line, and was a complete redesign from the ground up. But one thing that did carry over was the gorgeous classic NHT look, which includes 2 primer coats, 7 coats of polyester paint, and 2 coats of clear acrylic polymer, for that gloss black finish.

Now for the design and construction, we will start with the cabinet which includes some features brought over from the Xd series. ¾” and 1” MDF is used in the cabinet and internal bracing. The baffles are twice as thick as the Super Audio cabinets. This allows for increased stiffness and reduced baffle acoustic radation. The beveled edges help to reduce refraction. All of this also has helped to increase dispersion. The cabinet helps give a very wide soundstage. And if there is any audible distortions, it is not due to the cabinet.

The drivers are also redisigned from the ground up. The Classic Three is a three way acoustic suspension design, hence the name. It includes a ¾” dome tweeter, 2” dome midrange, and 6.5” midbass driver. All three drivers are also made of aluminum, and designed for the best sound possible including wide dispersion. All drivers have shorting rings to reduce flux modulation. Woofer frames are made of BMC, also borrowed from the Xd series, and are 4 times stiffer than the Super Audio series for lower distortion drivers. Aluminum is an excellent sounding material for speaker designs. The problem with aluminum is the audible ringing when not crossed over correctly. Midranges playing too high or tweeters playing too low can result in audible ringing. The crossover network in the Classic Three features audiophile grade components with crossover points of 800hz and 3.2Khz. Not only does this three way design solve the ringing problem, but using a three way design also yields higher dynamics. So not only is the Classic Three designed to be a great sounding speaker for music, it is also designed to have the high level dynamics sought after for home theater sound systems.

So on paper, the Classic Three looks to be a phenomenal sounding speaker. After seeing the speaker, it looks to be a great sounding speaker. But designs and looks can sometimes be deceiving. The real question is how does it perform? Is it better for music? Is it better for home theater? Or does the finished product fall short? Now it is time for the real test. The system comprises of a new classic 5.1 surround sound configuration along with two height channel speakers for the new Dolby PLIIz, for a total of 7.1 speakers using six Classic Threes and one Classic ThreeC for the center channel.

For jazz, I pulled out my Tommy Smith Blue Smith album by Linn records on SACD. Track number three titled Rain Dance proved to be a real aural treat. This gave a real look into the quality of the Classic Threes. Excellent sound quality can be a double edged sword, especially when dealing with a pair of speakers that deliver a great deal of resolution. The sound can be great with a great recording. But as they say, garbage in garbage out. You hear what you get, and when dealing with a bad quality recording…..well, the bad quality comes through. Rain dance features Tommy Smith on a soprano sax. It is pretty much a solo with the sax, accompanied with some drums. The smoothness of the soprano sax kept me pushing the back button to repeat the track. And the level of resolution was great. On passages of the song I could heat the woodiness of the reed as it was tongued. At one point Tommy almost lost tonal control of the sax and it came through with the Classic Threes. The soundstage was big and wide, with you feeling like you were there in the recording studio. Even more so due to the fact that you could hear the reverb from the room. But then again, what may sound like a bad thing showed the level of resolution the Classic Threes bring to the table, and actually increased the listening experience as if I was there with Tommy.

For a bit of blues, I turn to Junior Wells-Come on In This House. The track Why Are People Like That shows the male vocal of Junior brought through wonderfully thru the center channel. But the real treat is the harmonica that comes in the rear channels that displays the great dynamics of the Classic Three, especially on a full system using Classic Threes in the rear channels. The natural sounding harmonica delivered quite the sonic punch. This track was an excellent example of the reason for going with the Classic Threes throughout. Many have opted for a system comprised of the Classic Threes or Classic Fours up front, Classic Three C for center, and a pair of Classic Two’s or Absolute Zeros for the rear channels. With the increase of use of the rear channel for music, and increased dynamics and resolution of the high resolution formats of Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD, getting Classic Threes for the rear will give sonic dividends with the right content.

In scouring through my music collection, listening to different tracks and deciding which tracks to feature was a difficult task. How difficult it was actually was a pleasant surprise. I got to discover my music collection again with renewed realism. The use of a three-way design makes sense: a tweeter for highs, midrange for the mids, and a woofer for the bass. And the end result was a very natural sounding speaker. The highs were very clean and not too bright, and not fatiguing after extended listening periods. The mids were smooth and not overly warm. And the midbass had good extension for a sealed enclosure. I usually like to listen to my music more on the loud side of things. But in turning the volume down, I was pleasantly surprised at level of harmonics and resolution still intact. I had to remind myself what to listen for, because I kept getting caught in the music.

Now turning to movies, I put on one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies: The Lord of the Rings, The Bridge To Khazad-Dum. Dolby Prologic IIz really added to the degree of realism. When the Orcs where climbing up and down the columns in The Great Hall, it sounded like they were climbing up and down my walls. When it comes to the width and depth of the soundstage, it is usually more appearent in two channel music. That is, one tends to listen for it more in music and not movies. But with the NHT Classic Threes, it was easy to hear just how large of a soundstage they can sonically project. The sound seemed to extend beyond the walls of my theater room. But with that being said, do not take it against the transparency of the speakers. The Classic Threes are actually very transparent. In watching the movie, they seemed to disappear in three dimensional sound. And the high level of dynamics due to the three-way design made action movies that much more enjoyable.

In summary, speakers are purchased to enjoy content. With the NHT Classic Three’s, the speakers can disappear and turn your attention to enjoying the music or movie. And when it comes to speakers, that is one of the best compliments one can give. If you are in the market for some good quality speakers, I highly recommend the NHT Classic Three’s. You can also save some cash and buy them directly from NHT online. At $700 a pair or $2,400 for a 5.1 system with a 12”, they are a real bargain and would compare with other speakers costing much more. For more info and complete specs, please check out NHT’s website at