Crystal Acoustics TX-D12 Speaker System
First-generation THX blossomed in the high-end sphere. The first companies to make THX-certified speakers were already making great ones, with or without certification. Even now, the list of THX speaker makers reads like an industry honor roll. That list is now one name longer.
The hardworking Greek native who owns Crystal Acoustics has spent the past few years preparing factories in China to make THX-certified (and other) speakers. The THX-Center, the THX-Dipole, and the two subs in the TX-D12 system have been certified THX Select—that is, for rooms of up to 2,000 cubic feet. The system comes with your choice of subs: either the 12-inch THX-12SUB reviewed here or the 10-inch THX-10SUB.
The TX-FS front tower speaker is designed to be used with THX Select subwoofers, according to its carton, but it does not include the THX logo on its rear nameplate. "This is not a THX-certified product," the carton adds in teeny type. According to THX, an early version of the TX-FS was submitted for certification but wasn't certified. To soft pedal this point would be unjust to the manufacturers who have worked hard to get THX certification for every speaker model sold within a set.
There is, however, a THX-F3 speaker whose certification is pending but likely, according to both THX and Crystal Acoustics. It has three woofers and two ports on the front baffle, as opposed to the two woofers and no ports on the tower reviewed here.
Up Against the Wall
The TX-FS's unique status naturally drew my attention. Crystal has opted for a sealed enclosure and a lean approach to bass so that this speaker can sit close to the wall—and as near as possible to the surface of an LCD or plasma display. Near-the-wall placement would normally emphasize bass. Crystal shifts that part of their workload to the subwoofer, recommending a sub crossover of 100 to 120 hertz. That level is more common in compact sub/sat sets and notably higher than the 80 Hz that THX normally specifies. The THX-12SUB's two big ports are on the rear, right at the bottom edge, firing straight at the part of the back wall nearest the floor. (I placed the sub among the front speakers, per the THX Website, not next to the sofa, per Crystal's manual.)
The other speakers have points of interest. Only one woofer sits at the front of the THX-Center, although two ports flank it. The THX-Dipole has a tweeter on either side but limits itself to one woofer and one port, both on the front surface. Rated sensitivity is all over the place, ranging from a very high 93 decibels for the front L/R, to 90 dB for the center, to 88 dB for the rear.
There's one more thing I haven't mentioned, although the photo may already have piqued your interest. The tweeters in the front left, center, and right speakers ride in a separate aluminum housing on top of the enclosure. This design feature, rarely seen outside the pricey stuff, always has a major impact on sound. Whether you prefer the result is a matter of taste.
Time for Listening and Experimentation
The speakers proved to be a tad overzealous, used in my familiar test-subject positions, in an arc 2 to 3 feet out from the wall—as the designer expressly asked me not to do. As predicted, they needed the influence of room boundary gain. I ran through my basic vocally dominated test tracks, threw in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (Vienna Philharmonic) to make sure, and found the string sound to be somewhat wearing. During casual break-in listening, though, and at very low volumes, I rather enjoyed this setup.
My packed room perimeter makes near-wall placement well-nigh impossible—at least with floorstanding speakers and in relation to the front-projection screen—so I looked for alternatives. One thing that helped a little was tweeter tweaking. Crystal's top-riding tweeters are hinged and can turn 45 degrees in either direction. This enabled me to toe in the woofers toward the middle of the sofa while aiming the tweeters at the sides of the sofa, effectively reducing on-axis exposure in the sweet spot. I also turned the tweeters outward, toward the corners of the room, but, while all of this was great fun, it didn't quite give me the consistency I craved.
Finally, I arrived at a less than elegant solution. My Rotel RSX-1065 receiver is not THX certified but does borrow an idea from THX—a cinema re-equalization setting. When I switched it on, the strong metallic midrange changed character to something more calming and comfortable at emotionally fulfilling volume levels. Aside from some occasional A/B-ing, I left the re-EQ on for both movies and music.
Mad Toys and Englishmen
Once I'd worked out these issues, the sound proved to be engaging. It was great for indulging in my addiction to background music, delivering clarity even at very low levels. (More mellow or forgiving speakers usually bore me in this context.) At higher volumes, especially with mixed-vocal music, the sound provided reliable separation and, with re-EQ on, stood up to foreground listening levels with all but the harshest recordings.
With movies, the front speakers enabled steady side-to-side pans. Front-to-back imaging was not quite as strong—presumably because Crystal has designed the dipole surrounds to be more diffusive. Still, the climactic car-chase scene of Toy Story sent dizzy-whizzing sounds into every corner of the soundfield, and I was suitably entertained.
Punctuating the intense flashback sequences in The Jacket, with Adrien Brody, were split-second clusters of vicious slashing sounds that tore so rapidly through the soundfield that I barely registered their direction. With less up-front directionality in a vaguer set of speakers, these sounds would have blended better but shocked less. I felt unnerved, as the filmmaker intended.
"Senses Working Overtime," from XTC's English Settlement, brought everything I needed the speakers to achieve into focus. The re-EQ circuit kept Terry Chambers' tambourine from jumping out of the front left speaker and grabbing me by the throat. (I don't like it when tambourines do that.) EQ-ing cost me a little ambience and moved Andy Partridge's vocals back a couple of inches but also enlarged the soundstage. I stopped worrying about the sub's relatively modest amp when I heard Colin Moulding's bass line come bounding out of it.
My last concern was the 100-Hz crossover. With large speakers, I usually prefer the customary THX crossover of 80 Hz, but that took some of the velvety vocal beauty out of Nick Drake's Made to Love Magic. Crystal allows up to 120 Hz, but that was too dark and heavy—not only for Drake's resonant voice but for the lower strings of his acoustic guitar. I got the best results at 100 Hz, and, because I kept the sub just to the right of the center speaker, these two channels held together well.
Can You Top This?
Crystal Acoustics makes a credible debut with the TX-D12 speaker system. The ambiguous aspects of its partial THX certification should certainly not obscure the fact that this provocatively engineered product delivers tweeter-on-top construction and treble clarity for just $1,499. Who else can top that?
* Mark Fleischmann is the author of Practical Home Theater, available through www.quietriverpress.com.
• Tweeter-on-top construction
• Towers designed for near-wall placement