Test Report: NHT Absolute 5.1T Speaker System Page 3

I usually start speaker tests with gentle fare and work up to heavier stuff. So I began my evaluation of the Ab- solute Tower with "Sing a Song of Song," from jazz saxo- phonist Kenny Garrett's Songbook CD. The tune eases in with a light melody, an arpeggiated bass line, delicate brushed percussion, and three simple chords on piano. I could tell from the first 16 bars that I was going to like the Absolute Tower's aluminum-dome tweeter, which strikes a perfect balance between detail and smoothness. It never sounded bright or harsh, even when I played recordings that usually sound edgy in the treble. It never sounded dull, either. The sound I got was big, wide, and open - one that I'm sure audiophiles will love, especially at five bills per speaker.

As drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts started to kick up the intensity and Garrett amped up his playing to compete, I noticed how beautifully the Absolute Towers portrayed the sound of Garrett's alto sax. I felt I could hear the notes emerging from each sound hole, diffracting off the keys, and resonating within the bore - like the sound of a live saxophone, instead of the one-dimensional sax sound I'm used to hearing from stereo systems.

This extraordinary midrange detail was also evident with all the vocal recordings I played. I heard no trace of the "cupped hands" coloration so many speakers produce. Singers male and female sounded just right, with no edginess or glare. When I pushed the Absolute Tower with aggressive material such as alt-rock singer Julian Cope's Peggy Suicide CD, however, voices sometimes thinned out a bit and lost some of their body - suggesting that, as with its forebears, the Absolute Tower's weakest link is the dynamic capability of its midwoofer.

At typical domestic listening levels, the Absolute Tower's bass sounded tight, well defined, and satisfying. Kick drums seemed especially lively and punchy; electric bass sounded super-tuneful. When I spun the volume knob clockwise, I heard the woofers com- press but didn't hear much distortion. As a result, the Absolute Tower came across a little thin at high volumes, but it never sounded nasty. I think most two-channel audio enthusiasts will find that the Abso- lute Tower has all the dynamic capability and bass extension they want.

When I played the Blu-ray Discs of Entourage: Season 6, I quickly realized that the Absolute Center sounds almost exactly like the Absolute Tower and the Absolute Zero. All three speakers delivered the same extraordinary vocal clarity, whether they were reproducing the deep voice of Kevin Dillon or the lilting tones of whatever hot 20-year-old babes hap- pened to be in the clubs with the guys. The same held true for dialogue from movies such as Matilda and Fight Club. Strings and percussion in soundtracks also sounded vivid. As with the Absolute Tower, though, voices start to thin out if you push the volume up on the Absolute Center.

The Classic Ten subwoofer really blows - literally. Its forward ring port produced a breeze I could feel on my arm from 12 feet away. Unsettling as this was, I never heard the noise one might expect from such a high-velocity airstream. (Installing the grille eliminated the draft.) The Ten delivered pretty good deep bass extension and dynamics for a $500 sub, although the tuneful bass of the Absolute Tower's small woofers and sealed cabinet coaxed me into shutting off the Classic Ten when I went back to listening to stereo music.

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