The NHT Classic Four Surround Sound Speaker System Page 3

Moreover, the quality of the power matters as well. I listened with the Lexicon RV-8, as well as the Meridian G61 Surround Controller/G55 five -channel amplifier combo (review to come). The Lexicon is a high-powered, fine sounding and pricey receiver, but driven by the Meridian combo, the Classic system took on a more refined, focused and controlled demeanor, though the essentially cool, less than supple top end was still evident.

I don't mean to belabor or overstate the Classic system's cool mid/hi frequency balance because it is not pernicious or grating or so prominent that it overwhelms all. And it's a smooth and clean coloration, rather than the ragged kind some inexpensive speakers deliver. However, it is there and while some colorations fade away over time as the ear acclimates to a loudspeaker's sonic idiosyncrasies (and they all have them), the Classic system's essential coolness was never far from my sonic mind.

That said, the Three C center channel's dialogue intelligibility was outstanding, even at the low levels that caused the Sonus Center Domus ($1,295 versus the NHT's $600) to descend into "walla," which is a film sound term used to describe background muttering that's purposely impossible to decipher. The Three C rendered dialog that was crisp, clean and easy to understand, though to some degree this came at the expense of believability compared to the best center channel speakers I've heard. Off-axis response was uniformly good within the limits of my seating area and beyond.

The Three surrounds, aimed directly at the listening position, proved to be among the most non-directional and difficult to localize speakers I've had in that position, a testament to the smooth and uniform on and off-axis performance of the .75" dome tweeter. Not a surprising outcome as I never found the top end performance of the system "ragged" or "sizzly."

Put It All Together And What Have You Got?
If you're going to compromise anywhere in a home theater surround sound system because of price and/or space, I'll give up harmonic nuance and textural delicacy anytime for the ability to produce high-SPLs with ease, deep, physical bass, and a really big, and especially dynamic sonic picture. That's the compromise you make with this system, but it's more than made up for by the size, weight and scope of the overall sound.

The identical driver array all around produced a seamless three-dimensional sonic bubble and more often than usual, I found myself startled by sound effects appearing in the mid-room open spaces of the non-home theater side of my large living room.

Forgive me for skipping the usual musical and cinematic references often used in reviews. It's reached the point where the vastness of the software universe and the gaps in musical and film tastes between and among reviewers and readers alike render these references almost irrelevant. Even the sense of "musical community" once common in the audiophile world is for the most part gone (and good riddance!). It's essentially non-existent among videophiles—at least among those of us who are in it to watch and listen to movies and not to fixate over sonic and/or visual blemishes.

Over the months the NHT Classic series was in my system I watched dozens of movies and listened to many more CDs and multichannel SACDs. Spatially the system was unassailable in both the vastness of the presentation and its coherence. It also scored major points dynamically and in terms of stomach churning bottom end weight. Those are major accomplishments given the price point NHT hits with this powerful and capable system. I hope I didn't belabor the cool overall tonal balance, but it's there and its presence never left the premises even after a long acclimation period. I was happy watching movies, and somewhat less happy listening to music—but then again my stereo speakers downstairs cost $46K and they are a difficult act to follow.

The tension between good sound and good measurements will probably be exacerbated by this review, though of course I write this not having the benefit of seeing how the Classic Four and Three C measured.

Going back to the Sonus Faber Domus review, the measurements are not all that impressive and yet I relished the Domus center's ". . .combination of intelligibility, believability and freedom from mechanical artifacts at normal to relatively loud listening levels. . ." while cautioning that speakers that " (strive for greater) intelligibility by lifting the presence region (often results in) discontinuity in male voices, shrillness in female voices and "mechanicalness" in both, particularly on sibilants, which take on a distinct, easily identifiable life of their own, thus destroying any hope of believability."

While the Classic Three C never sounded shrill or sibilant, it definitely hinted at a "mechanicalness," that was easy to identify and not easy to ignore, especially given how much processing is usually applied to dialog.

I am certain that the Classic Three C's measurements will far surpass the Domus Center's in terms of response flatness and off-axis performance (vertically and horizontally), and no doubt the Classic Three C provided far better dialog intelligibility at lower SPLs (and at higher ones too!). But the cool metallic finish to the voices prevented them from achieving sonic verisimilitude (the appearance of being true or real), which would have me preferring the poorer measuring, twice as expensive speaker.

As for the overall balance of the Classic system, let's just say if I were buying a set of Classic Fours for two channel musical use (something I'd highly recommend for an audiophile on a budget) I'd pair them with a warmish sounding amp (preferably with tubes), and I bet the combo would be synergistic because the Classic series' sound is not "ragged," it's just smoothly cool.

For a videophile on a budget, the Classic series represents an outstanding value. I'd trade the anemic dynamics, small staging and wimpy bass found in some similarly priced, smoother sounding small tower systems for a bit of timbral chill in order to get the superior dynamics, spatial finesse and bottom end heft provided by the NHT Classic Series.

Don't let my carping steer you in the other direction: I think the NHT Classic system as reviewed at $4,350 (MSRP) is one of the best values in a full range 5.1-channel package I've yet encountered. Just be prepared for a slightly mentholated message.

Big-ass sound
Deep bass

Low-level metallic sonic "aftertaste"
Requires high quality power (and lots of it)
Glossy looks may not appeal to all tastes