NHT VT-3 Home Theater Reference surround speaker system

When a speaker company changes hands, particularly when it is sold by its founders, a new design team often comes on board. That can be a tricky affair. Like passing a baton in a relay race, if it's not handled smoothly, or if it's dropped, sometimes there's no catching up and the race is lost. That almost happened to giant Harman International when it bought Infinity from Arnie Nudell and Cary Christie. Both men ultimately left to pursue other ventures. It took years for Infinity to fully regain its footing, which it did with the rollout of the outstanding, high-tech Prelude system, reviewed by Joel Brinkley in the July/August 2000 issue of SGHT.

When International Jensen bought Now Hear This a while back, it wisely kept onboard NHT's very talented founder-designer, Ken Kantor. International Jensen was later sold to Recoton, which has gone from distributing cheap record styli, clip-on record-cleaning brushes, and chemically impregnated record-cleaning cloths sold on peg-boards in 1950s-style appliance stores, to its current status as a consumer-electronics powerhouse. How that was engineered would make an interesting story in itself.

A few years ago, Kantor left NHT to enter the pro-audio speaker market with a new brand called Vergence Technology (still associated with NHT/Recoton). Some wondered what would happen to NHT, which had been so closely associated with Kantor's vision. NHT had established a reputation for modestly priced, well-engineered loudspeakers with lots of bang for the buck, many of which featured angled front baffles for better imaging, and inexpensive lacquer-like finishes.

New Regime, New Product?
Bill Bush, NHT's new director of engineering and chief designer of the VT-3 Reference system, has been with NHT for more than a decade. While Ken Kantor conceived of the company's flagship full-range speaker, the 3.3, Bush claims that, under Kantor's direction, he designed much of the highly regarded model. "It was Ken's concept and my blood," the amateur cellist and Purdue graduate (with a degree in acoustical engineering) told me recently, without rancor.

With Bush at the helm, you might expect the new $9000 VT-3 system ($6300 for two L/R powered Towers, including the remote-controlled Controller; $900 for the VC-3 Center-channel; $1800 for a pair of VR-3 surrounds) to be evolutionary, not revolutionary. Yet while certain design elements of the new Tower are drawn from the 3.3, and their look is in keeping with NHT tradition, the new 4-way, 8-driver VT-3 Tower is in fact quite revolutionary, partly because it's designed to provide optimum—not compromised—performance for movies and music.

Each massive Tower includes a pair of highly damped, side-loaded, long-excursion, 10-inch acoustic-suspension subwoofers housed in separate sealed subenclosures. The subs are powered by built-in 500W Sunfire amplifiers designed by Bob Carver. Thanks to a "tracking" power supply, the amps deliver class-AB power with nearly the efficiency of a switching amplifier, but without the potential noise and hash, and without the need for external heatsinks.

Active bass equalization gives you the option of dialing in different bass-performance characteristics for music and movies. Bush contends that, for music, one wants a flat, tightly controlled response, while for video, some "slam"-enhancing boost should be built in, and the system should be able to play louder with less distortion.

To that end, and to make adjustments practical, the VT-3 features an outboard, remote-controllable Controller designed to be placed near your other electronics. This slim unit includes Video Bass Contour, Low Bass EQ, Audio/Video mode switching, and Ambient Driver Bypass controls, each of which can be adjusted on the Controller itself or via the remote.

The Controller must be connected either between a preamp-processor and power amp or to a receiver equipped with Preamp Out/Amp In jacks. It extracts low-frequency information (via a second-order 100Hz highpass filter) and, after processing it, routes it to the Towers' bass amplifiers. Everything else is looped back to your receiver's amplifier section or your separate amp.

NHT supplies a pair of shielded 20-foot, 8-pin mini-DIN umbilical cords to connect the Controller and Towers. Additional 20-foot pairs of extension cords are available if you need them. If you've already run your wiring through your attic or basement, you'll need to run these cables as well.

Well aware of the potentially deleterious sonic effects of highpass filtering, Bush and his design crew took extraordinary precautions to ensure the purity and transparency of the signal. While bass-management filtering is a given with multichannel movies, it isn't with music.

The DIN connector cords are multipurpose. They supply DC power from the Towers' electronics to the Controller, thus keeping the amplifier and AC power-supply noise away from the Controller's line-level signals; they route low-frequency audio information to the Towers; and they handle the control switching signal to turn the rear-mounted ambient drivers on and off.

In order to keep digital noise from infecting the analog signal, the two cords carry different power-supply functions: the left speaker's cord powers the analog audio function; the right, the digital and remote control. Both cords must be connected for the system to function, and, of course, both Towers must be powered by AC.

Because the filtering is accomplished within the Controller, NHT insists that you set your receiver's bass-management system to "Large" speakers all around, as the center and surrounds offer "real-world" performance down to at least 45Hz.

So while the VT-3 looks something like the NHT 3.3, it's quite different—at least when it comes to bass reproduction! Each Tower also includes a pair of front-mounted 61/2-inch lower-midrange drivers, a 51/4-inch midrange, and a 1-inch tweeter, as well as a rear-mounted 51/4-inch midrange and 1-inch tweeter. As in the 3.3, the L/R Towers are arranged as mirror-imaged pairs, their drivers carefully placed on the front baffles to optimize flat first-arrival and power responses, and with crossover points purposely located out of the range of female vocals. And while Ken Kantor doesn't believe that the quality of crossover components has much of an effect on sound, Bush does: he's upped the quality of crossover parts in the VT-3, choosing them by listening.

The cones of the upper-mid and the two lower-mid drivers feature three layers of polypropylene damped by two layers of a special glue. The front and rear midrange drivers are identical, but the front and rear tweeters are not. The front SEAS 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter is also used in the 3.3, but because of the demands of home theater, here it features a massive heatsink that extends to the back of the sealed tweeter/upper-midrange subenclosure. The 1-inch rear-firing tweeter is a soft dome used in other NHT products. The cabinet is extensively braced and laminated inside and out to help reduce resonances, and each Tower weighs a hefty 120 lbs.