NHT VT-3 Home Theater Reference surround speaker system Page 3
Switch the VT-3 system to Video mode, and with the Towers' rear-firing drivers on, the pinpoint imaging blurs noticeably (as it should), the soundstage depth and width increase, and the fuller front sonic picture blends better with the center and surround speakers. If you don't like the effect you can turn it off, but I bet most listeners will leave the Towers' rear-firing speakers on. Bill Bush contends that, because the sonic image is tied to a visual one, the last thing you want is precise imaging. The sound should draw you in, not confuse you with distinct sonic events taking place too clearly offscreen.
I agree. A door-knock on the right side of the screen should not sound as if it's coming from well beyond the picture's confines. That's why I always place the L/R speakers close to either side of the monitor. This placement is fine for films, but is usually too close together for music. The VT-3's rear-firing speakers help solve the problem: you can spread the speakers sufficiently apart to achieve appropriate soundstage width for music, and, by switching in the rear-firing speakers, in effect diminish the spread and the image specificity.
The VC-3 center-channel speaker reproduced male voices with superb clarity, free of chestiness. Sibilants were delivered crisply, cleanly, and smoothly. While the VC-3 sounded not quite as relaxed and rich as the $1400 Aerial Acoustics CC3 I reviewed in the May issue, and doesn't offer the CC3's response balance adjustability, it may have been somewhat more neutral and uncolored in the midbass even though its low-frequency response is rated 10Hz lower (45Hz). Many listeners may even prefer it.
The VC-3's clarity and articulation were first-rate, and its subjective off-axis response was smooth, and free of obvious lobing or suckout. Pink noise revealed smooth, well-balanced driver transitions. Build quality is exceptional, and judging by the clean, open sound, the cabinet is extremely well-braced. The $900 VC-3 is one of the finest-sounding center-channel speakers I have auditioned, and a genuine bargain.
The soundstage created by the three front speakers was large, solid, seamless, and just plain formidable. This system meant serious, dynamic business—particularly if I cranked it up. At high SPLs, it didn't know from "dynamic compression."
The VR-3 surround shared the VC-3's sonic character and near-full-range frequency response. While a monopole can't deliver a dipole's big, diffuse soundfield, the SEAS tweeter's smooth dispersion and well-behaved off-axis power response helped to create an impressively wraparound and quite convincing bubble of surround. It didn't localize at either box, and, as Bush claimed, helped solidify the center surround image—though when I sat much closer to one of the VR-3s, that was the speaker I mostly heard.
While I would have preferred dipole surrounds, the mirror-imaged VR-3s worked very effectively as movie surrounds, with front-to-rear and side-to-side rear pans moving seamlessly within the ambience created by the film mixers, instead of landing at the rear speaker baffles.
Having a pair of surrounds that can respond down to 45Hz also seemed to create a bigger, fuller sonic picture, especially on 5.1-channel DTS music discs. In Music mode, the VT-3 system was able to reproduce live 5.1-channel DTS recordings, like The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East and Bonnie Raitt's Road Tested, within a 3-dimensional sonic environment that made me feel as if I was in the audience, not in some sonic vacuum between the stage and the back of the hall, between the front and back halves of the audience. I found that flipping the Towers' rear-firing speakers on for live recordings enhanced this sensation.
The VT-3 system proved to be versatile, room-accommodating, carefully thought out, and well-executed. You get your sonic money's worth and much more with this full-range system, which, at $9000, is surprisingly competitive with the $20,000 Aerial system, while still quite different from it. With its ability to be simultaneously configured for both music and film reproduction, and switched between the two at the push of a button, the NHT system proved in some ways more versatile. The Aerial's surround controls (bipole/dipole switch, front/rear driver level, frequency balance) and center (frequency balance) gave it the edge in surround adjustability. But the Aerial surrounds cost $3000/pair with remote switcher. The NHT VR-3s cost $1800 and go 10Hz lower.
Bill Bush set out to build a reasonably priced, full-range, high-quality 2-channel speaker system with built-in powered subwoofers. He's accomplished that. He also set out to build a reasonably priced, full-range, high-quality 5.1-channel surround system optimized for movie sound. He's done that too. The best part is that he's done both with a single system. But remember—the VT-3 needs to be played fairly loud to get going.
There's one possible fly in the ointment: The VT-3 Home Theater Reference System will be overpoweringly ugly in most home environments. The Towers are tall and deep, and the surrounds are relatively large and not easily wall-mounted. Unless you have a dedicated media room in which utilitarianism trumps aesthetics, this is not a system you want to bring home unannounced to your significant other. No fancy wood veneer or designer styling here, but that's how NHT can give you this level of performance for less than $10,000. Some modernists will find the VT-3 system sleek-looking and darkly mysterious, but I don't think there'll be many of them.
Find a dealer who's got this system properly set up, bring some challenging CDs, DVDs, and DADs, and I think you'll be impressed with the NHT VT-3 Home Theater Reference, whether it fits your décor or not. But even if it doesn't, I'll bet you'll wish it did.