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NHT Classic Three Bookshelf Loudspeaker Review

by June 02, 2014
NHT Classic Three Bookshelf Speaker

NHT Classic Three Bookshelf Speaker

  • Product Name: Series Three Bookshelf Speakers
  • Manufacturer: NHT
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStarhalf-star
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: June 02, 2014 07:30
  • MSRP: $899.98/pair
  • Configuration - 3-way, acoustic suspension design

  • Cabinet material -  30mm front baffle, All others panels plus braces 18mm

  • Woofer - 6.5" anodized aluminum cone 

  • Midrange - 2" anodized aluminum dome 

  • Tweeter - 3/4" anodized aluminum dome 

  • Frequency Response - 45Hz-20kHz 

  • Crossover Frequencies - 800Hz, 3.2kHz

  • Crossover Slopes - 12dB LP, 12dB HP, 18dB LP, 18dB HP

  • Sensitivity - 87dB (2.83v@1m) 

  • Impedance - 8 ohms nominal, 4 ohms minimum

  • Power Handling - 150W

  • Magnetically Shielded - Yes

  • Inputs - 2 each nickel plated 5-way binding posts 

  • Speaker Dimensions - 13.75" x 7.5" x 10.375" (H x W x D) 

  • Width between shelf rails tips- 4.75"

  • Speaker Weight - 17 lbs./7.7 kg each

  • Shipping Weight - 20 lbs/9 kg each

  • Finish - High Gloss Black Laquer with Clear Coats


  • Excellent soundstage and dynamics
  • Big-Speaker sound from small footprint
  • Solid build quality
  • Great aesthetics


  • stabilizing bar


It was over 20 years ago that a friend’s pair of sub $1,000 Infinity bookshelf speakers forever changed my perception of what home audio could sound like.  While my reference setup today consists of full-range, tower speakers, I’ve retained a soft spot for bookshelf speakers.  When Audioholics President, Gene DellaSala, asked me to review NHT’s Series Three bookshelf loudspeakers, it was a bit nostalgic for me.  Yet, as with many nostalgic memories, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Series Three speakers would rekindle an authentic audiophile note or if they would provide a more sobering check that cherished memories can often become overly romanticized.

About NHT

While I was waiting for my Series Three speakers to arrive for review, I had the opportunity to talk with NHT’s Chris Byrne about the company’s history.  Why and how a company got its start is an important detail for me.  A company’s history usually gives me insight into their design philosophy and products. 

Chris told me that the company’s name, “NHT” or “Now Hear This”, is due to his mother-in-law.  In the 1970’s, Chris was a buyer for Pacific Stereo.  One night in 1976, Chris brought home a pair of large JBL speakers to audition before allowing them into the store.  Chris’ mother-in-law was visiting, and, while Chris was listening to the speakers, she turned to him and said, “You should start a speaker company that makes small, attractive speakers.  Call it ‘Now Hear This.’”  The rest, as they say, is history.

Chris and Ken Kantor founded NHT a decade later in December 1986.  They shipped their first product, the Model 1, in 1987.  Since that time, NHT has slowly but steadily broadened their product offerings to encompass everything from traditional two-channel stereo and multichannel home theater systems to architectural and desktop PC speakers.

NHT Model 1 Speakers

NHT Model 1 Speakers

For years, NHT followed the traditional model of positioning their speakers in specialty HiFi stores.  However, with the slow and steady demise of HiFi stores across the country, NHT changed their business model.   NHT now sells direct to consumers through a network of about 250 authorized Internet dealers (including Crutchfield, Audio Advisor, and Amazon), retailers, and custom installers in North America.  NHT also distributes to more than 30 countries worldwide. 

Purchases made through www.NHTHiFi.com or through their factory showroom in the San Francisco Bay Area come with a 30-day satisfaction guarantee.  You can try the speakers in your own home with your own equipment.  If you aren’t completely satisfied, then you can return the speakers.  NHT will even pay for the return shipping. 

Arrival and Unboxing

My review pair of Classic Three speakers arrived via FedEX in good condition.  The speakers were double-boxed with a large outer box containing a separate, inner box with each speaker.  There is ample, custom padding to protect the speakers during transportation.

NHT Double Boxed

The NHT Classic Threes come shipped double-boxed

If you ever purchase these speakers, you should know that unpacking the speakers requires attention and caution on few fronts.


First, be sure to use a short blade or box cutter that isn’t overly long.  If you use a long blade to cut the outer tape, then there is a chance that you might hit and scratch the speakers.  Above all, refrain from using scissors that might accidentally cut too deeply into the box. 

002-NHT Wrapped

You’ll need to carefully remove the packaging from around the Classic Threes

Second, the tops and bottoms of the speakers are curved and this requires extra attention during unpacking and setup.  In case you’re wondering if the curvature has anything to do with improving the sound, according to NHT, the curved ends are mostly cosmetic but they do help a bit with the frequency response as well by smoothing a peak/dip in the 1-2kHz range and then again by elevating the tweeter response a bit above 10kHz.  In other words, as the folks at NHT told me, the effects are “small but measurable.”

You’ll need to remove their protective fabric coverings carefully and then figure out a way to stabilize them so that you can add the feet to the speakers (more on this later).  

 003 NHT Curved Bottoms

The curved bottoms of the NHT Classic Threes

Third, the speakers are solid.  They have a hefty weight to them and require careful handling.  An errant slip of a finger can crush either the delicate tweeter or midrange drivers—even though they have protective covers.

Initial Observations

After unpacking the speakers, I took a moment to inspect the cosmetics and build.  Chris should be proud that the Series Three is faithful to his mother-in-law’s 1976 vision.  They were far smaller than what I was expecting.  I’m more accustomed to seeing larger monitors like the B&W 805 Diamonds or Revel Performas.  Spouses rejoice!  The smaller footprint of the Classic Threes should provide lots of placement options and aesthetic flexibility.

Especially for their smaller size, the weight and heft of the speakers and the cabinetry caught my attention.  Such heft and cabinet rigidity was not what I was expecting from an $900/pair of speakers.   The speakers easily passed the knuckle-knock test.  The cabinet yielded a good, dead “thud” sound with each knock. 

 008-Piano Black Finish

The piano black finish on the Classic Threes

The high gloss piano black finish on the speakers equally surprised me.  In fact, the finish was equal to what I’ve seen in other speakers costing five times to ten times the price of the NHT Classic Threes.  While the piano black finish did not have the absolute mirror quality of my SVS Ultra Towers—few speakers do—they came close.

The speakers sported a three-way design with clear plastic protective covers over the tweeters and midranges.  You may initially mistake those plastic covers as wave-guides.   I did.

 004 Tweeter Midrange Covers

The clear plastic over the tweeter and midrange is a protective cover, not a waveguide

The speakers were sealed, not ported.  They sported traditional grilles.  I would have preferred to see magnetic grilles, which are becoming more and more commonplace in high-end designs. They also lacked any boundary controls that would allow you to compensate for the speakers’ placement near a wall, in a cabinet, or on stands. 

The five-way binding posts were a gunmetal-grey color.  If you’re looking for some slick, fancy binding posts, you won’t find them here.  They seemed to be similar to the ones I recall seeing on the Focal 800 series speakers.  The binding posts also seemed shorter than I’m used to seeing.

The footing of the speakers was by biggest initial gripe.  Let me explain why. The speakers are curved at the top and bottom.  Initially you’ll think that it looks cool and slick—until you realize that you sit them upright.  They will tip over on their sides.  Moreover, you cannot put them anywhere—in a bookcase, on stands, or on a counter without the supplied feet. 

005 Stabilizing Bar installation

I found the best method of attaching the stabilizing bar-feet was to put the speakers upside down in their foam shipping container

The best method I found was to put the speakers (top down) back into their protective foam (be sure to put the protective covering between the speaker and the foam). This provided a stable base to attach the supplied feet.   If you don’t do it this way and try to hold the speakers while attaching the feet you run the risk of scratching them or having them slip on a carpet and having your screwdriver slip. 

006-NHT holes in bottom 

I would have preferred metal threaded holes instead of pre-drilled holes on the bottom of the speakers for the stabilizing bar-feet.

Speaking of screwing in the feet, I would have preferred a pre-installed metal thread for the screws. Instead, the speakers simply have a starter hole drilled into the cabinet’s wood through the piano black finish.  I strongly recommend screwing the feet in by hand.  You need to be very, very careful as you screw in the feet otherwise you run the risk of flaking off the finish around the starter holes.   I had to adjust the screws several times. The feet would not initially sit flush with the bottom of the speakers, thereby creating a small gap.

010 NHT spacing in the stabilizing bar

I had to adjust the screws a few times to get the stabilizing-bar feet to sit flush against the bottom of the speakers

NHT does not make custom stands for the Classic Three bookshelf speakers.  You’ll need to purchase third-party stands (NHT sells Sanus stands on their site) or put them on a shelf or table.   For prospective buyers, I will reiterate that these are deceptively heavy speakers.  If you do purchase third party stands, be sure they have excellent stability.  I’d also recommend affixing the speakers to the stands in some way so they don’t fall off if someone accidentally knocks into them.

NHT Unboxed

Unboxed: The NHT Classic Threes have a stylish look.

NHT Classic Three Sound Quality Tests

I chose to setup the NHT Classic Three speakers in my primary listening room. The speakers were put 3 feet out from the rear wall and over 5 feet from the side walls with a very slight toe-in.  The speakers had plenty of room to breathe.

 NHT with threads for wall mount

The Classic Threes have threaded holes on the back of the speaker so you can optionally wall mount them.
You can purchase wall mount hardware from NHT's web site.

I didn’t have stands on-hand.  Instead, I put them on a very thin, long table that I use for my center channel speaker.  This put the Classic Threes about 10” below the ideal ear-level height.  I placed the speakers at the very edge of the table to prevent any first-reflections coming from the table’s surface. 

013 Emotiva a-100

I paired the Classic Threes with an Emotiva a-100 50wpc amplifier

I paired the Classic Threes with an Emotiva Mini-X a-100 stereo amplifier that puts out 50wpc.  Most people buying an $900 pair of speakers will likely use a receiver.  If a buyer does opt for separates, he isn’t necessarily going to spend a lot of money on an amplifier and I figured that the $219 Emotiva would be a good fit. 

NHT shorter binding posts

The binding posts on the Classic Threes were shorter than I’m used to seeing

I had earlier noted that the binding posts seemed a bit on the shorter side.  I was right.  When I inserted my Audioquest banana adapters into the back of the binding posts, about ¼ to 1/3 of the banana connector protruded.  There was no chance of the connectors touching each other.  The connection was certainly stable enough. It just looked odd.


After setting up the Classic Threes, I initially did something that I rarely do with speaker reviews.  I played the radio.   Because I would be busy taking care of some other things late in the evening, I decided to play the Classic Threes in the background and get a casual feel for them.  As I played the radio, there was a characteristic that struck me about the speakers. The off-axis response seemed to be very good. 

Why is off-axis performance of a speaker important?  If the off-axis response isn’t good, then those off-axis reflections can color the sound.  Through his pioneering research on acoustics and psychoacoustics at Canada’s NRC and then at Harman International, Dr. Floyd Tool has shown that smooth off-axis frequency response is as critical as on-axis response when determining a speaker’s performance.  As I moved around the room, the timbre and overall sound of the speakers remained fairly consistent.  I interpreted that sound consistency as a positive indicator of the Classic Threes off-axis response.  Regardless of the kind of music played throughout my listening tests, the speaker’s off-axis performance remained very good.

When I sat down for some serious listening, I wanted to test out some female vocals and spun up Encore by Elaine Paige.  For those familiar with the theater, Elaine Paige needs no introduction.  She has been called the “First Lady of British Musical Theater” and her voice has graced some of the best-known Broadway shows such as Cats and Evita.   Even if you’re not a theater buff, Paige’s passionate rendition of “Memory” from Cats is the one you’ve likely heard.

Elaine Page Encore

Elaine Paige’s voice shone beautifully through on the Classic Threes

Speaking of “Memory”, the Classic Threes presented Page’s vocals and emotion well.  Her voice came through with a good, smooth presentation.  Paige’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Lés Miserables was beautiful and moving. Instrumentation was good and detailed.   As I kept listening to track after track, I was struck by how large the soundstage was.  I wasn’t expecting such a large stage from such small, bookshelf-sized speakers.  In fact, the height and width of the soundstage rivaled my much larger tower speakers!

I found that the Classic Threes did an overall excellent job.  Especially for an $900 bookshelf, imaging and timbre all seemed to be really good. The bass response from a monitor of this size was surprising.  The bass notes were presented with authority and you could feel the bass.

In fact, the bass was so good that I initially thought it might have been over-emphasized. Yet, after extensive listening I concluded that the perceived over-emphasis was an issue of the bass’ refinement.  Though incredibly good for a speaker of its size, the bass didn’t have the ultimate definition and finesse of the best speakers I've ever heard.

Next, I turned to some Peter Gabriel on vinyl.  I started off by playing side two of So.  On the classic first track, “In Your Eyes”, the soundstage just popped and immediately drew me in. If you have a listening room that will let these speakers breathe, you can really get a large, more lifelike soundstage.

Peter Gabriel’s characteristic vocals were nicely rendered.  “Red Rain” and “Sledge Hammer” had a great sense of dynamics.  Again and again, the bass called attention to itself without overwhelming the overall presentation of the music.  The Classic Three’s didn’t have the overt “box” sound you sometimes get in a small monitor speaker.  The Classic Threes definitely had a warmer, euphonic presentation that some will appreciate.

I loved with how the Series Three speakers presented “Don’t Give Up”.   It’s a duet between Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush.  Kate Bush’s vocals were beautifully presented.  However, Kate’s vocals lacked that true purity and openness the best speakers will give you.

Peter Gabriel So

Peter Gabriel’s classic album, So, is a great test of any speaker

I did encounter one anomaly specifically with this track.  At times, Kate Bush’s vocals sounded oddly recessed and I sensed a hint of strain.  To be sure this wasn’t something specific to the vinyl presentation, I played the same track digitally ripped from CD and got exactly the same thing.  I did not get the same response through my other speakers. I wasn’t sure what to make of that occurrence and I didn’t experience it on any other track.

In my particular room and setup, the Classic Threes had a more forward presentation than I’m used to.  Peter Gabriel’s vocals were just slightly behind the speakers and though tall and wide, the soundstage was not as deep as with my towers.

For a classical music test, I put in Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor with Héléne Grimaud on the piano. The NHTs nailed the orchestral dynamics.  Given how the NHTs had performed in with my other tests, I was curious with how the NHTs would reproduce the piano.  There’s nothing like experiencing both the sound and the strike of piano chords.  Unfortunately, many speakers—especially speakers in this price range—will give the piano a tinny, toy-like sound.

Helene Grimaud plays Brahms

The Classic Threes presented the piano from Brahms' Concertos with surprisingly lifelike impact.

I was pleasantly surprised with how well the NHTs handled the weight and dynamics of the piano in this recording.  At times, there was a slight hint of that tinny sound from the piano.  Overall, however, the Classic Threes did a masterful job. 

The NHTs excelled with delicate movements and rendered fine, acoustic detail.  Yes, there were hints here and there where larger and better speakers would have handled things better.  But for $900, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. 

As I concluded listening to Brahms, I felt that the NHTs didn’t do a great job at the defined space and air around instruments.  Instead of the piano and instruments being clearly defined in their own space on the soundstage, they were blended together and more akin to that “wall of sound” entry-level speakers are known for.  Nevertheless, for bookshelf speakers at this size and at this price point, they were truly great in reproducing all the important elements necessary to make classical music reproduction an involving experience. 


After giving the Classic Threes an extended exercise with a variety of music, it was time to shift over and see how they could handle the audio complexity of some Blu-ray movies.   I played only the single pair of Classic Threes.  All multichannel audio was down-mixed to stereo in a 2.0 configuration.  I did this to see what the Classic Threes could do without the aid of a sub. I figured there would be some readers facing both WAF and aesthetic challenges and would be curious to see how the Classic Threes performed on their own.  If that describes you, I’ll just say you won’t be disappointed.

Avengers on Bluray

The Avengers action sequences and dynamics really came through on the Classic Threes

First up was Avengers. The Classic Threes presented the opening scene with a nice, wide-open stage, good dynamics, and excellent clarity through a phantom center channel.  The opening tesseract scene, when the tesseract opens the portal and Loki first appears, had solid punch.  You could feel chest-thumping bass during Loki’s escape and the subsequent crash of Nick Fury’s helicopter.  I had to remind myself again and again that such impactful sound was coming from a relatively small package.  The speaker’s characteristics were consistent throughout—including the end battle in New York.  

Iron Man 3

The Classic Threes handled the all action and adventure in Iron Man 3

Next, I turned to Iron Man 3.  In my notes I wrote how I was once again impressed with the soundstage, timbre, and dynamics—they were excellent.  However, at the climactic end scene,  with all the iron man suits, I did note hints of what sounded like some harshness amidst all the explosions.  I wasn’t bothered by this minor observation as I was playing the speakers without a sub and at a fairly loud volume to fill my room.


Disney’s Frozen was a real treat through the Classic Threes

Finally, I played Disney’s latest animated blockbuster, Frozen.  Everything I had positively experienced and mentioned before was apparent again here.  One oddity that I couldn’t figure out was that with Frozen, the center phantom image was good but not great.  At times, when the phantom center exhibited a voice that would have been mixed for a dedicated center channel, the speakers exhibited an uncharacteristic “boxiness”.  Because I hadn’t heard that in other cases, I decided to “Let it go, let it go” and attributed it more to the 2.0 down-mix than a weakness in the speakers (for those who have seen Frozen, you’ll forgive my pun).

Overall, the Classic Threes handled both music and movie audio exceptionally well and performed far above their asking price and size.

NHT Classic Three Conclusion

NHT Speakers

NHT Classic Three Bookshelf Speakers are an incredible audiophile value

I’ve been around audio and audiophile equipment for a long time.  Over the years, I’ve seen many really great values in high-end audio.  To all those great values, I’m now including the NHT Classic Threes.  The NHT Classic Threes are by no means a perfect speaker and don’t have all the bells and whistles you’ll find elsewhere.  They don’t have magnetic grilles, fancy binding posts, or proper leveling feet.  You don’t have an option for custom stands.  And, you don’t have any boundary compensation controls. 

Yet, what the Classic Threes do have is a total sonic package that’s nothing short of amazing.  For less than $1,000 speaker you get solid build quality, nice aesthetics, great dynamics, accurate timbre, an expansive soundstage, chest-pounding bass, and more.  These speakers give you a real foretaste of some of the best aspects of expensive, high-end speakers for a ridiculously low price. 

Are they the final word in all of these categories? Of course not!  However, you would need to spend considerably more money—factors more, in fact—to handily best what these speakers have to offer. 

If you’re a budget-conscious audiophile or home theater enthusiast you owe it to yourself to audition the Classic Threes first-hand.

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
Build QualityStarStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStar
About the author:
author portrait

Theo Nicolakis has been reviewing high end audio, video, home theater, headphone, and portable music products for the past 14 years. His reviews have appeared here on Audioholics as well as Techhive.com, PCWorld.com, MacWorld.com, and more. His reviews span high end two-channel and home theater systems, AVRs and immersive audio processors, headphones, DACs, DAPs, music servers, sound bars, and display technologies.

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