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NHT Classic Three Conclusion

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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
MetricRating
Build QualityStarStarStarStarStar
AppearanceStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStar
ImagingStarStarStarStar
SoundstageStarStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStar
PerformanceStarStarStarStarhalf-star
ValueStarStarStarStarStar
About the author:
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Theo is a serious audiophile and home theater enthusiast—a passion he's enjoyed for over 20 years. He heads up many of our speaker system and receiver reviews as well as covering the latest in streaming technologies and Ultra HD video.

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Recent Forum Posts:

warpdrive posts on June 04, 2014 13:50
I had these speakers years ago, when they were on sale for around $500. For that price, they were the bargain of the century. I think they still hold their own against any similarly sized bookshelf speaker I can think of, even ones that cost a lot more. I think the fact they are sealed helped, the bass never sounded boomy, and they dispersed very well, imaging was very 3D holographic.

I really hated the rails and rounded bottom though…when perched up on a standard stand with 6x6 plates, it worked well from a stability point of view it didn’t look like the speaker was part of the stand. Costmetically I really wish they sold an integral stand that mated with the bottom of the speaker better.
TheoN posts on June 03, 2014 11:27
@defmoot, you bring up some really great points and comments. Well said—especially with the installation of the rails!

To your other point, the foam or “mustache” as NHT calls it was indeed included with the speakers. I had asked NHT about it and what they told me was that the primary purpose of the foam piece (moustache) is to smooth a small peak and dip in the tweeter response (near 7kHz). The peak-dip is caused by a reflection from the midrange dome. Since it addressed the peak and dip I then asked why this wasn't pre-installed and the reason was two-fold:

First, some people are sensitive to the peak-dip and some aren’t.
Secondly, the foam piece isn’t perfect. It affects a range from 5kHz to 10kHz. It might make the speaker sound a little dull in a very well-damped room.

In my particular case, I don't have a very lively room so I chose to keep the foam pieces unapplied. The review was a bit on the long side but nevertheless, I should have included a mention about it. Noted!
defmoot posts on June 03, 2014 08:41
Thanks for the review.

I run the Classic Threes with an Outlaw EX in 2.1 for music and think it makes for a really nice “budget” rig. Like zieglj01, however, I'd like to see Audioholics measure this speaker. It's been done before by Stereophile and SoundStage, but the Three has been in service for a while. A new and competent analysis by you guys would be useful and welcome, I think.

A few other comments:

Because of their shape, they are a little tricky to handle at first. Simply orient them upside down when you first open the box. The packing foam is dense and shaped to fit the curved contours of the cabinet. It will hold things fairly securely while you install the base rails.

As mentioned, when installing the rails use a proper size, manual Philips-head screwdriver. I suggest pre-installing the screws about half way, then backing them out, indexing the rail, then re-driving the screws until the rail is secured flush. It takes a bit of effort because the cabinet material is dense and the finish is hard. When pre-driving the screws, take care that they're oriented 90 degrees tangent to the curve and don't go in at a goofy angle.*** Failure to do this may result in the rail “sitting high” with a slight gap, or at the very least, the screw head won't fit properly into its recess in the rail. It's not difficult to do properly and is mostly a cosmetic issue, but it's the kind of thing that'd drive me buggy. I agree with the reviewer that a more elegant solution would've been a nice touch here, but it functions just fine.

Oddly, the review made no mention of the little adhesive-backed, foam “mustache” doohickey that the user should apply between the tweeter and mid before firing them up. It's purpose is to help control diffraction between the two drivers. Maybe NHT has done away with it, one of those “small but measurable” things? I frankly doubt I could hear a difference with or without it. My ears are pretty good, but I know they're not that good.

At the risk of stirring up the break-in debate, I thought the tweeter on the Threes sounded a little harsh for the first hour or so of use. And I'm not even a true believer! But here's the deal. When I received the Threes one of them, unfortunately, had a slight imperfection in the shape of the curve at the top near the tweeter. I didn't even notice it at first, thought I could live with it, then couldn't stop seeing it at every moment. It was minor, but that's just the way I'm wired (glossy black is a harsh mistress for me, apparently). NHT sent me a new speaker, right away, no problem. Great customer service. When I swapped in the new speaker the harshness returned for a while on that side only (confirmation-bias-placebo-wacka-wacka-I-know-I-know). Now, in my defense, my wife noticed it too, despite not knowing which speaker had been replaced. So, maybe it was real.

As far as the pricing is concerned, I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't know anybody who pays full price for audio gear, or much else for that matter. It's the way of the world these days. I got a great deal on my pair (sale plus coupon code). Look to NHT's dealer network for some wiggle room, or, you know, ask around. Someone might know a guy.

Like the reviewer, years ago I had a thing for KEF monitors. Loved my 101s and enjoyed them for a long time. I'm not foolish enough to think the Threes sound anything like them, but with well recorded and mastered material they deliver similar pleasures. Makes me wish I'd had an EX in 1983, though.


***ETA: This worked for my Threes in Feb 2012. Check the angle for your rail screws before proceeding.
TheoN posts on June 02, 2014 18:33
Adam, post: 1034970
Hi, Theo. Thanks for the review. Are you able to compare these to any of their older offerings, such as the 1.5 bookshelves or 2.5/2.9 towers? I passed on these a couple of years ago (back when they were $700/pair, maybe even $600/pair on sale) because I wasn't sure if they'd be much better than the system of 1.5s that I have. Thanks.

This was my first experience with NHT speakers and I was pleasantly surprised as you saw. You must be really enjoying your 1.5s!

Unfortunately, I didn't get any different model NHT's for review to be able to do a direct comparison. My recent experience over the past 7 years or so has been with “higher-end” bookshelf and tower speakers.
TheoN posts on June 02, 2014 18:24
alphaiii, post: 1035007
Very good sounding (and measuring) speakers… and very will built. It's hard for me to say they're a great deal for $900 when they have sold for $600 before… but still nice speakers.

That said, I personally don't like the look much… I've grown very tired of gloss black in general though.

Finding these on sale unquestionably raises the value proposition even more! Likewise, the gloss black is a personal taste, but they really are small for the sound they put out. Compared to the mid-range B&W and Revel bookshelf lines, these are small by comparison. The one thing about black is that it also has the tendency to make the speaker look smaller. I know some people are looking for a particular wood veneer, but at this price point—with few exceptions—I don't tend to find something that's of high quality. Instead, the veneer tends to make the product look cheap.
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