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NHT XdS First Impressions

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Introduction

Life is good as an audioholic writing reviews for Audioholics. And one of the nicest things about being in this fortunate circumstance is Gene never sends junk. Ever. (I’ve asked him on occasion to send some suitable specimens of junk, ripe for public skewering, but he’s never been inclined to do so). So in my brief time as a reviewer for Audioholics I’ve been in a fortunate position to find a stream of quality products being delivered to my front door. A fine case in point, and the topic of this review’s conversation, is the NHT Xd system. If I had to describe the system in one sentence I would say, without reservation, here is a system that actually lives up to all the hype. And looks pretty cool doing it, too

Since its incorporation in December of 1986, NHT has, by anyone’s measure, lead a storied existence:

definitely a company that has seen its share of ups and downs. (For those interested, the 5/91 edition of SpeakerBuilder magazine features Bruce Edgar interviewing Ken Kantor, an NHT co-founder, discussing the challenges of sheparding a startup along with an insiders technical guide to the engineering that had gone into there earlier products, such as the Model 1 & 2).

Through it all, NHT have managed to bring to market consistently innovative products, notably forward thinking in design. The Xd system is just such a product. A hybrid, if you will, of advanced speaker, amplifier and digital processing technology that all adds up to one sweet listening experience, sure to surprise & satisfy demanding audio palates everywhere.

First Impressions

So what exactly do you get for $6000.00 US (MSRP)?

In a nutshell, you get a pair of XdS each sporting a 1” tweeter & 5.25” midrange driver, (with stands & cabling) the XdW (a bass module) packing 2 10” woofers and its own built-in PowerPhysics 500 W Class D power amp & cabling, and the XdA, a Deqx/PowerPhysics processor/power amp with 6 channels of DSP processing, 4 x 150 W amplification channels, 2 line level outs, firmware upgradeable via USB. Though tempting at first glance to think so, its definitely not a satellite/subwoofer system, typical or otherwise.

Graphic1.JPG  Graphic2.JPG  Graphic3.JPG

Figures 1 – 3: Unpacking an XdS. Note the cover for the woofer, used during shipment for protective purposes. Note also the 4-pin banana plug found at the end of the coiled speaker cable, also in Fig. 3 and parked just to the right of the woofer’s protective cover. The big blue sock keeps the Xd’s superb finish in pristine condition.

“Retro moderne” is how an interior designer friend of mine described the appearance of the system.

The burgundy/cream color combination of the supplied review system is a classic and the overall look is reminiscent of the Raymond Loewy school of industrial design. “Entirely new, yet entirely familiar” is another phrase she used to describe the visual impact of the system. The Xd system is a unique looking product, that doesn’t take an advanced degree in the visual arts to appreciate. The folks at NHT must have thought long and hard where it came to crafting the appearance of the system. It has a way of growing on you and though the system has graced my listening room for a considerable length of time, the novelty hasn’t worn off, either. It’s as cool looking today as the day is was first unpacked.

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

Boerd posts on July 24, 2009 17:28
Rock&Roll Ninja, post: 269103
The XD spealer cabling is regular 12G zip. You can use any brand you want with pin connectors, NHT will sell you 100' rolls of the stuff. (Remember you'll need 4 sets of cable!).

I own a Xd 2.2 - the cable is a 2.5 mm = 10 AWG (4 wires each 10G)
Boerd posts on June 09, 2009 04:01
My 2c about NHT Xd

MrClean, post: 269167
I heard the 803s in another room and was very underwhelmed. Without saying a word about my impression, the dealer started making excuses for the sound, blaming it on the preamp/amp, which included either Plinius or McCormack (it's been a while). I heard a pair of 800Ds in virtually the same location as the Xds and walked out of the store with the Xds. Money was not the determining factor, as I was replacing over $20K in gear from Genesis and Pass Labs. The money saved was icing on the cake. The weird thing is, many dealers seem to be going out of their way to hide this product - I got a great deal on the demo as the dealer seemed happy to get them out of the store.

Another great attribute that Romanesq brought up is the ease of setup, and the absence of a sweet spot. These things sound very good with little fuss - of course, they would sound even better in an optimized room, but sometimes that isn't practical. When I moved from Houston to LA, my listening environment changed drastically, and the old stuff did not work at all. Not only does the new system sound way better in the room, I have never encountered speakers that don't force you to sit in that one perfect spot to enjoy them. You can get up and walk around the room, and the image pretty much stays intact.

I must come off sounding like a dealer or something - I assure you, I am not. I'm just a very satisfied customer. NHT has developed a great product. When you look at it closely, you can only marvel at the level of thoughtfulness and detail that went into it. Is it perfect? No, but at this price point, it is extraordinary.

Same here.

My system is/was Vienna Acoustics Baby Beethoven speakers , REL R 505 sub, Primare integrated amp (I21) and the Classic SqueezeBox 3. Cables are made by Cobalt for speakers; audioquest for the RCA link between SB3 and the integrated amp. I bought my system in 2005 (except the SB3 which I bought in 2006).
All my music is lossless stored on a computer (more than 700 CDs that now sit in the garage) and played wireless through SB3; this way there is no mechanical noise from the player (like a CD/SACD player would have). Of course the computer that stores the music is in a different room - all those noisy computer fans I can't stand…
The MSRP cost of the VA/Primare/REL system is 3995$ (VA) + 1995$ (REL) + 1495 (I21) + 130$ (10 AWG Cobalt cables) + 8.25% CA taxes = 8.243$
I am as happy as I can be with my system BUT (here I go) I am always reading reviews and listening to (too) many speakers (including some I couldn't afford) at many dealers.
Long story short, I heard about the NHT XDa an active crossover system with DEQX crossovers and Power Physics amplifier(s) in 2006 but it was just a few months after I bought my system so I wasn't very interested. Plus, at that time “digital” amplifier was a bad word, a profanity in the boutique oriented audiophile world and NHT is not quite an exotique brand - they are down to earth guys.
Here we are today in 2009 with the economy in the toilet and NHT slashes prices - XD* Active 2.2 is down to 2999$.
In the meantime I read quite a bit about class D amplifiers and learned they are (or at least could be) actually pretty good. So I order the NHT XD* Active 2.2 in special dark, factory-direct.
Here I am, I got the Beethovens/Primare/REL + the NHT XD* Active 2.2.
I also had to order a preamp and I chose the Parasound Halo P3 – I heard it many times and I like it. That set me back another 850$ (tax included).
*I was thinking - if a don't like the NHT I will sell them on Audiogon (yes I will loose some money but there is no place that let's me audition them). If I like them better than my current setup (I thought that was unlikely) I might keep both. After all, the VA/Primare/REL combination is as good as I can afford.
Or so I thought. The only speakers I like better than my Beethovens and under 15k$ are the Martin Logan Summit X. Now that is way above budget and my wife wouldn't approve either way (don't you bring those UFOs in our house, OK?). Speakers more expensive than that make no sense to me. A lot of doubtful (pseudo) technology go in such esoteric and expensive speakers - my 2c. Also - do not try justifying me k$ cables - it makes me laugh.
See this
http://www.audioholics.com/education/cables/top-ten-signs-an-audio-cable-vendor-is-selling-you-snake-oil
on one of my preferred websites.

So, how do 8243$ spent at Magnolia HiFi stack up against 4100$ ( 3247$ is 3k$ + taxes then add 850$ for the Halo P3) spent buying factory direct gear from NHT + the Parasound P3 preamp?
Looks and appearance first:

The VA are some gorgeous lookers - the kind of finish you rarely see. If you look at the binding posts in the back then it'll be clear for you - the Austrians from VA mean quality. And that is not only outside, to be seen; read up on their website about their crossovers… Unless you are willing to spend a lot more I'd say the VA Beethovens are as good as it gets for a mortal's audio system.
The Primare amplifier is also a beautiful amplifier, simple, elegant and classy.
The RELL sub is also very nicely finished - a true black piano high gloss - really nice.

The NHT XDs speakers are very nicely finished - on par with the VA. I even consider the dark red chocolate/black piano high gloss finish better than the VA/RELL. The spikes that come with the stand are in a beautiful metallic gun color (and no, I don't like guns) - nicest spikes I've seen in a long time. Now there are two things I am not really thrilled in the looks of the NHT XDs:
*a) the cable that comes standard is not that cool looking
*b) there is a sticker on the back of the speakers with their serial #. Nicer/better finish and look than the VA yet a piece of sticker on their back!

Now the XDa (XD's amplifier) is not very nice looking - plastic front plate. Nowhere close to the Primare look.
The XDw are very nice looking - better looking than the RELL.

I like listening to baroque (I love organ) music and all king of fast, ear blasting punk/heavy metal. This (strange) combination music I like makes me hard to please when it comes to sound reproduction.

Sound comparison:

The VAs sound very relaxed with good imaging and clear mids while the highs sound silky smooth and mellow. They almost sound like they are meant to play Baroque music (even organ - with the REL subs) and Jazz. There is a sense of calm and precision (made in Vienna/Austria, remember?) in the sound of these speakers that gives you years of enjoyment listening to them.
The bass integration with the RELL is pretty good and the RELL never rattles and never booms - a sealed subwoofer, the only type of sub I like.
I could go on and on about their sound qualities but I'd rather skip to the critique part.
The high bass - low mids sounds a bit lifeless even with the RELL - almost missing a bit of energy/speed. At low levels there is plenty of details but when turned on a bit too loud the speakers distort a bit and the sound is not so relaxed anymore and no, it is not the amp; the knob is around 30 out of 75 when this is noticeable (there is some decent reserve in the amp). During my 4 years with this setup I noticed the piano sounds a bit boxy at times, especially in the low mids. As good as they are these speakers will not rock the house - they just don't play that clear at (acceptably) loud volume.

NHT.
On par with the best I ever listened to then some. I have listened to a lot of gear in the 10-15K$ range and even above - Mahler from VA 13k$, Amati from SF 28K$, Summit and Summit X from ML 10 respective 14 k$, the 801/802 from B&W, old/new Tannoys, etc.
NHT is nothing less. If anything the NHT are better.
The XD system can rock very LOUD and can play jazz very relaxed. With the 2.2 and the filter that sets the system to go down to 20Hz you can listen to organ music and it sounds real. You put the filter for high SPL and you can rock the house and still have plenty of bass down to 25Hz.
The best part - these speakers do not distort at (very) loud volume. One day I asked a friend of mine who is a motocross enthusiast: What kind of cars do you like? The answer came without a blink: The kind of car you can drive at 120Mph and makes you think you're driving 60 Mph, well controlled, balanced cars with sharp steering.
That's how I feel about the NHT Xds - they can rock and sound effortless. They can play organ effortlessly and have all the detail. And this comes from somebody who went to many concerts and operas. Many.
The mids are very fast - I dare to say on par with the best electrostats - don't take my word for it, try them out.
The bass is fast, never boomy and never rattles. The highs are crisp, detailed never too harsh but never mellow.
And the speakers, both bass and monitors are sealed.
Again - unbelievable sound, hard to describe. Precise, effortless and fast.
Instruments like piano and the organ never sounded more life like, ever. Large orchestras, rock bands never sounded so crisp.


After listening to the NHT I decided I have to part with the VA Beethovens/Primare/REL (Audiogon anybody?) - they make no makes no sense to me anymore; they were dwarfed by the NHT XD.

Now, in all fairness below are the things I don't like in the NHT XD active setup:
There is a the setting for the XDa that allows you to start the XDa with a music signal. During quiet passages the amp shuts down - annoying. The easy way I fixed that was to use the external trigger input on the XDa: I plugged wires from my preamp's trigger output to the XDa trigger input. It takes 1 minute and a simple wire to do that. Read your preamp manual to locate the 12V trigger output and send that to the trigger input in the XDa. Ok - this was easy.
Another thing is that whenever XDa starts there is a small sound pop in the tweeters.
Sridhar C posts on May 21, 2007 00:08
Similar in nature to Phase Tech dARTS

On paper, these xD's sound very similar to the Phase Tech dARTS (I'm considering a 5.1 dARTS system for my HT but have only read reviews so far):

1. Digital amp and speakers sold in combination.
2. Installer uses a mic/test tones/Audyssey software from 14-32 points in the room for room calibration.
3. Sweet spot eliminated.
4. “Diminutive” in size only compared to typical floorstanders.

But, on paper, the dARTS seem like the NHT's on steroids:

1. 16 channels x 250 wpc of amplification. Sub(s) with separate power source.
2. Completely customizable: in-wall, on-wall, behind wall. Company says performance is the same.
3. Double the price (but it is 5.1). You can also do 5.2/7.1/7.2 for more money.

Anyone have first hand experience with both?
psv posts on May 17, 2007 21:02
Can anyone help by listing a dealer that has these available to demo-preferably in the eastern US(NE) ? Thanks.
tim916 posts on May 15, 2007 21:06
furrycute, post: 268962
How does this setup compared to the more traditional 2 tower speaker setup?

I've always felt that tower speakers can handle much more volume without straining than bookshelf speakers.

From a volume stand point, it's best to picture the Xd system as a pair of towers with a 1“ tweeter, 5” midrange, and a 10" woofer. The mid crosses over at 110hz to the woofer, which is fairly low, but the bass going to it is rolled off at a steep 48db/octave. This means that while they may not play quite as loud as a traditional floorstander with a similar driver complement (think Revel Studio), they will play louder and cleaner than a pair of mini-monitors crossed over to a sub at 80-100hz with a 12 or 24db/octave bass rolloff. Adding a second XdW subwoofer allows the user to upload a filter into the XdA amp/processor that will raise the crossover point between the subs and midrange to 135hz. This allows the system to play a bit louder without straining.

Also keep in mind that when you consider that passive crossovers typically sap 3db of efficiency from a speaker, the 4 150w amps in the Xd system are delivering 600w to each XdS monitor.
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