The Short Form
XdS satellite 6.5 x 10.25 x 8.5 inches
XdW subwoofer 11.25 x 22.125 x 13 inches
XdA processor/amplifier 17 x 2.875 x 15.75 inches
WEIGHT XdS 13 pounds; XdW 57 pounds; XdA 17.5 pounds
PRICE $6,000 MANUFACTURER NHT, nhtxd.com, 707-748-5945
|•Amazing image clarity and focus.
•No listener fatigue.
•No "sweet spot."
•Small form factor.
|•Slight lack of "air."
•Loss of shimmer on cymbals.
|•Powered subwoofer/satellite system
•DEQX digital signal processing for crossovers and driver optimization
•Outboard PowerPhysics digital amplifier
SETUP NHT has made the Xd almost as plug-and-play as a pair of floor lamps. The brief manual guides owners through mounting the speakers on the stands and connecting the satellites and subwoofer to the XdA. NHT supplies two 20-foot-long speaker cables and a 20-foot subwoofer cable with all required plugs. The only other required connections are from your preamp or receiver's analog preamp outputs to the XdA. After you position the satellites and sub for the best imaging and bass, a couple of pushbuttons on the XdA's front panel let you select the appropriate boundary-compensation mode for each satellite. These equalize the sound slightly depending on whether the speaker is placed out in the room, close to a wall or corner, or on top of a TV or table.
Two notable connectors on the back of the XdA are a microphone input, which will eventually work with DEQX room-correction processing that's still in development, and a USB port for downloading new features or updating the digital crossovers in the box. While I was testing the system, NHT e-mailed me a small file containing a set of updated crossovers. It took all of 15 minutes to install the software NHT provided for my PC and use it to download the upgrade to the XdA.
PERFORMANCE Right from the get-go, the little XdS satellite proved itself a brutally revealing speaker that takes no prisoners when it comes to recording quality. The bittersweet love song "Clarity" on John Mayer's Heavier Things CD begins with a slow, rhythmic introduction paced by a four-note piano bit, a repeating drumstick thwack, some long trumpet notes, and guitar. The Xd spread these instruments before me with alluring precision, but it was quickly apparent how much artificial reverb had been added to Mayer's voice. When the song reached its chorus and the tempo kicked up, I could follow every instrument against the pervasive electric guitar, but felt cheated by the record's compressed dynamics. This type of thing was a regular occurrence with the Xd, especially with a lot of older popular music.
But with good recordings, the system was nothing short of amazing. Boogyin' Swamprock Salsa & Trane is a superb production by A la Carte Brass & Percussion, a 17-piece band with real cajun soul. "Lucy I'm Home" - their romping take on the theme from the I Love Lucy show, starts with a minute and a half of pure percussion: clanking cowbells, stomped kick drums, rapped snares and congas, clicking wood blocks, dinging triangles - you name it. When the trumpets, sax, trombones, and sousaphone finally break in, you're immersed in a riot of sound. The digital amp rose to this occasion as it did on every test track, playing plenty loud and clean in our 12 x 20-foot room. Here again, I could pick out any instrument and follow its line in the chaos. And at the same time that the Xd kept this cacophony from melting into a muddled mess, it faithfully delivered the natural blat of the horns without making them harsh or strident.
This was another suprise with the Xd. Despite long sessions with many potentially irritating tracks, I experienced virtually no listener fatigue. An example was Ricky Lee Jones's cover of "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" from Flying Cowboys. Jones stretches her voice to the limits of its upper register, and her half-nasal falsetto - which can sound edgy on a bad speaker system - had a smooth, silky purity that I just couldn't get enough of.
The subwoofer proved itself a real powerhouse, too, providing well-defined, pervasive string-bass lines and taut, solid impact on the drums. "Cherry Pie," the bad-boy tribute from Jennifer Lopez's Rebirth CD, starts out with synth bass and kick drum that'll wake the dead. The XdW grabbed on tight, went deep, and wouldn't let go. When the music stopped momentarily and J-Lo let out a breathy "Yeah you!" she was as good as in the room with me. (Okay, at least I can fantasize.)
Was the Xd perfect? I only wished. Although it had that near miraculous focus and a fairly wide soundstage, it couldn't deliver all the image depth of the big, panel-style dipole speakers I'm fond of. More bothersome were a slight lack of air around the instruments, which stole some of the ambience of recordings done in natural spaces, and the way the satellites over-tamed the metallic shimmer of well-recorded cymbals. Both of these concerns were alleviated somewhat by the filter update but not completely removed. And the subwoofer's fixed digital crossover made it difficult to get a perfect blend with the satellites. (See "Tech Notes," below.) But here's the thing: none of this prevented me from falling in love with these speakers.
BOTTOM LINE I could go on and on about the NHT Xd system, because that's what I did - disc after disc, song after song, hour after hour, searching for new gems among my recent music purchases and rediscovering all my old favorites in a new way. How ironic that a speaker system designed to sound great from anywhere in the room made me want to sit and listen.
Still, I'm guessing audiophiles will debate this system in the days to come. Some, like me, will latch on to what it does so right; others may focus on its perceived weaknesses. But if there's one thing all will probably agree on, it's that you have to hear the NHT Xd to believe it.
All measurements were taken with the XdS satellite mounted on the supplied stand and with the boundary-compensation control on the XdA processor/amp set to the Away from Walls position. There were two key findings. First was the satellite's limited output below 200 Hz. It measured 2.7 dB down in level at 248 Hz and dropped to 15 dB down by 105 Hz. Coupled with the subwoofer's fixed crossover frequency, measured at 104 Hz (with a steep 40 dB-per-octave slope that effectively cuts off any output above that point), the satellite's lack of low-frequency energy leaves a gap that may complicate system setup in some cases. Otherwise the XdS measured very flat and smooth in the middle to upper frequencies.
Also notable was the satellite's incredibly uniform directivity. Although the system was reviewed for stereo, I also measured for average response across a ±45° listening window, typical of center-channel speakers, and a ±60° window, common for surround speakers. These response curves looked smooth and very much like the primary front left/right response (averaged over ±30°), with only a small dropoff in the extreme highs at the widest listening angles. The XdS satellite can serve in any channel position in a surround sound system.
The XdW subwoofer's bass limits were measured with it placed in the optimal corner of a 7,500-cubic-foot room. In a smaller room users can expect 2 to 3 Hz deeper extension and up to 3 dB higher sound-pressure level (SPL). The sub had smooth response, measuring only ±1.9 dB from 32 to 104 Hz, and useful dynamic capability down to 20 Hz. Although it had very high output at 62 Hz (112 dB SPL), its linear SPL capability fell off at 13 dB per octave below that frequency. Average SPL from 25 to 62 Hz was 103 dB.
- Tom Nousaine