NHT C3 Bookshelf and CS12 Subwoofer Review

Introduction

NHT, short for Now Hear This Audio, LLC. has a special place in my audio journey. Going back to my previous works, I have experienced and reviewed a few of their older products and I have been a fan of them all. This includes the original Superzero, the SB1 and even their Evolution T6 tower speakers, which are a part of a very special system in my family. I grew up with one, and in my early journey I’ve used the SB1 as reference.

It was a very exciting day when I was contacted by NHT, asking if I wanted to look at their new products. I didn’t hesitate to contact them back, despite being knee deep in my coursework at the time. Nevertheless, you can probably imagine how excited I was to receive a review sample from them. That shall not phase me however, as I personally want to evaluate NHT’s current lineup against my knowledge of the current market. As a further reassurance, as much as I have this “bias” with NHT, I also only want the best for them, and as such expect my usual, as unbiased as possible evaluation treatment.

Disclaimer

As with my previous reviews, all expressions, thoughts, evaluation, in this review are solely from me, and NHT has only played a part in graciously providing me an opportunity to review their products. They have not influenced my evaluation in any way and have only seen to fact-check my work. I once again thank NHT for this opportunity and for sending me a review sample for me to check out their current products.

Specification

NHT C3

System type
Bookshelf speaker

Configuration
3-way acoustic suspension design

Woofer
6.5” aluminum cone

Midrange
2“ aluminum dome

Tweeter
1” aluminum dome

Frequency Response
55Hz-20kHz

Sensitivity
87dB (2.83v@1m)

Impedance
6 ohms nominal, 4 ohms min.

Recommended Power
50 – 150 w/ch

Inputs
Nickel plated 5-way binding posts

Dimensions
13.75″ x 7.5″ x 10.125″ (H x W x D)

Weight
16 lbs.

Finish
High Gloss Black

MSRP
$624.99 (currently $499)

NHT CS12 Subwoofer

Woofer
12″ paper cone long throw

Magnetically shielded

No

Inputs
L and R line level on RCA, Balanced XLR

Frequency Response
-3dB @ 20Hz

Amplifier Power
700W 4 ohms, 1% THD

Amplifier Type
Class D

Adjustable Low Pass
40-140Hz, LFE (bypass low pass)

Phase
0-180 degrees 2 position switched

Cabinet Size
15.75″ x 15.75″ x 15.75″

Cabinet Material
18mm MDF

Product Weight
55 lbs

Finish
Piano Black High-Gloss Paint

Included Accessories
Power Cord, (4) Rubber Spikes, Setup Guide

MSRP
$999.99 (currently $899)

(taken from NHT’s official website)

Setup

Since the last review, a few large additions to my desk are present. I double checked just in case, but there was no audible difference with the addition of the monitor riser, the cabinet, and the PC, so essentially my set-up audio-wise remains largely unchanged. The only thing changed is the use of the PC as the main playback at my desk. For much more details, you can visit my set-up page.

List of main related components for this review:

  • CyberPowerPC desktop modified PC
  • Music Hall DAC15.2 DAC
  • Parasound NewClassic 200 Integrated Amplifier
  • Emerald Physics 100.2SE Amplifier
  • Sprout100 Integrated Amplifier
  • Unmarked Speaker Stand

The NHT C3 bookshelf speakers for this review mainly replace my Onix Rocket RS250 on the stands flanking the left and right of my desk, and the CS12 takes the place of my Velodyne DLS-4000 subwoofer. I also slotted the C3 and CS12 into several other systems to see their capabilities, which will be explained further below.

I also did allow for a grace period of about a week (with 4-5 hours per day) of casual playing before any critical listening and valuation to allow for a “burn-in” period.

Build Quality and Impressions

Arriving in 2 separate boxes for the C3 pair and the CS12, the NHT C3 set was further enclosed in their own box, making for 3 boxes total just for the C3. The CS12 arrived in a double box of its own as well, all well packaged, free from physical flaws. Maybe a few small dents in the cardboard but the double boxing is a very well executed redundancy.

Personally, I really like how the C3 looks with its glossy piano black finish. This elegant finish is a reminiscent of the glossy finish of their older models. As much as it is a fingerprint magnet, it is also a very elegant and classy finish, which is made even more elegant with the geometry of the speaker cabinet. Although the rear of the speaker is standard rectangular shape, the front has a sloping chamfer on the top sides, which looks nice and certainly gives a different feel and look compared to the conventional box speaker shape. This also makes the included speaker grille not a conventional rectangle, but one that follows the face profile, making it different from the typical rectangular grille seen on many speakers. The grilles still use a traditional pin and cup method of attachment with plastic pins, which is fine. It is well hidden when taken off as the black glossy screws that attach the different driver combination on the C3 also bring attention to themselves. I also like how it looks without the grille, showing off the three-way design of the speaker. The C3 has an MSRP of $624.99 (currently $499) each.

Although a three-way isn’t very common with bookshelf speakers, it’s not that uncommon either. What’s different about this configuration is the large tweeter-like 2” aluminum domed woofer in between the 1” aluminum domed tweeter and the 6.5” (also) aluminum coned woofer. NHT also offers a little sister to the C3, called the C4, which is a smaller enclosured C3, and is without the 2” aluminum domed woofer. The rear of the C3 sports the cutout for the five-way binding posts, that are very sturdy and their typical grey metal look actually fits the rather industrial look of this speaker. Overall, the cabinet bracing seems decent, although when doing a simple knocking test on the cabinet, it does not seem to be the most braced or dense sounding cabinet I’ve ever heard. But that does not necessarily mean that they are bad in performance. Do look further at the next section for that. As for the CS12 subwoofer, a 12” long throw paper cone woofer is employed, powered by a 700W amplifier. In comparison to my Velodyne DLS4000, the CS12 is more compact, of which also employs a 12” size woofer. This subwoofer is NHT’s biggest and most expensive offering in their lineup, at $999.99 (currently $899). Featuring a rather standard subwoofer control option, a knob for crossover, a knob for volume, 0o or 180o phase switch, and line in RCA connectors. The only non-standard thing about this is the balance in. A rather simple set of controls for a subwoofer at this price. This is more than enough for music listening but could be lacking for home theater applications. Although slightly behind competition at this price, I find the sound makes up for the value on this subwoofer, which you can read about in the next section.

In the packaging for the subwoofer, NHT includes metal feet for the CS12 for use on carpet. Rubber feet will not scratch hard floors, and these metal feet stand the CS12 higher than the rubber feet, to get the CS12 off the carpet, which the rubber feet does not do. You can also adjust the metal feet, as they have jam nuts on them to lock the height in place. I did test the subwoofer with the rubber feet on both hard floor and carpet. As they can damage hard floors, the metal feet were mostly tested on carpet. For the CS12, NHT seemed to go with a conventional look, with a near-cubed enclosure, and a flush grille covering the woofer. This grille was hard to take off, but with enough effort you can, as it uses the traditional pin and cup mounting method. The pins are metal which are not common and a nice touch for longevity, but the grille was flush to the enclosure, making it hard to take off. I have a suspicion that NHT did not want people taking off the grille for the subwoofer. The finish on the subwoofer is the same glossy piano black with decent bracing when doing the knocking test. It’s an improvement to my Velodyne DLS-4000, but not by much. One gripe I have with the finish around the woofer area, which was covered by the grille is actually sub-par with seemingly imperfections and rough spots. Again, you are not able to see this when the grille is on but is a quality I would have liked to see consistent with the rest of the build, for something at this price.

Overall, this NHT 2.1 system is an all glossy piano black affair, totaling at about $2250 (current total is about $1900) retail. In terms of features compared to the competition, the CS12 subwoofer seems to lack a little in this department as there isn’t much in terms of options for subwoofer control. The C3 bookshelves are more competitive in my opinion, with their three-way design, sporting mid-drivers that I’ve rarely experienced in bookshelves. Overall a compelling musical 2.1, and as you will see, I also find the sound quality backs the price.

Sound Impressions

NHT’s sound signature is easily my favorite part of this system. I have tested and helped test a decent number of speakers and systems, but in my opinion, NHT produces sonic traits that I can comfortably go back to. It might be just a matter of preference, but this shows that the NHT sounds somehow fit my taste like an old pair of shoes. Even if your taste is different than mine, I can tell you that these bookshelf speakers can really perform. Transparency, soundstage and imaging are quite clearly better than my current reference bookshelf speakers, the Onix Rocket RS250. Granted, at more than twice the retail price at launch for a pair, which is around $600 for the RS250 and around $1250 (now $1000) for the C3, a performance difference is to be expected. I found it very enjoyable to listen to in my system.

The C3 have been inserted into various systems around the house, and I found the C3 to be an impressive performer for the price. I found the strongest suit of these speakers to be their mid-range. Voices and anything that is around that frequency range are very clear, and this aids in the impression of transparency that I experience while listening to these speakers. I found the mid-ranges to be comparable to the more expensive systems I have access to, possibly due to the use of the 2” aluminum domed mid-driver woofers. Because of this, even while I was attending zoom classes, I found that using the NHT provided me improved comprehension because of the transparency and the strong mid-range, versus the Onix Rocket RS250, my main reference that I found a little less transparent in the first place. But even compared to the NHT SB1, the C3 exhibits a strong step up in terms of overall sound characteristics and quality.  

Despite my main reference, the RS250 being a strong imaging speaker from my testing, the NHT C3 is also a step above in this category, providing much more pin-point locations and easily providing detail in obscure areas, as well as good extension beyond the speakers. These obscure areas are the area between the middle of the two speakers and the speakers themselves. It’s a rather effortless affair for the C3, along with the deep sound-stage when called for in songs. In my large-space testing area, the C3 performed superb, and with the loaned Sprout100 that I had in hand being the main playback device in this location, the C3 performed very well here, providing a very nice detail throughout the room. Using the bass boost implementation of the Sprout100 provided a very impressive near full frequency experience. I didn’t feel the need for a subwoofer with the bass boost and the C3 for the majority of songs, even pop songs, but the much deeper bass is still missing. I found the C3 a very capable pure stereo setup with the Sprout100 with its bass boost.

As for the CS12, I had a more interesting experience with my testing. When it was first hooked up to the main testing system, which was the first location this was inserted to, I had a weird situation. There was just no bass at all where I was sitting, and I had to make sure several times that it was on and running, before realizing that where I was sitting was a dead-zone for the CS12 at the default phase of 0o. I tried 180o, it worked, then did not work, then worked again in the span of the first few days. Letting the subwoofer sort itself out in the allowed week of casual listening, in the end, resulted in 0o providing the best results. I can only attribute this issue to a changing state of the subwoofer at first operation. I also had an interesting experience with NHT’s tuning of the volume with the CS12. I had thought there was an issue with the amplifier of the subwoofer due to relatively low volume levels. An NHT representative had given engineering notes to me that based on previous product experience (their B-series subwoofers), that this was deliberately done to prevent a “hiss” experienced when volume is turned past 3/4. The max output is still the same if turned up from an A/V receiver, but I found this to be enough for my stereo specific setup at 3/4 volume. I am a little bummed that I couldn’t crank it to experience room shaking bass right from the subwoofer as I could with my DLS-4000, but despite that I think the CS12 is a tight, high-performing subwoofer.

Metal coned feed of CS12 with jam nut

Providing a nice extension to the RS250, C3 and several other systems I had access to, I find the claims of NHT that the CS12 provides sound down to 20Hz at -3db to be true, as you can also see in the measurement I took of the CS12 (see graph below) with Room Equalization Wizard (REW) software. For this software, I used a Dayton Audio EMM-6 Electret Measurement Microphone, a PreSonus Audiobox USB 96 audio interface connected to my PC and a mic stand to record the frequency response at my listening position. This provided a nice extension and a very stable low-bass in music that calls for it, such as certain rap songs and certain pop songs I like to listen to. What the graph does not tell, is how the subwoofer sounds like. I think it sounds tight and responsive, in almost every case. For music, this subwoofer is a very good companion to the C3, or any other speaker. Out of curiosity, I tried the CS12 in a humble home theater setup I have for gaming, consisting of a Denon AVR-X3600H in a 5.2 surround sound configuration with all KLH 5.2 surround sound system with a pair of Kendal towers, a Story center channel, 2 Windsor 10 subwoofers and 2 Beacon surround speakers. Most of the time the playback is from the PS4 but it has since been the PS5 after its arrival. I find the CS12 subwoofer to be a better subwoofer than the Windsor 10, providing more bass-extension and decent bass volume when the system is run in a 5.1 fashion. Using another Windsor10 to make this a 5.2 only aids the CS12, providing more ease to the bass performance in games movie playback when called for in this system. I did note when comparing other subwoofer in this price range for home theater specifically, the extension can be a little lacking, but if only using this for is music, the CS12 will go a great job.

NHT C3 with (green) and without (purple) CS12 (1/12 smoothing) [20Hz-20kHz]
NHT CS12 Frequency Response [10-200Hz]

To further elaborate on my findings regarding the measurements taken, since this was the first time I was taking measurements in the room, I had also found out some interesting characteristics about my room. First of all, regardless of device, my room seems to have a weird absorption at 40Hz. Second, I seem to have a room mode at 90Hz. So both measurements must be taken with this in mind. The equipment is as mentioned above.

It also must be noted that apparently the weird room absorption occurs at the listening position, and it does not occur elsewhere, as taking a measurement of the subwoofer directly in front of it around a foot away results in the following response, where the 40Hz absorption does not exist:

From these measurements, I had determined the crossover setting of the CS12 and from the graph proves that the NHT does support my observation that the bass extension does exist, and also proves that at the CS12 does comfortably reach 20Hz around only around -1db, which supports and goes beyond the specifications listed. The NHT C3 does support the listed specification when considering a 70bd signal volume and can go a little lower until 50Hz, which is nice. From here I decided that the crossover frequency for the CS12 should be around 75 to accommodate the roll off but because of the weird room characteristics the effects were not recorded.

Conclusions

Overall, NHT’s 2.1 offering in the C3 and the CS12 is a serious musical contender. The C3 are a serious pair of bookshelf speakers, and aided with the CS12, presents a strong musical 2.1 system that can achieve the full sound spectrum. From testing the C3s image very impressively, have a soundstage I really like. Its strength lies in the mid-range frequencies all while looking good in the high gloss black finish. In fact, I can say the mid-range of the C3s are nothing short of superb. If there were any nit-picks, the C3 can sound a little lacking emotion, but that’s in comparison with a certain Revel Ultima Studio which cost at least 10 times as much at MSRP. The CS12 is a responsive and relatively tight subwoofer that performs to spec and even beyond. I found the features can be a little lacking for home theater use specifically but is a great musical stereo addition. Together they are an impressive package that I think are worth their asking price. Another impressive value offering from NHT.

Ratings (Overall 4/5)

C3

  • Sound Character: 5/5
  • Imaging: 4.5/5
  • Accuracy: 4.5/5
  • Value: 4/5
  • Affordability: 3/5
  • Suitability for use in small living space: 4.5/5

CS12

  • Sound Character: 4/5
  • Features: 3/5
  • Value: 3/5
  • Affordability: 3/5
  • Suitability for use in small living space: 4/5

Additional Gallery

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