NHT offers matching center and rear speakers to pair with the NHT C4 towers and CS-12 powered subwoofer. The small footprint of the towers and the compact size of the subwoofer allows for easy placement in the listening environment. The speaker system utilizes the acoustic suspension design to ensure accurate and low distortion sound.
The NHT C4 tower speakers and matching CS-12 subwoofers are a modern example of the acoustic suspension design speaker. They feature an aluminum dome tweeter and cone material drivers (C4) and a 12” woofer in an acoustic suspension enclosure powered by a 700-watt class D amplifier. The sonic results are a system that recreates the tonality and balance of live music with great clarity of sound.
NHT C-4 Loudspeaker and CS-12 Subwoofer
- Acoustic Suspension Design
- 4 Way Speaker Design (C4)
- Aluminum Metal Speaker Drivers (C4)
- Small Footprint
- 700-Watt Sub Amp (CS-12)
- 12” Woofer (CS-12)
NHT, which stands for Now Hear This, is based in Benicia, California. The firm was founded in 1986 by Chris Byrne and Ken Kantor. The company’s goal was and continues to be to provide the best sound possible by using innovative design and high-quality components and doing it at a reasonable price. I recall seeing the large NHT 3.3 speakers at the CES back in the early 1990s. I may even have met designer Ken Kantor then, but I do remember the big sound and deep, clean bass from the distinctive-looking speakers.
Today, I am reviewing the latest NHT tower speaker, the C4, and the matching CS-12 subs. Taking a leap of faith, I asked NHT if I could have 2 subs for review. My reason for this was that I know the benefits of having stereo subs in a system.
4-way acoustic suspension design
(2) 6.5” aluminum cone
6.5” aluminum cone
2” aluminum dome
1” aluminum dome
45Hz-20kHz (in room)
84 ([email protected])
8 ohms nominal, 5 ohms min.
Nickel plated, 5-way binding posts
41” x 7.5” x 11.75” (H x W x D)
14” x 5” (W x D)
High Gloss Black
CS-12 Powered Woofer
12” paper cone long throw
L and R line-level on RCA, Balanced XLR
-3dB @ 20Hz
700W 4 ohms, 1% THD
Adjustable Low Pass:
40-140Hz, LFE (bypasses LP circuit)
0-180 degrees 2 position switch
15.75” x 15.75” x 15.75”
Piano Black High-Gloss Paint
Power Cord, (4) Rubber Spikes, Setup Guide
Loudspeaker Review 2020, Subwoofer Review 2020, nht, c4, c12, loudspeakers, subwoofer, stereo bass
The NHT C4 Tower and the CS-12 powered woofer both use the acoustic suspension design which was invented and brought to market by Edgar Villchur in 1954. Edgar Villchur was an audio electronics teacher, researcher, and writer who founded the Acoustic Research company in 1952 with his student Henry Kloss. For those younger readers let me give you a brief background of this design. Before the advent (no pun intended) of the acoustic suspension design, speaker designers utilized bass reflex, infinite-baffle, and horn loading for recreating the bass from recordings. Some successful early speakers were designed by firms like Klipsch, Altec, Electro-Voice, and Bozak to name a few. Edgar Villchur’s acoustic suspension speaker revolutionized and completely changed the audio landscape. Speakers that needed to be physically large in order to reproduce bass below 60 Hz could now be much smaller (up to 1/8th the size). More people could now afford to fit a quality speaker in their homes. The design also came at a key time when another invention, stereo, was being introduced. The smaller size of the speaker made sense for having 2 speakers in the home instead of 1 large speaker. Some have argued that the acoustic suspension speaker helped pave the way for stereo to become the accepted format for recordings. The low distortion of the bass in the original AR-1 speaker made it the speaker of choice for discerning music lovers. Building on the success of the AR-1, Acoustic Research developed the AR-3, a speaker considered the best available at any price during the 1960s.
Why the acoustic suspension speaker works so well was in Edgar Vilchur’s clever use of air in a sealed enclosure or box. The sealed air acts like a compression spring that controls the excursion of the driver. This allows a smaller speaker in a smaller box to reproduce frequencies with lower distortion and greater linearity than would be possible with any other design. The trade-off being that acoustic suspension speakers have less sensitivity than other designs and require more power for the same loudness level. Back in the early 1960s 15 watts a channel was a lot of power, but today 70 to 100 watts a channel is common. I had no trouble getting acceptable levels from the NHT C4/ CS-12 subwoofer combo with the Marantz NR1200 receiver which is rated at 70 watts a channel.
Today, the engineering team at NHT has at their disposal decades of research, along with computers, programs, and analyzers that weren’t available in the 1950s. (Imagine the AR engineers using paper, pencil, and little else!) The drivers on the C4 feature aluminum cones and domes, a material known for its stiffness and light weight. NHT chose to use a four-way design on the C4 to maximize the potential of the drivers. The bass is handled by two 6.5” aluminum drivers, the lower midrange is covered by another 6.5” aluminum driver, the midrange is reproduced by a 2” aluminum dome, and the high frequencies are taken over by a 1” aluminum dome tweeter. To get proper acoustic blending from the drivers, extensive design and quality parts are used in the C4. The cabinet is made to be inert and care is taken in the shaping of the baffle. The shape and size of the front of the speaker are used to minimize unwanted reflections.
Great care is given to all elements that comprise the NHT speakers. All drivers used in the C4 and CS-12 are specially made, and not off the shelf models. The cabinets of the NHT speakers are made using special, imported CNC machines that make exceedingly exact cuts to ensure proper size and sealing of the cabinets. The cabinets are painted with 7 layers of hand-painted gloss black paint and finished with 2 layers of clear coat.
The CS-12 woofer has advanced design as well. The woofer is made of a paper composite, while the sealed cabinet features 18mm thick MDF. To power the woofer driver, an advanced Class D amplifier capable of 700-watt output is used. The low pass filter is adjustable from 40Hz to 140Hz. A position on the control that can be set for LFE bypasses the Low Pass circuit so the user may use the crossover settings in an A/V receiver, pre-amp, or processor for audio/video use. A 0-180 degree phase switch is provided to help blend the woofer to the room and speakers. The connections are via RCA line-level left and right inputs, and a single balanced XLR input. The woofer comes with 4 high-quality rubber spikes to support the woofer.
For the review, I requested a pair of CS-12 woofers. Although many users will do with one woofer, there are advantages to using 2 woofers in an audio or video set up. Besides the ability to have true stereo subwoofers, the effect of having 2 subwoofers in the system helps in blending the bass and smoothing out any dips or peaks in the bass response. When using one woofer, the bass may sound best in one location, but weak in other locations in the room. Two woofers will give a smoother response.
I had NHT send me the review speakers to my store, Kay’s Beauty Supply Shop, as I knew that I would be around to accept the delivery. During these pandemic times, I have noticed an increase in among other things: theft of boxes left on our doorstep! I made sure I was going to get the speakers, and I also got permission from my partner, (in life as well as in business) Jet to set them up in our back office/storeroom. We were going to set this area up as a salon, but COVID-19 and other things prevented us from moving forward. Needless to say, I began to set this area up as my store man-cave instead. The room is approximately 21’X19’ with a 10’ ceiling. The floor is wood colored vinyl flooring and the walls are commercial drywall. I chose to place the speaker system against the outside wall (the wall that separates the outside, not an inside wall).
When the cartons arrived, I notified my fellow RCAS (River City Audio Society) buddy Matt to come over to help unbox them. I would recommend that a buyer have someone help as these speakers are heavy, especially the woofers. Matt and I were impressed with the physical appearance of the speakers when they were unboxed. In their black gloss, the C4 Towers and CS-12 woofers were beautiful to behold and made a statement in the room.
I set the NHT C4 towers approximately 6 feet apart and 28” away from the rear wall. The woofers we placed on either side of the towers and 8” away from the rear wall. I thought that this set up would be close to the kind of set up for most users in a video/surround set up and would serve well in a traditional 2-channel system.
Once the speakers were set into position, we connected the NHT C4/CS-12 to the excellent Marantz NR1200 receiver that I recently reviewed. I also had on hand the Rotel RC-1590 preamp and the Rotel RB-1552 MKII amplifier. The Marantz NR1200 like the Rotel RC-1590 has left and right pre-out and a sub out which would make the connection ideal. I was also curious to see how the modestly priced Marantz NR1200 would work with the NHT C4 and CS-12 woofers.
Right out of the box, the NHT combo sounded good and impressed both me and my buddy Matt. As we listened he helped me adjust the woofer level, which he set at 2 o’clock, the phase at 180, and the crossover at 60HZ. I continued to adjust the levels and the positioning of the speakers as I grew more familiar with the speakers and as the speakers continued to break in.
This is an important note to all interested in this speaker system: the C4 and CS-12 woofers will slowly break in over time as they are played. This is nothing out of the ordinary for high-end equipment. The speakers sounded very good out of the box, but things like smoothness, clarity, tonality, and overall involvement in the musical performance became more evident with time. I played the speakers continuously for a month, day and night, to get them where I felt that they were reaching their potential sound. Then the C4/CS-12 continued to subtly improve in sound over another period of a month.
One reason I chose to use the Marantz NR1200 for the review is because it has a good FM tuner that I could leave on all the time. I would listen critically at the end of the day and I could hear the speaker slowly improve day by day, week by week. Eventually, I just let the CD player go all day while at work and left the door open so I could listen. I love my job!
Matt and I listened to a few tracks to make sure everything was playing correctly. He thought they sounded promising. Fortunately, my other friend, John who is a co-founder of the River City Audio Society here in San Antonio was able to stop by after a couple of weeks. John mentioned that over the years he had owned 3 different pairs of NHT speakers. He loved the bass and midrange, but his ears are sensitive to bright or hard high frequencies. So, after a while, he would move on from each of the NHT speakers because he would be bothered by the highs. John and I listened for a couple of hours and he liked the sound but felt there was still a hint of hardness in the highs. I took note and hoped he would come back again after a few more weeks to see if things had changed for the better.
Eric Clapton, “Slowhand”
A few weeks after I had received the NHT C4/CS-12 system I had the opportunity to show them to another one of my audio buddies, Luther. The RCAS (River City Audio Society) had a monthly meeting (with proper social distancing and PPE for all, of course) and I took the initiative to invite the members to my store afterward to see the NHT C4/CS-12 system. Luther decided to take my offer and to pick up some dipping powder for his wife, Rose.
Luther is one amazing audiophile and a wonderful human being. I remember the first time I visited him. I marveled at his custom main system speakers that he lovingly built. His speakers are a large 3-way horn system featuring Altec mid-range horns, and JBL horn tweeters and JBL 15” woofers. His home theater system features Klipsch Jubilees as mains, and he also had Martin Logan electrostatics in another system, as well as custom re-built (by Luther himself) JBL horn speakers in his repair lab, an enclosed patio area. His current favorites are a pair of Quad ESL 988 speakers. Luther loves to tinker and he has over the years repaired and built tube and solid-state electronics, turntables, and speakers. He also loves music, and Luther has introduced me to many albums and artists over the years.
I was a little busy with the store when Luther arrived, so with a nod from him, I put on Eric Clapton’s Slowhand (Polydor 823 276-2). After handing Luther the remotes I stepped out of the room for a few minutes. When I returned, I offered to change the music, but Luther said no. He listened to the entire album from start to finish. When it was done I asked him what he thought of the NHT C4/CS-12 combo. “Musical, they are so musical,” said Luther. Continuing, Luther added, “and the bass, you don’t realize how low it goes until suddenly there is a note that is hit and there it is.” I had to agree with him, and I kept his comments in my mind as I continued to listen to the speakers over the next few weeks.
After a few weeks, I called my friend Matt over again to listen to the NHT speakers. Matt is one of the founding members of the RCAS ( River City Audio Society) and among other duties, he is responsible for the set-up of the sound systems at the RCAS meetings. Matt, like myself, is a life long audio enthusiast. His system currently includes a pair of the Spendor D7.2 towers, a pair of SVS PB 2000 subs, Audible Illusions Modulus 3B pre-amp, and Carver Crimson 350 tube monoblock amplifiers. Matt is a big fan of stereo subs and the benefits they offer, and although he owns wonderful equipment, it is his set-up which includes extensive upgrading of his house electrical system that is essential to the breathtaking sound I hear at his home. Matt was favorably impressed with the NHT C4 and CS-12 subs during the initial set-up. So I was curious to see his impressions of the speakers after more than 4 weeks of break-in. When we made the audition appointment, Matt said he would bring along some favorite music to challenge the system, especially the bass.
For this session, I used the Rotel RC1590 reference pre-amp and Rotel RB-1552 MkII amplifier. The CD player was the Sony C222ES changer connected via Optical and Co-ax to the Rotel pre-amp. Matt asked to hear the CD of Outkast’s Stankonia (Arista) first. I handed him the remotes and he cued up the music. I am not familiar with this music, but the bass was unflappable, and the voices were solidly placed in the middle. The NHT C4 and CS-12 combo created a huge soundstage that extended well beyond the sides of the speakers. The depth and height of the sonic image were very good. Dynamics were terrific, too.
When we finished 20 minutes of listening, Matt stopped the disc and turned to me and said, “I heard things I have never heard before, wow, just wow!” I also noted how effortless the speakers sounded through the Rotel electronics, even at a high level.
Frank Zappa, “Civilization”
The next disc Matt put on was the Frank Zappa CD of Civilization Phaze III (Barking Pumpkin). I had heard this disc on Matt’s system before. Matt and I are big Frank Zappa fans, so I was glad he chose to bring this disc. The music is mostly electronic and has some hair-raising dynamics. Listening to the disc I once again noted the huge sonic presence the NHT C4 and CS-12 combo created. The sound was wall to wall and floor to ceiling. The music on the disc explodes at times and is highly rhythmic.
Zappa plays furiously, and at times the notes fly by at lightning speed. Throughout the disc, the NHT C4 towers and CS-12 subs remained clean, clear, and relaxed as they showed the musical artistry of the Frank Zappa composition.
Keith Jarret, “The Koln Concert”
A week later I tried one of my old favorite recordings, Keith Jarret The Koln Concert (ECM 1064/65). This is a record that I have long enjoyed, buying the LP back in the mid-1970s. I also decided to reconnect the Marantz NR1200 to the NHT C4/CS-12 system. The combo sounded superb. The piano was rendered with immediacy and gorgeous tonality. What impressed me the most was the timing that the NHT C4/CS-12 exhibited.
I could hear and feel the attack and the decay of the notes furiously played by Jarret. The piano was so alive sounding that it was as if there was a mystical piano beast that Jarret had climbed on and was riding and gliding through the air, totally at his command. Stopping, then turning and running as Jarret willed the beautiful melodies out of the air. As the strings were hit by the hammer, they were like explosions and then the notes just floated and hung in the air. I was transported to another time and place. Overall, the best I have heard this recording. Then, I realized I had neglected to connect the subs! The C4 towers by themselves were impressive in reproducing this recording.
After connecting the subs to the Marantz NR1200 Receiver I sat back down and cued up the CD. Now the soundstage expanded. It was like I was closer to the performer and piano, or perhaps the size of the sonic image of the piano was larger. Of course, the weight in the low frequencies added another dimension to the sound, so the piano sounded more life-sized, yet the articulation in the notes being reproduced remained. Adding the subs back into the system added an emotional involvement that made the experience much more exciting and satisfying. The overall presentation of the piano and music was incredibly realistic. So much so that I had one customer comment as the system played the CD in the room with the door open exclaim, “It sounds like there is a piano playing in that room”.
Bach Brandenburg, “Concertos/Boston Baroque”
I next tried some favorite classical music, Bach Brandenburg Concertos with the Boston Baroque (Telarc CD-80368) and switched to the Rotel amp and pre-amp. When the Rotel amp and pre-amp were connected to the NHT C4/CS-12 combo, the sound took an immediate improvement. There was a greater sense of ease and a more solid sound. It was like the musicians were more present, and the notes they played were rounder.
The violins took on a more feathery tone. On track 2, the NHT C4/CS-12 combo showed how accurate they are. The attack and then the decay of each note is beautifully rendered. I can hear the hall reverb and the staging of the performers well, but the tone is gorgeous through the NHT combo, and that is what stands out as I listen. The C4/CS-12 combo became more musical, and the emotional involvement deeper. The NHT speakers unraveled the different musical lines and presented an organic musical experience that is deeply satisfying.
Itzhak Perlman, Oscar Peterson, “Side by Side”
After more than 2 ½ months I think the speakers are still breaking in and sounding better. The disc Side by Side (Telarc CD-83341) featuring Itzhak Perlman (violin) and Oscar Petersen Piano), with stellar backup provided by Herb Ellis (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Grady Tate (drums) is a delightful musical treat. The joy and the passion of the performers were well showcased by the NHT C4/CS-12 combination. Itzhak Perlman’s violin sounded luscious in tone. The piano and the bass and drums had lifelike presence and dynamics.
The sound was so addicting that it just made me want to sit and listen to the next track, and then the next track. I wound up listening to the entire album before I knew it. This clarity and finesse of the reproduced instruments are what I have come to expect from top tier speakers. With the NHT C4/Cs-12 combo, I heard many similarities to much more expensive speakers.
The NHT C4 towers and matching CS-12 powered subwoofers create an immersive and powerful listening experience.
- Smooth Sound Character
- Clarity of Sound
- Finish of Cabinet
- Excellent Low Bass
- Accurate Rendering of Tone
I was pleasantly surprised by the NHT C4 towers and CS-12 subs at the start of the review. As time passed I was impressed by the tight bass, smooth mid-range, and overall clarity of the reproduced sound by these speakers. Earlier in my review, I mentioned that my friend John from the RCAS had stopped by and listened to the NHT C4-CS12 combo. At that time he mentioned a slight hardness in the highs as his only negative criticism. Well, he came back after 2 months and listened again. This time as he and another RCAS member, Wayne, listened and I asked him about the earlier criticism. “The speakers have gone from BRIGHT to RIGHT!” declared John. “They are lullaby speakers now”, continued John. I knew John meant that the NHT C4/CS-12 combo was so smooth and delicate that they will caress your ears into a relaxing listening experience. I have to agree with his assessment. The NHT C4/CS-12 combo is not only fun to listen to, but really enjoyable, too.
At under $3800.00 for the CS-12 stereo subs and C4 Towers, the NHT system is not inexpensive, but they are a great speaker system for the price. There are many speakers from different manufacturers in this price range, but the NHT C4 and CS-12 subs are more than competitive. So much so, that if you visit your friend’s homes and listen to their Wilson’s and B&W’s, and afterward you go home and listen to the NHT combo, you may say, “These NHT C4’s and CS-12’s are just fine!”