HSU VT-12 Speakers Review

Highs

  • Innovative midrange handling
  • powerful and clean sound
  • great customer support

Rating

Our Score 9
User Score 3

Lows

  • Must follow exact placement rules for best performance
  • extra wiring required for center channel
While they can not compete with true full range speakers, the money you save will help buy a ton of DVDs for your collection.

Summary

The HSU VT-12 is an excellent solution for those that are looking for a compact set of speakers. In our opinion, it beats out any speaker set of similar dimensions and price. The extra consideration of such exacting placement is worth it for the performance delivered.

Initially the use of the term ‘ventriloquist’ made us think this was just another gimmick that would be disappointing. As it turns out, that assessment was thankfully not true and the name fits the product well.

The design and look of these speakers is top notch. While they can not compete with true full range speakers, the money you save will help buy a ton of DVDs for your collection.

HSU Research provides speakers that are small in size but huge in sound. Even when you consider the subwoofer is extra, the cost is well within a realistic price range, especially considering the professional sound that is created. For people with small to medium size rooms this is a must have set.

Introduction

In order to be fair I have to say this up front; I tend to dislike satellite speakers. These little speakers do not match the performance or frequency range of a full speaker containing a tweeter, mid range and woofer.

Well, at least that was my attitude when I opened the box of Hsu Research’s Ventriloquist VT-12 speaker set and the matching SFT-1 subwoofer. Now, after listening to them I seriously have to reconsider my long held opinion. These speakers, when properly set up and calibrated, provided a rich, full response over the entire audible spectrum.

Add to this a price under $500 and you have a winning combination. I have not seen performance and affordability combined in such a small size. For a little icing on the cake this speaker system comes out of the box ready for 6.1 matrixed audio.


The HSU Research Ventriloquist VT-12 and SFT-1 subwoofer.

Theory

A reviewer usually does not have to go into the theory behind a speaker system, however, this is no usual set of speakers. In our experience, the typical satellite speaker does not do a good job of reproducing the entire spectrum of audio frequencies. Most disconcerting is the failure to address the important range between 80 – 250 Hz. This range of the spectrum is so important since it is the middle of normal human hearing. Smaller speakers usually are very poor in this range resulting in a tinny sound.

This black hole of sound is addressed in a novel manner by Hsu Research. Instead of connecting the front and rear speakers directly, they are channeled through the center speaker. This center speaker contains a pair of 4″ by 6″ woofers that can handle the frequencies ignored by the satellite sets. This arrangement also takes much of the low-end burden from the subwoofer, which is commonly overused with satellite set ups. The VT-12 makes considerable progress in filling this sonic hole and provides a full, rich sound.

Installation: Wiring

Since the front setup is different than most, the VT-12 requires a two extra sets of cables. However, it is not so overly complicated as to be a problem even for the most novice of home theater enthusiasts. Instead of connecting the front speakers directly to the receiver you run the wires first to the center speaker. From there wires go out to the fronts. To make this task as painless as possible all speakers in the VT-12 set have five way, gold-plated binding posts.

The actual step of connecting the wires was straightforward, once you get used to the extra wires that are required. Not only are the included instructions more specific than you usually find with speakers, but there is excellent online support to help with any problems you may encounter.

Many people are already familiar with this type of wiring from their sub woofer where the front speakers come off the sub instead of through a direct connection. The difference here is the woofers of the VT-12 center speaker are better suited for the 80 to 250 Hz range than a normal subwoofer.


The rear of the center channel hooks up to the front satellites.

There is a growing interest in the new Dolby EX ad DTS ES seven-channel audio formats. Included with the VT-12 is an additional satellite speaker for use as a rear center channel. If you have invested in a true seven channel receiver or amplifier then you can just connect the rear center speaker to the appropriate terminal. If you are still in the realm of six channel audio then the VT-12 simplifies adding the seventh speaker.
Basically, you connect the rear center speaker between the terminals for the normal rear speaker. You can only get matrixed sound from the rear center but most currently produced EX and ES audio tracks contain the matrix information.

While the VT-12 does not come with a subwoofer, Hsu Research offers a wide variety as a separate purchase. They included their STF-1 subwoofer for the purpose of this review. The set up of the subwoofer is pretty much the same as with any such speaker.

Installation: Placement

What really separates the installation of the VT-12 from other surround speaker sets is that the placement of the speakers is much more critical to the quality of sound than other sets we’ve tested. This is where the online support offered by Hsu Research comes in handy.

Knowing that their consumers may have some problems getting the speakers positioned just right, they have a very extensive form on their Website to provide assistance. Once you enter the dimensions of your room, the make and model numbers of your equipment, the locations of the doorways, some listening preferences and the audio sources you have, they will get back to you in a matter of days with a detailed list of instructions.

We noticed while testing these speakers that even small variations in placement of the speakers will drastically alter the audio characteristics. It did help to make sure that if the center speaker was on top of the television, that it was angled slightly down. This seemed to help with creating the simulation of the lower frequencies coming from the small front and rear speakers.

Testing the Speakers

The VT-12s came with two discs to help in calibration and testing. The first is a DVD-R created by the company that includes scenes from some well known Dolby EX films including Finding Nemo, Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings and Harry Potter.

Also included is a music disc with some incredible orchestral pieces on it. Once we set the speakers up according to the suggestions received from the form on the Website, the performance was far better than we had expected. The tone was rich and full; closing your eyes, you may think that the speakers are far larger than they actually are. The front speakers provided the usual separation of channels, as did the rears. The STF-1 subwoofer boomed into the room shaking the floor. HSU Research picked the right tracks for testing because the speakers performed extremely well with the test disc provided.

When we set up the speakers using our standard calibration discs, Video Essentials and Ultimate DVD Platinum, we lost some of the mid range and lower end performance that we expected. Using the company’s online assistance, we received a detailed list of positioning instructions for the placement of the speakers. When we followed those instructions the effect was very noticeable.

HSU recognizes that the placement of their speakers is more critical than with the typical speaker systems. They provide an online form where you provide detailed information about your room, the listening environment and your listening preferences. They then customize instructions for the best possible sound from their speakers. Even slight alterations in what they told us resulted in some loss of the effect, that is mid range and low end sounds that appear to come from the front and rear speakers.

It appears that a normal calibration cannot take into account the novel approach of having the lower frequencies coming exclusively from the center channel. The VT-12 is very sensitive to even slight changes in the position. This may provide some problems in the initial set up and does somewhat restrict just where in your room you can place the speakers. Thankfully the support staff at HSU is more than willing to help out.

Testing (continued)

Next we decided to test the system against our usual list of films. We concentrated on films with noteworthy use of low frequencies in the four main speakers. One criterion we like is to use films that feature a nice thunderstorm. When we listened to a venerable classic, Twister, we noticed that the rolling thunder effect was lost. With normal speakers capable of reproducing the low range, the thunder appeared to move around the room. With the VT-12 system it seemed to remain located in the center of the room. We also noticed this with Terminator 2 during the scene when the Terminator first appears. On a standard system, the lightening crackles all around you, here it seemed more centered. Considering the cost and size of the speakers, most consumers may consider this a realistic tradeoff – we thought it was.

One very notable aspect of this system is the center speaker. The dialogue was noticeably cleaner than that of most center channels we have tested. Each word was understandable and stood out from the background music and effects. Too many systems provide only the bare minimum for the center channel speaker; only the mid range. With the VT-12s, you get one that faithfully reproduces the full spectrum of sound. The center carries the low end as well gives more depth to the dialogue. This had the effect of letting the dialogue stand out from the background.

Finally there is the addition of the rear center channel speaker. This little speaker did an excellent job of filling in the center rear of the audio field. It is important to remember that this is not a true, discrete channel but rather it is matrixed, derived from audio information contained in the two rear channels.

Practically, this is not that important at this point in time. EX and ES titles represent only a fraction of the DVDs presently released. Naturally, these discs did better at producing a realistic rear center sound. The VT-12 was capable of using the information on EX and ES discs to create a very convincing audio environment. Even with standard six channel DVDs the effect produced was notable. Logistically there are some problems with getting this seventh speaker properly placed in the room. If you have your couch up against a wall the rear speaker will wind up positioned almost directly over your head.

Conclusions

The HSU VT-12 is an excellent solution for those that are looking for a compact set of speakers. In our opinion, it beats out any speaker set of similar dimensions and price. The extra consideration of such exacting placement is worth it for the performance delivered.

Initially the use of the term ‘ventriloquist’ made us think this was just another gimmick that would be disappointing. As it turns out, that assessment was thankfully not true and the name fits the product well.

The design and look of these speakers is top notch. While they can not compete with true full range speakers, the money you save will help buy a ton of DVDs for your collection.

HSU Research provides speakers that are small in size but huge in sound. Even when you consider the subwoofer is extra, the cost is well within a realistic price range, especially considering the professional sound that is created. For people with small to medium size rooms this is a must have set.

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