THX has been a fixture of the home cinema scene for over a decade, initially offering performance- enhancing parameters designed to make the most of fledgling technology (the original Pro Logic-centric specification) and more recently as an ill-defined quality control operation.
And while its post-processing modes have remained popular with hardcore fans and receiver manufacturers alike, THX specified speakers have largely fallen by the wayside, a consequence of buyer apathy and manufacturer resistance against some of its basic sonic dispersion tenants. So when a new(ish) brand comes to market with a genuine THX package, it's quite a story; particularly for the enthusiasts who still buy into the concept of visceral cinema sound with non-localisable and diffuse rear surround effects.
Enter Crystal Audio, a Greek-based company of keen R&D folks and committed speaker designers. The brand has been doing a lot of OEM work for other companies, as well as developing its own brand.
Working with the THX people on other products and getting involved with the Audio Engineering Society by publishing white papers of its own research, this is one speaker company that could easily claim to be aristocracy, for all its relative youth.
What it has done here is as clever as Greek designer Alec Issigonis's original Mini. Of course, any damn fool can design a luxury car if cost is no object. The genius of the first Mini lay in the production of a high performing car with brilliant handling that cost little to make or buy. So it is with this Crystal Audio system.
Although you can buy the big THX-T3 towers as a pair, the rest of the THX-approved speaker system under review here is all packaged up for £1,100. That isn't pocket money, but for what THX guarantees, this represents absolutely superb value for money.
The best part of this system has to be the HF drivers. The tweeters spray their high frequencies in exactly the direction you want them thanks to their ability to swivel. But they can only do this in the horizontal plane, though, rather than the eyeball swivel-housing so common in car componentry.
Still, this means you can point the most image-creating part of the soundfield towards the listeners, while keeping the speakers from needing to toe-in too far. It also keeps the vertical dispersion under control, so that ceiling reflections don't muddy the sonic image.
The T3 towers have three 7in drivers that look like pure Kevlar. They are in fact a blend of Kevlar and fibreglass, making the rigidity nearly as good as pure Kevlar but for somewhat less. Glass is as cheap as chips but is also no slouch as cone material.
The upper woofer chamber is sealed and so the T3s cover a passband that reaches down to 35Hz and extends up to the tweeters' limit of a bat-high 22kHz. The centre uses a single 6.5in driver to go with its ball-swivel HF and ports out the front.
Both Centre and T3 models have two sets of binding posts to the rear for bi- wiring, whereas the dipolar rear speakers have only one speaker connection point.
The dipoles use the same 6.5in driver as the centre - pointing right at you, with the two tweeters designed to play up and down the side walls in equal-and- opposite style creating a null for the listener to sit in.
Crystal Audio's subwoofer is plain. It's got a single 12in driver on the front, two ports on the rear, a gain knob, a 0-180º phase switch and a simple THX-VAR switch so you can choose to use the THX crossover inside, or else rely upon your front-end's bass handling system.
I pulled out an old favourite DVD for my note-taking test and found myself rooting for Flick the ant once more in A Bug's Life.
The Crystal Audio THX-T3 system loved Pixar's CG animated adventure. It has that classic THX skill of offering astonishing intelligibility even at times of seeming sonic mayhem, with a placement of sounds that seems to bear no relation to where the boxes actually are, rather forming a pukka, believable soundstage before and around you.
The scene in 'the City', which is actually a rubbish heap under an old caravan, had sounds I had never heard before... and I've played this sequence to death.
See if you can hear this on your speakers: as Flick arrives at the city, one of the first things he encounters is a huge harvestman. This is one of those creatures that looks like a super- long legged spider with a single bulbous body that steps over his head by what looks like 20 feet in insect proportions. You can hear the individual footfalls as well as the New York brasso music swelling along with a panoply of background noises.
That said, I have heard deeper and louder bass than that offered by the Crystal Audio setup. The system seems to lack a little of the richer, fatter part of the lower mid-bass register; it's almost as if you're denied a full-range feel because the old THX 'preferred listening curve' requires a fat low-end lift and tinkly upper slope of the high frequencies.
But, for the money we are talking about here, I'm not convinced that it is really a problem.
I wouldn't buy this Crystal Audio system if you are inclined to spend a lot of hours playing stereo music rather than 5.1- channel film. But for a keenly-priced home theatre system, you'd have to spend an awful lot more to better the subjective experience. An ideal match for a mid-range THX select receiver. Adam Rayner