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Product Review - Velodyne Classic Home Theater (CHT) Speakers - August, 2000


John E. Johnson, Jr.

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Velodyne Classic Home Theater (CHT) Speakers

Satellites Sealed Enclosure

One 3/4" Fabric Dome Tweeter, One 4 1/2" Fiber-Polypropylene Woofer in CT-41; Two 4 1/2" Woofers in CT-42 Center Channel Speaker

MFR: 80 Hz - 20 kHz 2 dB

Sensitivity 89 dB/w/m

Impedance 6 Ohms Nominal

Power: 25 Watts - 150 Watts

Size 8 1/2" H x 5 1/2" W  x 6 1/4" D  

Weight: 7 Pounds Each

Finish: Black Vinyl or White Vinyl

MSRP: $599/set of Five, Package of Five Satellites plus CT-80 (8" Powered Subwoofer) is $899.

Velodyne Acoustics, Inc., 1070 Commercial Street, # 101, San Jose, California 95112; Phone 408-436-7270; Fax 408-436-7276; Web http://www.velodyne.com 

Introduction

As you all know, Velodyne Acoustics is world renown for their subwoofers. The HGS-18 (18" driver, 1,200 watt amplifier, servo-feedback control) is one of a handful of products by which all others are compared. A few years ago, Velodyne introduced the 661 bookshelf speaker. With aluminum cones and incredibly low distortion, they would have made wonderful home theater speakers except for one thing . . . the cost. At $2,000 a pair, that would bring the price of a system to $5,000, not including the subwoofer. Throw in the HGS-18, and you are talking $8,000. Superb sound, but not very practical for the masses. So, what to do? Velodyne builds quality, not flea market stuff. Well, after more than two years of research and development, plus overseas manufacturing once the design was complete, and voila . . . the CHT satellite speakers (the exact model number is CT-41 for the front and rear left/right  and CT-42 for the center).

As you can see from the photograph I took in my wife's garden on a sunny California morning, the CHT fits in the palm of my hand. (I have big hands, though). It has a 3/4" fabric dome tweeter (most companies used to call these silk domes, but because they are actually a mixture of silk and other fibers, they can't do that anymore). Beneath the tweeter is a 4 1/2" fiber-polypropylene woofer. Neither of these drivers are "off the shelf" designs. Velodyne looked around at many drivers, tested them, and after an extensive amount of work, including experiments with various crossovers, the CHT was born. The process took several years, sort of like a big budget movie, except there was not a cast of thousands involved.

The Design

In the rear of the CHT (see photo above) are sockets to allow mounting on the wall with standard brackets, and a very nice set of gold plated metal five-way binding posts. Posts like this are very rare in speakers in this price range. Usually, it is a set of spring loaded clips. Now, the clips work just fine, but the presence of gold plated posts is an indication of serious quality throughout the product. So, how does Velodyne do it for $599 the set? Engineering at their headquarters in San Jose, California, and manufacturing in China, that's how. China is becoming a real powerhouse for this kind of thing. They now have very modern factories and complete facilities for just about any type of mass manufacturing a company might want. Some of you might remember when things made in Japan were considered low quality. Then, a few decades later, things made in Japan were high quality. Then, things were designed in Japan, but manufactured elsewhere, due to rising labor costs at home. Well, China has made it past the time when their products were considered low quality. They make high quality items for companies all over the world, including USA companies like Velodyne. Probably by the end of the 21st century, labor prices will have evened out in all countries, and we will go back to manufacturing everything at home.

The point of my mentioning that the CHTs are made overseas, is that they the have the look, build quality, and sound of speakers that would otherwise be priced at about $1,200 (my estimate) for the set of five, instead of $599. The enclosure is made of thick MDF, and the vinyl wrapping seems flawless. Rounded edges help to reduce diffraction. Again, to see this kind of build in speakers costing just over $100 apiece is unusual. It is the sort of thing that consumers will really benefit from.

The Sound

Now, there are some people who might think that a small speaker cannot deliver a big sound. That is just not true. Think of the CHT as a speaker enclosure that just contains the tweeter and mid-range drivers. They are not designed to produce the bass. That is why they are supposed to be sold as a system, including a subwoofer. For example, the review set we have came with the CT-80, but it can be purchased with any of the other CT subwoofers, all at a system discount. The CT-80 has an 8" driver and a 100 watt amplifier. You just set the crossover in your receiver to 80 Hz or 100 Hz, and the crossover in the CT-80 to about that same frequency, and you get the big sound of larger speakers where the tweeter is 3/4", the mid-range driver is 4 1/2", and the woofer is 8". Of course, this assumes the CHT has an excellent sound of its own. My observations are that it does surprisingly well for such a small speaker. The DVD "Jaws" in DTS sounds just as scary, and "The Guns of Navarone" in DD sounds just as thunderous with the CHTs as they do with my larger speakers. The only difference might be that the frequencies between 50 Hz and 70 Hz are directional to the subwoofer with the low-pass set to 70 Hz and the CHTs running full range (the CHT's rolloff below 80 Hz and the subwoofer rolloff above 70 Hz will balance out to give a smooth response near the crossover point).

Velodyne expects you to connect the CHTs to mid-priced receivers, say, in the $499 range. They are 6 Ohms and 89 dB sensitivity, which appears to work nicely with mass market receivers. Well, let me tell you something very interesting. I also put them with my Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature power amplifier, which delivers 400 watts rms per channel into 8 Ohm loads, using the pre-outs on my Yamaha DSP-A1. Surprise, surprise. The "little" Velodyne CHTs took everything I could throw at it, with the volume up as loud as I could stand. The detail remained. The mushy mids that you can sometimes get with inexpensive speakers, were absent. I utilized "True Lies" in DD, " Tschaikovsky's  "1812 Overture" in DTS, and all my demo discs. Voices were perfectly intelligible at all volumes, an important feature in the center speaker. Velodyne recommends that you use the high-pass in your receiver or processor at 80 Hz or so, but I ran them full range with no problems. You might assume they are just for small apartments or dorm rooms. Not so. They will fill any room with great sound. These babies play loud and clean. For $599? Impossible? I think some folks in San Jose are smiling.

When I cranked up the SPLs with the Sunfire Signature amplifier, I wondered, can these speakers take it? Velodyne has the answer to that too. They know home theater aficionados will be watching Arnie and Sylvester, and listening to AK-47s, 357 Magnums, and Uzis. So, Velodyne put an overload circuit in the crossover. If the speakers are overdriven, the circuit kicks in and lowers the volume. You turn the volume down, and the speaker resumes at normal levels. Frankly, I could not find the overload point. The CHTs just kept taking more power and delivering more SPLs. For $599? The smiles are getting bigger. Maybe a few chuckles too.

You might place the CHTs on speaker stands, or they can be mounted on the wall. I prefer stands because I can move them around when I want to change the effect, and I just enjoy the look of stands. The center channel speaker, which is longer than the others by just enough to include an additional 4 1/2" driver, has to go on top of the TV, of course, and it is so compact, it will fit on any TV I could imagine. All of the CHTs are magnetically shielded, if you want to place any of them near the TV screen.

The CT-80 works OK with the CHTs, but these speakers are so good, and will play so loud, I would suggest pairing them with the CT-150, which has a 15" driver and 250 watt amplifier. (Actually, they sounded great with my HGS-18 too!) If you get the CHTs - I highly recommend you audition them before purchasing any small speakers - and you want to upgrade down the road, you may just find yourself upgrading the receiver and power amplifier, and keeping the CHTs. They are one dynamite speaker, regardless of size! 

 

- John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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Copyright 2000 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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