Dr. Poh Ser Hsu just might be the king of serendipity. He didn’t start out, after all, to be a designer of state-of-the-art subwoofers— an accomplishment he is known for today. A couple of decades ago, the Singapore native was a serious student of civil engineering at MIT, where he earned his Ph.D. in the early ’90s. During his studies, he joined the Boston Audio Society and spent a fair amount of time there showcasing his own subwoofer designs. These demos generated so much interest that Hsu decided he was much better suited for designing and constructing subwoofers than bridges and highways, so over the course of late 1991 and into 1992, the stalwart engineering graduate founded Hsu Research.
Over the past 15 years, Hsu Research subwoofers have earned a reputation for big sound as well as value. Dr. Hsu channels all of his engineering knowledge into the challenge of providing subs that offer wide dynamic range and flat, extended bass response at affordable price-points (Hsu’s powered subs typically sell for $300–$600).
With his reputation firmly established in subwoofer design, Hsu Research has taken this same value-formoney approach to the home theater and multichannel audio arena in the last two years. The Ventriloquist VT-12 6.1-channel system is a case in point. You get a basic 6-channel speaker system that can be bundled with a variety of Hsu’s powered subwoofers to create complete systems that sell for less than $1000. The VT-12 system with STF-3 subwoofer as used for this review retails for a special package price of $739. Yes, you did read that correctly. Just a nudge over $700 and you can enjoy the cannon-heavy battle scenes of Master and Commander or the race-track-pounding effects of Seabiscuit the way they were intended to be enjoyed.
The Ventriloquist VT-12 System
The Ventriloquist VT-12 system consists of one relatively large VT641 centerchannel module, plus five tiny satellites (four VT254 front/rear sats and one VT251 rear center sat) that look pretty underwhelming when you first remove them from the box. Featuring enclosures made of molded ABS plastic, the satellites sport 2 1/2 inch mid-high drivers, and weigh in at just 2 pounds each—so light that they almost seem ready to float into the air. In fact, I discovered these lightweights probably work best with traditional flat zip cord speaker wires—my more substantial audiophile cables caused them to tip over until I affixed them to stands with wide artist tape. The satellites also have notches on the rear for wall mounting.
It’s the Ventriloquist’s VT641 center channel module that gets your attention right out of the box, and that gives the system its name. Unlike its satellite cousins, this baby has some thud factor going for it. At 10 pounds, a bit more than 16 inches wide and 8 inches deep, the center channel sports two 4-inch x 6-inch woofers on either side of a 2 1/2- inch mid-high driver. Hsu has designed the VT641 to provide switch selectable upper-bass/lower-midrange reinforcement for all three front channels, particularly in the range between 80–250Hz (an area where many small sat/sub systems show a pronounced gap in their response). Accordingly, the center channel module acts as a kind of command center, with amplifier wiring for the three front channels routed directly to the VT641’s rear panel. The left and right front satellites are in turn wired to the center channel modules, with the left and right rear surrounds wired directly to the amp. If the Ventriloquist switch is off, you hear the normal, non-reinforced sound of center-channel and left/right satellites. But with the switch on, the center-channel woofers, the center driver, and the left and right satellite drivers all interact, sharing low to midrange frequencies, so that the sound becomes richer and more fully fleshed out. In gen-eral, this produces the magical effect of a seemingly larger sound than you would expect from the small satellites, meeting Hsu’s stated goal of overall system frequency response that extends from 80Hz – 20kHz.
To fill out the rear surround sound, the VT251 center rear satellite can be connected in two ways. When used with a 6.1-channel receiver the VT251 can be connected directly to the AVR’s center rear speaker taps. Or, when used with a 5.1-channel receiver, the VT251 can be wired to the left and right rear speakers to derive a matrixtype rear center-channel signal. I tried this latter approach but didn’t find the sound of the derived rear center channel to be all that effective. Note that the rear channels do not enjoy the benefit of 80–250Hz reinforcement as the front channels do.
Big Sound Up Front