Cinema sound specialist THX celebrates its 40th anniversary this week. For four decades, the company founded by George Lucas has been defining and pushing the boundaries of the audiovisual experience, setting quality standards for cinemas, home theaters and, more recently, video games and headphones. A look back at the incredible history of this label that has become a must-have.
THX: a high-quality standard
Launched in 1983 by Lucasfilm sound engineer Tomlinson Holman, THX was created for a specific purpose: to ensure that the soundtrack to Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi would be accurately reproduced in theaters. It was the first time that a producer defined a set of standards to ensure good sound reproduction in certified theaters. The label instantly became synonymous with a highly immersive sound experience.
THX: strict standards
To ensure an optimal experience, THX technology sets very high standards for image and sound quality. To be THX-certified, a cinema installation must be able to reproduce the full dynamic range of the film soundtrack at a sound level of up to 105 dB, with very low distortion. Initially reserved for professional equipment intended for cinemas and studios, THX certification rapidly made its way into living rooms and private projection rooms.
The list of THX-certified electronics has grown considerably since the advent of multichannel sound, and includes cinema speakers, AV receivers, subwoofers and home theater speaker packages. There are several THX certifications: THX Compact, THX Select, THX Select 2, THX Ultra and THX Dominus. They all ensure that the selected equipment is capable of producing a very high sound level, with very low distortion, from low to high frequencies.
THX Spatial Audio: surround sound through headphones
In 2016, gaming equipment specialist Razer acquired THX. It utilized the brand’s expertise in cinema surround spatialization to work on the THX Spatial Audio computer processing system. The latter allows you to simulate 7.1 sound using only software. This makes it possible to enjoy more immersive sound with any conventional stereo headphones, whether they are a hi-fi or gaming model. All you need to do is connect them to your computer via 3.5mm mini-jack, USB or Bluetooth.
Recently, THX teamed up with streaming platform Qobuz to offer tracks mixed in Spatial Audio. These tracks promise 3D spatialized sound to offer the listener enhanced immersion and to compete with Dolby Atmos music offered by Apple Music and Tidal. THX Spatial Audio mixed titles are still a rarity at the moment, but should soon become more widely available.
THX AAA: amplification for headphones
THX’s expertise extends far beyond the world of cinema, as the manufacturer has recently become a master in the design of amplification modules for headphones. Its proprietary technology, called THX AAA (Achromatic Audio Amplifier), amplifies the audio signal without coloring it. Developed to minimize the distortion rate of analog amplifiers while freeing them from the constraints inherent in Class A amplifiers, the THX AAA label guarantees optimum performance and excellent efficiency. THX AAA modules are used by many manufacturers, including FiiO with the iconic FiiO M17 as well as the FiiO K9 Pro ESS, FiiO Q7, FiiO K7 and FiiO R7 headphone amplifiers. The new Bluesound Node X network player (limited edition of the Bluesound Node 2021) also benefits from these THX modules.
Over the past 40 years, THX has been at the heart of numerous technological advances in the field of sound. Originally developed to ensure optimal performance in theaters, THX certification now guarantees a truly immersive experience, redefining the way we listen to movies, music and games.