NHT Classic Two Loudspeakers
and Classic Ten Subwoofer
Convincing a home-theater
enthusiast that he needs a subwoofer is like talking a country-club member into
restringing his tennis racket: It goes without saying. With a 5.1-channel surround-sound
system, you cant truly experience the 25th Anniversary Edition of Terminator 2,
or properly plumb the low-end depths of The Lord of the Rings trilogy,
without a sub. But what about using a sub if you primarily listen to music? Does a
subwoofer, combined with a manufacturer-matched set of bookshelf monitors in a 2.1-channel
setup, come close to or even equal the dynamic range achievable with a well-made pair of
Since it produced its first loudspeaker in 1987, NHT (which
stands for Now Hear This) has dealt with these questions and carried on with its mission
to "challenge the notion that the very best sound reproduction must come at a premium
price." In 1992, NHT built the first subwoofer for home audio powered by an external
amplifier, and over the last 20 years, as the market for home audio products has moved
into home theater, NHT has moved right along with it.
NHTs Classic line is a refinement and extension of
their respected and successful Super Audio speakers, the piano-black-lacquered
acoustic-suspension monitors that come immediately to mind when you think of NHT. Acoustic-suspension
means a two-way sealed box without a typical bass-reflex port, which separates the Classic
Two ($600 USD per pair) from the vast majority of monitors in its price range. The Two has
a ferrofluid-cooled 1" aluminum-dome tweeter that uses a neodymium magnet, and a
6.5" polypropylene cone woofer. With its grille on, the Classic Two catches the light
in a way that suggests the shiny black sweep of Darth Vaders helmet. (I imagine that
the high-gloss-white version looks like a Stormtrooper.) NHT reports a
not-overly-sensitive sensitivity rating of 86dB at a nominal 6 ohms of impedance and a
recommended power maximum of 125W. The Classic Two weighs just over 12.5 pounds, and
measures 12"H x 7"W by 9"D.
The Twos curvature extends to its top and bottom; if
you intend to place them on stands rather than use the threaded inserts that permit wall
mounting, youll have to attach the supplied metal-and-rubber runners, which look
like windshield-wiper blades. Once the rails were on, the Classic Twos gripped my 20"
stands with reassuring solidity. I did my listening with the grilles on, which I thought
slightly softened the speakers sound.
With a low end that goes down to 51Hz, the Classic Two
promised to deliver plenty of bass on its own. But my review samples were accompanied by
the matching Classic Ten, a 41-pound subwoofer powered by a 150W class-G amplifier ($600
USD). "Ten" refers to the size of the subs bass-reflex driver, a 10"
long-throw aluminum cone. The enclosure measures 18"H x 11"W x 15"D -- the
size of a respectable end table. Unfortunately, the top of the cabinet is rounded to match
its smaller partners; drinking glasses will slide off, if the boom doesnt shake them
More on the Classic Ten later. The first order of business
was to listen to the Classic Twos unassisted and unadorned. They replaced the Axiom M22
speakers in my system, which includes a Pioneer DV-353 DVD player linked by Monster Cable
interconnects to an NAD C325BEE integrated amplifier. I hooked up the Classic Twos to the
NAD with 9 runs of Element Cables Double Run speaker cable, whose banana plugs
slid securely into the Twos five-way binding posts.
In 1971, Rod Stewart may have been the best rock singer in
the world, and Every Picture Tells a Story [Mercury 558060] is the
high-water mark of the first four solo records he made. Led by Ron Woods slide
guitar, Martin Quittentons rhythm guitar, and Mickey Wallers titanic drumming,
no acoustically based band has ever rocked harder, and few groups have ever communicated
as much camaraderie and sheer joy in the making of music -- both of which qualities were
affirmed by the NHT Classic Twos ability to establish the groups presence and
then "disappear" into the soundstage. Through the Twos, Wallers drums on
the title track had the immediacy of a live performance: realistic, with no trace of
harshness. Stewarts vocal, passionate and unrelenting, was projected with dynamic
accuracy, and the twin guitars were detailed and airy, with the high frequencies
particularly delicate and highly resolved.
Two years after Every Picture, The Who arguably
reached their own high-water mark with Quadrophenia [MCA 6895]. The more I listen
to it, the more I realize that, in terms of the playing, its bassist John
Entwistles album more than any other. On "The Real Me," the transients
were transparent and Entwistles attacks on the strings were dynamic, and they were
tied together by a strong sense of the exactitude of the bassists race across his
strings. On "Cut My Hair," the Classic Twos properly put Pete Townshends
sweet vocal in the foreground, while his acoustic guitar shimmered from the fretboard and
resonated its woody timbre from the body. The greatest service performed by the Classic
Twos, however, was on behalf of Keith Moon, whose virtuosic, one-of-a-kind drumming
throughout the album was rendered with believable low-level clarity; his cymbals created
notes with long, natural decay, along with an airy crispness.
For a relatively small speaker that doesnt use a port
to augment air movement, the Classic Two offered more than an adequate amount of
bass-level information. Conversely, to my ears the Twos sonic signature leaned a bit
toward the clinical, re-creating the higher frequencies sharply, with little to no
rolloff. On balance, its strength was in producing tightly defined, musically neutral
sound that did justice to good recordings and was likely to get the most out of the
mediocre. But with Entwistle and Moon in the rhythm section and a subwoofer in the house,
my appetite for bass was insatiable.
As subwoofers go, the Classic Ten is mid-sized. NHT also
offers a 12" model, the Classic Twelve, and other companies offer entry-level 8"
models. But for a first-time subwoofer owner, the Classic Ten is huge -- intimidating,
actually. Ive always tried to get by with one set of speakers -- I knew that if I
got hooked on bass, withdrawal could be painful.
NHTs instruction manual offers detailed instructions
on how to connect to any power source, whether you have a dedicated Sub Out line or not.
The Classic Ten is turned on with a hefty switch, and sleeps when its not receiving
a signal. Among the fine-tune adjustments are a low-pass filter, a boundary switch, a
phase selector, and the most important: the volume knob.
In theory, once calibrated, the volume control of the power
or integrated amplifier should work in concert with the subs own amp, and the NAD
BEE has Preamp Out jacks, so setup should have been easy. I must have been doing something
wrong, because from that output the Ten never awoke. I tried the output from the Tape
Monitor (a function that many new amplifiers lack) to the Tens RCA jacks, and I was
in business. But in using this workaround I lost the option of controlling the sub from
the NAD, and found myself fine-tuning with the Tens volume pot for each recording.
This wasnt all bad -- it engaged me more fully in my listening as I tried to get the
sound just right, and fueled my eagerness to listen to more and more, to discover how the
Ten would react. I flat-out loved it.
I immediately went to the definitive versions of The
Whos "Baba ORiley" and "Wont Get Fooled Again,"
recorded live at Shepperton Studios for The Kids Are Alright [MCA 543694]: 15
minutes of Entwistles galloping intensity and Moons controlled fury. It took
only a very fine twitch of the Tens volume knob to go from laying a foundation for
the music and trying to lay claim to my sanity, because I couldnt help but push the
sound into the black (the color of the Tens extreme low frequencies). Pulling the
volume back a hair, however, immediately relieved the congestion, and retracted the
overhang to provide just the right amount of slam. On the Deluxe Edition of Bob
Marley and the Wailers Burnin [Island 335902], bassist Aston
"Family Man" Barrett loped with a natural linearity and thrilling mellowness
that put the band in the room and pushed the sonic floor down to the basement. On Lucs
Lantern [Thirsty Ear 57158], William Parkers acoustic bass sits high in the mix,
and the Classic Ten conveyed plenty of exhilarating pluck and thwack, while
the Classic Twos handled the lightness and tonal variety of Eri Yamamotos piano. In
combination and partnered with the right recording, the Classic Twos and Ten made a
sublime tandem and a model of integration.
I compared the Axiom M22, a tall bookshelf speaker with a
1" tweeter and two 5.25" midrange woofers ($460 USD per pair), straight up with
the two-way Classic Two. The M22s highs were slightly less detailed, but warmer and
more to my liking; the Classic Twos highs were more neutral, but the naturalness of
both speakers will be a matter of taste. In the midrange, the M22 was marginally sweeter
and more liquid, but the Two was authoritative and focused in its own right. For their
class and size, both speakers produced adequately extended, full-bodied bass, and were
grainless and in full command of pace and articulation.
Adding the Classic Ten
subwoofer to the Axioms firmly and unquestionably established the bottom, but from time to
time the sound threatened to overwhelm in terms of thickness, and the inescapable pressure
eventually hurt my head. Balance was more easily achieved with the smaller, less ambitious
Classic Twos, which share a clarity of purpose with and worked alongside the Ten as a team
to satisfy the demands of wide dynamic range, rhythmic propulsion, and dramatic scale.
In terms of the modern lines of their design and the
dimension and definition inherent in their engineering, NHT makes a bold, impressive
statement with the Classic Two. By themselves, a pair of Classic Twos are convincing and
involving. When linked with the Classic Ten subwoofer, the 2.1-channel system has power,
presence, and is remarkably fun to listen to. Speakers and sub express a top-to-bottom
coherence that emphasizes midrange beauty, and packs a visceral punch with an
unquestionable ability to play loud. The combo competes admirably with larger
floorstanding speakers, but at a lower price.
To best use the Classic Ten, however, you need
understanding neighbors and a large enough room. I was disappointed that my space limited
my placement options, and I was never quite able to ignore the Classic Tens
location. I would have preferred placing the Ten at the rear or farther off to the side,
but my room didnt allow it. Despite this, the sound it produced was addictive,
appealing to my basest (pun intended) and most elemental musical instincts -- so much so
that I began to admit that listening to the Classic Ten was like eating chocolate pancakes
for breakfast: decadent, corrupting, and a marvelous indulgence.
Prices of equipment reviewed