NHT SB1 Loudspeakers
NHT, which stands
for Now Hear This, has been producing loudspeakers since 1986. The Benicia, CA company has
undergone a few changes through the years: Founder Ken Kantor left to develop professional
monitor speakers under the Vergence Technology brand name, and International Jensen bought
NHT a few years back and was then sold to Recoton. Despite all the flux, NHT has remained
true to its original vision of producing high-value loudspeakers possessing sonic
accuracy, imaging precision, and impressive dynamic range.
In NHT's new Super Audio line, the SB1 is the smallest and
least expensive speaker the company makes. It replaces NHTs highly regarded
SuperZero loudspeaker. The SuperZero was prized for possessing clarity and spaciousness
that embarrassed more expensive loudspeakers -- it was a real high-end monitor, lacking
only bass. The SB1 has big shoes to fill.
The SB1 has two drivers -- a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter
and a 5.25" polypropylene woofer. Around back, the SB1 has a single pair of
high-quality gold-plated five-way binding posts. The front grilles are removable. The SB1
is noticeably larger than the SuperZero, but its still compact, measuring
6.75"W x 6.25"D x 10.25"H. The cabinet is a sealed, acoustic-suspension
design, so it differs from most of its competitors, which tend to be tuned-port designs.
The cabinet's finish consists of seven coats of black lacquer, resulting in a high-gloss
piano-like sheen. The corners of the cabinet are rounded, giving the SB1 fit'n'finish that
put many of its rivals to shame.
I auditioned the NHT SB1 in my audio room, which measures
14 x 20 x 8 in size. I set them up in accordance with NHTs
recommendations, which suggest the speakers be placed 1.5 times as far from the listener
as they are from each other. With the speakers six feet apart, I placed my listening chair
nine feet feet away from the plane in which they were sited. Both SB1s were well away from
the front wall, approximately two and a half feet into the room, and about four feet from
the side walls. The speakers were placed on 30"-high stands so that the tweeters were
at approximately ear level.
I listened to the NHT SB1 using my usual two-channel rig,
consisting of an Arcam Delta 290 integrated amplifier, a Pioneer PD-65 CD player, and a
Rega Planar 3 turntable with a Grado Prestige Silver cartridge. Speaker cables and
interconnects were Sonic Horizon Hurricane. I also listened extensively to the SB1 with my
subwoofer, the Denon DSW-10, and NHTs matching subwoofer, called the SW10.
One of the SB1's most obvious traits is its clarity. This
was particularly apparent with female vocals such as "Aint Got No Tears
Left" from Leonard Bernsteins New York (various artists) [Nonesuch 2
79400]. Donna Murphys voice sounded very natural, with none of the artificial
heaviness or boxiness that often plague budget speakers. When Murphy hit the high notes,
the midrange smoothness extended nicely into the high frequencies.
The smoothness of the high frequencies was evident on Diana
Kralls "Lets Face the Music and Dance" from When I Look into Your
Eyes [Verve IMPD-304]. Kralls voice has an airy quality to it, which was
particularly admirable when played through the SB1.
A second hallmark of the SB1 is its apparent accuracy. This
accuracy can be a double-edged sword, because although it will reveal just how great your
best recordings can sound, it will unmask your poor recordings, especially older CDs. For
example, on "Cancer" from Joe Jacksons Night and Day [VPCD-4906],
my ears were hurting from the high-frequency harshness of the CD mastering. In contrast,
the vinyl version of the same recording is a pleasurable listening experience through the
On Stepping Out [JUST 50-2], Diana Kralls
voice is slightly veiled throughout this otherwise decent work. The SB1 easily portrayed
this characteristic of the recording. On the superb-sounding Give it Up to Love
[JVCXR-0012-2], Mighty Sam McLain's voice sounds warm, detailed and full, just as it does
on my four-times-more-expensive NHT 2.5i.
The SB1 produced a large, well-defined soundstage. On
"Ganges Delta Blues" from Ry Cooders and V.M. Bhatts A Meeting
Across the River [WLA CS-29-CD], Ry Cooder can be heard slightly outside the left
speaker, V.M. Bhatt slightly outside of the right speaker, with Joachim Cooder and
Sukhvinder filling in the half-left and half-right positions in the soundstage. Each
instrument is well focused within the soundstage, exactly as it should be.
One of the SB1's most defining characteristic is that it
does not, um, address much of the low frequencies. Thats right, the SB1 lacks
bass weight, theres no two ways about it. Playing the pink noise from The
Sheffield/A2TB Test Disc [Sheffield 10508], showed me that the SB1 does not produce
much sound below 70Hz. However, you may get slightly more bass if you put the speaker
closer to the wall or near a corner. The SB1s lack of low-bass performance might be
a deciding factor for some listeners, since most of its rivals probably produce more bass.
A positive aspect of the SB1s bass is that transients
tended to have the right snap. On Stereophiles Test CD 2 [STPH 004-2], the
acoustic drum solo on track three sounded very fast and dynamic. In addition, the drums
throughout A Meeting Across the River sounded especially realistic, with each
hand strike by Sukhvinder represented as a distinct sonic event. On "Peppermint
Patty" from Wynton and Ellis Marsalis Joe Cools Blues [Columbia CK
66880], it was easy to picture the notes being plucked by bassist Reginald Veal, despite
the SB1's overall lack of bass, since the instrument's upper harmonics were so faithfully
replicated. Interestingly, despite the SB1's lack of bass power, its portrayal of Reginald
Veal was not diminished, and listening to his performance remained a pleasurable
I teamed the SB1 with subwoofers in sub/sat systems with
two different configurations. In one system, I used the NHT SW10, part of the Super Audio
line. It is a fairly compact cube, measuring 14.5" in height, width, and depth. I
used the speaker-level inputs from my amp to the subwoofer, and fed the SB1 with the
speaker-level outputs from the sub. In this configuration, the signal feeding the SB1 is
rolled off at approximately 100Hz, so that the SB1 is not called upon to reproduce any
In a second system, I connected the SB1 from my amplifier
as I normally would, but I used the preamp outputs to feed my sub, a Denon DSW-10. In this
configuration, the SB1 will see a full-range signal and the Denon sub fills in the missing
bass. In either case, matching subwoofers to the SB1 was a fairly simple exercise. Because
the SB1 reaches lower than the SuperZero, it was relatively easy to find a good crossover
frequency with either sub simply using just my ears. The NHT SW10 was particularly
straightforward, having been designed to work with the SB1.
In either configuration, the subwoofers gave the SB1 nearly
full-range sound. Listening to Jacky Terrason and Cassandra Wilson on Rendezvous
[Blue Note CDP 7243 8 55484 2] through the NHT SW10, this was abundantly evident. On
"Tennessee Waltz," the bass and the electric piano were reproduced fully, the
system sounding significantly warmer than without the subwoofer. Although the NHT SW10
provided excellent bass response and was a good match for the SB1, at times the subwoofer
did not match the reproduction of transients of the SB1. Thats not to say that the
bass from the NHT SW10 plodded along, but transients sometimes seemed a bit smeared.
However, with the SB1 only reproducing music from 100Hz and up, the 5.25" woofer in
the SB1 seemed to have extra snap.
In the second configuration, with the Denon DSW-10, the
SB1s proved to be an excellent match. This subwoofer seemed to mimic the transient
response of the SB1. This was illustrated in the aforementioned "Peppermint
Patty" from Wynton and Ellis Marsalis Joe Cools Blues. This
high-tempo tune played by the Ellis Marsalis Trio has quick finger-plucked bass and tight
drum whacks, which were smartly reproduced by the NHT SB1/Denon DSW-10 combo. I was having
a lot of fun listening to this duet, and I hauled out CD after CD with good bass response,
such as Tom Cochranes Songs of a Circling Spirit [EMI 72438 37239 0 4] and
Holly Coles Temptation [Alert Z2-81026].
I had the SB1s predecessor, the NHT SuperZero on hand
for comparison. Comparing the two speakers proved to be a surprising experience. I would
never have called the SuperZero a dark-sounding speaker, but in comparison to the SB1,
this proved to be the case. The SuperZero has what I would call NHTs characteristic
airy high frequencies, which sound very similar to those of the NHT 2.5i. The SB1, while
not in-your-face bright, nevertheless makes the SuperZero sound polite and subdued in
comparison. The SB1, while lacking some of the SuperZero's airiness in the high
frequencies, has a more revealing tweeter than the SuperZero.
In terms of imaging, the
SuperZero excels at providing a deep and wide front soundstage, which the SB1 approaches,
but does not quite match. However, the SuperZero totally lacks any bass response below
100Hz, and the SB1, although bass challenged, will reach at least down to 70Hz. This
slightly lower extension allows the SB1 to mate well with subwoofers, which is a
notoriously difficult task to accomplish with the SuperZero.
I also had the $275 Axiom M3Ti SE on hand for comparison.
The Axiom provided enough bass response that I didnt feel I was missing much in the
low frequencies. With the NHT SB1, a subwoofer was usually needed to fill in the missing
lower to midbass. Although the SB1 isnt a power-hungry speaker, it was less
sensitive than the M3Ti SE, and needed a noticeable volume increase to match the sound
levels of the M3Ti SE. Listening to each speaker with a subwoofer narrowed the differences
substantially. With each speaker relieved of producing bass, the NHT SB1 excelled in
transient response. The plucked bass notes at the beginning of "Linus and Lucy"
from David Benoits Heres to You, Charlie Brown: 50 Great Years! [GRP
314 543 637-2], sounded more distinct and precise with the NHT SB1 as compared with the
Axiom M3Ti SE. In terms of high-frequency response, both speakers sounded similar, with
the NHT SB1 having a slight bite to the treble. This can be illustrated in the brass
section at the beginning of "Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead" from the Harry
Connick, Jr. CD entitled Songs I Heard [Columbia CK 86077].
What I can conclude after listening to both sets of
speakers is that each excels in different environments. The Axiom is a more forgiving
speaker, sounding good with a receiver, with or without a subwoofer. The NHT SB1, on the
other hand, sounded its best with higher-end electronics and a subwoofer.
This is the end
The NHT engineers were faced with the difficult task of
replacing the standard in the affordable mini-speaker class, the NHT SuperZero. By
wiping their slate clean, the design team was able to rectify the main deficiency of the
SuperZero -- its lack of response below 100Hz. Although the SB1 is the successor to the
SuperZero, these two speakers really have nothing in common other than occupying the
entry-level rung in NHTs stable.
Overall, the SB1 is a very successful upgrade to the
SuperZero, and is a much more complete speaker. Many of its competitors produce more bass
weight, which does affect an unqualified recommendation. However, the NHT SB1 is a true
audiophile speaker, and if you eventually upgrade it with a sub, you will have a
full-range speaker system that will be eminently satisfying.
Price of equipment reviewedNHT
SB1 Loudspeakers - $300 USD per pair