The Entry Level #10 Page 2
At home, I heard stereo imaging that was equal to, if not even more exciting than, what I'd heard at the CAS, but the overall sound was softer and more opaque, the jagged edges of "Lost & Found" somewhat dullednot necessarily a bad thing. The biggest difference between the two systems' sounds, however, was in the low end. Whereas the demo rig had produced magnificent blasts of deep-bass energy that coursed through the room and into our bellies, seeming even to make the walls, floor, and ceiling expand and contract, here, at home, there was merely a whisper of that wonderful, physical experience. The SuperZeros had pretty much no bass.
Would repositioning the NHTs bolster the low end? Bringing the speakers farther into the room dramatically increased the physicality of the music, creating a wider, deeper, significantly taller soundstage while maintaining the speakers' excellent image focus. Images seemed to explode into my room with greater force, and to just as suddenly vanish into deep aural darkness. Strangely, the overall sound also seemed fasterthe song seemed to come to an end sooner. Removing the SuperZeros' black fabric grilles further enhanced the speakers' high-end clarity, for a sound that was even more vibrant and alluring. But stillno bass.
Because I wanted to hear how the SuperZero would handle material with lots of transient information, I turned to Zomby's Dedication (LP, 4AD CAD3119). With its minimalist cover art of white-on-black lettering and song titles such as "Riding with Death," "A Devil Lay Here," and "Things Fall Apart," Dedication is a decidedly ominous affair, but it's as groovy as it is bleaka deep danse macabre. In "Things Fall Apart," fireworks of percussion spark into the room as synths bubble and gurgle across the soundstage. The NHT loved this music, the speaker's outstanding transient articulation complemented by its excellent resolution of low-level detail. But this was resolution without romance. Unlike the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1, which had a way of extending a slender finger and beckoning me to come join the music (February and April 2011, Vol.34 Nos. 2 and 4), the NHT simply presented what was therea more direct and literal sound.
While I was extremely impressed by the NHTs' combination of speed, clarity, and imaging, I was also surprised by the quality of their bass. The tight bass-drum kicks that anchor "Things Fall Apart" may have sounded more like snare strokes than bass kicks, but they were clearly rendered and, rather than being obscured by all the transient information and midrange detail, stood proud and distinct within the busy mix. The NHT handled texture very well and was rhythmically assured. I got up and did a little dance.
Now that I was sweating, I decided to make the NHTs sweat, too. I pushed them to beyond comfortable listening levels, reaching peaks as high as 96dB, but the music never became congested or distorted. Under no circumstances would I ever want or need to play music any louder than this in my small listening room (13.1' L by 10.5' W by 8' H). Turning the volume way down resulted in equally impressive performance: Even at very low levels, the NHT sounded sweet and wonderfully detailed.
But I like music to sound big when it's supposed to sound big (footnote 2).. And the little SuperZero 2.0s never sounded biguntil I added NHT's matching Super 8 subwoofer.
Like the SuperZero 2.0, the Super 8 subwoofer ($349, footnote 3) is a sealed design. It measures 11" on each side and uses an 8" long-throw paper-cone driver. Its dedicated digital signal processor (DSP) handles equalization and filter functions, while the built-in limiter and compressor dynamically control the amplifier power at all impedances. The Super 8 has a 110W BASH (class-D) amplifier with a switching power supply and offers line- and speaker-level inputs, as well as an LFE input for connection to a sub output. There's a phase control, a Music/Movie switch, and a USB connection for use with NHT's future wireless audio adapter. Finally, the Super 8 comes with four aluminum spikes and four aluminum floor protectors, for safe, secure placement atop old, crooked wood floors like mine. Its high-gloss black laminate finish perfectly matches that of its SuperZero siblings.
I hate subwoofers slightly more than I hate in-ear headphones and a little less than I hate computers. I would much rather avoid them entirely, but I can't deny that they come in handy. The last time I attempted to use a sub, I seriously hurt my back. I lay there, curled up and useless, on the cold kitchen floor, and dialed Allison, a physician's assistant.
"Hi, Allison. I'm sorry to bug you, but I think I seriously hurt myself while lifting this subwoofer out of its box. I can't move."
"Oh my god, Stevie, did you pee on yourself?"
"Then you're fine. Take Aleve."
Anyway, that was then. While lifting and positioning the Super 8, I was extremely cautious.
You can go crazy getting a sub's output to blend seamlessly with those of your left and right speakers. I've sat in on listening sessions where the owner of the system not only adjusted the sub's volume level with each song, but even went as far as to move the subwoofer to achieve a better balance for a particular track. I advise against going crazy: My strategy is to set it and forget it.
I connected the Super 8's line-level inputs to the Exposure's sub outs with a set of AudioQuest Sidewinder interconnects. I set the Super 8's volume control to the 12 o'clock position, its crossover control to just before 120Hz, and sat the Super 8 itself in the only spot where it actually fit in my room: about 4' behind the right speaker and several inches toward the left.
I turned to "Silver Spell," the lead track of Sons & Daughters' Mirror Mirror (CD, Domino DNO294), an album that seems to get better with each listen. The song opens with a single high-pitched synth note that rings out for a good 15 seconds, increasing in volume and moving vertically in the soundstage, before being met by a distant, stunning, physical stomp. Well, that stomp should be distant, stunning, and physical. Prior to my adding the Super 8 to the system, "Silver Spell" had been a stunning failure through the SuperZeros, lacking the bass weight and impact required to truly communicate the song's tension and the recording's impressive dynamic range. The SuperZeros got the "distant" part right, but that was about it. Then I added the Super 8.
Whoa!!! Yee-haw! Bass! Bass in yo' face! Adding the Super 8 to the system produced a dramatic improvement. Books fell from shelves, windows rattled, stray dogs howled, pigeons erupted from my fire escape into the blue summer sky, and my downstairs neighbor pounded on her ceiling. Those stomping sounds in "Silver Spell" were now extremely stunning and physical: The Super 8 sent good vibrations through the floorboards, into my feet, through my legs, and into my belly. Meanwhile, the silences in the song were now appropriately stark and dramatic. All of this was accomplished without damaging the SuperZeros' extended highs, clean midrange, and excellent image focus. On the downside, all that delicious bass was now occupying too much of my attention. Too much of a good thing . . .
Turning the subwoofer's volume down to 11 o'clock tamed the bass response and resulted in a better top-to-bottom balance. I was able to focus on the music again.
Returning to Amon Tobin's "Lost & Found," I heard all the low-bass energy I wanted: Those sonic blasts were now much like what I'd heard at the California Audio Show. Plus, I heard more low-level detail: Quiet voices hidden deep in the mix were now wonderfully present. I could think of nothing better, wanted nothing more. I was pleased.
But now we have a speaker system costing almost $500 and bringing with it the complexity of an additional component and another set of cables. On the plus side, NHT's SuperZero 2.0Super 8 system comes in a refreshingly small package, looks sharp, images like crazy, and goes lower and plays louder than most minimonitor speakers. Do you need the extra component? The extra bass? The extra cost?
I'll let Shana decide. I'm recommending this system for her next party.
Footnote 2: The full truth is that I like music to sound big even when it's not supposed to sound big. Which is why I own PSB Alpha B1s. Still, I acknowledge that too much of a good thing can be bad. I can stand only so much pleasure.
Footnote 3: Package price for the SuperZero and Super 8 is $499.