NHT 2.9 loudspeaker Page 2
The first thing I noticed in this new location was a more rich, powerful bottom end. The drums on Däfos (Reference Recordings RR-12CD) sounded very tight, with just enough of the distant bass reverb to convey their percussive power. The falling drumset on this recording—a classic woofer-killer—caused no distress in the 2.9, and while the speaker can't produce quite the visceral power of the best subwoofers, its bass was very strong, very deep, very tight, and able to play as loud as anyone is likely to desire on musical material.
I also heard solid bass extension from the NHT on that now-classic audiophile standard, Jean Guillou's organ transcription of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (Dorian DOR-90117). The response holds up down to at least 30Hz and perhaps a little lower, but I do miss that last 10Hz or so of bass that only a separate subwoofer—or a significantly larger, full-range speaker—can give. While I could, for example, hear the opening 32Hz organ pedal of Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra through the 2.9, it didn't flutter my trousers. But double basses sounded clean and tight, and my favorite bass test recordings, from the soundtrack to The Abyss (Varèse Sarabande VSD-5235) to any one of those "theme" collections from the Cincinnati Pops on Telarc, sounded crisp, well defined, and potent.
Despite its power in the bottom octaves, the 2.9 never sounded overblown. It rode skillfully in a groove, with excessive leanness on one side and awesome low-frequency extension on the other, and rarely veered to either side. It had enough bloom for reasonable warmth (some listeners will want more), and enough deep bottom for a solid foundation—though it rarely inspired the "Wow!" reaction that the NHT 3.3 often does. But in overall bass capability, the 2.9 can still compete with a lot of pricier products and come out on top.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the NHT 2.9's highs could sound a bit bright, with a slight bite to the treble, particularly on material that is already a little tipped-up and etched. More often, they simply sounded open and detailed. Fretwork's Armada (Virgin Classics 90722-2), an excellent collection of medieval music recorded a bit on the bright side, was highly detailed on the 2.9, with excellent resolution: just the right amount of rosin on the bow, quick harpsichord attacks, plenty of air, and a good sense of space. Leo Kottke's guitar on That's What (Private Music 2068-2) sounded as clean and open as I have ever heard it—a bit less expansive than through the Energy Veritas v2.8, perhaps, but with no less apparent accuracy. Dead Can Dance's The Serpent's Egg (4AD 45576-2) sounds inherently slightly bright but is evidently very clean, judging from its balance on a number of high-quality loudspeakers, and that's how it sounded over the NHT. The top end sparkled; the NHT's treble was crisply defined and low in coloration.
The latter applied to the 2.9's midrange, but even more so. I never heard anything suggesting the more common mid colorations—no nasality, no boxiness, no warped perspectives. The balance was neither in-your-face nor laid-back. Vocals sounded detailed and well balanced. And while male vocals were a little less warm, at times, than from richer-sounding speakers, they sounded no less natural overall.
The NHTs' sense of depth was a little less impressive than from good speakers designed for free-space mounting, but more than adequate for the development of a solid, three-dimensional soundstage. The 2.9s' soundstage was, overall, a bit smaller than that produced by my long-term reference, the more-than-twice-as-expensive Energy Veritas v2.8s. I was never acutely conscious of a lack of image width from the NHTs, but the sound did seem more rigidly anchored to the speaker positions than it did with the more open-sounding but more-expensive Energys.
The Energy Veritas v2.8 is also a warmer-sounding speaker than the NHT 2.9. Although this warmth is measurable as a rise in the v2.8's mid and upper bass, it does not sound unnatural. I suspect that the NHTs will prove technically flatter in this region, but as I write this I have not yet seen the results of John Atkinson's measurements.
I listened to the NHTs primarily as driven by the Kinergetics KBA 280 class-A amplifier; all of the above comments reflect this setup. But I also listened, less extensively, to an Acurus A200. The more moderately priced and more powerful Acurus was noticeably superior to the Kinergetics in the bass—tighter and more powerful. It sounded less refined than the KBA 280 in the treble, slightly exacerbating the 2.9's tendency to sound a little too crisp, but otherwise performed very well. I would not attempt to win over a tube-lover with this combination—the NHT has a warmer, fuller, less forward sound with the Kinergetics—but many listeners will be quite happy with it. As with any speaker, good system matching will pay dividends; but aside from its moderately unforgiving top end, the 2.9 is not overly fussy about amplification.