NHT SuperZero loudspeaker & SW2 subwoofer Page 6

But I can't tell you that the Harbeths creamed the SuperZeros—or that I'd rather own a pair of the "new" LS3/5As over the $230 NHTs—because I think the SuperZero is a more neutral, transparent speaker than the venerable BBC design. And it can play a hell of a lot louder without strain, too. True, the SuperZero doesn't have the midbass hump that gives the LS3/5A its famous "li'l 'un that can boogie" reputation. And the NHT's high end is more extended and detailed than the Harbeth's, which has that warm, forgiving character that sez, "It's British and I paid a lot of money for it." But if I had to choose between the two for an accurate, revealing reference speaker to do all my reviewing with, I'd definitely go with the SuperZero—and pocket the change.

NHT SW2 subwoofer & MA-1 amp/crossover
And what of the SW2 active subwoofer? Despite its smallish size, the NHT SW2 is a serious subwoofer that gave plenty of usable output all the way down below 25Hz in both of my listening rooms. The SW2's ported 10" driver delivered amazing room-shaking output levels, even when driven by the 80W MA-1 (which I didn't think was going to pump out the kind of seriously hardcore bass that the SW2 was capable of).

In terms of control and definition, the SW2 was very impressive, but not quite as tight or as "fast" as the $2750 Muse Model 18 225W active subwoofer I used for a time in my reference system. Strong basslines such as those from Stevie Ray Vaughan's Couldn't Stand the Weather (Epic EK 39304) were all there and then some, but the SW2 fell a bit short in terms of sheer tightness and clarity when compared with the much more expensive Muse. The SW2 was incredibly tight and well-defined, but didn't quite match the Muse's sheer clarity and transient purity or a really good sealed system like the 12" acoustic-suspension woofer of NHT's own $4000 3.3.

For only $650, I don't know of a better subwoofer than the SW2—the only real sub even close in price and performance is the popular Hsu Research SW10, which costs $750/pair. However, that price does not include an amplifier to drive the Hsu subs, while the 80W MA-1 is included with the $650 SW2P package.

Taken on its own terms, the SW2 does an extraordinarily good job of reproducing the music's bottom-most octaves—I was impressed enough with the SW2 that I bought one for my Home Theater system.

I'm gonna add so-ome bot-tum
As excited as I was about the NHT SuperZero, I have a hard time giving a blanket recommendation for a speaker that has no semblance of a low end. That's why I had NHT send along the SW2—so I could hear if the marriage of the SuperZero and the SW2 would result in a world-beating $880 speaker system.

At first I tried using two SW2s in a passive configuration, with their internal 130Hz crossovers splitting the signal between each sub and SuperZero. NHT's Ken Kantor told me that the SW2's internal crossover was optimized for the larger NHT speakers and not for the SuperZero, but encouraged me to try the configuration anyway.

Well, I can tell you this: If the SuperZeros had no low end before, they DAMN WELL had it now!!! Ye gads!! Beavis and Butt-head would kill for a speaker setup like this! There was way too much bass with this setup, but I gotta tell you—the Butthole Surfers' Independent Worm Saloon never sounded as almightily WOMPIN'! Man, I wish I'd had this setup when I was 13!! Cuz when you're 13, you could give a rat's ass about timbral accuracy and tonal balance—you want BIG, BAD BASS that'll knock your dad clean off his feet and send him tumbling down the stairs when he has the gall to barge in yelling for you to turn that #$A$% down!! YEAH!! LATER WITH YOU, POPS!! WA-BOOOM!! This is the setup that Beavis and Butt-head would go for in a BIG way. If you're 13 and reading this right now, you have FOUND the SOUND!

But for us over-13 audiowusses, using two passive SW2s isn't really the way to go if you want to listen to anything but AC/DC's Back in Black, which I have to admit has never sounded better in my house than with the two passive SW2s. Way too much bass, and the transition between the subs and the SuperZeros wasn't very smoothly integrated, either—not surprising in light of the fact that neither the SW2 nor the SuperZero was designed to go together in this fashion.

Pre-pube ya-yas out of my system, I went about hooking up the SW2 the way NHT intended: just a single SW2 driven by the MA-1 amplifier, crossed over to the SuperZeros with the MA-1's own speaker-level crossover. The output of the main amp, a Muse 100 was taken to the MA-1, and the high-pass-filtered signal was sent on to the SuperZeros.

While this configuration was far better in terms of tonal balance and low-end control, the SuperZeros lost a good deal of their clarity and focus. There was a layer of opacity now that wasn't there when they were driven directly by the Muse amp. No matter how I adjusted the sub's level and/or crossover frequency, running the speaker-level signal through the MA-1's internal speaker-level crossover caused a considerable amount of degradation of the satellites' sound—so much so that I don't recommend this hookup method. Much of what the SuperZeros did so well was lost when crossing them over through the MA-1.

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