NHT 2.9 loudspeaker
But despite its narrow footprint, the 3.3 was—is—a large speaker, and not everyone's rooms can accommodate it. The speaker's $4000/pair price has remained remarkably stable since its introduction, and although in today's market that price is actually fair, it is not low.
Enter the NHT 2.9. It resembles the 3.3 to a remarkable degree, offers much of what the larger loudspeaker does, comes in a more manageable size, and costs a lot less money.
Though the NHT 2.9 is less bulky than the 3.3, it still can't be described as a "small" speaker. A narrow, fairly deep floorstanding design, the 2.9 is designed to be positioned slightly out from the wall, less tightly coupled to the wall than the 3.3 but more closely than most audiophile speakers. It also is intended to be positioned at right angles to the wall behind it, with the front baffle's built-in inward slant providing the needed toe-in. (NHT calls this design FIG, for Focused Image Geometry.) To minimize diffraction, a single strip of foam is mounted on the front baffle's outside edge. The 2.9s are mirror-imaged, or "handed," with the woofers mounted on the inside edges.
The 2.9 duplicates the 3.3's front-baffle layout and upper-range driver configuration—the same 6.5" and 4" mid and upper-mid drivers, the same 1" metal-dome tweeter. Instead of the 3.3's 12" woofer, however, the 2.9 incorporates a 10-incher. As in the larger speaker, the 2.9's woofer is positioned low and to the rear on the cabinet's inner side panel. The 10" drive-unit uses the same motor design as in the 12", and is claimed to have a peak-peak excursion of more than 1". Two sets of rear-panel terminals allow for biwiring or bi-amping. The heavy, solidly built cabinet is constructed of 1" MDF, finished in gloss black, mahogany, or sycamore laminate (the latter two at extra cost). The more expensive, standard metallic black laminate of the 3.3 is not available on the 2.9.
Because the 2.9's cabinet is so narrow, metal brackets are provided to improve its stability. These fasten to the bottom of the enclosure and extend its footprint at the base by about 4"—enough to prevent it from easily tipping over. Metal cones screw into the ends of these brackets, though the cones furnished are not a particularly good choice; they're too fat and dull to penetrate the typical living-room carpet and solidly anchor the speaker to the subfloor—the whole point, as it were, of cones or spikes. I rescued from my Spike Orphanage a set of sharp spikes that just happened to match the threads in the 2.9's brackets. They worked much better than NHT's cones, at least in my setup.
NHT recommends that the rear of the 2.9's cabinet be 4-10" from the wall behind. They also recommend that the distance to the main listening seat be 1.5 times the distance between the speakers. The distance to the sidewall should be at least 2', with the speakers set up parallel with each other. The best listening height is on the tweeter axis. To achieve this, the 2.9s can be tilted slightly, if necessary, using their spiked feet.
While I was ultimately able to approach all of NHT's recommended setup conditions, I first tried the 2.9s in a more conventional "audiophile" location: well away from all nearby walls, including the wall behind them. The bass was very tight and detailed in this position, and while the overall balance was not exactly thin, it was certainly reticent in the bottom end—rather like a small monitor but with more solid bass. Given how this differed from NHT's recommendations, the results were definitely better than I had expected but not really a revelation.
The arrangement proved worth a try, however, and I suspect that some listeners will actually like the sort of balance it provides. It also might complement a tube amp having only fair bass control and a soft top end. But despite the fact that the solid-state Kinergetics amplifier I used for most of my listening does sound more warm and sweet than is typical of the breed, this amp/speaker combination in this less-than-optimum location lacked sufficient natural warmth to provide long-term satisfaction.
Footnote 1: Reviewed in the December 1993 Stereophile (Vol.16 No.12), with a "Follow-Up" in March 1994 (Vol.17 No.3).