NHT Classic Absolute Tower loudspeaker Page 2

The NHT's neutral midrange made it an excellent match for small-ensemble jazz recordings. I focused on Herbie Hancock's simple yet dynamic chordal comping on his composition "Blind Man, Blind Man," from My Point of View (CD, Blue Note CDP-84126). The sound of his piano was warm and woody, but every percussive attack was perfectly integrated with the rhythm section, with no trace of rounding or excess sharpness. Jazz guitar was also remarkably realistic. Kenny Burrell's lower-register melodic work in "Main Stem," from Jimmy Smith's Fourmost (CD, Milestone MCD-9184-2), recorded live at Fat Tuesday's in New York City, sounded as if I were sitting in the fifth row of that wonderful club (now defunct), which I had done many times in the 1980s.

The holographic quality of all vocal recordings I listened to through the NHTs made me want to span the entire range of the human voice. Paul McCartney's rich lower-register work in the verses of his "Let It Be," from Let It Be . . . Naked (CD, Apple CDP 5 95713 2), resonated without a touch of chestiness or speaker-enclosure colorations. Further up the vocal range, Col. Bruce Hampton's closely miked "Georgia tenor" can sound grating or nasal with the wrong equipment, and is at best acquired taste. However, in his "Halifax," from the Hampton Grease Band's Music to Eat (CD, Shotput/Columbia/Legacy C2K 67483), there was just the right amount of nasal squawk, and a timbral envelope that reminded me of when I heard Hampton sing this tune at New York's Fillmore East in 1971. In the mezzo-soprano range, "Urge for Going," from Hits (CD, Reprise 46326-2), presented an airy and pristine Joni Mitchell, with perfectly articulated transients. Moreover, the NHT's ability to render low-level dynamics were such that, for the first time, I noticed how strong Mitchell's Canadian accent is in this recording.

High frequencies were extended, airy, and uncolored, and lost no sense of naturalness, even with the most challenging recordings. Flutist Daniel Carter does an elegantly minimalist duet with bassist William Parker on "X-Ray," from pianist Matthew Shipp's Nu Bop (CD, Thirsty Ear TH 57114); Carter's breathy, silky, dynamic phrasing was as identifiable through the NHTs as I've heard it in concert. (I'm blessed to have a recording of Carter sitting in with my jazz quartet, Attention Screen.) But the acid test was percussionist Terry Cox's accompaniment, on closely miked finger cymbals and glockenspiel, of John Renbourn in the latter's "The Earle of Salisbury," from the guitarist's Sir John Alot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & ye Grene Knyghte (CD, Shanachie 97021). The sharp, piercing, extended transients are very easy to reproduce poorly, but the Absolute Tower captured them perfectly, without harshness or blurring.

The speaker's high-frequency performance also married nicely with its ability to flawlessly reproduce rapid transients in both acoustic and electronic recordings. Guitarist John McLaughlin makes extensive and creative use of electronic sequencer programming on his Industrial Zen (CD, C&B Media/Verve Fontana 7066-02); the NHT reproduced this with a speed, immediacy, and delicacy reminiscent of those of a fine electrostatic speaker.

As I listened to recordings with significant bass output, I thought about what Chris Byrne had said: that the Absolute Tower was not designed with full bass response in mind. But listening to a wide range of rock and classical recordings at all volume levels, I never once felt that the NHTs sounded bass-shy. And while my large listening room is capable of fully supporting the bottom-octave reproduction of large speakers, I've frequently had difficulty getting small, affordable loudspeakers to produce a realistic bottom end here. Not a problem with the Absolute Towers. Even bass guitarist Peter Freeman's thundering opening to "Aurora," from Jon Hassell's Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (CD, ECM 2077), was dramatic and forceful—and it was very easy to determine the pitches of his melodic bass line.

What I enjoyed most about the NHT was its coherent presentation of the textures of rhythm sections in jazz and rock recordings. Listening to Wayne Shorter's "Sanctuary"/"Nefertiti," from guitarist Steve Khan's The Green Field/El Prado Verde (CD, Tone Center TC-4044 2), I focused on the interplay between bassist John Patitucci and drummer Jack DeJohnette; the sense of pace reproduced by the NHT was tight and coherent. Similarly, Ringo Starr's flamboyant drumming on George Harrison's "Only a Northern Song," from the Beatles' Yellow Submarine Songtrack (CD, Apple CDP 5 21481 2), locked in with Paul McCartney's bass and all of this track's electronic effects to provide through the NHTs a lively, swirling, chugging sound with no trace of sluggishness. This diminutive floorstander could rock!

Then I cranked the Absolute Towers to rock-concert level and spun Screaming Headless Torsos' "Smile in a Wave," from their eponymous album (CD, Discovery 77019). This reimagining of Miles Davis' "Theme from Jack Johnson" by guitarist David Fiuczynski created some slammin' rhythms at 95dB through the NHTs in my large listening room.

But in addition to high-level dynamic swings, the Absolute Towers were capable of subtle low-level dynamic shadings. I analyzed Mark Flynn's wide-ranging percussive palette in "Mansour's Gift," from Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2). The NHTs captured all the subtle nuances of Mark's drumming near the beginning of the piece's pianissimo passages, and followed through with the fff blast near the end. This is the sort of linear reproduction of a full dynamic envelope that I normally expect from much larger, more expensive floorstanders.

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