NHT Model 1.3 loudspeaker

Now Hear This (NHT) was founded to produce low-cost loudspeakers a breed apart from the mass-market variety often found at the lower price points. Co-founder Ken Kantor has a long history in the hi-fi business as a designer at Acoustic Research, NAD, and as a design consultant to some large Japanese manufacturers. NHT's line ranges from the $180/pair Model Zero to the $1200 Model 100.

At $480/pair, the Model 1.3 is midway in NHT's product line. Finished in a gloss-black high-pressure laminate, the 1.3 is elegant, even beautiful, and is distinguished by its unusual angled front baffle. This design means that the rear baffle is nonparallel to the driver, thus reducing the amount of internal cabinet energy reflected back toward the woofer. This is said to improve imaging and midrange purity by reducing comb filtering. In addition, the angled baffle puts the listener directly on-axis with the loudspeakers pointing straight ahead. This increases the ratio of direct-to-reflected sound reaching the listener and further improves imaging.

One disadvantage of this method is higher cost. Square boxes are chosen for inexpensive loudspeakers because they can be made by a technique called "V cut and fold." The enclosure begins as a flat sheet of vinyl-covered MDF that has a right-angled, 45° V-groove cut through to the vinyl, which then acts as a hinge. The box is then folded and glued. Both the Model 1.3's unusual shape and laminate coating preclude the use of this method. The ¾" MDF cabinet is coated with a 1/16" layer of black laminate. NHT's cabinet factory is a joint venture with NHT, and the two factories are within walking distance of one another.

Rather than use off-the-shelf drivers, the 6" woofer and 1" soft-dome tweeter are custom-made for NHT. The woofer took 18 months to develop from the ground up, and is manufactured in Asia by KSC. The tweeter is made by Tonegen in Japan, to NHT's specifications. Tonegen manufactures many drivers for high-end loudspeakers, including, I believe, the EMITs for Infinity. The drivers are mounted symmetrically on the front baffle, vertically in-line. Crossover frequency is 3.1kHz, with second-order slopes and a damping compensation network. Air-core inductors are used, along with some polypropylene capacitors. A single pair of five-way binding posts is mounted in a large cup in the rear panel.

In addition to its attractive appearance, the Model 1.3 has excellent fit and finish.

The NHT 1.3s were auditioned primarily on Celestion 24" stands, but did see some time on their own stands (available from NHT for $150/pair). Ken Kantor and I spent an afternoon in my listening room trying to find the best positions for the 1.3s, but I ended up auditioning them in nearly the same place I'd listened to the Tannoy loudspeakers also reviewed in this issue. I had, however, subsequently rearranged my listening room to get the equipment racks to the back of the room and away from the loudspeakers to reduce early reflections. I kept the 1.3s pointing straight ahead, relying on the angled baffle to put me on-axis in accordance with their design. I was able to position them farther apart than the Tannoys without losing center fill, gaining a little wider soundstage.

It was immediately apparent that the Model 1.3s were a notch higher in performance than the Tannoys. While the E11s had a neutral midrange that seemed to be bordered by a steely brightness at one end and some bass coloration at the other, the 1.3s had a much wider band of tonal neutrality. The midrange was exceptionally pure, detailed, and transparent. Mid- and upper bass were smoother and better damped, and the lower treble was free from glare. In fact, the tonal character of the 1.3 was reminiscent of much more expensive loudspeakers. The 1.3's reproduction of the Bösendorfer on Dick Hyman plays Fats Waller (RR-33CD) was fairly close in character to the presentation of the exceptionally neutral Hales Signatures. The left-hand lines were clear and uncongested, while the midrange and treble exhibited a freedom from obvious colorations. In addition, the midrange was well detailed, with a clarity that allowed me to hear subtle instrumental detail.

My one complaint about the 1.3's tonal balance is that it tended to be bright in the upper treble. It didn't have a steely, sibilant brightness like the Tannoy. Rather, the excess treble energy seemed higher in frequency. Although strings, vocals, and sax were fairly neutral, cymbals had an etched character that tended to produce fatigue over an extended listening session. Recordings that lacked substantial energy in the extreme treble—the Harmonia Mundi USA recording of Handel's Water Music (HMU 907010), for example—were unaffected by this bright character.

The Model 1.3s had the very satisfying ability to carry a bass line. There was the subjective impression of LF extension, which, along with the absence of bloat, presented a detailed, articulate bass rendering. The bass seemed quick and agile, giving music a good rhythmic flow. Bass drum was reproduced with a solid feel, along with a fast attack. Drums had a sharp leading edge and were free from fatness. These characteristics added to my impression of the Model 1.3's speed and agility. In addition, the lower registers were remarkably coloration-free. They did not have the obvious resonances manifested as left-hand piano notes jumping forward, or vocals taking on a chestiness in the lower registers.

The bass tended to be a bit overdamped, imparting a leanness to the mid- and upper bass. This was in sharp contrast to the E11's somewhat over-warm bass. Vocals had a character I would hesitate to call thin, but they lacked a certain amount of body. Similarly, acoustic bass tended to be less round and full. Overall, the bass had excellent extension, was detailed and articulate, and had a generally lean character.

Moving on to the soundstage, I found the 1.3s excelled in presenting a convincing illusion of space and depth. The transparent and detailed midrange helped resolve a recording's spatial information. Instruments were surrounded by a sense of air, spatially and texturally distinct from their neighbors. Imaging was good laterally, with excellent focus and a strong center channel. The Model 1.3s did well on the LEDR test, confirming their imaging abilities. The "Over" test was particularly impressive, with a smooth, unbroken arc thrown between and above the loudspeakers.

Having carried out mixes on many poor (by audiophile standards) recording-studio monitors, I find there is a tendency to second-guess the monitors to try to figure out what's really on the tape. One constantly modifies one's judgments because the monitors can't be believed due to their tonal imbalance. When assessing a loudspeaker, I ask myself hypothetically, "How confident would I be mixing on these?" In the case of the Model 1.3s, I wouldn't hesitate to use them as a reference.

The NHT Model 1.3 excels in those areas that are most important musically: tonal neutrality, uncolored and transparent midrange, and well-defined and articulate bass presentation. In these areas, it rivals much more expensive loudspeakers. The midrange is especially clear and detailed, giving instruments and vocals a natural texture and providing an excellent view into the presentation.

I prefer the 1.3's somewhat lean mid-to-upper bass to a tubby, underdamped bass. This improves the overall presentation by the absence of that thick, congested sound that often accompanies a loose bass. In addition, the bass was articulate and agile, clearly resolving pitch. The slight loss of body and warmth to some instruments was, in my opinion, worth the increase in definition and control. In addition, bass extension was surprising for the 1.3's cabinet size. I found the brightness in the extreme treble to be a liability, but not significant enough to preclude a recommendation. This minor fault is more than compensated for by the 1.3's strengths and overall musical performance.

The NHT Model 1.3 offers the audiophile on a budget a glimpse of high-end sound at a mid-fi price. Highly recommended.

140 W. Industrial Way
Benicia, CA 94510
(800) 648-9993

TheAnalogkid's picture

I know mine look exactly like these but are the 1.5's. Maybe a diff tweeter or something.

4 NHT 1.5's, NHT SuperCenter, and my old trusty Velodyne ULD-15. Sounds great! Probably worth around $1k but would cost a lot to replace.

I had NHT 3.3's for 10 years until I finally upgraded to the GoldenEar Triton Ones. I loved the imaging, dynamics, and soundstage of the 3.3's but the GE Triton Ones do all of that and more. I waited a long time for a "bang for the buck" speaker to compete and I am not disappointed.

My wife says I traded a couple monoliths for a couple more monoliths, just a bit less imposing.

These are great times for the audio lover!!

DaveinSM's picture

I had the NHT 2.9 and it was a good speaker with very good bass that could play effortlessly very loud. But when I switched to Thiel CS 22, it was immediately apparent that they were better in flat frequency response, open, airy soundstaging, pinpoint imaging, and, to me, musicality. Those Thiels were just sweet speakers. The only area in which they could not match the NHTs was in max SPL and low bass slam. No contest there.

Anon2's picture

I appreciate the old reviews. It sometimes shows that a bargain might be had, if even to upgrade with new drivers from two of the excellent suppliers that we have in the US.

I would ask, when we will get more reviews of new stand-mounts? I don't mind having a German or Swedish or Polish translation lesson, because it's often what you have to do to get more reviews on new speakers.

The superb B&W 685 was never tested in this publication; the S2 is now two years old with no Stereophile review. The Amphion Argon has been around for over a decade; it now has a new upgrade. No review to be found in this publication. There is a new Dynaudio Excite X18 (to your credit you did review the X14); I hope a review is forthcoming. Sonus Faber has had the Olympica I out for a couple of years; I enjoyed what I heard from a brief listen. The exiting Dynaudio Focus 160 (and, yes, the non-amped Focus line is going away) got a blog/blurb, but never a full review.

I know you can't review everything. But there are some products that your competitors have reviewed--to high accolades--that never reach these pages.

Maybe mobile audio and hi-rez are now more prominent than speakers. Still, for many of us, speakers, and wide-ranging new speaker reviews, is an area of prime interest for any publication of our hobby. Please, we need more speaker reviews, preferably of new products. We don't mind the linguistic education we get from European websites to learn terms like "Spitzenklasse" and "überragend," and "Kvalitetsintryck," with help from Google. It's what I find myself doing more and more often when it comes to speaker reviews.

Fortunately, our British friends provide some relief with their more prevalent reviews of English-language stand-mount speaker reviews, some of which now have video content.

Please help, or explain what we're missing.

androman's picture

...Dynaudio excite x18 ,Amphion Argon 3s and Acoustic Energy reference 1, wonderful Air Tight Bonsai 2 are the kind of speakers this publication should be reviewing and not just to label them with A,B,C rankings but rather to arm readers with useful information on their character to make their purchase easier. That's what your audio readership is all about, Mr. Atkinson if you haven't figured out that one, yet. Then perhaps audio magazines wouldn't have to merge in order to survive on the market if you gave readers what they expect from an audio publicaton.