NHT SB-3 loudspeaker Page 2

The SB-3's midrange and high-frequency strengths combined to make it an excellent reproducer of solo piano. On Two Hours with Thelonious Monk (Riverside 460/461), recorded live in Europe in the early '60s, Monk leaves his trio for one tune to do a touching, breathtaking solo rendition of "Body and Soul." Through the SB-3, Monk's upper-register right-hand figures were pristine, detailed, and dynamic, but without any unnatural edge.

Bass reproduction was remarkable on several fronts. Midbass reproduction was a touch warm and ripe but did not sound colored; this character was uniform throughout the spectrum, with no hooting or overhang evident on any notes. Interestingly, on delicate bass passages—John Ore's double-bass solos on the Monk set, Gary Wilson's upper-register bass-guitar figures on "Don't Look Back," from You Think You Really Know Me (Motel MRLP007)—were articulate, fast, resonant, and uncolored. However, on a bombastic rock blockbuster with considerable bass-guitar content (Janis Ian's "This Train Still Runs," from Breaking Silence, Analogue Productions CAPP027) or bass-synth blasts (Sade's "Feel No Pain," from Love Deluxe, Epic EK 53178), the bass instrument blasted forward and rocked on, as it should.

Lower-bass extension was quite impressive for a bookshelf speaker. NHT claims a lower limit of 39Hz, but I was able to get readings down into the low to mid-40s using the chromatic-scale sinewave tests from Stereophile's Test CD 3 in my small and large listening rooms.

Well-recorded classical chamber works, such as George Crumb's Quest (Bridge 9069), demonstrated the SB-3's excellent dynamic articulation, especially at lower levels. In Quest, I could follow each subtle passage of the classical guitar, the rosin on the string bassist's bow, and the very-low-level figures on mallet percussion and bowed cymbal—the last, in some cases, barely audible. The SB-3 breathed the same sense of dynamic continuity into this recording that I'm used to hearing from much more expensive speakers.

Classical fans will also appreciate that the detail resolution, ambience retrieval, and soundstaging of the SB-3s were the best I've heard from a speaker in this price range. To listen to Kohjiba's The Transmigration of the Soul, from Festival (Stereophile STPH007)—a work that, by now, I know as well as recording engineer JA—I turned out the lights, shut my eyes, and imagined that the harp, marimba, and clarinet were in the room with me, in all their timbrally fleshed-out and dimensional body. It was not that difficult to do.

The Beauty Contest...
I compared the $600/pair NHT SB-3 with the Paradigm Atom ($189/pair), the Polk RT25i ($319/pair), the JMlab Chorus 706 ($450/pair), and the Alán Petite ($1000/pair when last available).

The Paradigm Atom was thicker in the lower midrange than the SB-3, and its high frequencies, although natural, were not as extended as the NHT's. The Atom was also less detailed than the SB-3, and exhibited a bit of congestion at high levels in highly modulated passages. Overall, the Paradigm's performance was quite natural and involving; the performance gap between the Atom and the SB-3 was much narrower than the difference in price would suggest.

The Polk RT25i's midrange was as natural as the SB-3's, as were its high frequencies. However, the Polk's high-frequency performance was less crisp, but apparently more extended into the HF extremes. The Polk's upper-midbass and upper-bass performance was a bit more natural, but the SB-3 was far superior in low-frequency extension and high-level dynamic realism.

The JMlab Chorus 706's presentation was more delicate, romantic, and warm than the NHT's, and more laid-back as well. The 706's bass extension was also quite impressive for a bookshelf speaker, but the NHT seemed to go deeper still. Finally, although the JMlab is a champ at resolving detail, I felt that the SB-3 provided a more detailed and transparent portrayal of well-recorded works.

The Alán Petite was the most neutral, detailed, and transparent contender, with the most extended and articulate high-frequency performance. Although the Alán's mid- and upper bass were the most neutral of the group, the NHT was superior in the areas of bass extension and high-level dynamic slam.

And the verdict is...
I had never been as impressed with a bookshelf speaker as I was with the NHT SB-3. It has an appealing tonal balance, does very little wrong, and, at its price, sets a new standard for bookshelf designs in the areas of detail resolution, bass extension, and dynamic articulation. Moreover, it looks gorgeous and should fit in with most décors. The SB-3 is a far cry from the NHT 1.3 I evaluated more than a decade ago; I regret having waited this long to revisit the brand. Congratulations to Jack Hidley and his talented design team.

527 Stone Road
Benicia, CA 94510
(800) 648-9993