NHT SuperZero loudspeaker & SW2 subwoofer Page 2

But that was then and this is now. Ken Kantor, NHT's designer/founder, has totally redesigned his smallest speaker—the cabinet is the only thing left from the older Zero—giving it high-performance drivers, a better crossover, and real speaker connectors. And while NHT never claimed that the original Zero was anything but a decent budget speaker, they're calling the SuperZero a true high-end component that just happens to cost very little.

I first heard the SuperZero when NHT introduced it at the 1993 Las Vegas WCES along with their new flagship 3.3 ($4000/pair). But while the 3.3 really knocked me out, the li'l SuperZero wasn't far behind. Having become very familiar with the original Zero's sound, I couldn't believe the level of sound quality I was hearing from the Super version. I promised you in my Show report last April that I'd review the new NHTs as soon as I could lay my hands on a pair. Hey, I may lie, cheat, steal, swear, expectorate, saunter, and push over sleeping cows in the dead of night, but a man's only as good as his word.

Whut's the guts?
The NHT SuperZero is a true minimonitor—the speaker's 5.5" front panel is barely wider than the 4.5" paper-cone midrange/woofer. This acoustic-suspension driver is mated to a 1" fabric-dome tweeter. The new mid-woofer is a better-behaved driver than that of the original Zero, with a smoother response at the top of its band. The 1" fabric-dome tweeter—the same driver used in NHT's $1095/pair 2.3a (footnote 1)—replaces the original Zero's inexpensive 3/4" polycarbonate-dome tweeter. The crossover has also been upgraded to better integrate these higher-performance drivers. Unlike most inexpensive speakers, both drivers were designed by NHT from the ground up, then made by Japanese OEM driver manufacturer Tonegen to NHT's specs.

The drivers are crossed over at 2.2kHz with a minimalist crossover consisting of just two small electrolytic capacitors (5µF/50V and 10µF/50V), three resistors, and one inductor. The low-pass feed to the SuperZero's woofer is a second-order 12dB/octave filter, while the tweeter is crossed over with a first-order 6dB/octave slope. Thankfully, NHT has replaced the original Zero's lousy spring-loaded speaker connectors with high-quality, five-way speaker posts that are actually better than the ones that came on my $1275 Spica Angeluses.

Unlike most speakers in the NHT's price range, the SuperZeros have a very high level of fit and finish. Although they cost only $230/pair, their piano-black finish gives them an elegant appearance that suggests expensive black-lacquer-finished furniture. For a time at my abode, the NHTs sat atop a $4500 Pioneer Pro-76 projection TV whose own finish is high-quality gloss-black, and the SuperZeros' finish melded seamlessly with the expensive Pioneer. The SuperZero's elegant appearance is miles ahead of the typical plastik-wood "near-veneers" and other cheezy finishes usually found in the Lower Reaches. I saw a similarly priced Boston Acoustics speaker recently that had a "finish" consisting of a piece of woodgrain-print wallpaper glued around the speaker cabinet. The edges were coming loose around the cabinet's corners—the perfect addition to any fine mobile home. Like Charles Kuralt's, maybe.

NHT SW2 subwoofer
The SW2 subwoofer comes in two versions: one with an internal 130Hz 12dB/octave crossover, one without. The version with the crossover is meant for use with NHT's larger speakers—such as the $500/pair 1.3a (footnote 2). and the $1095/pair 2.3a—to extend these speakers' LF response to -3dB at 21Hz. Used in this situation, two SW2s are employed, one for each speaker.

The crossover-equipped version of the SW2 has four pairs of five-way speaker posts on a sunken cup located on the rear panel to interface the sub with the rest of the system. One pair, Sub In, takes the speaker-level signal from the system's power amplifier; another pair, Sat Out, sends the portion of the music signal above 130Hz to the satellite speaker. The remaining two pairs of speaker posts are for using the SW2 with an external amplifier/crossover such as NHT's MA-1. Normally jumpered together for passive operation, the SW2's internal crossover may be bypassed for use with the MA-1 by removing these jumpers and driving the designated pair of five-way posts.

The SW2 I had on hand was finished in the same high-gloss, black-laminate finish as the SuperZeros, and looked just as boss—as long as I kept my grubby fingers off it. Even though the SW2 is a true subwoofer with response down in the lo twennies, it's only a 16" cube, and doesn't really dominate a room the way many other subwoofers can. Even when I had two SW2s set up in the living room, their small size made them easy to position so they wouldn't look ugly enough to send Dara after "El Diablo," the heavy cast-iron skillet she wields like it's a natural extension of her right arm.

NHT MA-1 amplifier/crossover
The MA-1 is an 80W solid-state mono amplifier expressly designed by NHT's Ken Kantor to drive the SW2 subwoofer. Aside from the passive crossover-equipped version of the SW2 described above, the SW2 also comes without the internal crossover as part of a $650 package (called the SW2P) with the MA-1. This version of the SW2 has just a single set of five-way posts, which are driven by the MA-1.

Footnote 1: Favorably reviewed by Thomas J. Norton in Vol.16 No.9, p.107.

Footnote 2: The 1.3a's earlier and mostly identical iteration, the 1.3, was enthusiastically reviewed by Robert Harley in Vol.13 No.9, p.149.

537 Stone Road, Suite E
Benicia, CA 94510
(800) NHT-9993