NHT SuperZero loudspeaker & SW2 subwoofer Page 3

The MA-1 offers two ways to mate the SW2 subwoofer with a pair of speakers, and was designed to allow the use of other manufacturers' speakers as well as NHT's own models. Via the MA-1's speaker-level inputs and outputs, the signal from a system's main amplifier is taken to the MA-1 and crossed over passively at 100Hz to the main speakers. The MA-1 also sums the two channels and sends the signal to the active low-pass crossover, whose feed to the subwoofer is then adjustable in terms of level via the front-panel level knob and crossover frequency—50Hz, 80Hz, or 110Hz (footnote 3). (The MA-1's crossover has a fourth setting, Bypass, which removes the crossover from the circuit and makes the MA-1 a full-range mono power amplifier suitable for driving the center-channel speaker in a Home Theater system, etc.) While the satellite speakers are always crossed over at 100Hz, NHT recommends that the user try all three subwoofer frequencies to find the best balance between the SW2 and the main speakers for a given system and room.

The MA-1 also has a pair of RCA jacks that allow for line-level signal inputs, such as an external crossover or the subwoofer output from a Dolby Pro Logic surround decoder. In this case, no signal is sent to the main speakers. The input signal is simply sent to the subwoofer and crossed-over at 50/80/110Hz; it bypasses the crossover entirely if the surround processor has its own crossover.

The MA-1 has a Standby mode that turns the amplifier off if no audio signal is detected by the MA-1 within several minutes. Standby mode is indicated by a green LED on the front panel, which remains lighted until the MA-1 revs up again in the presence of an audio signal. For those who do not appreciate such anti-high-end tomfoolery and like to use up them kilowatt hours on a steady basis, NHT dealers offer a simple internal modification to defeat the Standby circuit.

Overall, the MA-1 looks and feels much the same as most $300 power amplifiers—like Rotel and Adcom gear, for example—and its internal construction looks about on a par with either of those brands. Instead of the Far East, however, the MA-1 is built in LA by Databyte. One aspect of the MA-1 that bothers me, though, is the use of cheap, spring-loaded speaker connectors for the speaker-level inputs and outputs. Ol' Dick Olsher had it right in his review of the original Hsu Research subwoofer in Vol.16 No.3, p.86: These el-cheapo spring-loaded speaker connectors suuuuuuuuuck, and shouldn't be seen on gear with high-end pretensions. Thankfully, the MA-1's subwoofer output has a good pair o' Heavy-Duty Judy five-way posts.

As with other affordable gear that I review, I listened to the NHT SuperZeros and SW2 subwoofer in both my He-Man reference rig and my Real World living-room system. The first rig tells me what a product sounds like in absolute terms, and the second tells me how much of that information matters in an environment more typical of what non-audiophiles experience. The Real World system also tells me how well a product can sound when mated to similarly priced gear, which is probably the most important part of the review.

For LP listening with the He-Man rig, the analog setup consisted of the Well-Tempered Record Player, the Sumiko Blue Point Special cartridge, and the Exposure XVII preamp (with a phono stage via its Rec-Out jacks). CDs were played with a Theta Data II transport linked to Theta's Gen.III processor with Theta's Single-Mode laserlink. My 8-track tapes were handled by a Curtis Mathes 8-track deck. The line-stage was my own buffered passive preamp; the amplifier was either Aragon's 4004 Mk.II or the new Muse Model 160; cables were Kimber KCAG for interconnect and 4AG for speaker cable; and everything, including the NHT MA-1 amplifier/crossover, was plugged into API Power Wedge AC line-conditioners.

The Real World system included the JVC XL-Z1050, Rotel RCD-955AX, and NAD 502 CD players; my own buffered passive preamp as the line-stage; the Muse Model 100 amplifier; Kimber PBJ interconnects and Kimber 4TC or AudioQuest Type 4 speaker cable; and raw AC as the poweur du jour.

Conflict-of-interest alert
As the reader of this assertedly unbiased review, you should be aware that I have seen the designer of these products totally naked. It was in a Taipei bathhouse when we were both overseas last year for the Taiwan High-End Hi-Fi Show. In fact, I was totally naked, too, and sitting on a wooden-slat bench in a steam room with my totally naked butt this close to the designer's own butt, which, again, was totally naked.

I like Ken Kantor. Even his naked butt. But I review products, not people, and I take my professional credibility very seriously. I have given highly negative reviews to products designed by people who, on a personal level, I like quite a bit. And I have given rave reviews to products from people who, on a personal level, I wouldn't piss on if they caught fire.

So if the knowledge that I have seen the naked butt of these products' designer undermines your opinion of my objectivity, I understand. But it's one hell of a butt, this is one hell of a good speaker, and I think you should know about them both.

The NHT SuperZeros ROCK!! I don't hear that many products that even meet the level of performance claimed by their manufacturers, much less set a new standard for sound quality at anywhere near the price of the SuperZeros. A $3000 amp that sounds about as good as many other $3000 amps? Zzzzzzzz. But a $230 loudspeaker that competes with high-end speakers costing $3000? Now that's something to get excited about!

The SuperZeros aren't perfect. Although they can play impressively loud for their size, they don't perform miracles—drive them hard and the sound becomes edgy and hard, as can only be expected from speakers tiny enough to juggle. But what distinguishes the li'l NHTs from their similarly priced competition is that, rather than go for a budget design that "fakes" a real low end with a midbass hump, and otherwise balances a panoply of flaws into a reasonable facsimile of a real high-end speaker, the designer of the NHT SuperZeros has completely ignored the bass range and all the problems that it entails in a budget design. Ken Kantor has instead concentrated on getting the range from 100Hz on up as accurate and as coloration-free as possible—within the constraints of his design budget.

Footnote 3: The actual markings on the MA-1's rear are "50Hz," "100Hz," and "200Hz," but as Corey's nomenclature coincides with the measured -3dB points, I've left them as is.—John Atkinson
537 Stone Road, Suite E
Benicia, CA 94510
(800) NHT-9993