NHT (original) SuperZero vs. Sony SS-K10ED

Introductions

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a view from the side of both speakers

In a previous publish, I reviewed the NHT SuperZero (original) Mini-Monitor speakers and have actually since switched to them. I didn’t compare them as much in the review, but these speakers bested my Sony SS-K10ED, which I’ve had for over a year. It’s not just for any plain reason. It’s even more impressive to say that the NHT SuperZero, which has an MSRP of $230 per pair, came on top against a speaker that had an MSRP about $600 per pair. You’d think that based on price point that the Sony’s would have come on top. Still, even at that price difference there is some differences that arose in which one does better than the other. I’ll be talking about them here.

Format

To make things interesting, I’ll actually be using a kind of format I’ve seen writers use (for other purposes). It’ll probably be a first for someone do to this for speakers but I’m going to try it anyway, as a form of experiment. For this comparison I’ll be treating this like a head-to-head battle! So, I’ll give a set of qualities I look for when I review speakers. Things like imaging, soundstage, transparency, instrumental separation, tonal quality, expressiveness, build quality and aesthetics and high volume performance. Both will duke it out, and I’ll announce the winner after comments. Sometimes it’ll come down to preference, so if you don’t agree for whatever reason, I’d like to see what your thoughts are and why in the comments. Without further ado, let’s commence the battle!

Imaging

For round 1, both speakers will be compared in terms of their imaging capabilities. Starting off with the Sony SS-K10ED, the imaging is rather focused, with the areas like between the middle and either left of right being nicely projected. Sound production from the Sony can go beyond (in terms of way out left or right) the speakers themselves which is rather impressive. Overall set-up for imaging can be a bit troublesome as the speakers themselves are ported which means reflections from the speakers and the surroundings are rather important to consider. There is a lack of linearity in the Sony between the presentation of sound from the left and right and the middle. For example, if you play a track that contains instruments that play at the same time from the left and right, and a vocalist in the middle, you tell that the vocalist seems to be a bit behind the instrument flanking him/her.

For the NHT SuperZero, there is more focus presented in the imaging, with which anyone can most likely tell that there is a middle, left, right and the areas in between them as well. Like the Sony’s these speakers can also present sound like they are beyond the speakers, even more so than the Sony’s. There is also an impressive quality in which they present their imaging as well, being able to seem like they “disappear” and let the vocalist in the middle shine. Overall set-up is less troublesome in comparison, because they are a closed enclosure and you only need to worry more about the placement being between the listener and slightly toed-in to direct the woofers to the listener’s ears.

Winner: NHT SuperZero

Soundstage

For this round, the NHT SuperZero shall be presented first. The soundstage presented by these little speakers can cause you to think twice. The deep and wide presentation is impressive and nice, allowing one to be enveloped by the music, experiencing music like they are live, in front of you. Instruments that are in the background like drum sets sound deep and behind the vocals, and recordings with trumpets in the distant are believable. Typically speakers that are bigger, deeper, more expensive etc. exhibit these traits as good as these do, which is why they can make one think twice when listening to soundtracks on these.

On the other hand, the Sony SS-K10ED can present soundstage that is quite deep and wide, but not really to the extent of the NHT SuperZero. They don’t make you experience it so much like a live, but more like a recording. The reverb that gives one the impression of depth and distance is less impressive in comparison and doesn’t give an impression that is as deep or as wide as the SuperZero. Don’t get me wrong however, I think they do an above average job in terms of producing the soundstage. The SupeZeros just do it better.

Winner: NHT SuperZero

Transparency

While both are notable rather transparent speakers compared to many others there is still one that comes on top. First up is the Sony SS-K10ED. The Sony SS-K10ED’s mid range does deliver an impressive amount of clarity in the sound production. You can definitely hear even subtle details like strings on the fingerboard (the wood part in a classical instrument that you hold the strings down on), fingers running through strings on a guitar, subtle breathing, and even the subtle smacking of the libs from vocalists. But there is one part that somehow it lacks. And that is what the NHT SuperZero doesn’t.

High frequencies. Even though both speakers have dome-type tweeters, they’re are not created equal. Before I get into the NHT SuperZero’s tweeters, I must say the mid range on these are superb. Let’s take what I said about the Sony SS-K10ED’s mid range, and just take that up a step. They make everything sound more pronounced in terms of transparency. It’s more there than the SS-K10ED. Just like taking off piece of paper you never realized was there. And even with that and the superb tweeters from the NHT, this makes the NHT a clear winner. The tweeters produce clarity in comparison to the Extended Definition tweeters on the Sony like they are don’t even belong on the same level. The hiss from vocals sound more alive, the metallic sounds from cymbals are more alive than on the Extended Definition from the SS-K10ED. In terms of clarity it’s an overall winner from the SuperZero.

Winner: NHT SuperZero

Tonal Quality

For this round, this will actually come down to a bit or personal preference. Starting again with the NHT SuperZero, this speaker’s tonal quality is geared towards every genre, and is especially good with Piano in terms of the classical genre. Other genres like Jazz, Pop, Rock, Hip-Hop, R&B/Soul, sound superb and that I can attribute to the superb transparency in the mid-range. I can partly attribute that towards the Black Lacquered Gloss finish like a piano and how sturdy build quality with little resonance when it was tested, like a piano. Everything else sounds natural and very realistic.

As I’ve said, this will inevitably come down to personal preference because this isn’t a topic that can be considered one way is better than another. In this case the Sony SS-K10EDs are geared towards other genres of music, one of the most suitable being classical music. I can say as such because their characteristic in general is towards the slightly warm side and a very smooth tweeter. In the case of an A/B comparison with the NHT SuperZero, orchestral music with strings sound way more realistic and natural, given the characteristics of the speakers. If I must say, music that feature cellos sound superb especially on these speakers. To elaborate a bit further, strings are a tad bit harsh and disconnected on the SuperZero. This is what makes it unnatural in the the A/B comparison with the Sony’s. But that in turn is it’s weakness as well. It doesn’t fit other genres of music as well as the SuperZero does. And that is why, again, the NHT SuperZero is my winner again.

Winner: NHT SuperZero

Expressiveness

Another round, another win for the NHT SuperZero maybe? Might just be the case again, as this round is about the ability for the speakers to emit the energy of the soundtrack, like the energy a live performance, the story of the song or the emotions that are intended. This time based on the pattern, I’ll be starting with the Sony SS-K10ED. In terms of expressiveness, they do just enough to get by. It isn’t the most expressive speakers I’ve come across but they are quite expressive when need to be. But that’s about all it can do. They can sound delicate and smooth when presented these “emotions”, but for the sudden energy bursts they are quite lacking.

What exactly do I mean by energy bursts? I mean that in terms of music with instruments like guitar, especially when recorded up close, you can feel the pluck of the guitars like they are in front of you in a live performance, and for other things like the pizzicato (proper musical term for plucking of instrument strings) of double basses you can even feel each of them by the player. That is how the NHT SuperZero thrives. They are very expressive speakers that make you feel the impact (or you can say bass) from these so called instruments and hence can present the expressiveness I’m talking about. While they aren’t as delicate and smooth as the Sony SS-K10ED, they still go a really good job of presenting that idea as well. That makes for the NHT SuperZero to be an overall winner as well.

Winner: NHT SuperZero

Build Quality & Aesthetics

 

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View from the top of both speakers side by side

For their relatively high price point, obviously both speakers won’t have builds that use materials such as planks of wood that you can find from lowe’s or home depot. Both probably use MDF, short of Medium Density Fiberboard that is more dense than natural wood because of process of manufacturing it. When cutting one one will need a respirator because of the fine dust it generates. As such both speakers’ build-quality is very solid, which does indeed have an effect on the sound reproduction.

Starting with the NHT SuperZero, the build quality is superb. When using the knocking test as stated in my review, I can hear very little resonance, which is good for sound production as it eliminates unnecessary frequencies generated by the vibration. It’s like the sound gets sucked in because of how dense it is. Plus the Black Lacquered gloss finish makes it look like the finish you typically see on a piano, which is a plus for aesthetics but is a nightmare for fingerprints. That’s the least of your worries though, as you will probably only touch these ever so often when you need to.

The Sony SS-K10ED’s build-quality in terms of cabinet bracing is not as good as the NHT SuperZero, but it’s about three times it’s size and it has a unique shape that rare to come by. When doing the knocking test, you can tell there is a bit more resonance and that the cabinet is not as dense as the SuperZero because of the higher-pitched sound it generates. It would have been nice to have a Black Lacquered Gloss Finish for this like the ones made in Japan but these have wood-patterned finish. It does make it seem like natural wood painted black which isn’t the best in terms of aesthetics in my opinion. However, I do like the shape of the speakers, which is intended to direct the inevitable unwanted resonance in a certain direction to give better sound and reflect better for sound quality.

Both speakers this time around have different strengths and weaknesses in terms of the build-quality. Both present their own reason and purpose for the style and quality. Since it has come to that I will also pick based on looks. The reason I chose to do so is partly because of the overwhelming wins for the NHT SuperZero. Again, both build-qualities are superb, but the winner this round is the Sony SS-K10ED because of it’s aesthetics. The NHT SuperZero is the typical box shape and that’s pretty much mainstream and everyone does it. The quality of the material used however is superior to the Sony’s but it’s not one you would appreciate the looks everyday. In the case of the Sony’s, it’s aesthetics are pleasing to see and something that doesn’t stand out too much, but just enough and looks good when is does (especially from the side and top).

Winner: Sony SS-K10ED

High Volume Performance

In this round, what I mean by high volume performance is how the speakers handle increased volumes (that I usually won’t listen to but for those at a distance this would be more applicable). Most times speakers playing at higher volume levels will experience a change in sound characteristics than when producing sound at a lower level. Unless the speaker themselves are made for high-volumes this will be the case even for those expensive speakers.

This time starting with the Sony SS-K10ED, the power rating does say that it can handle a max of 120w. This means it can play rather loud before it reaches a point where it is too much and can damage the internals of the speakers (and maybe even your ears if it is for extended periods of time). However, before reaching even those levels, it’s already pretty loud with the relatively high sensitivity of the speakers. At those higher volumes the Sony SS-K10ED does a pretty good job, but it can reach a point where you definitely know it’s quite a lot for the speakers rather quickly. I didn’t have a sound meter at hand when I tried it, but I can tell you what it sounds like when it does. To me it seems like the Sony cannot really really handle loud volumes especially in terms of the tweeter. In general everything sounds too sharp and harsh and just uncharacteristic of the usual tweeter at usual volumes.

On the other hand, the NHT SuperZero does a really good job at louder volumes. It does change but it’s more or a gradual change than the Sony’s. The SuperZero seems to made like it can seem to handle more power. It sounds more composed at higher volumes than the Sony’s and everything still sounds more musical than the Sony’s. All that, and the recommended power rating is until a max of 100w which would mean that it’s not as loud as the Sony’s when it reaches max power input. Nevertheless it impresses with the fact that it can seem to handle a lot more than the Sony’s. As such the winner for this round is, again, the NHT SuperZero

Winner: NHT SuperZero

Conclusions

Wrapping it up, this was the first time I’m doing this battle format, so if there is any suggestions to improve it, anything is welcome. I’ll be reflecting on some changes I can implement for any comparison series, so there will definitely be more changes in the future to expect from me when doing comparisons like these. But I’ve tried to cover as much as I can between these two, and as you can see there are a lot of reason why the legendary NHT SuperZero comes on top of my Sony SS-K10ED. Although the reason for the battle was purely out of what I have at the moment, it was one that I thought quite a number of you might want to know especially because I chose the NHT SuperZero over my long-time best speakers the Sony SS-K10ED.

Nevertheless, the overall winner is the NHT SuperZero, with 6 rounds won. The Sony SS-K10ED only had 1 win, but is nevertheless a great speaker overall. It’s just how good the legend is that overwhelmed it. I’ve tried to keep the rounds as short as possible as there are 7 rounds, so I hope it was enough to reason why I picked the winner, and why these legendary speakers are legendary enough to remain relevant even after 24 years.

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