NHT SB1 Review: The Super Successor

Introduction

NHT, short for “Now Hear This”, is one of those rather obscure speaker companies that spend money more on their products and practically none on advertisements. Although I say they are obscure now, they produce quality speakers that gain reputation through the word of reviewers and word of mouth. NHT used to be more well-known for those who have been in the hobby for a while, like my dad, who still remember NHT as a once vibrant speaker company that did advertise a lot in audio magazines. With a name like “Now Hear This”, it was tough to miss this company. For many reasons unknown to me, NHT has changed hands in leaderships several times, but in their younger years they have produced some legendary speakers such as the T6 Evolution towers (right before they changed hands in this case as well), the SuperZero, which I have owned, and other legendary speakers such as the SuperOne, 3.3, 2.5i, 1.5 etc., just to name a few.  NHT produces speakers and offers them directly from their site, rather than the physical brick and mortar store. Although they don’t seem to produce speakers like they did, if you have seriously never heard of this company, I still suggest you check them out. Their cheapest speakers back in the day, which they showcased, the SuperZero, are very good speakers. This implied that if you wanted better and maybe bigger speakers you’d go with their higher end models, which are the aforementioned T6 evolution, 3.3, 2.5i, 1.5 (and others). True to this assumption, the supposedly better models are truly, quite significantly better per the reviews

NHT badget

This specific model that I’m reviewing here is the SB1, with an MSRP of $300 a pair debuted around maybe mid 2003 from my research, is one of the predecessors to the SuperZero and its bigger brother, the SuperOne. Like the SuperZero and the SuperOne, (I shall refer to them as the Super brothers) the SB1 has a bigger brother as well, the SB2 and even the SB3. Also like the Super brothers, the SB2 and SB3 are just larger speakers that can go lower into the sound spectrum than the SB1. The SB1 can also be said to be the successor to the SuperZero, albeit being slightly bigger, and as such, I shall do this review as a loose comparison in relation to the SuperZero, which I also have in my possession, as a comparison to observe differences and improvements. If you want to view the review I have done about the SuperZero the link is here.

Highlights

  • High price-to-performance ratio
  • Build Quality that will last and sound good
  • Sounds like more expensive speakers
  • Not manufactured anymore

Set-up

For the placement, this time, a few changes to my set-up occurred. The changes were by no means due to the speaker, but because of an opportunity when I got speaker stands. The changes were made for reasons of more ideal listening positions and more space on my desk so that I can do my work easily. Instead of having it on the desk like I usually have it, I have placed the speakers on stands, and the stands are placed right beside the desk. This brings the speakers apart each other in a more ideal listening position in terms of the distance apart when I listen to them, the 2 and 10 o’clock positions. They are also a little below ear level because these aren’t adjustable stands, but I don’t hear any difference when I listen to them at the lower placements vs. at ear level. To make it a fair evaluation, I placed my other speakers in place of the SB1 in the picture below to get my reference and any significant changes that I may have to take into consideration when making comparisons in this review. They are toed in a little as I found they sounded the best in that configuration versus placing bother straight on. Other than that, I found nothing should really be very different except for placement, and a natural imaging improvement.

For my upstream components in this review, I have my Lenovo Yoga 910 laptop, the Music Hall DAC15.2, and the NAD T747 receiver which is set to analog bypass while handling the crossover to the Velodyne CT-100 subwoofer at 100Hz, connected via LFE.

The new set-up in action

Specifications

  • System Type: 2-way Acoustic Suspension
  • Drivers: 1″ Fluid cooled neodymium magnet structure tweeter with NHT’s proprietary aluminum heat sink. Woofer 5.25″ polypropylene, high excursion woofer.
  • Magnetically Shielded: Yes
  • Frequency Response: 68Hz- 22kHz +/- 3dB
  • Crossover Frequency: 2.6kHz
  • Sensitivity: 86dB (2.83V at 1M)
  • Impedance: 8 ohms nominal
  • Inputs: 5-way binding posts
  • Recommended Amplifier Power: Minimum 15 watts/ch Maximum 125 watts/ch
  • Dimensions: 10.25″H x 6.25″W x 6.75″D
  • Weight: 8 lbs. each
  • Finish: Black or White high gloss piano lacquer
  • Other: Wall mountable

Build

For a used item, the build quality of the item I happened to get is in great shape for something that’s quite old. No visual cracks, scratches or any cosmetic damage. And from this specific pair the build quality is super solid. If there is one thing about getting something used, it’s that you can tell how it’s stand the test of time. And in this case they have stood the test of time very well, because of probably both great user care (which isn’t a lot really), and by great material selection and quality as well.

Straight on shot of the SB1. Notice the more rounded edges on the top and bottom of this shot.

These SB1s have the same finish type as the black one, which is a high-gloss lacquer finish. Similar to the look on a Piano. Your tastes may vary, but these look nice to me, and surprisingly complement my dark wooden finish of my desk. I did have someone tell me it looked a bit like plastic because of the white gloss finish, but I don’t personally think so. It provides a contrast that is welcome, even within the speakers themselves as the white do contrasts the tweeter and woofers as they are almost matte black.

These retailed for $300 a pair when they were being manufactured, and they use a rather traditional box shape for the enclosure, but with a few modifications. It’s still quite box in general shape, but there are rounded corners in the top and bottom of the faces, and the edges aren’t as sharp in the back either. These high gloss lacquer finish are as usual, culprits to fingerprints and whatnot, but it’s not as visible in white as it is in Black. On the back of the speaker is actually a circular white sticker that covers the mount you can screw in for wall mounting the SB1, but the mounts themselves are not included when I got them. Also on the back are the speaker terminals which are quality gold-plated ones seen below. The speaker grills are white clothed grills with the updated NHT logo glued centered on the bottom. The “white” cloth of the grill seem to be a bit darker than the color of the speakers, but I reckon it’s because of the age. These grills attach via holes, so you’re obviously going to find holes visible when you take these off. Still, they are meant to be played with the grills on though. The NHT logo are the new ones, which has a better and updated look versus the older one on the SuperZero, and I find that the new on complements the rounded edges of the speakers a lot better than the boxed background on the older logo. These grills also don’t show any signs of ripping or the glue not holding up on the rear, which indicate a quality glue used to hold the fabric in place.

the rear of the SB1

Doing the knocking test (which is just me knocking on the enclosure with my knuckles so see if it resonates), they feel and sound quite substantially dense and seem to absorb the sound. Holding it in my hand as well, I can tell these have substantial weight to them. I don’t know if they originally had feet attached to the speakers in the original package or if the previous owner put these on, but these speakers have feet that are glued to the underside. I shall assume it was the previous owner who did it, but nevertheless they do serve their purpose of lifting the surface of the speaker so as not scratch the underside.

Additionally, the speakers themselves are much improved in the quality of their woofers and tweeters. They are still using an acoustic suspension design, which serves very well for the sound they are going for. The tweeters are similar tweeters that are in use on their much more expensive models such as the 1.5, 3.3, T5 and T6 evolution towers. Specifically, they are “1” Fluid cooled neodymium magnet structure tweeter with NHT’s proprietary aluminum heat sink”. The woofers are 5.25″ polypropylene drivers, which is basically plastic woofers, and it’s surrounded by rubber which lasts very long, a spending by NHT that serve for the long-time enjoyment for the customer, as well as the sound quality of these speakers.

Straight on shot of the woofer for the NHT SB1

Sound Impressions

These aren’t the hardest to power, having a rating of just 8Ω. I find myself trying to more finely adjusting the volume rather than just using the scroll on my mouse when I can, because it changes the volume substantially, more so than the Superzero. On my NAD T747 receiver amplification, I find myself setting the amplification to 3-5Db lower than I would with the SuperZero as well. These can go rather loud for me at close distances, while being very composed at higher volumes. No signs of straining at the higher volumes that I’m willing to push on these.

As these were purchased second-hand, I was not sure if these have gone back to the unbroken-in state again. Hence, I waited a couple of weeks to make sure they have adjusted due to the unknown state, and then continued with my evaluation. Although I do not try to mention first impressions as they may be inaccurate, I must say these have impressed me since day one and have continued to do so. They are truly a class above the compared SuperZero, and for justifiable reasons.

A view of the tweeter for the SB1.

For one, they have the improved tweeter, as seen from the picture above, which leads me to talk about their high frequencies. In short, they provide very realistic and an engaging experience for the listener. Not to mention smoother than my reference example, the SuperZero as mentioned before. These are the substantial improvements that make this speaker sound more on the “high-end” level despite the pricing. I have another NHT speaker at home to compare with this level of accuracy and emotional engagement of the highs, and they aren’t the SuperZero. To make it short and sweet, they are my father’s NHT Evolution T6 Towers. It is of no surprise since they employ very similar tweeter design. These give me the impression of a toned down tweeter from the T6 towers, which is quite the value comparing them to the over $4000/pair towers (to be specific the T6 is the ones that consist of the M6 and B6 modules from NHT) in a different, more expensive system no less. You can find a review from the current owner here.

In terms of the mid-range of the sound spectrum, these complete the package of the SB1 with everything that you can’t do with just a tweeter. They complement the SB1 and I cannot tell the difference between the switching over between the two, and it is smooth along with the tweeter. If there is a description for the overall characteristic of this sound, I would put it towards a cold accent that is accurate and transparent. How does something sound cold you might ask? Well it’s a sound closer to a studio monitor vs. other speakers. It’s accurate and precise, and that tends to take away from the emotion of the songs conveyed. In this case, I say it is an accent because it’s only slight and I don’t think it takes any emotion away from the emotion of the audio played through these.

In my experience, anything towards the cold characteristic of sound tends to fatigue the listener for long periods of time. For my extended periods of listening while I do my homework, I did not really find these fatiguing to listen to. They are nice, but as a personal nitpick, the cold characteristic in the sound, because of the sharper highs that come with it can be a bit more distracting than other speakers. If I wanted to concentrate and truly tune out the music the solution would just be to simply turn off the music. Despite that small personal distraction, I do very much enjoy listening to them very often.

Pairing with my Velodyne CT-100 subwoofer, these don’t take too much effort to adjust, but these naturally go down the sound spectrum a lot lower than the SuperZero used right before, so I could lower the crossover for the subwoofer and receiver and it was just a matter of adjusting the volume from the subwoofer then, which was just a little louder for my ideal level. They blend in really well, and this is easily, in my opinion, the must-be setup for the SB1. Alone, they don’t produce sound that they cannot due to the physical limitation with the size, and the sound just doesn’t sound complete and full without a subwoofer.

Last, but not least, you must be educated about the imaging these two can bring to the stage. In one word, superior. Despite the change in my usual setup as previously mentioned, I found the imaging from the SB1 to deliver a live performance if the song calls for it, and what other specific placements the sound engineer for the song wanted. It may sound underwhelming when I type it like that, but to keep it short and concise, that is an understatement. Overall imaging presents a neutral sound stage, with puts the singer generally in the middle in between the speakers and extends slightly beyond the speakers like they are speakers that cost upwards of four digits. Impressively, if the vocals are in the middle, the SB1 seems to disappear from stage, and vocals on the left and right of the stage are their own entity, and don’t bleed into any other part of the stage.

Ariana Grande “Tattooed Heart” (2013)

In the track “Tattooed Heart” by Ariana Grande, the SB1 showcases its imaging prowess. Ariana is smack in the center and doesn’t seem in the slightest bit to be coming out of the left or the right speaker, and her backup vocals are clearly discernible, with the left background vocals bringing a lower pitched harmony, and the right the high pitched harmony, along with the piano in the background and the violin that comes out the left of the stage later on in the song. A violin comes out the left of the stage and is portrayed extended about half an inch beyond the left speaker. What seemed to be synthesized cymbals are coming from behind Ariana and are clear but not overpowered by Ariana’s powerful vocals. Speaking of Ariana’s vocals, the overall build up from a soft and delicate tone to a powerful tone and then back to the delicate vocal are portrayed like a champ. The SB1 also portray the technical trills of her voice accurately and with much emotion. Not to mention when the song gets more intense, along with Ariana’s vocal technicality and volume, the SB1s are quite composed and don’t seem to struggle at all. An overall complete presentation of the stage and you can tell it can probably handle stage replication with quite the ability for the price. I might even just be able to pass these speakers as something a lot pricier just because of the imaging superiority.

Lee Hi “Fool for love”

Lee Hi’s “Fool for love”, literally translated to “fool” in the Korean title, is a track also present the imaging superiority of the SB1, but that’s not why I picked this track either. It’s the energy that this track brings. I don’t understand pretty much anything she says in the song either, but I can tell the emotion and energy. In the start of the song, you get a strong, impactful, energetic hits from the drums to start of the fool for love train, and if you hear this on anything else in this price range, I don’t think you’ll get the same effect. You hear it in other times in the song, and the impact you can just feel. And you don’t feel something like this unless you have speakers that are typically much more expensive. Cymbals in this song also present a sharp pallet to the song, but you can also tell each hit is different. There are times in the song that the hits become more intense, and then the intensity comes back down. You can also tell two cymbals are used, as when called for more intense, parts of the song, the drummer uses the cymbals to my right, and then in the verses uses the cymbals to the left. Overall, you can tell how Lee Hi portrays someone who knows she’s the fool for love, and she can’t do anything about it, as well as the various emotions that come with love, and especially being a fool for love. You get into the song and again, you are presented a stage for this story telling in music.

Like mentioned, the accuracy of the speakers, paired with the imaging it reproduces, you will get a stage. Like truly, I can SEE the stage without closing my eyes, but not in the literal sense. It’s not a small stage, but it’s not the largest either. The accuracy will convince you of how the sound engineer set the stage up, as exhibited in the selected tracks above. If you haven’t heard music like that, I would bet hearing these can open you up to a new world of detail. You’ll be hard pressed to find any faults in the NHT SB1. If I were to nitpick, these can be a bit smoother, they lack a bit in the emotion, the stage extension isn’t very much and stage depth could be more, but at that level, you find speakers that are many times the price of these.

Conclusions

In summary, the NHT SB1 presents a mind-boggling price to performance ratio that would land my enthusiastic recommendations, if only you can find these in a condition that you can accept, since they are not manufactured anymore. There might be quite a number out there that are still in relatively pristine conditions, going for about $125, maybe more, on ebay. If you are on a budget, these are definitely something you’ll want to seriously consider picking up, as their price quite far exceeds their value. These hold up well over time as evident with this pair, and as you can tell these are speakers that can sound more expensive than they really are, provided that your system is capable of doing so as well. If you are on the look for speakers under $200 that sound superb, I highly recommend you seriously consider these, it might be a sale the seller might regret!

Likes

  • Precise, accurate and transparent sound that gives you a stage
  • Aesthetically pleasing build with excellent build quality
  • Will convince you these are more expensive speakers

Would like to see

  • If there was something at this price you’ll be looking for new speakers, many times the price of these.

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