NHT Superzero (original) mini-monitor review

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Introduction

In terms of music, there is always the select few “legendary” tracks that everyone likes and is timeless. Everyone hears that song and they know about it at the very least. Sometimes one track introduces a whole ensemble to the world. This bookshelf speakers is that gateway for NHT, which is short for “Now-Hear-This”. How these speakers presented music that was given to them, for the price and build quality marked NHT on the shortlist for every audiophile considering high quality budget speakers. This was their cheapest option, and because the review for them was so good, if you wanted something more, then the higher-priced option models were the ones you could go for, etc. That’s how NHT made their mark.

These, as I’ve read in a (really thorough and long) review from Stereophile that is said to be published in 1995. Stereophile is really a major magazine to review speakers, and for that review to say really, really good about these speakers says a lot. (you can read the really long review here) NHT has refreshed the series and is still selling them on their website. But these are their originals ones. The same type the Stereophile writer Corey Greenberg reviewed. Straight up googling “NHT Superzero Review” also brought up countless other reviews, but of their updated versions. That Stereophile review was the only one that reviewed the original that I could find. And they didn’t say what they said without reason. But, now that I’ve gotten a chance at them (thanks, dad), are they really still as good in this day and age? That is what I’ll find out, and answer.

Background

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These were gotten used, by my dad who wanted something as surrounds for his 7.1 set-up with his NHT Evolution T6. I’ll mention about the state of these because not all things fare equally after purchase. He found a good deal for these, which was sold locally, and bought them. These are rather mint condition speakers with no major cracks or damages, and even little to no scratches from normal use. Since he was in the middle of reviewing a home theater set, I got to try them out first. Even on the back of these speakers, original stickers still exists on them and they say the production date is December 19, 1994. Can you believe that? I was born in December 1998 so I’m actually 4 years younger than these.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with these. All original parts, and the grills have nothing wrong with them. Only a loose fabric on the grill from the glue wearing out on a small spot. For something that’s been here since before I was born, the craftsmanship of these are superb. They last a long time for that reason. They’re rather heavy, and you can tell that this reeks of quality by the weight itself. These MSRP for $230 a pair which put them in the sub-1000 category, or budget audiophile as some may say. Just for reference, I still see these selling on ebay for $100+ even with chips and some rather major cosmetic damages, so their value can be a testament to their sound from the review. So, I’m here to see if them keeping that high a value for something only $230 (new) decades ago is really worth the price for the sound.

Specification

NHT SuperZero: two-way, acoustic-suspension minimonitor. Drive-units: 4.5″ paper-cone woofer, 1″ soft-dome tweeter. Frequency response: 85Hz-25kHz, ±3dB. Crossover frequency & slopes: 2.2kHz, 6 and 12dB/octave. Impedance: 8 ohms nominal, 7.5 ohms minimum. Sensitivity: 86dB/W/m. Power handling: 100W maximum, 15W minimum.
Dimensions: 5.5″ W by 9″ H by 5″ D. Internal volume: 2 liters. Weight: 6.5 lbs each.
Finishes available: high-gloss black laminate (this model), high-gloss white laminate, hand-rubbed oak veneer.
Price: $230/pair.

(specifications taken and modified from Stereophile article)

Set-up

If you’ve seen my set-up page (which needs an update on the photo at this time of writing), I’m placing the NHT Superzero in place of the Sony SS-k10ED that I have as my reference. There is a difference in that I’m placing them way back nearer to the wall as they aren’t ported, unlike the Sony’s I mainly use. I’m placing them on the corner of my tables, and I adjusted the toe as I experimented with them. I’m placing some rubber feet, unattached to the speaker as a means of feet so they don’t scratch on the table, or get scratched themselves. All the equipment used are my usual equipment, which for this review I’ll be pairing with my Velodyne CT-100 in a 2.1 setting through my Sony STR-DH800 receiver at 100Hz crossover. I’ll be trying them in pure stereo as well so see how well they perform.

Impressions

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A view of the back of the speakers first

As I didn’t know if these were used often or not, I gave the speakers a bit of break-in period of about a week of playing music everyday on just to see if there was any changes before making any critical listening. But even then, my first impressions of these speakers are rather surprising. At first glance, they don’t look anything special, but they do feel rather heavy. One simple thing I did was to knock on the enclosure to determine the build-quality and how dense it was based on the sound it resonated. These enclosures feel and sound very insulated, and are true to their purpose as stated: to prevent any unwanted frequencies from the enclosure themselves. Other than those details, everything is as simple as can be. The enclosure is a rectangular box shape, and on the back there is a sticker with necessary information, the connectors which have holes when you unscrew them for probably a 12 gauge bare speaker wires and a hole for wall mounts (that are not included) to screw into.

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First, on their build impressions. They don’t stand out in any comestic way or form. Overall, they do stand out to you as small speakers that are heavier than you’d think, and the high-gloss black laminate finish, which, put in simple terms is piano-top black finish, actually makes it look rather elegant and expensive. They are a nightmare for fingerprints though. Taking the grills off, you can see the 4.5″ paper cone woofer that has rubber around, which is one reason why they can last this long (and for a long time to come) and still sound as good. The 1″ silk done tweeters look very exposed, like they shouldn’t be. I want to touch them but I’m afraid to. They are small in size overall, and I can barely carry one just by gripping around the width of the speakers with one hand. And that’s only because of the finish as well (the gloss makes it slip). The quality for the amount is really impressive really, as you don’t normally see anything this small with this amount of material detail to make it audiophile quality. Although you’d want to classify this as more of a budget audiophile because of the $230/pair MSRP when it came out. Now, also consider that these were released around the end of 1993 or 1994, with these specific ones at the end of 1994.

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Woofer of the NHT superzero still looks perfectly in tact after 24 years

You’d think age would be a factor, but in this case, their value does hold out even after 20 years. As mentioned, they’re still selling for about half their initial value at about $100 a pair or more for those in good conditions. They are just that good. Even the founders that are part of the production line had a philosophy of trying to make the best speaker. The way they did it is why this is partly legendary as well. It’s also part of the reason why these how much they are. They decided to spend most of the  production costs into parts that actually make a difference in sound quality, and not so much on the others. It’s the little things that make those expensive speakers, expensive, and they didn’t want to dwell on things that aren’t for sure going to make a major difference in sound quality. Thus, the SuperZero was born, and everything else along with it. People know how good they are because of the SuperZero. Truly the maker are thinking that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Their formula for success has barely changed, at least in the cosmetic sense as I see online as well. I’ve seen mention of slight tweaks, but that’s about it. The SuperZero for sure impresses.

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The 1″ silk dome tweeter look very exposed

Right after plugging them in, I am amazed. They turned out to not need any break-in, but they are, really something else. They don’t look like they sound that way. I’ll say it right here, right now. This was love at first listen. You definitely cannot judge this by it’s cover. The imaging from these are really vivid, like if there is only vocals coming from the soundtrack, it seems like it’s coming from the middle, making the speakers “disappear”. The soundstage presented is really distant when it needs to be, and extends past the speakers themselves, which kind of envelopes you, bringing you right into the soundtrack presented. Recordings with a lot of instruments involved at the same time like rock is presented really well, complemented with pretty good instrument separation. You can differentiate where and what the instruments are playing. Even though it seems to envelops you, the imaging is not forward at all. It’s the broad and depth of the soundstage these speakers present that does. You’re in the front seat and there is a stage in front of you. Sit back and enjoy.

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Size Comparison to my Sony SS-K10ED

What it can do, as you can see, is mostly mid to upper ranges of the sound frequencies. But one thing it’s definitely lacking on is bass production. I mean, they are small, as you can see in some comparison pictures. In my opinion, you really need a woofer of at least 10″ for complete, good, full bass production. the size itself is a limitation for bass production. Some companies try to compensate by having a component in the speaker that raises part of the lower frequencies to compensate and present the idea that there is bass there. Call that faking the bass if you will, but the SuperZero don’t overstep their boundaries. What it can’t make, it won’t. Playing these without a subwoofer makes it sound light in comparison. There isn’t a hint of bass where it’s supposed to be. What it can’t play it omits. But, even without a sub, these will play anything it gets and you won’t feel the utmost need for a sub. With a sub though, the package is complete and everything comes even more alive.

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On the back of the speaker, there is a production date stamped. This one says December 19, 1994.

On the other hand, the speakers seem really transparent. The mid-range production is expressive and clear, with realistic and just as transparent highs from the tweeter. Expressive in general also doesn’t do justice to how the experience is from these speakers are. Every beat of traditional drums that come through here for example, I can feel from the NHT SuperZero. There is a convincing thump that comes from them. Cymbals from recordings sound metallic with a convincing amount of brightness. They convince me that they are cymbals. Even when they are in a distance and the recording includes them. You can still hear their ringing in the background. And you’re also convinced of the modern drum set in the background. It’s behind the singer, and the singer is right there along with the instruments that are left and right of the recording. Everything that’s upfront is in a straight line. Additionally, everything in the background is in the back, but you can still hear and recognize what they are.

As an example, acoustic guitars tend to be really muddy when they are meant to be soft (as in low volume) in recordings. But with the NHT SuperZero you can still hear that they are guitars, with the right amount of brightness and metallic-ness that an acoustic or classical guitar still has. Again, you are convinced they are what they are. As if these are on another level, the tweeters just completes the already impressive package. Every hiss and vocals from the singers are convincingly real. Bright, but not too bright, just perfect. You won’t get tired from extended listening with these either. One small nitpick from me is that the tweeters aren’t the smoothest. They are slightly rough, and I’ve heard smoother tweeters. But that is a small matter made up in the face of their superb sound quality. However, I rarely took the SuperZero above very uncomfortable listening volumes at the close distance I listen to them to. At those high volumes, the tweeters do sound a bit more harsh, but I didn’t notice anything else significant. Back to how good theses are, everything just resonates with the SuperZero. Like you’re really before a stage. You’re taken in for the performance and you feel the music in front of you, be it pop, rock, classical, indie, and any genre you listen to.

Conclusions

NHT Superzero produce very transparent, realistic, expressive mid-range frequencies, along with a tweeter that produces the right amount brightness to complete a package that is probably worth more than the price tag suggests. Hence, the value to price ratio is very high, and as far as I’ve experienced, they are worth of every penny spent (good used ones). The superb overall sound quality even makes me think you might be paying too little for such a superb product. Considering that everything you get is new, you can get a really good 2.1 system worth way bellow $1000 (assuming a $500 subwoofer) and get sound like they are worth 4 digits.

In the few weeks I’ve spent with the NHT Superzero so far, I’ve found that the very long and thorough review by Stereophile’s Corey Greenberg in 1995 to be very accurate, and proves that these stand the test of time, while producing sound that are as good as they did, in the past and even in the present.

If you’re looking for a space-saving, rather cheap, high-value speakers that sound good and look decent, these are definitely ones to go for. Personally, they are the perfect size for a tabletop like a study table, or even used as surround if one desires. They can blend in and still look elegant with the black gloss finish. As a plus side to not breaking one’s bank new, used original NHT Superzero won’t either, with good ones going for about $100. That’s about slightly less than half the price new, but with sound this good, it justify’s the demand and quality for these speakers, even when used.

Now, as a formality, a slight disclaimer, as everything I say may not always be agreeable. What I like may not be what everyone likes. I’ve heard the the sound characteristics are a hit-or-miss with some people (I mean, really?), and as you can tell, I’m on the side where it hits me. I’m in love with these.

If you are considering small, bookshelf-kind of speakers, these should be at the top, if not close to the top of your list. In any case as well, don’t just take my word, go out and have a listen to these, as I think most people will really like them.

Also, there is a updated version of the Superzero from NHT themselves as they are still selling them from dealers and directly from their website as well. I’ve never had a chance to try their new Superzero and I’ve heard they are a bit different sound characteristics-wise so if you are considering those, be aware that what I say may or may not be very different in the case of the new ones. These are the original (or classic you can say) ones that came out in 1994, and the newer models were released in 2011.

Summary

  • Transparent, clear imaging (both mid and highs)
  • Broad and deep soundstage
  • Realistic, expressive, sound production
  • Superb, solid build quality
  • Perfect for table-top, surround use and small rooms.
  • Can stand the test of time with build quality
  • High Value for the price
  • 100% recommended!

4 thoughts on “NHT Superzero (original) mini-monitor review

  1. Ulf Pettersson May 13, 2019 — 3:11 am

    Really a good review of the NHT Superzero. Perfect for me, will buy a pair to my brother for a birthday present. Found them priced $80 in a hifi shop here in Hanoi.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have three SuperZeros of the same vintage of the one’s you reviewed (manufactured in 2994). I have had to replace a couple of tweeters, but they still sound great some 26 years after I bought them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I meant 1994…darn typos. It has been almost 1 year since I posted this review…speakers are still amazing after 27 years.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I sold those speakers back in the day and I still own quite a few that I use as rear speakers. I do not know of better speakers one can get for the money they will spend on used SuperZeros (the old, A450s, nothing earlier or later). No real bass but great speakers to use with a subwoofer. Though I use them now as rears, they do make great mains when used with a good sub. Ken Kantor hit several home runs when he was with NHT (before Recoton and then Jensen purchased the company) and the SuperZero A450 is a classic.

    Liked by 1 person

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