|NHT Super Audio 5.1 Theater System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Tim Hart|
|Saturday, 01 December 2001|
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Movies and Music
After I was satisfied that all adjustments, settings and speaker placements were to my liking, I gave the NHTs roughly 50 hours of break-in time with a variety of material. After that was done, I jotted down my first impressions. With the ST4s, SB3s, and the SC1, what I heard initially was a top-end that appeared a bit hard and bright, but as I got to know these products more intimately, transparent better describes the upper octaves. There was little noticeable coloration with the different material I was playing.
As the NHT products became more familiar to me, I refined my impression of their sound to fast, taut and lean, with the lower octaves tight and punchy. What at first seemed somewhat etched and bright became more a sparkling quality. The ST4s and the SB3s top end was crisply presented with very little coloration, and the SC1 meshed fairly well with them, considering the smaller drivers that their bigger brothers boast.
To put the NHTs to the test, I put in my new reference DVD, "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment). This DVD really challenges the loudspeaker design in how seamlessly the sound moves from one channel to the next. This 5.1 mix is the best I’ve heard in accurately following the onscreen cues to near perfection and the mixing is superb. Testing the timbre and tonal matching of any 5.1 speaker system, the famed pod race puts all channels through their paces, demonstrating not only the loudspeakers' ability to handle the transient and dynamic portion of the soundtrack, and how well the sub and satellites blend, but also how well they portray the spatial cues that are abundant in this DVD. The NHTs do a nice job of sorting out most of the information in a enveloping way, at times putting me out in the desert as the pod racers speed by.
The SubOne I seems just right for the satellites, never too overbearing or plodding. The space battle has Naboo fighters swarming my living room like tiny bees and the location of their sound is very convincing, with explosions and laser blasts shaking my room with authority.
In the beginning of The Mummy Returns (Universal Studios Home Video), the battle led by the Scorpion King portrays two mighty armies facing each other. At their leaders' command, the warriors rush into each other headlong. The visceral clash of their impact against one another made me blink. The sound of swords drawn from their scabbards and the harsh clash as the weapons met at times had me convinced they were right in front of me. In another scene, where Rick and Evie rob the Scorpion King's tomb, the sounds of spirits and the echo of the torch and footsteps in the cavern leading to the tomb are deep and spacious, capturing the ambience of a scary, dank environment.
I still felt that the NHT’s weren’t giving me all they had, so to get a more familiar midrange reference, I popped in Steve Stevens’ Flamenco A Go Go (DTS Entertainment). Bass and midrange bloom are the hallmark of this live 5.1 recording, as well as loads of detail. The NHTs do a credible job of delineating the transients on "Our Man in Istanbul," but not quite fleshing out the midrange as I've heard it on other loudspeakers, like the slightly more expensive Monitor Audio GR10s. On the other hand, the bass control is very nicely presented, giving me a nice tight and quick punch where it should on this track, and providing top-end detail that is enjoyable and engaging.
This is readily apparent on the DVD of Alice In Chains MTV Unplugged (Sony). The transients of the strings on the frets of the acoustic guitars are engagingly detailed, although slightly veiled in comparison to my Monitor Audio Gold Reference Series loudspeakers. But that is not really a fair comparison, as the Monitor Audios are three times the price of the Super Audio series by NHT. The air and dynamics of "Angry Chair" are handled well at louder volumes, conveying good tonal balance for a loudspeaker of this price range, with enough bloom for decent warmth, but leaving me wanting a bit more. I think it more acceptable to err on the side of a flatter response, which it sounds like NHT has chosen to do. I approve.
What I found out when I put the ST4s in my reference two-channel system was that these speakers play bigger than their price tag. Imaging, while not pinpoint, is very good, with nice layering and depth. When playing loud, such as with "Fighting With Clay" from Days of the New’s latest Red CD (Geffen), the ST4s rock hard, only sounding slightly compressed on the higher octaves, but never straining to the point of harshness. The bass really comes impressively alive. The upper midrange and tweeter blend well with the bass driver, never seeming out of step with one another.
I feel that the 86dB efficiency was responsible for some, if not all, of the midrange reticence that I was experiencing. When the efficiency of a speaker is challenging, it requires a bit more authority in the amplifier to overcome this characteristic. When under-driven, the speakers don’t appear to come alive until you really push them. This affects the speakers' ability to produce their full range and has other undesirable effects, such as a compressed or strained demeanor. Although I point this out, it is not a huge issue. I am being picky here. Most people would not have an problem with this effect, or even notice it. It is important to note that the quality and quantity of amplification will determine how well the NHTs will perform for you. Careful matching is a must at this level, and you do not want to find out later that to get the performance you heard at the dealer, you may have to plunk down some additional cash to get you where you thought you were going to be when you arrived home with your new system.
For the money, I think the playing field is significantly narrowed by these NHT products. They are not the cheapest products out there, but they aren’t anywhere near the big dollar category, either. They make it very possible to obtain very good performance at a price point that won’t demand half a year's worth of your salary. I had a lot of fun with these speakers, which is exactly what you want your speaker investment to give you. Take a test drive and I’m sure you’ll agree that NHT’s philosophy of more for your money comes through loud and clear.