|NHT Super Audio 5.1 Theater System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Tim Hart|
|Saturday, 01 December 2001|
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Home theater enthusiasts never had it so good. It used to be that the choices for a good 5.1 speaker package were either far beyond most people’s means, or so inexpensive that you had to wonder how the manufacturer could ever make money selling them. Then there are speaker packages (you know the which ones I am talking about) which have incredible marketing behind spectacularly mediocre products that the unenlightened seem to be enamored of due to the diminutive size of the items. High-end manufacturers over the past few years have heard the cry from folks begging to step up to higher-performance speakers, questioning why products have to cost so much to sound so good. When the companies trickle down their very expensive technologies into more affordable products, they offer an opportunity for the masses to expose themselves to the high-end performance arena. NHT is one of those companies, and their latest effort is the Super Audio series of home theater speakers.
NHT has long been regarded as a high-end loudspeaker manufacturer that prides itself on giving their customers the most performance per dollar spent. With a broad product line that ranges from the critically acclaimed 3.3’s down to the cost effective Super Zero, NHT has products that will satisfy any budget or performance requirement. NHT’s latest product, the Super Audio series, builds on the value of its predecessors by enhancing sonic performance and offering a new look while maintaining the signature NHT sound. A few of the improvements include enhanced driver response, featuring a low-distortion/high-power one-inch dome tweeter and high-excursion polypropylene woofers that are said to provide more accurate sound staging, better low-frequency performance and a smoother overall presentation.
The industrial design of the Super Audio series has taken on a more modern presentation, deviating from the traditional NHT look with rounded edges and the familiar high gloss black lacquer finish that will certainly catch the eye, giving the owner a product with the appearance of a system that provokes envy from visiting family members and friends.
The 5.1 speaker package I received from NHT includes ST4s as the front speakers, SB3s as the rear speakers, the SC1 as the center channel, and the SubOne I to plumb the lower octaves.
The ST4 is a floor-standing loudspeaker system ($999.95 a pair) which stands 38 inches tall, eight inches wide and 12 inches deep, weighing in at 47.5 pounds. A relative of the SuperTwo, the ST4 is a two-way hybrid design that has two separate chambers. The top sealed chamber has a one-inch fluid-cooled tweeter with a neodymium magnet mounted below a 6.5-inch midrange driver. In the lower ported chamber resides an eight-inch-long throw side-firing polypropylene subwoofer. This is said to give the ST4 the midrange clarity and detail of the finest two-way designs, combined with the dynamic range of a three-way system. The frequency response of the ST4 is 31Hz-22kHz +/- 3dB, with a sensitivity of 86dB, a moderately hard load to drive, and a power handling capability of 200 watts. The top enclosure is video-shielded for use in close proximity to TVs.
On the back of the enclosure, you will find two sets of speaker binding posts with jumpers. You can easily hook up a variety of different connectors, such as spade lugs or banana jacks, as well as running bi-wire or bi-amp mode. Due to the side-firing bass woofer, careful placement of the ST4 is necessary to avoid anomalies created by objects near the woofers, and a fully adjustable spike kit is provided to facilitate that placement.
The SB3s ($299.99) that I used as the surround speakers are identical to the ST4s, less the subwoofer. With a two-way design, the SB3 utilizes the same tweeter and 6.5-inch midrange driver in a smaller enclosure. Measuring 13 inches tall, eight inches wide and 10 inches deep and weighing in at 16 pounds, the SB3 can be easily placed for optimum performance just about anywhere. The SB3 has a fairly wide frequency response of 39Hz-22kHz +/- 3dB, a sensitivity of 86dB, and a generous power handling capability of 175 watts. Although not bi-wireable, the SB3 features the same easy-to-access binding posts as the ST4, as well as video shielding for minimum placement restrictions. I chose to stand-mount the SB3s on 24 inch-stands that put the speakers approximately at the same height as the drivers on the ST4s.
To handle the majority of the workload for movies, the two-way SC1 center channel utilizes two horizontally-mounted 4.5-inch-long throw woofers, with the same one-inch fluid-cooled tweeter as the ST4 and the SBS mounted in the center. My first thought when I saw the SC1 was, "Is it big enough?" I’ll reserve judgment until later, but I must admit that I was a little skeptical as to whether or not it would be up to the challenge. Video shielding is a given for this enclosure, whichh is 6.63-inch high, 14.5-inch wide and 5.63-inch deep. The frequency response of the SC1 is 78Hz – 22kHz, +/- 3dB, with a measured sensitivity of 86dB.
When positioning the speakers, I first checked the manuals supplied with the loudspeakers to see what NHT recommended, and used that as a starting point. NHT suggests that the listening distance from the front of the main loudspeakers to the listener should be one-and-a -half times the distance from center to center between the main loudspeakers. It is also suggested that the rear channels be equidistant to the front loudspeakers for optimum sound. Although these loudspeakers are diminutive in size and will not dominate your living space, my situation doesn’t allow for that type of placement, and I suspect that 80 percent of the home theater owners have similar circumstances. The ST4s ended up one-and-one-half feet from the front wall and four feet from the side walls. The SB3s were placed behind and to the sides of my couch, which left them sitting about a foot wider apart than the ST4s. The SC1 I placed on top of the TV and the SubOne I went to the right corner, which meant it was behind and three feet to the side of the ST4. During set-up, I programmed the distances on my B&K 307 receiver to compensate for the placement discrepancy of the SB3s. After setting up the correct dB gain on each channel relative to my room response, and positioning the ST4s and the SC1 on an arc to insure their respective distances from the listening position, I focused on getting the subwoofer situated.
The SubOne I ($799.99) is an upgraded version of the SubOne, utilizing a larger 12-inch-long throw polypropylene driver, a built-in 250 watt amplifier and an outboard controller, which is a licensed technology from the Sunfire corporation. This 16-inch cube, which has a separate, two-inch high, 11-inch wide, seven-inch deep controller, weighs in at a solid 50 pounds, with a frequency response of 25 Hz – 180Hz +/- 3dB and a distortion of less than 0.3 percent at full power. The low pass crossover is continuously variable between 40-180Hz at 18dB/octave. On the high-pass side, you can choose from a selectable 50, 75 or 110Hz, 12dB/octave for line level input, or a fixed 100Hz at eight ohms. The controller allows the user the capability to run four different loudspeaker configurations. You can run your main loudspeakers through the SubOne I controller, taking advantage of its selectable 50-110Hz high-pass line-level filter or the fixed 100Hz (8 ohms), sending only those frequencies above that threshold to your main channels. Alternatively, you can run the SB4’s full range as I did, using the continuously variable low-pass filter that adjusts between 40-180Hz at 18dB/octave, based on the performance range of your main loudspeakers. I prefer this method as it eliminates a whole level of loudspeaker circuitry that to me has the potential to do more harm than good. Because the B&K provides a LFE channel, I ran the ST4’s full range, bypassing the internal low-pass filter so that I didn’t have two filters in series.
Phase and gain can be adjusted by the twist of a knob. There is also a flat/video contour switch, which allows you to optimize the SubOne I’s performance for music or movies, giving the SubOne I a boosted output between 40Hz and the low-pass frequency, and rolling off the response below 35Hz, which provides greater power handling at higher volumes. This emphasizes sounds like explosions and gunfire. For music, some listeners like myself prefer a flatter bass response. With the flip of the switch, you can tailor the bass response for more critical listening.
Having the SubOne I controller on top of the sub makes adjustments a snap. You don’t have to stand on your head to get this puppy dialed in, which is a welcome advantage, as opposed to performing contortionist acts to get access to the rear panel-mounted controls on most other subwoofer products.