It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog. - Mark Twain
Almost seventeen years have passed since a fledgling loudspeaker manufacturer in California dropped the big one on the audio industry. When it arrived on the scene, NHTs' original Super Zero was laughed at by the upper crust of the high-end community who snickered amongst themselves "who would ever want to buy a pair of those?" After some hot shot rock 'n roll reviewer with the balls to say they were good did just that; a lot of people did. Yours truly included. Multiple pairs to be exact. With two subwoofers to make things a lot more interesting.
The folks at NHT have undergone one hell of an interesting journey to get to this point; and we would be lying if we said we were not happier than a cruise missile over Tripoli that the company has stuck around to drop yet another bomb on the world of loudspeakers. Say hello to my little friend; the NHT Super Zero 2.0.
Contrary to what you may have read on Gawker or one of the few remaining hi-fi print magazines, size does not always matter. I have been subjected to more aural abuse from large high-end loudspeakers than I care to remember. Anybody can toss expensive drivers into a two-hundred pound cabinet and call it high-end. NHT has always taken the opposite approach (with the exception of the uber crazy 3.3 towers): compact designs, simple, yet well-designed crossovers, quality drivers, and neutral voicing that allows their speakers to sound groovy with all types of music. There are other manufacturers who do this well -- Paradigm, KEF, Polk Audio, and PSB, to name a few -- but NHT is like Toshiro Mifune's character in Yojimbo. A steely eyed samurai who will ignore your insults while he drinks his sake, before slicing your chest open with the flick of the wrist. NHT means business.
The other crazy thing about NHT is that they love to make a deal. Looking for a two-channel system with stands, receiver, cables, and a subwoofer? $699.00. We are so not making this stuff up. If a 5.1 surround system is on your hit list, NHT will sell you five SuperZero 2.0s and the Super 8 subwoofer for a cool $799.00. Yes, that's even cheaper than the full retail price if you bought everything on its own. For an additional $500, NHT will toss in a Sherwood Newcastle R772 A/V receiver, a pair of Sanus EF 24 speaker stands, a pair of Omnimount brackets for the rear speakers, and Audioquest cables to connect everything. It's a pre-matched, affordable home theater in a box, but without the compromises often faced when trying to find a single brand for the electronics and speakers. Why isn't anyone else doing this?
NHT could probably get away with building average sounding loudspeakers at these prices and nobody would really complain. Folks seem to be willing to pay a lot more for inferior boxes, but that's between them and their accountant. What is so unique about these little loudspeakers, is that they sound this good for $99.
Little boxes made of ticky tacky...
The Super Zero 2.0s look a lot like the original Super Zero, but that's where the family resemblance ends. They are still amazingly small; only 9"H x 5"W x 5.5"D, but they seem more substantial. At close to six pounds, they are considerably heavier than most speakers in their price range and they feel sturdy. The binding posts may not be WBTs, but they sure as hell are not the cheapo crap spring-loaded terminsal found on many low budget speakers and A/V receivers.
The two biggest changes to the speaker are the new crossover point, and woofer design. The original Super Zero beamed at the top end; robbing the treble of some smoothness and transparency. The crossover point on the SuperZero 2.0 monitors has changed from 3.2 KHz to 2 KHz, and NHT has modified the crossover with some new wiring. In theory, this should allow the tweeter to roll-off quicker, reducing its distortion and also improve its power handling capabilities.
The new woofer is a 4.5" long throw pulp cone woofer which rolls off at 100Hz. The tweeter is a 1" silk dome design. The new frequency response of the Super Zero 2.0 monitors is specified as 100Hz - 22kHz +/-3dB, and the sensitivity is rated at 86dB. Its impedance is rated at 8 ohms, never really dropping below 5.5 ohms. The grills are removable and the speaker is magnetically shielded; important if you still use a CRT (like anyone remembers what that means anymore).
Four whole fried chickens and a Coke...
The only caveat to using the Super Zero 2.0s, is that they need a really good subwoofer to make it all come together. Before you grumble, recall that they only run $99 each. NHT has been making really good (and affordable) subwoofers for many years, but they did something special for the Super Zero 2.0. The Super 8 subwoofer is packed with features, but we'll get to that in good time. Not only does the Super 8 extend the system's response below 40Hz, but it does so with a great deal of speed and tautness.
Thunderous bass is great at a rock concert; whatever substance you've consumed beforehand usually numbs your ability to feel the impact anyway. Thunderous bass at home can royally suck. Bass notes do not all sound the same. Crappy subwoofers make bass notes sound like that rumble in your belly after a case of sliders from White Castle. The Super 8 is more like a medium rare porterhouse from Strip House on E. 12th in Manhattan. So not kosher. Forgive me Rabbi.
The DSP controls the amplifier, equalization, and filters - which allows the Super 8 to reproduce some meaty bass; it will also play incredibly loud. The frequency response of the subwoofer is rated as 37Hz - 210Hz, -10dB at 30Hz.
Plan on using the Super 8 with your A/V receiver? Not a problem; just run a single length of interconnect from the receiver to the LFE input on the rear panel. But what about the guy who wants to assemble a kick-ass 2-channel audio music system with the Super Zero 2.0s and a receiver/integrated amplifier that offers stereo outputs? They are covered as well. Just run a pair of interconnects from your receiver's pre-amp output (if it has one) to the line level inputs on the back of subwoofer.
If you are a demanding and mentally unstable audio snob, or if your stereo receiver simply lacks pre-amp outputs (which many do), then you'll probably want to run a pair of speaker cables from your receiver to the high level speaker inputs on the back of the subwoofer, and then run another pair of speaker cables to the pair of Super Zero 2.0s monitors you have mounted on a pair of 24" stands or on your desk. In this case, the Super 8 accepts the full range audio signal from your receiver, extracts the bass and passes the rest along to your satellite speakers. You get to decide how much or how little bass to send to your satellite speakers via the adjustable crossover. The Super Zero 2.0s sound a lot better (that's a hint) when you relieve them of them of their bass duties, and will also sound clearer at loud volume levels in this scenario. Imaging also improves rather dramatically. I would set the crossover point between 100-120Hz and see which you prefer.
Phew. I need a drink.
Hookers in the Street
No, not the corner of 2nd and Ocean Avenue in Asbury Park (across from the Stone Pony), New Jersey at 2 am on a Friday night; I'm talking about the terrific track on Otis Taylor's Below the Fold which has a really demanding bass line. The Super Zero 2.0s did a good job with this track, but sounded completely different with the Super 8 in the signal chain. They sounded cleaner at loud levels, had greater depth, better resolution in the midrange, and the top end was certainly smoother sounding.
The tonal balance of the Super Zero 2.0 is pretty neutral, but I would stay away from analytical sounding amplification and silver speaker wire. Tubes work well with NHT's loudspeakers; the musicBox from Peachtree Audio that I recently reviewed was a great match with the monitor/subwoofer combination because it matches up almost perfectly from a tonal perspective.
Adele's latest release, 21, is not quite as inspiring as her debut album, but the track "Turning Tables" smacks of the younger, hungrier singer that made me a fan. The Super Zero 2.0s are phenomenal with well-recorded vocals and this track certainly showed what the little speakers could do; beautiful midrange, airy treble, and full of piss and vinegar when the music demanded it. $500 loudspeakers should sound like this without breaking a sweat. Some don't. $99 loudspeakers should never sound like this; better than $500 models from other companies.
My home theater room is a tad large for five Super Zero 2.0s and a Super 8 to fill (although its more expensive siblings did a fine job), but they still make movie-watching a lot of fun. The only real weakness is the center channel (a Super Zero 2.0 flipped onto its side) which lacks the scale of the Absolute Center from NHT and my reference Spendor C9e (which only costs $2,000 more than the tiny little Super Zero 2.0 in its place). The Super 8 has excellent bass response and it rumbles with the best of them; including a Dynamo 1000 subwoofer from Martin-Logan, and my REL T-1 subwoofer which is the monster of the midway in the "small" subwoofer category. NHT's B-10d ($499) subwoofer (which they also kindly sent me) worked even better than the Super 8 with the Super Zero 2.0s, but is also working against the "budget" killer value that NHT is trying to establish with this 5.1 system. Unless you have a really big room, or very accommodating spouse or landlord, I'd stick with the Super 8.
Okay, but who is this really aimed at?
If you are buying your first real stereo to use with an iPod or iPhone and want something a lot cooler than some docking station, this system will convince you to dump all of your MP3s and only listen to lossless tracks. You can add more channels to it over time and end up with a fabulous home theater.
If you are that "guy" who just landed a decent job, is finally moving out of his parent's basement and into an apartment that will be the site of late-night video game marathons and NFL (assuming there is a season) football on Sunday with your buddies, this system is for you.
The young newlyweds who want a home theater for their tiny living room, but have to buy furniture as well.
The hipster audio dweeb who needs a glossy looking 2.1 system for his desk so that he can listen to Pandora all night long while he anonymously posts on Gizmodo; most likely stalking Kat Hannaford or Rosa Golijan.
We live in sick times. But NHT doesn't judge. It will provide musical merriment for all of the above.
If the NHT Super Zero 2.0s were $299, I'd say buy them. They are $99 each. Buy 5 of them and the Super 8 subwoofer and forget that we ever met. If you think you can assemble a better 5.1 system for under $800, you would be wrong. Highly recommended.
Where to Buy NHT SuperZero 2.0 loudspeakers and the Super 8 subwoofer