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Before You Buy Any Other Small Speaker....Listen to the SB1
Jun 19, 2002 (Updated Jun 24, 2002)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Recommend this product?
Keeps the best qualities of legendary SuperZero, but with half an octave more of bass. Midrange that is so "right", with detailed treble, lack of boxiness, no boominess, and good imaging. Great transients. Amazing fit and finish...who expects true, 7-layer piano lacquer in gloss black for $299? These speakers look like they cost $1000.
Will point out the flaws in poorly mastered recordings. Not suitable for very large rooms. Best paired with a subwoofer...and a very "quick" one, at that. Ironically, the SB1s are so quick that they require a much more expensive, high-end subwoofer than the $299 price point would seem to indicate. Slightly larger than the SuperZeros.
As a former SuperZero user (I still own my pair), I came to experience the joys and pains of the legendary SuperZero. Absolutely great midrange, but a little rolled-off on the top, a bit lacking in dynamic range, and, missing any semblance of bass, they were difficult to integrate well with a subwoofer.
Enter the long-awaited SB1: virtually all of the positive virtues of the SuperZero are retained, while adding a much more detailed treble (the SuperZero sounds a tad dark and shut-in by comparison), more bass, and much better dynamic range and transient abilities.
I'm using the SB1s on 27.6" Atacama Nexus 7 speaker stands, not yet weighted with sand or shot. I'll probably be purchasing a jug of Atabites acoustic filling material. These stands won a 'What Hi-fi'Awards 2000 Best Buy and are just about perfect for the SB1s, possessing both the right height and a perfectly-sized top plate. They look like they were made to go together. I used these same stands with my SuperZeros. They suit the SB1s even better than the SuperZeros.
At first, I thought that the SB1s didn't image quite as well as the SuperZero. However, once I toed-in the stands slightly (they were previously pointing straight ahead), the imaging of the SB1s dramatically improved, locking in the image of the piano on "Nojima Plays Liszt" (Reference Recordings).
An unexpected advantage of the added bass extension of the SB1 is placement: I originally had my SuperZeros within about 10" of the rear wall to give the little guys some much needed bass boost. However, the SB1s don't really need this assistance, so I moved the SB1s out to 18" from the rear wall. The combination of greater distance from the back wall and a bit of toe-in caused the SB1s to 'disappear', yielding a rock steady image on "Nojima Plays Liszt" that was both precise, layered, and deep.
The additional bass output of the SB1 also makes it much easier to integrate with a subwoofer. But, be warned, the bass and bass transients that the SB1 does produce are so quick that a really good sub is required. Don't expect to be able to mate this $299 speaker with a $300 sub. I mated mine with the excellent and super-tight, push-pull M&K MX-700 ($1400...see the rave review by Steven Stone in Stereophile). I haven't tried matching the SB1s with NHT's own subwoofers.
For even better results in my home theater system, I use the SB1s with my receiver's internal 100 Hz crossover. Everything below 100 Hz goes to the subwoofer, while everything above goes to the SB1s. Freeing the SB1s of the 100-60 Hz range (the SB1s don't go any lower) increases the definition, imaging, snap, and midrange clarity of even more.
For home cinema, I currently have the SB1s mated to a SuperCenter. The SuperCenter is close enough in sound that it blends reasonably well, although the difference between the old technology and the new is noticeable on multichannel music. I'm anxiously waiting for the day I upgrade to the new SC-1.
As a point of comparison, I had a friend bring over his pair of Totem Model Ones. These speakers are slightly larger than the SB1s, about the same size as the NHT SuperOnes. These speakers received numerous good reviews ('Stereophile', 'What Hi-Fi') and retail for about $1000/pair. The Model Ones, with their bass-reflex port and larger cabinet have a bit more bass, but compared to the sealed cabinet of the SB1s the Model Ones sounded fuzzy and less-tight in the bass. The SB1s postively trounced the Model Ones in the areas of dynamics and quickness. The SB1s also had better imaging, by far, with the soft-dome tweeter of the Model Ones showing its age. While the Model Ones are a bit warmer sounding and forgiving, they are also much less detailed and lacking in rhythm and pace compared to the SB1s.
When both were hooked up to the 85 Hz crossover and the subwoofer was introduced, it was no contest: the SB1s trounced the Model Ones. With everything below 85 Hz being produced by the subs, the single advantage of the Model Ones was eliminated. In fact, the upper-bass of the Model Ones was too slow and plodding to blend seamlessly with the ultra-fast M&K MX-700s.
NHT has the right design philosophy with the SB1: If you're likely to use a subwoofer, why buy an ultra mini-monitor speaker that attempts to fake a sense of bass with an exagerated, slow, and fuzzy mid-bass hump?
The SB1s are fast, detailed, superb at imaging, missing only deep bass. Paired with a sub (which is a must for 5.1 sound, anyway), they're exquisite.
When mated with a very high quality subwoofer, a full-range high-end system is the result. Wonderful with both music and movies. Save the money you would spend on $1000 satellites, invest the money in a quality subwoofer, and you won't need to spend any more than $299 for the SB1s.
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