NHT SB-2, SC-1, SW10 Review

If you are in the market for a below-$2000 home theater loudspeaker system, we strongly recommend you to give this system a spin.
If you are in the market for a below-$2000 home theater loudspeaker system, we strongly recommend you to give this system a spin.
If you are in the market for a below-$2000 home theater loudspeaker system, we strongly recommend you to give this system a spin.

Highs

  • Design screams high-end

Lows

  • Vertical dispersion of the SC-1 is rather narrow

Summary

I really enjoy the performance of the NHT SB-2, SC-1, and SW10 loudspeaker system. If you are in the market for a below-$2000 home theater loudspeaker system, I strongly recommend you to give this system a spin. And if you are looking for a nice pair of bookshelf stereo loudspeakers, you should take a close look and listen to the SB-2. These loudspeakers produce high quality sound with a price that won’t break your bank.

Introduction

Now Hear This Inc. (NHT), a company based in California, has been in the loudspeaker business since 1986. Much of the success of the company has been due to its ability to deliver high quality products without high prices, something that enthusiasts on a budget would definitely appreciate. Some of the NHT products have even been considered to be a benchmark of value in the hifi world.

Recently, NHT introduces its new product lines and I was very excited to get the opportunity to review the home theater loudspeaker system from the company’s SuperAudio series, which in this case is the combination of the SB-2 bookshelf loudspeakers, the SC-1 center channel loudspeaker, and the SW10 powered subwoofer. The SB-2 is the successor of the highly touted SuperOne, which has drawn rave reviews from everywhere.

Design and Features

NHT’s trademark look in the past has been glossy black and sharp edges. The new look is still predominantly glossy black, but the sharp edges have been replaced by the rounded and smooth ones. And instead of using laminate finish, the enclosures of the loudspeakers are painted. The SB-2 also comes in glossy white, but you can only get the SC-1 and SW10 in glossy black. I like the new look of the loudspeakers, which in my opinion, is classier than the old one. The built quality of these loudspeakers is excellent. Their enclosures are quite rigid and show no sign of resonance.

The design of the SB-2 is acoustic suspension (closed box, no port) with a 1-inch proprietary fluid-cooled metal dome tweeter and a 6.5-inch polypropylene woofer. It is magnetically shielded, so you can safely put it very close to your television without distorting its picture. A screw hole is provided on the back in case you want to wall-mount it. Should you decide to put the SB-2 on the stand, NHT also makes the matching stands for it, called the Last Stand, which has silver color aluminum support column with black wood base and metal platform ($200/pair). I don’t know about you, but I personally wouldn’t put the white SB-2 on this stand for aesthetic reason. The loudspeaker connections on the back are five-way binding posts, which accept raw wires, banana plugs, or spade plugs (see figure).


The SC-1 center channel loudspeaker is sleek and relatively small. It uses the same type of tweeter as the SB-2 and has two 4.5 inch polypropylene woofers in an acoustic suspension design. As is usually the case with center channel loudspeakers, it is magnetically shielded. The SC-1 comes with an adjustable rod, which can be used to adjust the loudspeaker orientation. Because of its relatively small size, the SC-1 can be easily put on top of most television sets.

The SW10 subwoofer is a front-vented design with a 10 inch polypropylene driver and a built-in 150 watt amplifier. On the back panel, you’ll find all the subwoofer controls (volume, crossover frequency, polarity, on/off switch, and audio/video switch) as well as the input and output terminals. The SW10 accepts low or high level inputs and also provides high-pass filtered or full range outputs. When the auto-on switch is engaged, the SW10 automatically turns on itself in the presence of the incoming signal. There is also an audio/video contour switch on the back. According to the manual, when this switch is flipped to audio, the subwoofer produces a flat bass response, which is ideal for music listening. When it is flipped to video, the lower mid bass is enhanced, which may be desirable for movie sounds. However, in such setting the lower bass rolls off faster than in the audio setting and the manual warns against the use of this setting when the main loudspeakers are large and the crossover is set very low (below 40 Hz or so).

Listening Impressions

After broken-in, I evaluated the loudspeakers in both stereo and home theater applications. The SB-2s were put on the Last Stands and used as the main and surround loudspeakers. For placement, I pretty much followed the NHT recommendation. The distance of the front SB-2s from my listening position was about 1.5 times the distance from each other. The SC-1 was put on top of my 32″ Sony Wega TV, while the SW10 subwoofer was placed on the front right corner of the room.

The SB-2s are solid all around performer; very clean and accurate. Although relatively small, these loudspeakers can play loud without strain.  Its soundstage and depth renditions are excellent. These loudspeakers can just easily disappear and leave us in the musical stage. The bass is tight and tuneful. In small to medium size listening rooms, you probably won’t feel the need for a subwoofer in most musical applications, unless maybe if you are into pipe-organ music. Should you feel the need for bass enhancement; the SW10 subwoofer can complement the SB-2 nicely. I was able to achieve a seamless transition between the SB-2 and SW10 in the crossover frequency range.

OK, enough talking about the SB-2’s strengths. Any weaknesses? There are, of course (nothing in this world is perfect), but they are relatively minor, especially when you consider the price. I felt that the SB-2s lacked the last bit of transparency and resolution. Also, their imaging could use some sharpening. But when you consider that in this evaluation I used loudspeakers that cost about 6 times of the SB-2’s price as a reference, my comments above are really nitpicky.

In home theater application, this loudspeaker system leaves little to desire. Whether it is drama or action movie, this system does not disappoint me. Front-to-back and side-to-side sound transitions are nicely conveyed by this system. The off-axis response of the system is pretty admirable. Except for slight surround imbalance when sitting off-axis, I did not notice dialogs or front-effects degradation. Initially I had some doubt on the SC-1 center channel loudspeaker due to its small size, but it turned out to be a capable performer. It delivers the dialogs in the movies with good clarity. However, I found that the vertical dispersion of the SC-1 is rather narrow. So to achieve the optimum result, the SC-1 should be aimed at the ear level of the listeners. If you do not do so, the resulting dialog intelligibility might suffer.
The SW10 subwoofer does not go very low, but it does provide the necessary impacts that will enhance your movie experience. In my room, the SW10 is capable of producing bass extension down to 30 Hz. When the video contour switch is engaged, bass response is enhanced. However, personally, I felt that it was a bit boomy for my taste, so I prefer to use audio contour setting even in movie applications.

Final Words

I really enjoy the performance of the NHT SB-2, SC-1, and SW10 loudspeaker system. If you are in the market for a below-$2000 home theater loudspeaker system, I strongly recommend you to give this system a spin. And if you are looking for a nice pair of bookshelf stereo loudspeakers, you should take a close look and listen to the SB-2. These loudspeakers produce high quality sound with a price that won’t break your bank.

Associated Equipment for Review

CD playback: Yamaha CDC-755 (used as transport), MSB Link II DAC
DVD player: Toshiba SD2109
Pre-amplification: Adcom GFP-750, B&K Reference 20
Power amplifier: ATI AT1505
Loudspeakers: NHT 2.9, NHT Audio Center 1, Paradigm Atoms, KEF AV1
Cables: MIT Terminator 2 speaker cables, MIT Terminator 4 interconnects
Accessories: Parasound SCAMP, Monster Power surge suppressor