Listening to NHT's SB-1s, the entry-level models of the Super Audio line, reminded us once again why this company's speakers have been audiophile favorites since 1986. The sound is top-notch, and the updated, compact design includes elegantly crafted cabinetry and a dazzling high-gloss paint job. The SB-1s have a retail price of $300 per pair. It may be NHT's most junior Super Audio model, but the SB-1 is still finished in seven coats of black or white lacquer. The cabinet is unusually handsome: it has gently rounded corners and is solidly hefty for its size. Each of these little guys weighs 8 pounds and stands 10.25 inches tall.
While NHT isn't promoting the SB-1 as a full-range speaker, the model has enough bass to fill very small rooms (say, less than 150 square feet), where you might be able to get by without a subwoofer. In a home-theater system, the SB-1 complements its Super Audio siblings: the larger SB-2 and SB-3 bookshelf speakers, as well as the floor-standing unit. The SB-1 is a two-way acoustic suspension, or nonported, design, so you can place it in a tight space--such as on a bookshelf--without adversely affecting sound quality. It mates a 5.25-inch polypropylene woofer with a 1-inch metal dome tweeter outfitted with an aluminum heat sink. The drivers hide behind a nicely finished cloth grille with a nifty machined-metal NHT logo. Impedance is rated at 8 ohms, so the SB-1 won't overstress budget receivers. Connectivity comes in the form of a pair of robust binding posts.
You can wall-mount your SB-1s or set them atop floor stands such as NHT's Last Stand (listed at $200 per pair). Each 27-inch-tall stand features extruded-aluminum support columns; the wooden base and speaker platform are finished in glossy black. Carpet-piercing spikes and rubber feet provide maximum stability on different floor types. First up in our auditions was Charlie Hunter's funky new jazz CD, Right Now Move, on which Hunter plays a special eight-string guitar (the two extras are bass strings). Even before we added NHT's subwoofer, we were knocked out by the SB-1s' bass dexterity. Once the sub was in place, the combo's crisp definition made it even easier to follow Hunter's intricate fingerings; a lot of sub/sat pairings blur this sort of detail. Baritone saxes' lower registers had the sort of breathy fullness you hear from only floor-standing models. High-frequency detail was smooth; we can't say the same about all speakers that employ metal dome tweeters.
On the Who's Live at Leeds CD, we pushed the little guys really hard--up to 95dB--in our large room, and they didn't distort or get weird. That's a rare accomplishment for speakers of this size and price class. Still, the SB-1s have limits; don't expect them to fill huge rooms (larger than 400 square feet) with high-volume sound.
Our home-theater trials commenced with the remastered True Romance DVD. The haunting score, especially the woody marimba percussion sections, came across just right. When the gunplay broke loose during the big showdown scene, the little NHTs mimicked the visceral sound of much larger speakers.
We tested the SB-1s initially with a Pioneer receiver, then with a Denon , and finally with separate B&K components. The SB-1s sounded better and better as we improved the electronics--the mark of a highly accurate speaker and all the more remarkable in a $300 pair.