NHT Verve review: NHT Verve

The Verve IV speaker package delivers a lush surround sound experience from a smaller, more stylish design than NHTs offered in the past.

Steve Guttenberg

Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

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Benicia, California-based Now Hear This (NHT) has a long history of building affordable high-performance speakers. In recent years, the company successfully moved upmarket with a remarkably innovative series of products, including the Xd integrated electronics and speaker system, and a high-end surround processor and power amplifier. But with the introduction of the Verve series, NHT is returning to the broader marketplace of four-figure surround sound speaker systems, and these are specifically designed to partner with flat-screen TVs. The $2,000 Verve IV package was conceived, first and foremost, as a system--NHT engineers carefully honed the designs of the two different sizes of satellites and the subwoofer to work synergistically. The unusual subwoofer crams two 10-inch drivers into a "flat" design that's 24 inches wide and a mere 7.7 inches deep. The satellite speakers, meanwhile, are bona fide three-way designs with separate woofer, midrange and tweeter drivers. Since the vast majority of packaged speaker systems rely on two-way speakers, our expectations for the Verve's sound were understandably high.


NHT Verve

The Good

Beautifully finished piano-black, six-piece home theater speaker package; three-way speakers with advanced technology coaxial tweeter/midrange drivers; shallow depth, dual 10-inch, 200-watt subwoofer.

The Bad

While attractive, the design isn't as stylish as some competing speaker sets in this price range. And for a system this pricey, we'd expect five-way binding posts and better connectivity and crossover options on the subwoofer.

The Bottom Line

The Verve IV speaker package delivers a lush surround sound experience from a smaller, more stylish design than NHTs offered in the past.
NHT Verve series

The NHT Verve series is available in at least four configurations (see below), each of which is comprised of the same basic speakers. The NHT Verve IV, reviewed here, is a six-piece (5.1) system that includes three V Large satellites, two V Small sats, and the V Woofer. The V Large isn't all that big--it's 15.5 inches tall--and the V Small isn't so tiny--it's 10.75 inches high. NHT strongly recommends using the V Large speakers in the front left, center, right positions, and the V smalls only as surround speakers.

The set is comprised of the V Large, V Small, and V Woofer.

Instead of typical medium-density fiberboard or plastic cabinets, NHT engineers opted for BMC (bulk molding compound), a dense mixture of polyester resin, fiberglass strands, wood, and aluminum particles. The cabinet's interior is reinforced with four "U" shaped aluminum ribs in an effort to hush resonance that would color the speaker's sound. The satellites come prepacked mounted on table stands; to reorient the V Large for use as a horizontal center speaker you need to remove two Phillips head screws and reattach the stand. It's a simple enough job and required just a couple minutes of our time. The gently curved speakers also can be wall-mounted with the speakers' keyhole brackets. High-gloss black is the only available finish option, and the speakers are fitted with removable form-fitting, finely perforated metal grilles. NHT is planning on offering floor stands that match the speakers, but they won't be available until summer 2007.

The subwoofer houses two 10-inch drivers within its flattened frame.

The V Woofer's stylish, piano-black cabinet is constructed out of medium-density fiberboard. The 36.5-pound sub's "slab" shape may make for a more decor friendly footprint compared to more typical cube designs. Input and power connectors are located on the bottom panel to provide a clean appearance--and since the volume control is up front, it's easy to adjust. To achieve the smoothest blend with the V satellites, NHT recommends placing the V Woofer on the same plane/wall as the front three speakers. To keep things simple, the V Woofer lacks an internal crossover--the ideal bass management/crossover frequency is 100 hertz, which is offered on almost every A/V receiver.

The V Large and V Small speakers are three-way designs with a 0.75-inch Mylar dome tweeter, 3-inch midrange and 4.5-inch woofer. The V Large uses two woofers and the V Small uses just one. Both speakers feature an unusual "coaxial" tweeter/midrange design that places the tweeter directly in front of the midrange. The design is said to maximize the speaker's dispersion so listeners sitting in different parts of the room hear the same tonal balance. The speakers' heavy-duty spring post connectors accept bare wire, spades, or banana plugs. Those connectors are pretty robust, but in a $2,000 speaker system we expect even sturdier five-way binding posts.

The lack of five-way binding posts is a disappointment on speakers this pricey.

The subwoofer's twin 10-inch aluminum woofers are powered by a 200-watt amplifier; connectivity is limited to one RCA input.

Anyone who's looking to expand to a 6.1- or 7.1-channel system can pick up extra V Large and V Small satellite speakers for $240 and $200 each, respectively. The satellites are powerful enough to fill even fairly large rooms (up to 500 square feet) with sound. If you love bass--or your room is huge--you can add extra V Woofers for $880 each. The 120+ pound shipping weight of the six-piece Verve Home Theater system attests to its build quality. However, we were surprised to note that NHT does not include speaker wire or an interconnect cable for the subwoofer (most packaged systems do).

The Verve speakers place the tweeter directly in front of the midrange driver.

Alternate configurations of the Verve line are also available. The $1,900 Verve V substitutes a pair of NHT's iC2 in-ceiling speakers for the V Small satellites. A 2.1 variant, with a pair of V Large speakers and the V Woofer, goes for $1,359 SRP. Other versions that include NHT's dedicated controller and power amp can cost as much as $6,750.

The full NHT Verve lineup is as follows:

  • Verve I ($6,750): Same as the Verve IV (the 5.1 system reviewed here), plus the NHT Controller and a power amplifier
  • Verve II ($6,570): Same as the Verve V, plus the NHT Controller and a power amplifier
  • Verve III ($5,310): A 2.1 system (identical to the Verve VI, below), plus the NHT Controller and power amplifier
  • Verve IV ($2,000): The 5.1 system reviewed here
  • Verve V ($1,900): A 5.1 system similar to the Verve IV, except that two iC2 in-ceiling speakers replace the V Small surround speakers in the rear
  • Verve VI ($1,360): The most affordable Verve configuration is a 2.1 system consisting of two V Large speakers plus the V Woofer
  • Performance
    The clarity of the NHT Verve IV impressed us from the get-go. Most small speakers sound small--you can hear them struggling to belt out home theater thrills--but the Verve had the sonic gravitas of a larger system. The Verve subwoofer delves deep, but it was the quality of the bass--its taut definition and character and the way it perfectly meshed with the Verve satellites--that made for an exceptional pairing.

    The Pixies concert DVD, Live at the Paradise in Boston proved the Verve system wasn't afraid to rock and roll. The band was totally on fire that night, so we cranked the volume, and even then the sound held together. What really stood out was the way the Verve's front three speakers projected a soundstage of remarkable height, depth, and width. Drummer David Lovering's solid grooves emerged with the sort of punch we'd expect from much larger speakers.

    On Tony Bennett's Sings Ellington CD, the Verve Home Theater catered to Bennett's rich vocals. The stand-up acoustic bass on the recording sounded absolutely vivid, without the usual smearing or blur. The little satellites were almost magical in the way they reproduced the sound of Bennett's piano accompanist. If we had to pick on one thing, it would be the satellites' upper treble detail; it lacked the last bit of sparkle, so brushed cymbals weren't as "airy" as we would have liked. But that's probably something that only persnickety audiophiles would notice. Still, listening in stereo wasn't as satisfying as surround--we felt the Verve system was at its best as a system--so that's how we listened to it.

    Case in point was Hollywoodland--the Verve system didn't miss a beat when evoking the dark mood of the noirish fact-based murder mystery. During a scene in the coroner's office, we could clearly hear the dialog's intentionally echoey quality--the sound matched the visuals of the tiled room, and the sonic realism brought the movie to life. That said, if we pushed the volume when playing special-effects-laden DVD, we could hear the satellites straining to keep up.

    We didn't have any like-priced 5.1 surround speaker systems on hand, but we think anyone looking for "lifestyle-friendly" speakers might be tempted by the smaller, curvier (and less expensive) KEF KHT-3005 or the much more expensive Cambridge SoundWorks Newton HD 5.1. Likewise, competing flat-panel-friendly models from Atlantic Technology and Klipsch are always in the running as well. The NHT Verve line is certainly in the same league, though for $2,000, we were a bit miffed that it lacked five-way binding posts and better subwoofer connectivity and crossover options.


    NHT Verve

    Score Breakdown

    Design 8Features 8Performance 8