The NHT SuperZero Speaker
Over-performing little speakers were always part of the high-end scene, but NHT’s SuperZero was the one that broke the mold. I recently spoke with NHT founder and president Chris Byrne to learn more about this classic speaker. The model that preceded it was, naturally enough, the Zero, but it didn’t take off, so it was redesigned with a different tweeter, a Japanese 1-inch soft dome made by Tonnegen. The woofer was a 4.5-inch treated paper cone driver, made in San Diego. The SuperZero sold for $230 per pair in 1993.
Entry-level speakers of the time were clad in faux-wood veneers, so NHT’s hard-edged, gloss black laminate cabinets really stood out from the pack and gave the SuperZero an air of quality even before it was played. The SuperZero was only 5 inches wide and 9 inches tall, and its solid little cabinet was made from half-inch-thick medium-density fiberboard.
Former Acoustic Research engineer and NHT co-founder Ken Kantor designed it and was adamant about his goals for the SuperZero. He wanted an exceptionally transparent midrange and clear treble, and in order to get that, he gave away most of the bass below 85 hertz. Of course, small, affordable speakers never make substantial bass, but Kantor resisted the temptation to hide the shortfall by artificially bumping up the midbass response as so many other budget speakers did. For the folks who needed more low-end grunt, NHT cooked up the matching SW2P subwoofer. The sub sold really well, but Byrne says most SuperZero buyers listened to the speaker on its own.
The SuperZero remained in production for close to nine years and sold upwards of 230,000 speakers, helping to make NHT one of the larger American speaker companies of the 1990s, with a staff of 55 people employed at its plant in Benicia, California. A couple of subsequent changes in ownership brought the company to its knees, but NHT is back today with much of the original management team in place. It’s offering a full line of speakers sold mostly Web-direct. The recently released SuperZero 2.0 sells for $198 per pair, less than the original, and as Home Theater found in its July 2011 review, maintains its charms.