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NHT Dolby Atmos SuperZero 5.1.2 Speaker System Review (SuperZero 2.1, SuperCenter 2.1, AFX Mini, SS-10 Subwoofer)

The NHT SuperZero budget priced mini monitor that made audiophiles swoon lives on in a new and improved version. Here’s how it performs in a home theater system.

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Those who have been into HiFi and home theater for some time probably remember when NHT (“Now Hear This”) crashed the audiophile party with the original SuperZero speaker. It was a $130 bookshelf speaker ($260/pair) with the ability to create a believable three dimensional soundstage that rivaled speakers selling for many times the price. It had no bass output to speak of, but performed extremely well for the rest of the frequency spectrum and reproduced that holographic pinpoint imaging that audiophiles coveted (and still do). Match up a pair of SuperZeros with their SW2 subwoofer and you could get your HiFi speaker game on for around $580 all-in. Of course, these were 1993 dollars, comparable to about $1200 in today’s currency. But still, the original SuperZero and SW2 subwoofer combo punched well above its price class.

Though NHT’s founders Ken Kantor and Chris Byrne have since left the company, the former CTO Jonathan Sun took over as CEO in 2017. The company, still based in Benicia, California, continues to design and manufacture affordable speakers for the home market. They’ve managed to keep costs under control while simultaneously tweaking the company’s original designs. The original SuperZero sold for $260/pair in 1993. The SuperZero 2.1 list price is $124.99/each ($249.98/pair). So thirty years later, they are basically hitting the same price point as the original while just about everything else in life has gotten more expensive.

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NHT’s entry-level 5.1.2 system is comprised of the SuperZero 2.1(x4), SuperCenter 2.1, AFX Mini (x2) and SS-10 powered subwoofer.

For this review, we put together a budget 5.1.2 channel system comprised of four SuperZero 2.1 satellite speakers, one SuperCenter 2.1, the SS-10 powered subwoofer and two of the company’s AFX Mini Dolby Atmos add-on speakers. The AFX Mini is perfectly sized to sit atop a SuperZero and reflect sound from the ceiling for an immersive surround sound system. Its keyhole mount also allows the speaker to be mounted high on the front wall or mounted on the ceiling, based on your personal preference. List price of the complete 5.1.2 system is about $1,525. Street price (Amazon) is currently around $1,377 for the complete package. The package price is higher than entry-level 5.1.2 or 5.1.4 speaker systems from competitors like Klipsch and Polk, but it’s actually less than the cost of a high-end soundbar-based system from Sony or Sonos, even when you include the cost of a decent Audio/Video receiver to drive the NHT speaker system.

Speakers Included in this Review:

Spec It Out

All speakers in the review feature a gloss black finish and high quality nickel-plated 5-way binding posts which accept bare wire, spade lugs or banana plugs. The SuperZero 2.1 is a compact two-way mini monitor featuring a 4.5″ woofer and 1-inch soft dome tweeter. Rated frequency response is 85Hz-20kHz +/-3dB, and sensitivity is rated at 87 dB. Its recommended max power rating is 75 Watts. In appearance, it looks quite similar to the original SuperZero, but inside, the SuperZero 2.1 features a newly revised woofer and an improved 2nd order crossover. It measures up at 9″ tall x 5″ wide x 5.5″ deep, and weights 5.8 pounds.

The SuperCenter 2.1 is also a 2-way design, but features two 4.5-inch woofers flanking the same 1-inch soft dome tweeter as found on the SuperZero. Frequency response is rated as 85Hz-25Hz, +/-3dB and its rated sensitivity is 86 dB. Recommended power is 15 to 150 Watts. It measures in at 5.5″H x 16″W x 6.5″D and weights approximately 13 pounds.

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The NHT SuperCenter 2.1 features the same tweeter and woofer from the SuperZero 2.1 so you’ll have excellent timbre matching throughout the system.

The Atmos Mini Speaker (AFX Mini) is a wedge-shaped speaker, 4.5″ high on its taller side and has the same footprint as the SuperZero (5″ x 5.5″), so it sits nicely on top of one. It includes a single 3″ paper cone driver and offers a rated frequency response of 120 Hz – 20 Khz. The rated sensitivity is 87 dB and has a power recommendation of 25-100 Watts.

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All speakers featured in this review (including the AFX Mini pictured here) offer high quality nickel-plated 5-way binding posts which support bare wire, spade lugs or banana plugs.

The SS-10 subwoofer is a fairly compact cube, 12.25 inches on each side. It features a 10-inch paper cone driver and a 250 Watt Class D amplifier. It weights in at 25.6 pounds. The -3 dB point is at around 34 Hz. Controls and jacks on the rear of the SS-10 are fairly typical with two RCA line level inputs, 0/180 phase adjustment, adjustable crossover (40 to 140 Hz) and adjustable level. There are no speaker level inputs on the SS-10.

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The NHT SS-10 sub offers adjustable crossover frequency and level as well as a phase switch (0/180 degrees).

To drive the system, I used the Denon AVR-S760H receiver for the first few weeks and a Sony STR-AZ1000ES receiver for the remainder of my time. Each receiver is rated at about 70-75 Watts/Channel, which was more than enough to drive the NHT system to robust sound levels in our roughly 16×16 foot listening room. For giggles, I even hooked a pair of the SuperZero 2.1s and the subwoofer up to a Cambridge Audio streamer, Rotel preamp and Conrad-Johnson Premiere 11a tube power amp to see how they would perform in a system with blue-blooded HiFi pedigree.

After a few days of breaking in, I put the NHT system through its paces on a wide variety of content: dozens of two-channel high resolution audio files downloaded from HD Tracks, multi-channel music tracks from physical media like SACD and DVD-Audio (anyone remember those?), immersive audio tracks from Tidal in 360 Reality Audio and Dolby Atmos formats. And movies, of course: dozens of movies and TV shows on Blu-ray Disc, Ultra HD Blu-ray and streaming providers such as HBO Max, Netflix, Disney+ and Apple TV+. For some retro sounds, I dusted off some classic vinyl from my misspent youth and spun those discs on my Systemdek turntable.

Listening Impressions

Unlike the super-low budget 5.1.2 system from Monoprice that I had reviewed just prior to getting the NHT system in, the NHT system’s blend from subwoofer to satellite speakers was much better integrated. Even though the SuperZero 2.1’s frequency response drops off precipitously below 100 Hz, the overall system reproduction, with the SS-10 powered sub in the mix left my ears happy, even on bass-heavy tracks like Lorde’s “Royals” and pretty much anything by Daft Punk or EDM producer Deadmau5.

On Dolby Atmos and 360 Reality Audio music tracks, the NHT system created a wide, deep and expansive soundstage with palpable three dimensionality. Individual voices and instruments were distinct while seamlessly blending to create a true dome of sound. Deep male voices had the proper heft, without sounding boomy. Synths and bass drums hit with a visceral oomph, tight and precise. While the low bass didn’t extend all the way to the lowest audible octave, the bass that the system did reproduce was firm and musical. On the Dolby Atmos mix of “Alive” by KX5, deadmau5 et. al., when the bass drops at 1:50, I felt it in my gut. Synths, drums and percussive sounds permeated the entire room without strain or congestion.

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On vocal heavy tracks like Nora Jones “Come Away with Me” on SACD, lead vocals were locked in the center, with good presence and air around the voice, while the acoustic guitar floated in space with excellent detail. Aoife O’Donovan and Allison Russell’s “Prodigal Daughter” (Dolby Atmos mix on Tidal) also has a focus on acoustic guitar and female vocals with a subtle drum and bass guitar accompaniment. The details of the fingerpicks come though nicely and the voices gel beautifully in the center channel with one ghostly vocal part toward the end of the song eerily floating in space just behind the center speaker. On orchestral pieces, like John Williams’ “Star Wars: Fanfare and Prologue” in Dolby Atmos (Tidal), you feel like you’re inside the orchestra with the horns, strings, cymbals and tympani surrounding you.

On the subtler side, the live cut of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” in Dolby Atmos on Tidal puts on a convincing illusion of a live concert with an enthusiastic crowd chiming in on the lyrics. Similarly, Pink Floyd’s “The Delicate Sound of Thunder” live album on Tidal in 360 Reality Audio presented a huge wall of instrumental sound from the front of the room while crowd sounds emanated from beside and behind me. Just add your illicit substance of choice and you’ll feel as if you’re at a live concert.

Immerse Yourself in Movies and TV

Moving on to movies and TV shows, Dolby Atmos standout scenes like the opening sequence of “Gravity” (Diamond Luxe Blu-ray) created a cohesive soundscape with individual voices tracking all around the listening room as the astronauts moved through space. The downpour of rain from above in the opening scene of “Andor” on Disney+ made me want to grab an umbrella. That series features very effective use of Dolby Atmos, from Tie Fighters buzzing a barren landscape to the absolute mayhem of a prison break. The NHT system created a fully immersive soundscape no matter the environment being captured on screen.

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The NHT SuperZero 2.1s paid a visit to my high-end 2-channel rig.

Back to Basics: HiFi Stereo Sound

Toward the end of the review, I hooked up a pair of the SuperZero 2.1s and NHT sub to a 2-channel system consisting of a Cambridge Audio CXN V2 streamer, Systemdek turntable, Rotel RC-1070 preamp and Conrad-Johnson Premier Eleven A tubed power amp. Like the original SuperZero, the newest version really sings when driven by high quality electronics. That precise imaging and palpable sense of space is still present after all these years. Listening primarily to high res audio clips downloaded from HD Tracks, and lossless streams from TIDAL, the new SuperZero 2.1 and NHT sub resolved all the details in the music, like a high-end mini monitor, but without the high price tag.

Treble from cymbals and strings was extended without being overly strident, and male and female vocals were presented naturally, floating midway between the left and right speakers. Meanwhile the soundstage created by these little guys exceeded the width and height of the actual speaker placement. On the Art of Noise “Moments in Love (Beaten),” the xylophone strikes about 2 minutes into the song came from well above and to the left of the left speaker. As with the Dolby Atmos testing, these little guys create an impressively large soundstage in stereo mode, with a tiny little footprint.

For fun I took a pair of the original SuperZeroes out of storage and did a quick comparison. It wasn’t even close – the SuperZero 2.1s blew away the originals in treble extension and transparency. But before you get too excited, you have to keep in mind these original SuperZeroes are now almost 30 years old. The ferrofluid in the tweeters has likely dried up and the capacitors in the crossovers may need replacement. But comparing the old and the new speakers visually, we can see that the new ones are nearly identical in appearance. The size of the two is the same, the gloss black finish also the same. The new grilles are slightly more rounded and the logo has evolved a bit. But the new grilles even fit the original speakers. So apparently the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra has been followed.

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NHT’s SuperZero 2.1 (left) in 2023 compared to an original SuperZero from 1994.
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The logo and grille have changed a bit after nearly 30 years, but the cabinet design remains nearly identical.

A Note About Reflective Up-Firing Dolby Atmos Speakers

While some folks are skeptical about the ability of up-firing speakers to present realistic height effects for Dolby Atmos and other immersive sound formats, my experience has been different. When I first started experimenting with and testing up-firing Dolby Atmos speakers in 2016, I did have limited success getting them to work with the textured plaster ceiling in my current home theater space. But I installed 1/4-inch plywood panels on the ceiling at the reflection points to enhance the reflectivity of the surface. Once I did that, those height channels really locked in.

If you have smooth ceilings at right angles with your walls which are less than 12-feet high, reflective Dolby Atmos height speakers are a valid option. But if you have very high ceilings, angled, vaulted or textured ceilings, you’d be better served with height channels installed in or on the ceiling or high on the front and/or rear walls. The NHT AFX Mini does include a keyhole mount on the back which would allow you to mount the height speaker high on the front wall or on the ceiling if you prefer. NHT also makes in-ceiling speakers that would work well for height channels in an all NHT system.

Pros:

  • Solid audio performance for the price
  • Maintains composure even at high decibel levels
  • Excellent imaging
  • Integrates well with SS-10 subwoofer
  • Compact size will fit virtually any space

Cons:

  • No bass to speak of in the SuperZero 2.1 (subwoofer required)
  • Fairly inefficient (87 dB) – you’ll need a bit of power to drive them

Final Thoughts

What impressed me most about the SuperZero 2.1 system was its ability to maintain composure and detail when driven with multi-layered multi-channel music and movie mixes. These speakers may not be the best choice for a large listening room, but in our 16′ x 16′ space with 7.5-foot ceilings, the NHT system filled the bill. In a 2-channel set-up, the SuperZero 2.1 held its own with much more expensive gear. Just be sure to add the sub if you like bass frequencies.

The SuperZero is dead. Long live the SuperZero 2.1!

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Get the Speakers in this Review on Amazon.com:

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. lfm

    March 28, 2023 at 12:50 am

    who could ever forget the legendary SuperZero, 1st heard them in ’95…..then the SuperOne in ’96 ?……regretted never buying a pair till today…..

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