PCRECORDING.COM - NHT Pro M-00 Review
Manufacturer: NHT Pro
I received the M-00 set and the S-00 sub-woofer from NHT Pro for review. Their suggestion was that the M-00 and the S-00 would be a good match for my home-based studio. Given the small dimensions of my studio, these would prove to be a good match. Unfortunately, when I received the package, the shipper had managed to punch a large hole in one of the outer boxes and also the inner box in which the M-00 was housed. It was clear the that whatever hit the box did so with a heavy impact. Sure enough, the speaker did not function correctly and I called NHT Pro. NHT Pro was very professional, courteous and helpful. They promptly sent me a new one and a pickup tag for the damaged one. This was customer service at its absolute best. The new one worked flawlessly.
The first thing I noticed was the hefty, very solid feel of the M-00s. They are finished in an attractive matte black color and though very small are quite heavy. The back of the monitor is nicely laid out and understandable. Three connection options are available: unbalanced RCA phono jack, balanced TRS 1/4", or XLR jacks. The user can select between near-field and mid field monitoring distances, set +4/-10dB sensivity and auto power via three toggle switches aligned across the top of the back side of the monitor.
The S-00 is a heavy cubic block with a massive heatsink for cooling. The user can switch settings similar to those on the M-00. In addition, the user can set overall sub-woofer volume, set high-pass filter settings of either 120HZ or 90HZ and make infinite adjustments between 70HZ and 110HZ with the low-frequency pass knob. Lastly, there is a 1/4" jack for using a foot switch to defeat the sub-woofer. This is helpful for A/B testing with or without the sub-woofer. All switches are neatly and clearly labeled.
I had the good fortune to have several conversations with John Johnsen and Jack Hidley of NHT Pro. What I learned was that NHT Pro approaches their monitor design from the ground up. Typically, they begin with a product idea and then using proprietary computer design come up with a design model. They begin by designing the enclosure and keep to an air-suspension design. Then they work closely with component manufacturer's to custom design the drivers, crossovers and amplifiers for these systems. Both Hidley and Johnsen are firm believers in air-suspension systems over ported/tuned systems. They prefer to design as much of the systems' performance parameters as they can -- radiation patterns, natural roll-off and working range response -- into the drivers themselves. The differences are significant, particularly as it pertains to transient response of the tweeters and controlled roll-off of the low end frequencies. They feel that overall, an air suspension system is better behaved, more predictable and better sounding. While acknowledging that the air-suspension design is less efficient than ported designs, they believe the tradeoff in behavior and transient response is well worth it.
For instance, the 1" fabric tweeter is ferro-fluid cooled. The fluid filling helps the tweeter return to rest quicker by damping the residual vibrations of the tweeter once the signal is terminated. This prevents audio artifacts from entering the monitoring environment. Moreover, the fluid filling aids in keeping the tweeter cool, thus allowing for higher power settings.
Another interesting feature is the amplifier design coupled with the enclosure design of the M-00s. The M-00s are the only monitors in the NHT Pro line that have the amplifier inside the monitor. The enclosure, while providing a strong box to hold it all together acts as a heatsink thus allowing for higher power levels and sustained operation. For more details I suggest you go to their website and take a look around.
In a recording studio setup, the quality of the monitor is a critical element in obtaining a good mix. The quality is not measured in the same way that it is measured in a high-fidelity home setup. The ideal role of a studio monitor is one of discovery and clarity. Discovery of every sound, every nuance and every tone that occurs during a recording. Clarity in that nothing is added or taken away by the monitor itself. Audio is like a crime scene. Nothing comes in without bringing something with it from outside or leaves without taking something with it from the scene. Similarly, monitors can have an adverse and deceptive effect on the audio signal. The idea is to play back as accurately as possible the actual signal. So how do the M-00s and S-00 sound?
I set them up as shelf top monitors in standard near-field configuration. Each M-00 was equidistant from me and the other at approximately three feet - - forming an equilateral triangle. I used the setup extensively over a period of two months with a variety of equipment and projects. I used the monitors to test a variety of soundcards, plugins and microphones I was reviewing. I listened to CDs, MP3s and my own stuff to get a feel for their "sound." Throughout I found them to be very honest, flexible and accurate. The M-00s are very smooth, balanced and not unduly harsh. The high-frequency response was very crisp, clean and accurate. Very notable to me was the dynamic discreteness these monitors demonstrated. I was able to hear very minor changes in volume and tone very clearly. For instance, in one of my tests I was jangling my car keys to test a microphone. I started near the mike and moved away and to the side slowly. The monitors very discretely followed the keys path away, giving a very real sense of movement and space.
Of particular note, I used the Drag and Drop Drummer, a very cool drum software that consists of actual drum samples. I ran it through the M-00s, at several volumes. Throughout, the M-00s/S-00 sounded very good, responsive and reproduced the sound without distortion. Just for fun I turned it way up loud to see if I could get the monitors to crap out. My ears gave up first. It was neat seeing the drivers move in response to the drum sounds though. No discernible distortion emanated from the monitors even at these high volumes.
I tried the monitors on their mid-field settings to see how much difference I could detect in stereo separation. I was able to hear a clear difference, however, due to the size of my studio, the mid-field settings were not as clear to my ears. In a larger space this would be a great setting to employ when setting stereo parameters.
Due to their small size, the M-00s have limited very low frequency response, rolling off around 100hZ or so. Even so, up to that point they remained accurate and believable. Hearing accurate low-level frequencies can be a problem with the M-00s alone. The S-00 solves this problem admirably. Using the low-pass/high pass frequency filters and the overall sub-woofer level settings I was able to adjust the bass levels to provide satisfying bass response that remained accurate. My recording studio is not an ideal size. I have converted a portion of my third garage into a 12x12 recording space. Thus, I have issues with standing waves and more reflective surfaces than I would like. So, being able to tune the bass levels via the sub-woofer controls allowed me to adjust for the acoustics of my room. This is a well-thought out system. I felt I could trust what I was hearing from the monitors. When I mixed down tracks to CD and played them in my home system, I heard what I expected to hear.
One problem that I had was based in my particular preferences in monitoring the output signal. I prefer to monitor directly from the outs on the sound card whenever possible. When the M-00s are on they are on all the way, all the way up to 111dB. That is very loud. As a result, I was a bit frustrated when I was monitoring directly from my soundcard outs to the inputs of the monitors - - the volume was simply too high to be comfortable. I was left wishing there was some sort of on-board volume control. My only choices were to either hook up through my mixer and attenuate the signal there or attenuate the signal in the computer outputs - - degrading my bit-levels. Neither solution was completely satisfying. My mixer adds a bit of color to the signal and reducing the digital output in the computer compromised the fidelity. I called Jack Hidley at NHT Pro for suggestions. Boy, did he have a solution!
NHT Pro sent me a little black box called the PVC (Passive Volume Control). Described as a finished prototype for a product due out this summer, it looked complete to me. The PVC is a ganged stereo attenuator designed for users wishing to work without outboard mixers or bit-degrading digital volume attenuators. The PVC provides a stereo level control solution for any monitor or distributed sound application and features a single rotary control for precise two-channel level adjustments. These can be set within 1dB from 0 to -40dB, and ± .5dB interchannel accuracy to -60 dB. It has balanced operation with its Neutrik combo XLR/TRS input jacks, high quality ALPS® pot and XLR outputs, as well as unbalanced operation when using standard 1/4" or RCA inputs. The PVC was a true problem solver for the very dilemma I called Jack Hidley about. It worked seamlessly within my system, was very transparent and silent. I was now able to keep my bit levels up in my system, not use my mixer and keep the volume to a level that was tolerable. The only question I had was why didn't anyone think of this before? This is a very handy tool for a wide variety of applications.
While out of the price range of many hobbyists, they are still affordable considering the quality of the product. The M-00 and the S-00 are high-end monitor solutions for a wide variety of applications. They are small enough to be portable and strong enough to play loudly with accuracy. The sound quality was very smooth and accurate. I detected no extensive coloration of the signal coming from the M-00s. The S-00 can be precisely controlled, adding just the right level of bass signal to round out the monitoring mix. Keeping in mind that assessment of audio quality is in large part subjective, I thought these monitors sounded great. I felt I could trust them to be accurate. You cannot ask more of a monitor.