NHT M-00 Loudspeakers
If you're like me,
you don't get a chance to listen to your high-falutin', fancy-schmancy hi-fi nearly as
much as you'd like to. Yeah, my job does involve listening to audio components, but
it also involves an awful lot of sitting at my desk and staring at a computer monitor with
the intention to commit prose. And that's time I'd rather be listening to music.
While the details might differ, I bet there are a lot of
people in more or less the same situation. Surprisingly, very few loudspeaker
manufacturers have addressed this distressing circumstance with any serious desktop
There have been a few, of course, but the majority of
powered desktop speaker systems have been pretty, well, bad. Not unexciting, not
mediocre, but outright crappy sounding. Strange, huh?
Even stranger, there's an entire industry that needs
high-quality loudspeakers designed for up-close listening. Unlike the rest of us
desk-jockeys, those professionals usually get what they want. I'm speaking, of
course, about the pro-audio world, where small, powered nearfield monitors are not just
common, but ubiquitous. Funny how audiophiles barely register their existence.
That's why I slapped myself in the forehead when I heard
about NHT's $249-USD/each M-00 (pronounced "moo") powered minimonitor. It seemed
such an obvious adaptation for the desktop environment. Why hadn't I thought of it? Why
hadn't anyone else?
Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a
NHT is actually the perfect company to bring pro-influenced
gear to the consumer market. NHT was founded in 1986 by current managing director, Chris
Byrne, and Ken Kantor, who designed the company's extremely well respected line of
speakers. In 1990, the two partners sold the company to International Jensen, which in
1996 sold its home and aftermarket car audio business, including NHT, to Recoton.
Byrne and Kantor started a new company, Vergence
Technology, in 1998. Vergence was formed as a pro company and created the M-00 and
other recording monitors. Vergence was acquired by Recoton in 2001, and Recoton
united the consumer and pro products under the NHT brand. The combined
company was sold to Rockford Corporation in 2002. This proved to be an extremely good
fit; Rockford's economies of scale of technology-heavy corporate culture have allowed NHT
-- as the company is once again known -- to venture back into the high-end fold with
products designed for use in the home.
Cosmetically, the M-00 reveals its pro-audio roots -- it
ain't exactly ugly, but it sure ain't pretty. The M-00 compact monitor is an
acoustic-suspension two-way design, housed in a cast-aluminum/zinc-alloy enclosure, with a
front baffle molded of rigid, mica-filled polypropylene. Attached to the inside of the
enclosure is a discrete 75W power amplifier, with a low-noise, well-isolated preamp with
adjustable input sensitivity.
Actually, there are several rear-panel adjustments that add
to the M-00's flexibility. First, there's a switch that alters the speaker's response for
either NF (nearfield) or MF (mid-field) listening. The NF/MF switch compensates for
differences in perceived high-frequency response. When you listen in the near field
(within 6' of the speakers), there's a high ratio of direct-to-reflected sound, while
mid-to-far-field listening (more than 6' from the speakers) results in a greater
percentage of sound reflected from the room boundaries. Rough translation: The two
listening positions are very different in terms of HF-to-midrange blend and the switch
allows you some control over that.
The M-00 also features multiple input options: XLR, RCA,
and 1/4" phono input jacks. You can run 'em from a portable, a preamp, or even direct
from a component (although you'd need an outboard volume control or a device with variable
output, since the one thing the M-00 doesn't have is an output control). By the
way, the XLR and 1/4" inputs are paralleled so that multiple M-00s can be
daisy-chained on a single channel, if that prospect turns you on.
I mentioned that the M-00 has selectable input sensitivity.
This is a good thing -- it means you can connect 'em to just about any kind of gadget,
from computer sound cards or MP3 players to pro mixing boards. The switch has two
positions, +4dB and -10dB. You can augment this flexibility by choosing your input
connector (balanced XLR giving you a tad more gain).
Since the M-00 is a powered loudspeaker, it has a power
switch -- two, actually: one turns the M-00 off and on, while
the Autopower switch allows the speaker to sense an incoming
signal, powering on the internal amplifier from its standby mode (after 10
minutes without a signal, it will turn off).
There's another useful back-panel option on the M-00:
threaded holes that accommodate the ubiquitous OmniMount 50/53 bracket systems. Choose the
proper OmniMount bracket and you can hang the little guys from either the walls or
The M-00's drivers were developed by NHT using computer
modeling, although they seem awfully similar to those contained in NHT's budget
masterpiece the SuperZero -- which, by the way, is another good thing. The
4.5" paper-cone woofer boasts a two-layer voice coil wound on an aluminum former, and
the 1" ferrofluid-cooled, fabric-dome tweeter employs an "underhung" motor
driven by a large magnet structure/short-voice-coil combo.
The cast-metal cabinet offers a few nifty advantages.
First, the whole structure acts as a heatsink for the built-in amp, allowing it to run
cool despite the sealed box surrounding it. And, of course, a cast-metal box is solid
enough to anchor those threaded inserts, despite the M-00's considerable (14 pounds each!)
Separate steel boxes and "cans" surround the
driver motors and transformer inside the M-00, making the speaker video-monitor friendly.
"Moo" may represent an idea, but only the cow
If the M-00s reminded me of the classic SuperZeros, it was
for two reasons. They sounded fabulously musical, punchy and natural, with a bright, but
never shrill or harsh, top end -- just like the SZs. A lot of that crisp articulation came
from the speaker's 100Hz bottom-end roll-off (real room response probably generates
useable bottom end down to about 80Hz). That makes for a lightweight tonal balance that
most people might find vexing -- if they were listening in the mid-to-far-field in a large
Obviously, you could add a subwoofer (and NHT would like
that very much, if you chose their companion sub, the S-00), but I'm not sure that many
people will be buying M-00s for big-room, far-field listening. It's really designed to be
a nearfield monitor, where the listener's proximity to the speakers (and the speakers'
placement on top of a boundary, such as a desk top) gives 'em more body than they will
have, say, on a stand far from the sweet spot.
I used 'em almost exclusively on my desk, driven by my
computer; on the kitchen table, driven by my iPod; and now -- perhaps permanently -- on a
shelf over my kitchen sink, driven by the preamp outputs of my Linn Classik. Well, maybe
not permanently. I am sort of tempted by the thought of wall mounting them with
some OmniMount brackets.
I guess that gives away my conclusion. I like the M-00s. I
like 'em a lot. They put the fun in multifunctional and I've enjoyed every minute
I've spent with the little guys.
They're robust and dynamic. They'll play louder than I'll
ever want to push 'em. How loud? Something like 110dB, which is deafening (literally) in
the near field. What really impressed me wasn't all that grunt, but the dynamics. Unlike
any puny little "computer" speaker system I've ever used, the M-00s were
absolute wizards at conveying all the shades in between soft and loud (and the even more
rarely depicted shades between soft and softer and loud and louder).
Sure, they let me rock out when "Crosstown
Traffic" comes up on my iPod's random play file, but it doesn't take much to get me
rocking out to Hendrix. More remarkable is the way they capture the silvery sparkle of
Emmylou Harris' voice on "Boulder to Birmingham" -- and the way they convey that
slight huskiness in her voice as she gets caught up in the song's pathos.
They aren't speakers that limit what you listen to, either.
I found myself actively seeking my favorite classical performance, which normally isn't
something I'm all that eager to subject to the crude tonal and dynamic reproduction of
"computer-quality" speaker systems.
Working at my desk, you'd think I'd be able to sample the
wonders of music from all the ages, but on most desktop systems, those ages seem to be the
last 50 years -- and mostly popular music to boot. The M-00s don't rival my Dynaudio
Microns for layering or that last iota of dynamic nuance, but they wipe the floor with
just about any other speaker I've ever heard that was billed as a desktop unit.
And they disappear even better than the Microns if you can
place 'em about 3' away from you. Maybe they don't remove the front wall entirely, but
enveloping you completely in the soundfield is a pretty impressive trick.
With a moo-moo here and an oink-oink
Many folks will raise an eyebrow at the $249/each price
tag. Am I really suggesting that you spend $500 on a pair of speakers to tack on to your
Naturally, only you can decide what that's worth. If you
listen to music as a form of white noise to counteract the environmental hash of your
office -- or if you work at a cubicle farm, where you can't crank things up to enjoyable
levels -- then the M-00s are probably overkill.
Or, if you have an extra receiver lying around the house --
and an extra pair of small loudspeakers, natch -- you can get very good sound without
spending a lot of moolah. Maybe any. This is the route I've always taken, but you can't
walk into a closet in my house without running the risk of an equipment avalanche.
But even then, finding speakers that are designed to
produce reasonably full-range sound in the near field is difficult. Most compact monitors
are designed to be placed away from room boundaries, shelves, desktops, what have you --
and they "focus" their drivers to blend correctly about 6-to-8' away. Does
that really describe your desktop cartography? Mine neither.
Even when you're comparing the M-00 to other loudspeakers
"designed" for desktop use, the NHTs stand out. To begin with, most desktop
loudspeakers aren't really designed to be any different from other cheap little two-ways.
They're tiny and they're underpowered (I saw an ad recently bragging about awesome 11W
amplification) and, despite the fact that most of those systems include
"subwoofers," you're lucky to get any output below 100Hz -- or even close to
that. Sure, you might only pay $150 bucks for 'em, but they sound like crap. Pfui.
The M-00 has enough power to take you where you want to go
while piloting your desk. They have the detailed sound and natural timbre to convey the
true glory of music, and their small footprint and internal amplification ensure they are
perfectly adapted for the office environment.
One end is moo, the other, milk
That's probably the best way to think of NHT's M-00 powered
compact monitor: perfectly adapted. I believe it was Finnish paleontologist Bjorn Kurten
who pointed out that, despite common ancestors, humans and apes are at different points in
the evolutionary scale. Well sure, you say. Here's the kicker: Kurten maintained
that it's the ape that is the more highly evolved critter -- it has more survival
mechanisms designed to exploit its highly specific environment.
That's the tale of the M-00 in a nutshell. You can find a
speaker with greater frequency response, or a cheaper loudspeaker, or one that has more
layered presentation of imaging, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a higher-quality
alternative designed to cope with desktop, nearfield, critical music listening. In
evolutionary terms, that's success.
If you think that's faint praise or too measured a
compliment, just take a look around you. Where do you -- or most of your friends, for that
matter -- spend most of your time? Is it working, playing, or just wool-gathering while
seated at a desk? For many of us, the answer is all of the above.
The broad savannahs of the listening room are increasingly
turning into the overgrown forests of the modern office. As perfectly evolved as the
Neanderthal loudspeakers were for those limitless plains, the office thickets demand a new
breed of loudspeaker.
Enter the NHT M-00, walking upright.
NHT M-00 Loudspeakers
Price: $249 USD each.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
NHT (Now Hear This)
6400 Goodyear Road
Benicia, CA 94510
Phone: (800) 648-9993
Fax: (707) 747-1252