Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Have a Super New Year.

2012 looks to be a really interesting year. The economy is stabilizing, we get Olympic Games, a national election and the 49'ers are in the playoffs "Go Niners!", (sorry, had to say it). And the world has a new SuperPower. Nope not a country, its our latest product introduction; the 90 watt, SuperPower active mini-monitor. Its basically a consumer version of our Pro Audio M00 but its more than just a replacement, it represents a beginning... marking a major shift in our development efforts.

It's certainly no secret that wireless connectivity has changed our lives and it has created a broader range of applications for speakers. 'Wireless' protocols are popping up all over and it is unlikely there will ever be a standard or a single method. Every house and sometimes every person in the house may need a different solution. Its incumbent on us to make sure that our products can take advantage of any or all of these paths without restriction.

The SuperPower is our first salvo in offering some very useful and very high performance products that take advantage of new signal transmission technologies. Its not our intention to necessarily limit you to one type of wireless by building it in, but rather make it easy to adapt NHT speakers to what you have. Products that will allow you to move around without sacrificing the kind of sound quality folks expect from NHT.

Are we giving up on our traditional designs or the attention we have given sonics and value? No. What we are doing is expanding our "sound" and philosophy to a number of new categories that make sense for consumers today and beyond.

Be on the watch out, this is going to be fun.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The next "i" word.

Nope, not a new internet product. I have been alluding to the "i" word for some time now. Its here and it is "inflation" and for consumer electronics at least, it starts in China.

Anyone who reads the business press knows Chinese labor costs are rising and will continue to do so quickly. What's behind it? The Government there has mandated at least 15% annual increases to their nation's minimum wage for the next four years. This is good for the Chinese people, but it will ripple through all our lives and will result in more expensive products.

The 15% annual increase is just the guideline by the way. Many factories are offering experienced workers 2 to 3 times these amounts in an effort to keep them. It costs more to house and feed employees than ever before. Benefits are now mandated and even so there is so much competition for workers, turnover is epidemic in some regions.

Yet labor is only one component of inflation. A review of the commodities market will reveal the steady rise in prices for wood, paper, copper, steel, and aluminum. Then of course there is the 300 lb gorilla... oil. We shouldn't even have to discuss this last item, it affects all of us.

Costs have been rising significantly since mid-2008. At first factories were reluctant to pass the higher prices on. Eventually they had to. We as manufacturers did the same, hiding the problem even longer. In NHT's case, because of the efficiencies we gained by shifting our business model to online, we actually lowered our prices even though our product costs rose. At this point its catching up with us. In order to remain financially viable, we either have to raise prices or switch our design emphasis to lower cost models.

NHT is doing both. You can expect Classic to become more expensive; its complex to construct and it uses very expensive materials. Just last week for example, we were notified our Classic tweeters would immediately double in price, following the rocketing increases for neodymium. We love our Classic series, its beautiful in every way and still provides far more performance and fit and finish for your money than you can get anywhere else. We'll make it as long as our customers ask us to, that's a promise.

We haven't been sleeping, we've known about the "i" word for some time now. We also know not everyone can afford our most expensive offerings, particularly in these hard times. As a first response, we redesigned the SuperZero to come in at $99. The cabinet is not so fancy. No 7 coats of high gloss paint. Just simple construction but it sounds really good and is easy on almost anyone's pocketbook. Look for more of this type of product from NHT. Our concentration will be on the other "i" word... innovation. We started this company finding clever ways to bring high end sound to all of our products regardless of price. That passion and commitment has not faltered.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Several years ago while in Hong Kong, I was chatting with an old friend, Max Roberts. Max, retired now, was a distributor of audio products in Australia for just about 40 years. Max knew what he was talking about. He had been in the business since the beginning of stereo and worked with some of the best companies in the world. "High fidelity is not subjective.", he told me. "A piano recording should sound like a live piano; you should be able to hear the wood overtones in a violin. Hi-fi is absolutely objective."

Max's comment resonated deeply with me, I realized he had just defined the driving force behind NHT. We have designed lots of speakers over the years, some better than others and everyone seems to have a different favorite. Never-the-less, I can say with certainty they all offer high fidelity sound.

Until recently the speaker we were most proud of? Not the 3.3, not Xd, but the $250/pair, little Super Zero. In our opinion, if you have a enough money, making a really good speaker is relatively easy. Mass producing a true, high fidelity speaker with a very low cost of materials is pretty difficult, that's why there aren't very many. It was our most popular speaker of all time, particularly with budget-constrained music lovers. The "Zero" concept has evolved into something different today. The Absolute Zero is a wonderful product, but it has changed; now sporting a larger woofer, different tweeter, dressy-lacquered cabinet and unfortunately a higher price.

Just two months ago we quietly introduced the Super Zero 2.0. Is it exactly the same as the original? It looks very much like it but it's not the same... its actually better. While it may seem trivial, it is impossible to clone a loudspeaker. You just can't do it and honestly we did not try. What we attempted with the 2.0 version was to take the original's sonic signature, mix in some of what we learned from making professional recording monitors (M-00) and widened off-axis response. And what you get is; 1) midrange and highs comparable to really expensive speakers, 2) incredible sonic detail (you can mix a record on these) and 3) you don't have to sit in the sweet spot to enjoy them.

The best part? Our everyday price is now $99 each, 25% less than in 1994. Can you get a bigger sound stage and better dynamics from our's or other's larger speakers? Of course you can. But on our little Super Zero 2.0's, you can hear reverb tails left accidentally in recordings, you can hear the bow of a bass violin excite its wood body and hear fingers sliding across new guitar strings as if you were there.

And this is our point. High fidelity should not come with a price penalty. At NHT it doesn't. This is what we are most proud of. We hope you enjoy them.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pay Attention, May 18th is Coming

May 18th is an awesomely, auspicious day for NHT… one worth celebrating. It was May 18, 2009 when we re-emerged from our self-imposed nap to a new web-based business model. The new model seems to be working like we thought it might and so it appears that NHT has hurdled the financial meltdown and found a way to continue making good sounds for not much money.

We did not plan it, but the day also marks a significant event for all in the music world… the invention of the dynamic loudspeaker. It wasn’t the first attempt at a speaker, which occurred years before, but this device had a moving coil, magnet and paper diaphragm. And it was the first such device used for public address. And it all happened right in my hometown, Napa, California.

The founders and inventors were Peter Jensen and Edwin Pridham. They called their invention the “Great Voice” (Magnavox in latin). On May 18th in 1915, Pridham climbed to the roof of the pair’s lab in a residential neighborhood, while Jensen manned the microphones in the lab itself and began to speak. Can you imagine? In the quiet rural setting of Napa at the turn of the century, all of a sudden a voice carries across the valley? Reports from locals at the time said it could be heard over a mile away. You have to wonder how many people thought God was speaking to them. Then one of them decided that they should put the microphones near a Victrola. Music played through a PA for the first time; the first hifi, sort of. Wow.

Not unlike entrepreneurs in our age, Peter and Edwin did not set out to make the loudspeaker. They, like many others in the world, were trying to make it big in the burgeoning wireless radio field used primarily for ship to shore, rail and major city to city applications. They had an Angel investor in San Francisco, who financed their work and suggested they go to Napa as it was rural and their IP would remain hidden from the world.

Their radio research failed. The dynamic speaker, a technological by-product, was developed almost as a lark at first until they saw the commercial possibilities for public speaking, politics, and public announcements. And broadcast music was quite nice of course, but who knew?

They solved the problem of making a moving coil on the steps of the old Goodman Library building not too many days before their first test. I sat on those same steps not long ago, thinking about that day, and what their revelation felt like. This was disruptive innovation. Neither Microsoft nor Apple have anything on these guys.

Think of all the uses we have for speakers in almost all facets of our lives and how many other products and technologies that would be meaningless if you had nothing to play them through. Personally, I’m really glad they found the path. Otherwise I might be picking grapes instead of making speakers.

If you find yourself in need of tunes, you might want to visit our site ( on the 18th, we have a little party planned. Happy birthday to all of us.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Year of the Gadget

The headline in the business section of the SF Chronicle on the day before opening day of CES in January referred to this year’s show as the “Gadget Show”. “Gadgets?” I thought to myself, “ Hey, we put a lot of work, science and care into our stuff. Gadgets? We don’t make no stinkin’ gadgets.” As I prepared to verbally body-slam this denigration, I thought, maybe I should look up the meaning of the word before pulling the trigger.

“Gadget (noun): A device or control that is very useful for a particular job.”

Hmmm, maybe the reference was not so far off the mark after all. This definition came from the dictionary app in my IPhone, a gadget if there ever was one. On to Wikipedia…

“A gadget is a small technological object (such as a device or an appliance) that has a particular function, but is often thought of as a novelty. Gadgets are invariably considered to be more unusually or cleverly designed than normal technological objects at the time of their invention.”

Now I always had the impression that “gadget” was kind of a negative term, superficial somehow, you know like the Popeil Pocket Fisherman tm. As I read further it seems that the word gadget is synonymous with invention. Some gadgets were good, some comic and some extraordinary. According to Wikipedia, the atomic bomb was referred to by some members of the Manhatten Project as “the gadget”. Whoa!

So in retrospect, I guess the headline was correct. Its what we do in this business invent and produce gadgets. Gadgets have a purpose, whether that’s to make us laugh (as in chattering teeth), or be amazed by little, tiny powered speakers that go to +11. Each has an application for which it was designed. The design can be extraordinary giving it the “legs” to last for years, or it can be a fad with the half-life of a single holiday season.

What always makes a good product in our opinion is an application-based design filling a real world need. So rather than get all serious and tell you we’ll soon have new models that “advance the state of the art”, I think we’ll just cop to the fact that we have some cool gadgets coming down the road.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays and Goodbye 2009

Its been a tough year for many of us, lots of hardships, many lost. But it has also been a year of resetting goals and attitudes. In my opinion, we seemed to have stopped to smell the roses a little more, maybe have become more understanding of the plight of others. I certainly hope that this recession has brought about some permanent change in our life priorities.

Well here is to 2010 and the next chapter. We wish you all the best of Holidays.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shameless Endorsement #2

Another good friend of ours has a company called Maverick Lifestyle ( Maverick has introduced a new blue tooth headset for cell phones, called Nica. It works well and sounds great. I like this product a lot as it fits my application for such a device, which is hands-free in the car. It has a great magnetic charging device for both home and auto, it almost never loses connection with my phone. What I like most is that its an on-ear design, I can slip the small disc on when the phone rings and otherwise leave it on the dock. Simple and comfortable. Maverick has a promotion on now which gets you 40% off, here is the promo code: NICA2009.

There were mixed feelings here as I passed Nica around, some of our group liked it, some did not. Nothing to do with performance, more with functionality. This is what I love about product development. Some products are broad-based in their appeal and others are only going to appeal to a certain segment. Both can be successful, but the design needs to be intentional, its not luck. I'll write more on this subject in the coming weeks.