AUDIO EQUIPMENT Reviews for February 1999
NSMTModel 15 Speakers
Research Triangle Park (919-244-8777)
Price [$1,795] per Pair
Exotica. Whether in the realm of audio or other arenas is always alluring. We seek out the special and the seemingly unique. In the world of loudspeakers, truly new methodologies are rare. Still, this hardly prevents the throngs of speaker builders from continuing to foist their experiments, their breakthroughs, and the like down the throat of the audiophile collective. In truth, the speaker business often more one that is borne of trends than of true advancements. As an example, I note the decline of the popularity of the sealed box two-way. In the 1992 Audio Directory I found more than 170 two-way sealed designs listed. By 1996, the number has plummeted to a little over 100. I am at a loss to justify this situation. However I do believe that one of the reasons is that sealed box two-ways remove the scrim that the loudspeaker hacks of this world hide behind: The nice fat mid-bass hump that the burgeoning flock of reflex speakers all seem to have in common. The sealed box, especially in a two way, lays the drivers, box and crossovers bare, and with nowhere to hide. Of course. This is as the audio gods intended it.
Happily there are still speaker designers out there who dare to stay true to the simple magic that only a two way. in a sealed box, seems to manage. Among them is New York's Erol Ricketts of NSMTLoudspeakers. The Model 15 is a 6" two way using a polypropylene woofer and the ubiquitous soft dome tweeter. The 15's crossover is said to be a simple 6 dB per octave, first order affair using only the highest quality parts. The review samples appeared in a black satin finish. While it is true that I am no fan of black speakers, I should note that the NSMTblack finish is quite good. It falls somewhere between modern and classic in appearance. While hardly glossy, the surface of the box is smooth, almost like an eggshell. For traditionalists like me, NSMTkindly offers the 15 in a fine looking oak veneer as well. Colors and finishes aside, the Model 15 is a finely built speaker indeed. Corners are smoothly radiused and the stout binding posts are mounted directly onto the rear panel. There's not a cheesy little plastic terminal cup in sight! Good stands are a must for the Model 15 as is true with any mini-monitor. I used 25" models that are seriously built and nasty heavy. You should also be aware that NSMTsells their own line of pre-sand filled stands called Sandbags. They look very cool in photographs, and I would bet that they work especially well given the quality and attention to detail that NSMTseems to afford their products.
The glories of a two way monitor are found in truth of tone, timbre and spatial presentation. The NSMTModel 15s excel in each of the areas. They offer a self-effacing perspective on the music. The character seems always consonant to the music, and one never feels that the l5s are foisting themselves upon either the listener or his chosen tunes. The 15s are pure transducers: They seem to add little and take little away. One of my new favorite tests of pure tonality is Harvey Reid's Chestnuts (Woodpecker WP 109 CD. ) While useless as a measure of a speaker or a system's ability to accurately place instruments clearly in space, the CD contains some of the most pristine acoustic guitar that I have ever heard. ''Simple Gifts'' is a track of solo 19-string and here the NSMs sing. They convey the grace and gentility of the guitar in a way that only a good electrostatic or a great two-way can achieve. The leading edges of the high strings are totally clean, yet the wood of the guitar's sound board resonates clearly.
To see whether the 15s would retain their truth of tone and timbre while recreating some space, I played "Caravan" from Tommy Flanagan's classic Jazz Poet (Timeless CD SJP 301). Now this is a tricky chart to get right because Flanagan plays the piano part very lightly. In the mix, the bass and drums are almost as high in level as the piano, and it is a simple matter for all to become as so much sonic mush. Through the NSMs, the piano's place on the sound stage stays steady while the dynamics rise and fall. There is none of the common tendency to flatten the stage, front to back, as levels get low. Rather, there is a remarkable sense of musical coherence. The 15s simply speak their musical language clearly.
Turning things up, literally, I turned to Richard Thompson's You? Me? Us? (Capitol CDP 7243 8 33704 2 9). If you're sadly unfamiliar with this opus, one disc is labeled nude and the other voltage enhanced. I will assume that you can surmise their respective meanings. Of course, I chose the voltage enhanced to test the little NSMs. Yes, yes, you can get a little too wild on such tracks as "She Steers By Lightening" if you try. And yes, there are some very definite limits as too how much bass that a little six incher is going to put out. But truly, this brings us to the crux of the mini-monitor question: What are you trying to get out of your system? If what you seek is music's essence and soul the NSMs will deliver. If you're looking for structural damage to your home or injury to your ears, the NSM's will fall short. Still, what the 15s lack in raw dynamic swing and bass extension, they more than make up for in terms of musical sophistication and élan. In any case, their performance of heavy tonnage was far better than I would have guessed, judging from their size. are truly gutsy little speakers.
In fact on large scale classical music the 15s were even more surprisingly at ease than they were on rock. The Allegro non troppo from Brahms' Symphony No. 4 (Chesky CD-6) is deceptively massive. It opens with violins and violas carrying the theme, with cello and bass providing the gentle foundation. However, as the movement proceeds, the lower strings begin to assert themselves ever more forcefully. By the time the horns have joined in, especially in the coda, matters have gotten fairly intense. The 15s handle the tumult very well. When things do finally go too far the little NSM's simply compress matters slightly, allowing the listener ample time to reel in that volume pot. Again, this is marvelously musical performance for any speaker, particularly at this price point.
The loyal readers out there will understand my review code quite clearly. When I really like product, I tend to write a lot about music and very little about the bass, midrange, treble and all of the bits and bites of audiophilia. The NSMTModel 15 lets me forget such silliness. In fact, they even encourage me to forget about them. I can think of no better complement to award a loudspeaker. Recommended with enthusiasm.
--Paul Cervantes, www.audaud.com