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"My room is so small, the mice are hunchbacked."
The Good Doctor Minutely Examines the Diminutive - the AV123 X-IS Encore and the NSM 5-SE/EXP loudspeakers
Frankly, outside of my reference system I consider audio equipment largely to be tools for a variety of purposes, with primarily utilitarian value. Of course I expect excellence (in all things), but I don't expect absolute excellence …more like relative excellence. My criteria changes …I want to spend less money, face fewer complications, have more flexibility, and so on.
In short …I want practicality.
As (I am sure) with most audiophiles I have multiple systems, including my very non-PC HT system (think big stuff, small room). I currently have four televisions (none in the living room, of course) and audio capability in five rooms. The former is slightly ironic, in that I have no conventional TV reception (cable or antennae), but I do love movies and prefer my TV series canned, and at my command through DVD recordings.
Well, as you might imagine, that means a lot of stuff around the house …stuff that ranges from embarrassingly non-audiophile approved, to pretty good. And, because I often use these secondary systems for break-in and smaller, or more specialized equipment I am looking at for review …there have been quite a few "guests" over the years. Most have come and gone without comment. Sadly, there is a pesky correlation between price and quality.
Happily, every once in a while I come across some truly high-value products worthy of note.
This time it is two speakers, which have caught and maintained my attention.
I want to put these very nice pieces into a specific context …this past week, it finally took more than $50 just to fill my car with gasoline, and $40 to get my lawn mowed.
The AV123 X-IS Encore (current MSRP $199)
The first of these value-packed gems is a medium-sized, crazy inexpensive two-way from AV-123, the X-IS Encore.
The X-IS Encore is a conventional, ported two-way stand mount (or wall mount, if you wish) with inexplicable metal grills, which are a pain in the ass to remove and are ugly as all get out (and that is before noting they ring like mad, as do pretty much all metal grills …which also inexplicably, I have seen on $40,000 speakers!) but at this price …I expect most potential users will be putting them places where naked drivers are a bad idea. Worst case, just yank those covers.
My review pair was done up in a finish called "Palisander" (looks kinda like a cross between Myrtle and Olive), very nice looking. Drivers are a one-inch fabric tweeter and 6.5 poly/paper mid/woof. One pair of very closely spaced terminals in a tiny round recess …bad for these old fingers. They are tapped for spikes.
Add copy says they are designed in the US and built in Columbia of all places. Ah well, it is getting to be an increasingly small world as manufacturers continue to ferret out sources of inexpensive labor to keep prices down.
I was very favorably impressed by the packing, which would be more typical for a significantly more expensive loudspeaker. A very nice touch, this.
Once I got done cursing over the terminals, hooking them up and plunking them down on an appropriate no-name pair of stands, and firing up my old Yamaha "Natural Sound" amp … a big grin spread over my face.
Here it was …the Holy Grail …truly inexpensive speakers that sound way better than they should. Open, sweet …with good body, surprising dynamics (they play LOUD without distress) and a smoothness more or less absent from most speakers anywhere near this neighborhood. No shout, no shrill, no tizz.
Obviously not terribly extended on the bottom, I simply added the little Hsu sub, which mated perfectly, and the top end …well, since most who will buy this speaker will be using it with modest electronics, the slight touch of softness around the cross-over point is probably a blessing. So often the choice is a forward upper midrange, which wrecks everything. At the very top, I liked the sweetness these fabric tweeters provide. Completely absent is the all too familiar cardboard flatness of many inexpensive speakers. The Encores are surprisingly musical.
My most enduring impression is how big and solid they sound, especially on film tracks. It is a real accomplishment to be able to fill a reasonably large room with perfectly enjoyable sound at this price. Since they are not shielded, you might want to keep a bit of distance from CRT televisions.
These attractive (once you pry off the grills), incredibly value-rich speakers do easy duty in either music or HT applications and in no account suggest their startlingly inexpensive price.
I suspect AV123 will have its struggles keeping this little sweetie in stock.
Lilliput and Blefuscu – The NSM 5-SE – and Model EXP, Powered Subwoofer
Well, as comforting as that little deception may be at times…unfortunately, size does matter. There are simply circumstances in which even the most die-hard (me) full-range audiophile needs something that "disappears" visually, but still delivers the musical goods. Let's face it, ladies and gentlemen, there is a reason why (that which shall not be named) sells those little systems like peaky hotcakes.
The NSM Model 5 Signature Edition speaker is a special edition of the standard Model 5. The cabinet is a very nicely turned out, hand-rubbed white Russian Baltic birch plywood and features some actually usable Superior™ binding posts. This is a serious little speaker.
These things are TINY (5.5 X 8 X 6 (W x H x D) and around five or six pounds each. You can pack them around with one hand, easily.
Drivers are a 1" inch soft-dome, ferro-cooled tweeter and a 4.5-inch carbon fiber mid/bass driver. Upgraded (from the stock 5) crossover components include film foil capacitor, metal oxide resistor, and DH Labs silver sonic internal wire. This is good, because these little babies aren't especially cheap on a per-pound basis ($595 a pair, sans sub). However, they are remarkably inexpensive for what they do…which is to produce great sound, lots of it, all from a footprint you can put just about anywhere.
To be completely candid …I was really shocked with these little darlings, first because little speakers generally sound …well, little. Also, most often they are way-peaky with pesky frequency dips and valleys a Sherpa would find daunting …and of course, the big bear …no bass …not even enough to mate effectively with a sub. The NSM Model 5-SE is the first truly tiny speaker I have heard to avoid these common pitfalls.
I put them in my bedroom, on tall stands tucked away on either side of an Arts and Crafts highboy dresser (electronics on top) with a little integrated and a Sony DVD player for source, sticking the small powered sub behind a clothes hamper. Effectively zero space impact in the room, and very little visual impact (which I could have easily made more stealthy had I chosen to do so). A couple of well-placed plants (which also help diffusion) and voila, gone.
The 5's did not just fill the room …they were very able to drive me out with a few ticks on the volume control of a pretty modest amplifier. And up to the physical limits of their drivers did a Brobdingnagian job of rockin' the room. I love a good surprise.
And there were additional benefits I never hoped to get: smooth, open sounding, with the ability to throw a surprisingly stable and deep soundstage, even under the less-than-ideal circumstances into which I threw them. And completely surprising, they image like crazy.
The compact powered sub allowed me to play rock and pop music at any reasonable volume, with lots of both mid-bass omph and low end grunt (these are NOT words I associate with small satellite-sub systems).
To be sure, there are lots of similarly sized systems out there for those who must hide their speakers from the light of day, but I know of no other that delivers the musical goods at this price range, and with such good looks (if you decide to allow them to peak out from the background).
For an office or bedroom system (or small apartment), the NSM system is absolutely at the top of the list. These guys know how to make small speakers work in a way few others approach.
EXP Powered Subwoofer