By Frank Doris
June 22, 2009
There are many specialty audio brands that may not be well-recognized by the general public, yet which have the admiration of those in the know. Nola is one of those brands, something of an unsung hero of the audiophile world. President and chief designer Carl Marchisotto has a decades-long history of offering superb loudspeakers, going back to the 1970s, when he was president and chief designer at Dahlquist, then at Acarian Systems and now at his current company, Accent Speaker Technology, Ltd., makers of Nola loudspeakers. The speakers have earned the respect of listeners worldwide and the Viper Reference II, Marchisotto's latest design, is an elegant floor-standing tower that offers extraordinary sonic performance and musical realism.
Measuring 46 inches high by 10 inches wide by 15 inches deep, the Nola Viper Reference II (SRP: $15,000 per pair) is a three-way design that utilizes two nine-inch cast-magnesium-frame woofers, a four-and-a-half-inch alnico-magnet midrange driver with triple-laminated paper cone construction and a one-inch dipole alnico-magnet dome tweeter. The woofers are housed in a sealed enclosure, while the midrange driver and tweeter are mounted on an open-back baffle, a configuration that allows sound from the midrange driver and tweeter to radiate freely from both front and rear for a more open and spacious sound. The woofers feature solid copper phase plugs to optimize dispersion; the high-mass copper construction also serves as a heat sink, reducing dynamic compression during demanding passages for wider and more realistic dynamic range. The woofers are also crossed over at different frequency ranges, facilitating a smoother bass-to-treble blend with the midrange driver.
The Viper Reference II utilizes an outboard crossover unit with five pairs of solid copper binding posts that connect to the loudspeaker. Jumpers of Nordost Valhalla monofilament (single-strand) silver wire are included. The external crossover is used in order to isolate the crossover components from internal vibrations, which might otherwise be incurred if the components were mounted inside the enclosure, to ensure maximum sonic purity. Construction quality is of an extremely high standard, with refinements such as proprietary polypropylene capacitors, linear air-core inductors, solid acrylic front sub-baffles and the use of machine screws and threaded inserts to mount the drivers, rather than conventional wood screws. The Nola Viper Reference II's frequency response is listed at 25Hz to 25,000Hz, with eight ohms nominal/four ohms minimum impedance and 88dB sensitivity.
The Viper Reference II is available in real-wood rosewood and optional piano-black high-gloss finishes; both are absolutely stunning.
I was immediately struck by the overall rightness of the loudspeaker's sound and its smooth, accurate tonal balance, from deep bass to extended treble. The tonal accuracy enabled me to easily hear the sonic "house signatures" of a particular label and time period; for example, the lush midrange richness of Roy Orbison's 1960 Lonely and Blue on Monument SM 14002, or the cooler, yet remarkably present and detailed sound of the 1959 recording Ellington Jazz Party (Classic Records reissue of Columbia CS 8127). The speaker's bass was taut and authoritative, with excellent pitch definition and presence, and midrange and treble resolution and transient response were simply stunning. On the Mercury Living Presence CD re-issue of Respighi's The Birds/Brazilian Impressions (Antal Dorati, conductor; Mercury 432007-2), the many tonal colors of the atmospheric orchestrations were rendered with beautiful variety and nuance, and the intricate interplay of brass, woodwinds and percussion was conveyed with exquisite subtlety and clarity. The Ellington Jazz Party disc features a smorgasbord of instruments - xylophones, tympani, piano, multiple trumpets and woodwinds, drum set, percussion and more - and even at its most complex, it was effortless to pick out individual instruments in their respective locations on the soundstage.
Both male and female vocals sounded natural and convincing, without any stridency or "chestiness." Shirley Horn, Roy Orbison and Mel Tormé seemed spookily three-dimensional and right there, making the experience more like experiencing some sort of sonic virtual reality machine than listening to a recording.
The Viper Reference II can effortlessly go from subtle to dynamic. The Joe Morello CD Morello Standard Time (DMP CD-506) features the master drummer performing a version of "Take Five" (Morello was the drummer on the original hit Dave Brubeck version). The Nola conveyed the dynamics of Morello's drumming with - and I do not use this word lightly - astounding impact. The bass drum, toms and snare had physicality and roundness to them that made them sound like actual objects in space with palpable weight and presence, not mere two-dimensional recorded sounds.
The Viper Reference II's ability to convey the dimensionality of various instruments is one of its most remarkable attributes. When listening to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Classic Records reissue of Columbia CS 8163), I was struck by how clearly I could hear the different sizes of the tenor sax, the alto sax and Davis' trumpet. The speaker clearly conveyed the differences in the physical presence of the three instruments to a degree I had never heard before. In fact, the Viper Reference II excels in every sonic respect, and it is one of the finest loudspeakers I have heard in more than 40 years of listening to top-performance audio playback systems.
The Nola Viper Reference II sounds exceptional in every audiophile respect - imaging, soundstaging, resolution, tonal balance and dynamic range - but most importantly, it is faithful to the music. There are loudspeakers out there that excel in any number of sonic attributes, but never seem to gel and deliver a believable rendition of live music in real space. The Nola Viper Reference II, on the other hand, plays music with an utterly convincing sense of coherence and musical realism, and ultimately you'll find yourself simply listening to and being immersed in the totality of the musical experience the Viper Reference II delivers. At $15,000 a pair, set your expectations to high for your first audition and be prepared to be blown away.