Nola's Viper IIA and LCR Reference speakers flout 21st-century lifestyle
trends to focus on the quaint old concept of sound quality.


The trend in audio is unquestionably toward decor-friendly in-wall and on-wall speakers. Thus, most manufacturers of suddenly unfashionable floorstanding loudspeakers now try to pretend their products complement modern interiors. Not Carl Marchisotto. He couldn't care less. All he cares about is getting the sound he wants.

Marchisotto is the president and chief engineer of Accent Loudspeaker Technology, and the mind behind the Nola line of loudspeakers. (His past creations include speakers under the Alon and Dahlquist brands.) Although Nola offers an in-wall model, the focus is on tower speakers. Marchisotto's products not only commandeer precious floor space, they demand to sit about three feet out from the wall for the best performance. His speakers include few of the gratuitous metal bits or rakish angles many designers employ to make their speakers more sculptural. He supplies fabric grilles to protect his speakers from accidental damage, but he rolls his eyes at the mere mention of them because like all grilles they compromise sound quality a bit.

The key concept behind Marchisotto's designs is the dipolar array. The cones and domes in speakers send sound both backward and forward, but the sound traveling backward usually gets trapped in the speaker enclosure. Most of Marchisotto's speakers use no enclosure for the midrange driver and the tweeter. They project sound freely forward and backward - thus the dipolar designation. (The woofers are mounted in an ordinary sealed box.) The idea is to eliminate resonances caused by the speaker cabinet, and also to spread more sound around the room to create a greater sense of spaciousness.

Not having heard one of Marchisotto's speakers since the late 1990s - and getting a little jaded with a seemingly endless stream of on-wall and in-wall speakers - I decide to investigate his latest creation, the Viper IIA tower speaker. With a pair of Viper IIAs, Nola supplies a trio of LCR References, which serve as my center and surround speakers, and a pair of Thunderbolt III subwoofers. The Viper IIA plays loud and deep enough that it does not require the use of a subwoofer, but home theater fans who demand maximum oomph will surely add one or two Thunderbolt IIIs to their systems.

Marchisotto even brings me his own Blue Thunder speaker cables and Thunderbass subwoofer interconnect cable; he's the sole speaker manufacturer of the hundreds I have encountered who insists that his products be reviewed with a specific set of cables. This guy is very picky about sound. I half expect him to tell me the air in Los Angeles is inadequate to convey his speakers' subtleties.

Before I tell you how the Nolas sound, let me confess my bias: After nearly two decades of reviewing audio gear, I have concluded that the traditional box speaker delivers the most accurate sound. But that bias doesn't crowd out alternatives. I see much validity in contributing writer Steve Guttenberg's maxim: "I don't care if it's accurate or if it measures well - all I care is if I like the sound."

The Thunderbolt III (top left) is nothing more than a 12-inch driver and an amp in a ported box, but like Carl Marchisotto's past subwoofers, it strikes a nearly perfect balance between high output and high precision. The LCR Reference (bottom left) employs separate enclosures for its woofers in order to leave the space behind its midrange and tweeter open, as it is with the Viper IIA. An unusual open-back tweeter lends both speakers a remarkably realistic sound.
Most speakers of the dipolar or bipolar types produce an unnaturally super-spacious, unfocused presentation. But when I first listen to the Nolas, I notice no colossal soundstage or exaggerated sonic images, just nice sound. Gradually, though, the speakers' character emerges -and I hear an effect I have never before encountered.

Compared with a good box speaker, the Nolas produce a sound that is less focused but more embodied. With practically any stereo audio system, sounds seem to come from different distances. But with the Nolas, the sounds themselves seem more dimensional. I experience a greater sense of real vocalists and instruments being in the room with me. The higher the frequency, the greater the effect: I notice it particularly with voices, saxophones, acoustic guitars, violins, and percussion instruments. To my surprise, the effect is even more compelling with 5.1-channel surround sound from DVDs than it is when I play stereo music. Familiar action-movie DVDs such as The Fifth Element take on a fresh liveliness; actors voices sound almost hauntingly realistic.

Marchisotto seems to have put a great deal of effort into ensuring that these speakers deliver by-the-book performance despite their unusual design. They don't sound quite as neutral as the very best box speakers, but any colorations I hear are subtle and fleeting. And unlike many high-end speakers, they can play crazy loud-there's no need to worry about your teenage son ruining your speakers by cranking up Incubus while you're gone.

With so much focus now on blending audio/video gear with decor, a system like this may seem like a quaint throwback to the 1990s. But those who desire a distinctive sonic experience - and who prefer products that express an artisan's vision rather than a corporation's marketing plan - should seek out a Nola dealer and have a speed date with these speakers.

Freestanding speakers for home theater or stereo use. Comprises Viper IIA tower speaker, LCR Reference main/center/surround speaker and optional Thunderbolt III subwoofer.

Viper IIA: two 8.7-inch aluminum-cone woofers, 4.4-inch trilaminate midrange driver, 1-inch aluminum-alloy dipole tweeter.
LCR Reference: two 6.5-inch bilaminate woofers, 4.4-inch trilaminate midrange driver, 1-inch aluminum-alloy dipole tweeter
Thunderbolt III: 12-inch woofer with internal amplifier (power unspecified)

Viper IIA: two sets of five-way metal binding posts; accepts spade lugs, banana plugs, dual banana plugs, bare wire, or pins.
LCR Reference: same as above.
Thunderbolt III: RCA jacks for stereo line-level input and output, plastic five-way binding posts for stereo speaker-level input and output.

Viper IIA: 40 x 10 x 15 inches (hwd)
LCR Reference: 9 x 25 x 11.5 inches (hwd)
Thunderbolt III: 16 x 16 x 20 inches (hwd)

Viper IIA: $5,500 per pair
LCR Reference: $2,195 each
Thunderbolt III: $1,795 each

CONTACT 323.466.9694 ext.21,