Issue 165 / October 2006

hp's Workshop: HP's Editor's Choice Awards

Speaker Systems

The Nola Grand Reference Mk IV
$140,000 (standard finish)

This "statement" design, by Carl Marchisotto, former protégé of Jon Dahlquist, had been evolving in ways that are refinements of the original design, rather than any radical rethinking of the four-tower system. (The two front towers do most of the work, since they contain the four-per-side midbass drivers, the six midrange units, and the nine Raven ribbon tweeters.) The latest change, however, is most striking, since Marchisotto scuttled all its midrange drivers, replacing them with slightly smaller but smoother and faster-sounding units. Oddly enough, the first thing we heard were sonic improvements outside the midrange: The highs from the ribbon tweeters sounded more open, airier, and a bit "sweeter" in the same way that the real thing sounds sweeter in the top octaves. Then we found the lows more focused, righter, and much more of a whole cloth with the rest of the frequency spectrum. The two woofer towers, operating below 40Hz and consisting of four 12-inch ported drivers, had up until now been the Achilles heel of the handsome-to-behold and costly-to-own system. It occurred to me that maybe it was the upgrading of the crossover unit, also part of the Mk IV redesign, that might have made that critical difference at the frequency extremes, since Marchisotto has radically improved the capacitors in the external (and now much larger) crossover chassis and used Nordost wiring (and banana plugs) throughout. Marchisotto says he is now using capacitors in the entirely redesigned and enlarged crossover that are rated at 1200 volts DC (tolerance of one percent), monsters that are four inches long with a two-inch diameter. All the internal wiring is Nordost Valhalla, which is superb in delivering rock-solid lows. Even so, you'll not get the best out of the woofs unless you sock it to them with plenty of power. That has meant, in our case, using a second ASR Emitter H to provide a well-nigh-perfect match and big thrills for the kick-ass-bass crowd, among whose number I sometimes find myself With this system, as currently constituted, if the information is on the disc (be it CD or LP), you will hear it, and hear it as an inherent, continuously flowing part of the original, rather than with the kind of imposed definition that some call "hi-fi." There maybe other "statement" speakers that have the authority of these speakers, but none will surpass the Nola's ability to give you an uncanny sense of being in the space with the performers.

Multichannel Playback Gear

Nola Thunderbolt powered subwoofers (four for the .1 channel, one for the center channel)