"Best Bargain: Nola Contender, Magnepan 3.7"
By Robert Deutsch · Posted: Jan 14, 2011
The first speaker I reviewed for Stereophile was the Alon IV by Acarian Systems, designed by Carl Marchisotto. I remember it as being a very good-sounding speaker, with outstanding bass, and the dipole midrange giving it an "open" sound. Through the years, for business reasons, the speaker brandname has changed (Nola is Alon spelled backwards), and the company is now called Accent Speaker Technology, but the speakers are still designed by Carl, and his wife, Marilyn, is the company's wife president. Carl's more expensive speakers still use the dipole midrange arrangement, but in the more affordable line he has turned to the more common unipolar approach, albeit with his own variations, like separate porting of bass drivers. The latest such speaker, introduced at the 2011 CES, is the Contender ($3400/pair), and it sound like... well... a real contender.
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Nola Contender loudspeakers.
Nola founder and chief designer Carl Marchisotto is known for his ultra high-end loudspeakers, but at CES 2011 Mr. Marchisotto explored the opposite end of the pricing spectrum, introducing his superb new three-way Contender tower-type floorstanding main speakers ($3400/pr.), which are indirectly based on the very popular Boxer bookshelf speakers announced at last years. But Carl didn't stop there; instead, he also introduced a matching Announcer center channel speaker ($1500/ea.), so that home theater enthusiasts can now put together a sensibly priced Nola surround-sound system, using the new Contenders as L/R main speakers, the Announcer in the center, and the original Boxer bookshelf monitors ($1500/pr.) as surround speakers.
Here's the deal with the Contender (and, by extension, the Announcer and Boxer): the speaker looks fairly straightforward and -- dare I say it? -- not particularly exotic, but its sound is flat out stunning. This is definitely one of those designs where A) God is in the details, and B) the whole is much greater than the apparent sum of the parts. As I said in a recent show report prepared for The Absolute Sound, the Contender "conveys the elusive sense and sensibility of music -- in all its intellectual and soulful beauty -- as few high-end speakers at any price are able to do." Truth. - Chris Martens