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Equipment Review
March 1998

NEAR 50Me II Loudspeakers

Because this is a follow-up to Dave Duvall's review of the NEAR 50Me II speakers, I feel less pressured to cut to the chase and render my opinion. Let me tell you a story instead. I've spent the last few years chasing after speakers best termed exotic. When I was looking for huge dynamics and low distortion, I spent a lot of time with the effortless presentation of the Klipsch Forte II, a large horn-loaded beast. I got torn away from that by the Magnepan MMG, a planar magnetic and quasi-ribbon design with a detailed presentation and an amazing soundstage. Both of these speakers do certain things well while having a number of obvious weaknesses. The Klipsch models often seemed just too harsh, and the tonal balance was generally forward. Magnepan speakers require enormous amounts of power due to their low sensitivity, have limited bass, don't play all that loud, and need to be pampered with just the right placement and room treatments to sound right.

Why, you might ask, did I put up with any of this when I could get a more traditional speaker built with cone drivers and sidestep most of these problems? Because I didn't find any of the regular designs I heard to be competitive with these speakers in the areas of reproduction I was most interested in. The speakers that really made me reconsider my thinking were the NEAR 15M II. This well-engineered combination included innovative cone design and resonance damping that has made them my top all-around choice in an under-$1000 loudspeaker.

[50ME LOUDSPEAKER] After hearing what NEAR could do for smaller budgets, I was really looking forward to hearing the NEAR 50ME II. The 50Me II includes many of the elements I was impressed by in the 15M II, but in a three-way design. The same 1.1" tweeter joins a 4" midrange and 8.25" woofer in a ported enclosure giving solid bass to below 30Hz. In my mind, this is really crucial in a product that costs $2550. No way will you see me paying that kind of cash for a mini-monitor with a limited bottom end; with my priorities, it just doesn't make sense. I could only recommend spending that much on something with nearly flawless full-range output. As Dave suggested in his review, that's certainly what you get with these NEAR speakers.

Proper setup time for this model is substantial. Because I used the same pair of speakers that Dave Duvall had, I didn't have to deal with the long break-in times you get from metal cones with rubber surrounds-lucky for me. Make sure you've properly stretched things out before reaching too strong of a conclusion about NEAR's speakers. I spent some time experimenting with placement, without finding anything special to be concerned about. You can rotate these around a bit to dial in the treble balance you want while listening to how that changes the imaging characteristics. The sound is a bit different with the grilles off, so listening with and without the grilles is in order to decide which you prefer (which sounded better would depend on how the room was treated). The supplied spikes definitely helped tighten up bass response, so you may need to re-adjust positioning a bit after installing the speakers if you decided upon your original placement of the speakers without the spikes.

The most time-consuming part of getting the best sound from these speakers was finding the best match of speaker cable (see my speaker cable review for the full details). The 50ME II comes with a small brass plate that works as a jumper between the speaker posts for treble/midrange and bass. If you're using a single set of speaker cables, I highly recommend replacing the supplied jumper with a small run of regular cable. I found some disassembled portions of AudioQuest Type 4 to be a significant upgrade (note that AudioQuest has since reconfigured that cable with slightly different conductor sizes). These speakers really deserve to be biwired, and I found the best results were obtained using DH Labs Silver Sonic T-14 for high frequencies and TARA Phase II/TFA for bass. Getting this right is very important to making these speakers sound their best; a lot of the things I didn't like about their sound initially faded away once I got the right cables attached.

With proper setup, the NEAR 50ME II is extremely impressive. The word that keeps popping into my head is balanced. When you break the sound down into it constituent parts and start focusing on detail, imaging, bass, etc., there's nothing in particular to point out that these speakers are worth raving about. However, there are no real negatives either. Speakers like the Klipsch and Magnepan models I have are specialists, capable of excellent reproduction in some areas while falling flat in others. The 50ME is a jack of all trades, competitive with the specialized speakers in every area while not having any glaring weakness. While other speakers you'll find are probably stronger in some aspect than the NEARs, this all-around balanced presentation is tough to beat.

About the only thing some may find fault with is the midrange. While vocals are clear, they aren't as forward or "holographic" (to grab the usual audiophile term) as with many high-end designs. Those who chase after vocal reproduction exclusively will probably not find this speaker to their liking. This more distant presentation could be considered a fault, but I'd chalk it up to a design decision that some may approve of and others will deride.

The area that most impressed me with these speakers was the power of the bass. While experience usually suggests that a 8.25" woofer isn't very solid once you get below 40Hz, the unique NEAR design reaches down to the upper 20s without strain. The large flared port was free of audible noise at any volume I tried. Having just finished several months with the ACI Titan in the same room, I will note that the 50ME doesn't really plumb the depths like a true subwoofer does. Material with substantial content all the way down to 20Hz lacked that last bit of bottom-end extension. For most recordings, though, you'd never know there wasn't a subwoofer in the room. And it was nice to just hook speakers up and hear deep bass without needing to go through the trouble of fiddling with crossover settings. These speakers are really a good choice for someone who wants full-range output but doesn't want a huge cabinet or the setup requirements of a separate subwoofer.

At 90dB/w/m, the NEARs are in the middle ground of sensitivity. More importantly, there don't seem to be any hot spots where they really draw a lot of power. Many designs with their ports tuned around 40Hz require huge amounts of power when trying to reproduce a proper bass guitar or kick drum. With the bass port on the 50ME tuned so low, power consumption (as estimated by the meters on my Proton D1200 amplifier) was very even across all frequencies. In my 16'x10'x8' room, with the old Radio Shack SPL meter around 6' away, I measured output of 100dB with 100W of input power. If you're only looking to get into the lower- or mid-90dB range, you could easily drive these speakers with an amplifier of less than 50W. The moderately high sensitivity, biwire capability, and low woofer crossover point (235Hz) make these perfect candidates for a low-powered amp on higher frequencies (like a tube design) along with something beefier for the bass. When pushing the volume up, I could easily drop over 300Wpc into these speakers on peaks with no sign of distress. Listening to how clean they were at high volumes, I feared a visit from the police more than damage to the drivers.

If you spend over $2500 for a pair of speakers, you should expect a lot. The NEAR 50ME II are the first pair in that range I've ever heard that I felt really deserved the price tag. It's tough to find such sonic precision combined with deep bass and clear high-volume output in a moderately sized package. It's quite possible that your priorities will lead you toward something that better presents the specific area of reproduction you're most interested in. But you'll be hard pressed to find a speaker that's more balanced than the NEAR 50ME II at any price.

.....GS (gsmith@westnet.com)


Since the original review pair made their way to SoundStage!, NEAR has made some changes to the 50ME II. The crossover has been improved, using higher-grade components, with no price increase. And the speakers are now available in an attractive rosewood finish if you're willing to pay extra to avoid that boring black look.

Price: $2550 USD/pair (Black Ash Finish)

New England Audio Resource (NEAR)
12 Foss Road
Lewiston, Maine 04240
Phone: 207-795-0609
Fax: 207-795-0613

Email: near@maine.com
Website: www.nearspeakers.com

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