Authorized NEAR Dealer
Setting the Stage
New England Audio Resource was founded in 1988 by President Bill Kieltyka, "with the concept of developing metal diaphragm (cone) technology in affordable speakers." His previous experience was with Bozak (the old company, not the new name only one), where they made all their own speaker components, led Bill to purchase all of their tooling, particularly the tooling developed by Rudy Bozak for metal cone spinning. The current designs being employed at N.E.A.R. no longer use any of that original tooling, as they have designed a series of new drivers, cones, surrounds, new voice coil technology, and Ferrofluids. Most interesting is the fact that N.E.A.R. speakers do not utilize a spider to center the voice coil, but a "specially formulated ferrous fluid of just the right viscosity and magnetic density, ensuring a well-damped, perfectly centered voice coil." Hence the designation Magnetic Liquid Suspension (MLS).
The woofer is an 8.25 inch long throw, MLS suspended, metal alloy/ceramic composite cone, with a die cast basket. In conjunction with a large flared port on the rear of the cabinet, anechoic response is stated to reach down to 30 Hz ( +/- 2 dB), and crosses over to the midrange at 235 Hz utilizing a 4th order slope. The woofer is located close to the bottom of the sloping front baffle, while the port is located slightly over a third of the way up the back of the cabinet.
The midrange is a 4 inch cone, also designed with the same Metal Diaphragm Technology (MDT) and Magnetic Liquid Suspension (MLS) as the woofer. Located very high on the front baffle, and approximately 5.5 inches (center to center) below the tweeter, the midrange driver crosses over to the tweeter with a 4th order slope at 4000 Hz. The rubber surrounding the midrange driver (called the surround) is made from neoprene. Bill tells me "this is not usually the material used when foam surrounds are made, but we liked its long term prospects and damping characteristics."
The tweeter is a 1.1 inch titanium cone, also utilizing MLS. While the radiating surface actually resembles an inverted dome, Bill Kieltyka assured me that "only the center section is curved," and "that about halfway between the apex and the edge the curve stops and the rest of the diaphragm out to the edge is straight." The halfway point is also where the voice coil is attached. Bill tells me that "attaching the voice coil to the edge, as dome tweeters are made that way, reduces the higher frequency dispersion compared to using a smaller diameter voice coil."
The cabinet measures 48 inches high, 10.5 inches wide, and 12 inches deep (at the base). Due to the sloping front baffle, the top of the speaker cabinet narrows to 5 inches wide. The front vertical edges are rounded to aid against the diffraction of sound waves that occurs with sharp edges. The supplied grille cloth didn't seem to significantly alter the music, and added cosmetically to the speaker with circular top and bottom edges. One sexy looking speaker, if I might say so. My samples were provided in black ash, though other finishes are available at an upcharge. The cabinet is constructed of 3/4 inch MDF and is a two chamber design that is damped and stiffened. Two sets of heavy duty, gold plated, multi-way binding posts are located low on the back, below the port. The terminals can be single or Bi-wired and jumper straps are provided. Alas, the typical plastic red and black caps are used on the binding posts (not that using the more testosterone laden brass ones would guarantee any difference to the sound). Threaded spikes are provided to anchor the 50Me II through carpet to something more solid below.
This year's model has been designed to incorporate two Tekna-Sonics TF-10 Anti-Resonant Devices (ARD). One is mounted against the back top of the cabinet in the midrange / high frequency chamber and is set to dissipate cabinet energy in the 500-1200 Hz. range. The other is located in the woofer chamber behind the bass driver in a cantilever manner, to tune it to the sub 200 Hz. range. The devices are said to transfer energy from the cabinet, through the individual plates of the ARD, and dissipate it as heat, therefore not requiring the devices to directly release vibrational energy to the outside of the cabinet enclosure.
Frequency response is stated (anechoic) as 30 Hz-23 Khz (+/- 2 dB). Impedance is 8 ohms nominal, and per the manufacturers specifications, does not dip below 5 ohms. Power handling is up to 300 watts per channel, and efficiency is stated at 90 dB/watt/meter. This efficiency rating should allow the use of low wattage amplifiers without compromise on smaller scale music. For larger scale material such as dynamic rock or movie soundtracks, you'd be better off with an amp closer to the maximum 300 watts.
Here at SoundStage! you can find our reference systems listed seperate of the reviews, but to save you some fishing around I'll run through it briefly. This digital only system is fronted by the Audio Alchemy DDS PRO transport, linked to an Audio Alchemy DTI.PRO 32 (with Rev.AD) jitter reduction / resolution enhancement box and V3.0 D/A converter (with digital attenuation elimination mod) via Audio Magic Mystic Reference I2S cables. Signal is then fed to an Audible Illusions L-1 preamp (Siemens gold pin 7308 tubed) and the McCormack DNA-1 solid state amplifier (185 wpc stereo). Interconnects are all Cardas Cross. Speaker cables are dual (external bi-wire) Cardas Crosslink that ship off the juice to a pair of PSB Stratus Gold loudspeakers. Power conditioning is handled through the TAD Systems Power Purifier (Jack Bybee's design). The preamp, transport, jitter box, DAC, and power conditioner reside in a home brew rack, and all but the preamp rest upon home-brew sandbox isolation bases. The transport and its power supply rest on a sandbox supported by Mod Squad Tiptoes. The preamp is isolated from the rack by three Audio Prism Iso-Bearings.
The Report from the Front Lines
I remember the days before I started writing this column, when I figured all the reviewers out there were having nothing but kicks doing this. True, there's a LOT of fun playing with adult toys (don't let your mind wander we're talking audio gear). If you ever want to find out about the work side of reviewing, schlep loudspeakers in and out of you're rig (David Wilson take note-I will not complain if you bring those behemoth Grand Slamms over!!), and spend countless hours with your SPL meter and test tones (I use the Stereophile Test CD 2 - STPH 004-2) trying to find the smoothest room placement. Assuredly a true labor of love. Final adjustments to setup are done by ear, as the analog Radio Shack SPL meter rolls off starting at 10Khz, (and believe it or not I can hear to 16Khz) and my ears don't always agree with the meter's mic.
At 55 pounds, the N.E.A.R. 50Me II speaker is heavy to pickup, but can be easily be hoisted into place by this decent sized, forty year old scamp. Finding the optimal setup is best accomplished before installing the supplied threaded spikes, but be warned - level these babies up with the spikes as soon as possible, cause on carpet they tend to wobble. I finally settled on a position 7.5 feet into the room (which is 4.5 feet in front of my rack and a 4 foot by 5 foot home brew absorber), with an 8 foot spread which places them 5 feet from the side walls. First reflections are handled by two 2 foot by 5 foot home brew absorbers on each wall. The room itself is 18 feet by 28.5 feet and has a sloping ceiling that rises up to center from the short wall. The N.E.A.R. speakers were positioned along the 18 foot wall, and the listening position best found was 13 feet back from the speaker plane. Nearfield listening did not prove to be as emotionally involving as did the further back position.
Out of the box the bass on the 50Me II was impressive, however the midrange was going to need burn-in for sure. Bill recommended 50 to 100 hours, which is also noted in the well written manual supplied. I started noticing the first wave of change around 11 hours, the next around 40, and felt no further change occurring after approximately 85 hours. We were ready to roll.
The Mental Side of the Job
I usually spend the first part of my review time with familiar test material. Commonly used is the soundstage mapping track on Stereophile Test CD 3 (STPH 006-2, primarily the Schoep's sphere and shuffled ORTF mic passages), the "MATT" (Music Articulation Test Tone) track from Stereophile Test CD 2, as well as some of its music selections, and most of the music tracks from Chesky's The Ultimate Demonstration Disc (Chesky UD95). The latter in particular is excellent in demonstrating all of the audiophile terms that we throw around so easily. I also find the announcer's voice between musical tracks perfect for assessing tone and naturalness.
The first thing that really stood out when listening to the 50Me II, was its incredible sense of pace and coherence. This speaker is lightning fast. The "MATT" test showed the 50Me II to be extremely articulate, as it worked its way through the frequencies with a crisp TAT, TAT, TAT sound. Notes start and stop with precision, with a real sense of attack and appropriate decay, without clinging on when the next event should be occurring. The speed of this speaker was well demonstrated when listening to Monty Alexander playing "Sweet Georgia Brown" from the Chesky disc. This is a jumping rendition, that zigs and zags between instruments precariously, and the 50Me II never lost step. The bass moved in complete unison with the mid and upper ranges. No bass lag here, folks.
The Sonic Breakdown
As positioned in my room, I was able to get effective bass down to 40 Hz. In my opinion that's plenty to thoroughly enjoy music. If your obsessive about that last octave, and own an extensive pipe organ collection, you'll need a sub. 20 and 30 Hz. can supply some wonderful "whack" to the sound from time to time, but your mind will fill in the blanks without them. My experience with subwoofers tells me that I feel 20 Hz a lot more than I can actually hear it. A lot of speakers in this price range are similar to the 50Me IIs in that they don't do the sub 40 Hz. range. It's certainly a plus when you find one that does, but I suggest that you don't dismiss auditioning a speaker for that reason alone. The low woofer placement provides bass reinforcement from the floor boundary, just as it would if you position a speaker close to a wall. Listening to the N.E.A.R. 50Me II speaker on heavy carpet and pad, seemed to provide a fair amount of absorption to ameliorate any problems that a nearby reflecting surface can create, such as boomy or thickened bass.
As previously alluded to, the bass sounds quick, tight, and appropriately weighted with the rest of the sound spectrum. This bass control was demonstrated with flair on "Jersey Girls" from Holly Cole's Temptation (Metro Blue CDP 7243 8 31653 2 2). The acoustic bass on this disc must have been mixed much louder than could have actually been heard at the session. A speaker with less bass control than the N.E.A.R. 50Me II will have trouble following the individual notes. The PSB has good bass performance, though no further extended than the 50Me II, but the Gold doesn't have the same level of control or balance. At no time did I ever find the limit of excursion for the 50Me II's woofer as I have with the Stratus Gold. On occasion I've jumped for the remote when playing some of the "how low can you go" stuff with the Stratus Gold while listening at what I would consider loud, yet reasonable levels. Under similar conditions the N.E.A.R speaker never gave me that moment of panic. There is nothing scarier to a caring speaker owner than when you hear the "crack" of a cone bottoming out.
The midrange of the 50MeII is well balanced tonally with the rest of the design, however, as much as I did enjoy music with this speaker, I didn't find the midrange to be my cup of tea. Place emphasis on my cup of tea, as there are many of you who aren't going to agree with me on this, but that's a healthy thing. I could grow accustomed to the sound of the midrange over a long period of time, but through the review period and with the product fully burned in, I found the mids to sound slightly lean, with a somewhat distant sound. This leanness was heard with piano while listening to Steven Scott's work on Parker's Mood (Verve 314 527 907-2) or Duke Ellington's on Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins (Impulse IMPD-162), and the sleazy (but cool!) tenor saxophone of Sweetman's Austin Back Alley Blues (Mapleshade 02752) (would someone tell the bass player his guitar's out of tune!). When listening to Rebecca Pidgeon singing her fabulous cover of "Spanish Harlem" from the Chesky Ultimate Demonstration Disc, this leanness was not as noticeable as when listening to the announcers voice describing sonic attributes between musical cuts. His voice lacked the heft and a certain sense of weight that makes his voice sound live when played through the Stratus Gold. Whether or not this is a characteristic of metal drivers, the fact that we're only talking a 4 inch cone, or some other aspect of the design, I can't be certain of.
When comparing vocals to the Stratus Gold, these two designs differ considerably. Matter of fact, the two have little in common other than their price range - the hard fought $2000 to $2500 turf. The Gold's forte, in my opinion, is the midrange which I find liquid, harmonically rich, and slightly forward. With the N.E.A.R. design I find the midrange more exacting, with a focus on precision. When listening to "To Proud" from Mighty Sam McClain's Give It Up To Love (AudioQuest AQ-CD1015) on the N.E.A.R speaker, I found a slight edge to certain passages when Sam would really wind it up and hit the dynamic limits of his voice. With the Stratus Gold, Sam would belt these same lines out with a more graceful ease. This edge with the 50Me II could be lessened by changing the toe-in from approximately 10 degrees to straight on, slightly compromising image specificity. Don't drift off into paralysis by analysis over these midrange comments. Music is intended to be listened too as a whole, not in little surgically dissected pieces of frequency ranges. When critical listening sessions were over, I found myself listening to the 50Me II happily for many hours at a time without much concern over anything but the music.
The 1.1 inch titanium cone does this design true justice. Crossed over at 4 kHz, the transition from the midrange was undetectable by these ears. Let's not downplay the necessity of the top end of the scale; mess that up and there goes a portion of a lower frequency fundamental's harmonics. Cover the midrange driver with your hand, and listen to the tweeter with one ear up close (at low volume level and with extreme caution please!!!!), and you'll appreciate how much of the harmonics of vocals and midrange instruments exist above the midrange crossover point. To demonstrate this best, you'd need to disconnect the midrange and bass drivers, but as described above you can get a good sense of what I'm talking about. It isn't all cymbals and triangles going on with the tweeter, so the importance of a well implemented tweeter is critical. I found no fault in this range. The metal tweeter added sparkle and unetched detail to the presentation. Being used to listening to the metal dome tweeter found in the PSB Stratus Gold, the upper registers from the N.E.A.R. speaker sounded similar, and quite welcome. The 50Me II sounded effortless in its attempt to reach for the stars, never coming up short. Wanna hear some beautiful cymbal work demonstrated through a fine tweeter? Cue up Connie Kay doing his thing on The Modern Jazz Quartet's At Music Inn Vol.2 Guest Artist: Sonny Rollins (Mobile Fidelity UDCD 632). The N.E.A.R. 50Me II grabbed the gold ribbon for chills and thrills in the top end department with this recording.
And then there's the rest of the story. If you're a soundstage and imaging freak, as I am, man are you gonna dig this. Presto-chango! Where did they go? Set them up carefully and the 50Me II will loose itself sonically within your room. Images are solid wherever their supposed to fall left to right, and there is no dirty window standing between you and those images. Transparency is a strong suit with this speaker. You're given full access to all the information on them little round discs - clarity and detail abound. I suspect the addition of the Tekna-Sonic Anti-Resonant Devices (ARD) may have something to do with this, as their intention is to reduce cabinet vibrations that can veil the soundstage. The 50Me II can do all the processed Q Sound tricks as well as any speaker I've heard, throwing sounds in front of and to extreme left and right of the speakers. The natural presentation of soundstage width can appear wider than the physical spread of the N.E.A.R. speakers, depending on the recording. Unlike Q Sound, this is heard behind the speaker plane and gradually increases in width deeper into the soundstage. When listening to the Czech State Philharmonic play Leos Janacek's Sinfonietta (Reference Recordings RR-65CD), the orchestra completely filled the width of the wall behind the speakers.
The N.E.A.R. 50Me II excelled in the depth department, clearly letting me hear the spaces in front of and behind the musicians on the Janacek recording. Depth is satisfactorily demonstrated by the Stratus Gold, but is bettered by the N.E.A.R. speaker. The footfalls from the "Mapping the Soundstage" track on the Stereophile Test CD, truly sound as if they start from afar on the 50Me II, gaining the proper volume as they sallie forth to center stage.
The distant perspective I found enjoyable, but never fully adjusted to. I often felt the need to turn up the volume, in essence mentally trying to get closer to the performers. Both pairs of speakers present their soundstage starting at the same apparent point behind the speaker plane. Both pairs of speakers present information at the speaker plane with recordings that place a voice or instrument in the speaker box. Neither set of speakers placed an image at the speaker plane, between the speakers. When I talk about one being distant and one being forward, I'm referring to the illusion of how far back in the concert hall or studio your ear/brain combo perceives you to be, not how far back from the speaker plane that the soundstage apparently begins. The images with the PSB speaker seemed larger and louder, just as an acoustic event would sound if you moved closer to it. If the Gold's sound like you're in row D, then the 50Me II would give the impression of row M. This can be appealing at times, and I often found the change refreshing.
The Bottom Line
I found jazz and classical music reproduced wonderfully with the 50Me II. I recently picked up on Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra by the New York Philharmonic with Leonard Bernstein conducting (Sony Classical SMK 47626), and the soundstage that the N.E.A.R 50Me II threw had me thoroughly entranced. The more distant perspective of these speakers can really let you appreciate the actual physical size of a full orchestra. Rock music such as REM's New Adventures in Hi-FI (Warner Bros. 9 46320-2) or Pink Floyd's remastered Music From the Film More (Capitol CDP 0777 7 46386 2 3) held together nicely on the N.E.A.R. speaker, as long as you didn't try to listen at ear bleed levels. When I cranked the 50Me II loud (loud according to the neighbors!), rock didn't become strained or closed-in. Push just about any speaker to extreme levels (extreme being a subjective term), and the quality of sound will fall apart. The N.E.A.R. was no exception to that rule. If you're listening at those kind of levels regularly, your hearing isn't going to serve you well as an audiophile somewhere down the road.
The purpose of a review is to not only identify properties that do and don't hit the mark with my personal preferences; rather, it is to look beyond them and, in an unbiased manner, decide if a particular product brings me close to the music with an emotional attachment. The N.E.A.R. 50Me II did so successfully, evidenced by mucho toe tapping and head bobbing. While I didn't get all my buttons pushed with the midrange, I did find excellent tonal balance from top to bottom, apparent seamless transition between drivers, and exciting soundstaging. An enjoyable tribute to musicality was experienced listening to the N.E.A.R. 50Me II, as well as lot of fun. I hope you'll take my advice on this, and make a point to put this speaker on your list of contenders when it's shopping time. You get a good amount of high-end qualities for a reasonable price, and the attention to sonic details that the folks at N.E.A.R. have given this design may provide you with countless hours of listening pleasure.
See Ya.... Dave Duvall
Click Here for Greg Smith's December 1996 review of the NEAR 15M Loudspeaker
|N.E.A.R. 50Me II
Price: $2550.00 per pair (Black Ash finish)
England Audio Resource (N.E.A.R.)
Thank you for your thorough and thoughtful review. I am appreciative of all of your comments, because I believe they reflect our design parameters very accurately. Let me elaborate on 3 points.
In closing, we are honored with your comments, and the opportunity to be presented in your publication. Any inquiries or elaborations or clarifications may be directed to me or my staff via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
W. J. Kieltyka