Electrocompaniet is one of the grand European names from the early days of high-end audio, the introduction of its first amplifiers (reviewed many times in TAS, starting with Issue 16) in the late 1970s causing quite a sensation. The company has changed hands in the intervening decades, but the Nordic Tone Model 1 offers firm evidence that what has not changed is the commitment both to sonic excellence and to technical innovation. The first Electrocompaniet amplifier way back when broke new ground in electronic design. The Nordic Tone Model 1 can surely claim a similar groundbreaking status, in cabinet design in particular.
The drivers are of high quality, but more or less standard issue, from SEAS and Scan-Speak though the woofers are built to Electrocompaniet’s specifications. But the cabinet design is another world from MDF boxes. For a start, the cabinet is metal. But what is unique to my knowledge is the use of spherical metallic surfaces, which of course curve in all directions. Most curved metal work is made curved by rolling-mill equipment—it curves in one direction only and has, in mathematical terms, Gauss curvature zero. Metal curved in all directions—Gauss curvature positive—is much more rigid. It is also harder to make since one cannot make it by rolling sheet metal. The panels here are cast aluminum. This subject is close to my technical heart since my first research in mathematics was on the rigidity of surfaces of positive Gauss curvature. I think neither Electrocompaniet nor TAS knew about this when the speakers were sent to me, but the Nordic Tone Model 1s came to the right home, mathematically speaking. [Dr. Robert E. Greene is a professor of Mathematics at UCLA and the author of advanced-mathematics textbooks. —RH]
The Nordic Tones (as I shall call them from now on) were the product of a substantial research program, supported in part by the Norwegian government. (That is Scandinavia for you, and good for them. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the U.S. government to support research on your loudspeaker-building project.)
The Speaker in Physical Terms
The Nordic Tones are fairly small floorstanders, three-and-a-half feet high, just over a foot wide, and a little short of two feet deep. The shape is, as noted, curved. A picture is worth a lot of words here. They are heavier than one might expect for their size at 165 pounds. Fortunately, they have rubber-coated feet rather than spikes, and it is actually possible to move them around fairly easily by “walking” them, though if you need to take them up stairs, some care and help will be needed. Maybe it is partly because I’ve thought a lot about curved-surface rigidity, but to me they sit there projecting absolute solidity. But visual impressions aside, this solidity turns out to be real in sonic terms, to the extent one can separate out such things just by listening.
Acoustically, they are sealed boxes with dual woofers. The sealed-box loading gives good in-room bass extension for their size on account of their more gradual low-frequency roll-off compared to ported boxes. The midrange is a cone with the sliced and rejoined surface treatment that is supposed to (and I believe does) reduce break-up modes. The tweeter is a soft dome. Good drivers, but it is the cabinet that is unique.
The speaker has a sensitivity of 89dB—high for a sealed-box speaker—and a nominal impedance of 6 ohms. There is a dip below 3 ohms in the lower frequencies, around 100Hz, and an amplifier with respectable current capability is a good idea. The Sanders Magtech, with its ability to perfectly drive anything at all, was unperturbed by the Nordic Tones, but tube amplifiers (people tell me there are still some out there) might not be the ticket.
When one first fires a speaker up, the instantaneous impression is dominated by the frequency balance. Let’s dispose of this before we get to the less obvious: The Nordic Tones belong to the school of rising top on-axis/flattest response somewhat off-axis. (This is quite common nowadays—c.f. my review of the DALI Epicon 6, the Sony AR-1, etc.) In this context, the speaker sounds very smooth. Its balance is slightly midrange-oriented, with a dip in the 3kHz region (and rise above) and a dip around 200-250Hz again exposing the mids somewhat. The paired woofers, one quite close to the floor, seem to eliminate the disastrous suck-out in the power range that floor-loading often produces in floorstanders, but some dip intrinsic to the speaker remains. The Nordic Tone’s overall in-room response is quite well balanced, though one does hear these broadband deviations from neutrality, small though they be as speakers go.
The horizontal off-axis response is very smooth indeed, even quite far off-axis. There is a shift in sound if one moves (vertically) much above the ideal listening axis—be prepared to sit low if you want ideal sound, no high seats nor standing up for best results. Indeed the best axis to my ears was actually below the nominal “on-axis” (tweeter height). The overall sound seemed most neutrally balanced low in position and somewhat off-axis (speakers toed away somewhat from being aimed straight at the listener). To reiterate for emphasis: You have to sit low— the speakers are not tall and the best listening axis is rather lower than a usual chair. I actually sat on a footstool that was about six inches high for best results. (In the manual, there is a photo of a listener lounging back in a low chair—fair enough. That is the position if you want to avoid a deep 3kHz suckout.)
Where the Nordic Tones enter some rarefied world with few equals—and they really do do that—is in the nearly absolute clarity of the sound and the vanishing of the speakers. To take the second point first, of course all decent speakers vanish in the superficial sense of not being obvious sound sources. But the odd but clearly not accidental shape of the Nordic Tones’ enclosure with its gracefully curved shape seems to minimize diffraction to eliminate any suggestion of the speakers as discrete sound sources. Even when one of the speaker is playing alone, it somehow sounds less like sound from a speaker than usual. Intriguing—and musically effective.