Was this “better” than before? It was surely different. The sound was noticeably less top-oriented and was smoother but slightly less overtly detailed. If I had to choose, I would definitely go for the flattened-out version. But the difference was not enormous in my heavily damped room. In a “hard” room, in the acoustic sense, the Nordic Tones as they are might be a little much in the high frequencies. (I am not entirely sure why people, especially it seems in Europe outside the UK, have gotten into making this rising-top/flat off-axis choice. It ups the power response in the treble, where traditionally people wanted to roll the power in the top—and a good idea that was, too, in my book. Don Keele’s constant-directivity speaker has a control to turn down the treble for a good reason.)
Electrocompaniet claims to have done extensive listening tests on the Nordic Tone, but I wonder how it came up with this setting of the mid-driver up too far, leaving small but definite dips between the bass and mid and the mid and treble. Perhaps this latter is an audiophile preference nowadays, flattering as it is with female vocals. But it sounds a bit odd on broad-bandwidth material like orchestras. Still, as high-end speakers go—where absolute neutrality seems to have been largely deserted as a compulsive goal—the Nordic Tones are quite neutrally balanced.
Another Sonic Example or Two
People are always saying that a good test of a speaker is how well it distinguishes similar but different things. Whether this really makes sense depends on what kind of distinctions one is talking about. But for what it is worth, as it happened, I got interested in various approaches to the recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, having just bought the RCA Victrola recording with Dylana Jenson and the Philadelphia conducted by Ormandy— still around after all these years. This is some great performance to my mind, but it is very much of the put-a-mike-on-the-soloist style of recording. And it sounds that way—detailed, neutral overall, good bass in the orchestra, but with the violin very close indeed. One hears fingers on the fingerboard and so on. Then I switched to Kavakos on BIS, Lahti/Vanska. Another fine performance, though Jenson gets to me a bit more. But what a sonic difference—BIS was apparently eschewing any spotlighting and Kavakos was integrated into the orchestra as if at a concert.
Of course one would hear the difference on any decent speaker, but the Nordic Tones analyzed it to a “t.” I found this quite typical. The Nordic Tones are not the sort of speaker where half the recordings you put on are unbearable— not at all. They treat things very even-handedly, in the context of more top than I personally prefer. But they do tell you quite emphatically how a recording is put together and what it really sounds like.
Claims are being made nowadays on occasion that only “hard” drivers, ceramics and the like, really give the resolution of detail that is possible. I must say that the Nordic Tones to my ears give the lie to this viewpoint quite completely. These are “soft” drivers (except the woofers). But the overall sound is very well resolved, indeed—and at the same time very natural. Like the Sony AR1s (which use similar drivers), the speakers seem to let you hear all there is to hear with real clarity but without any extra bite, in the context of their overall balance. I never felt that I wanted in any sense to “clean the window” on the sound. As long as a driver is operating in a band where breakup is minimal —and if there is any, non-chaotic—then to my mind its diaphragm being made of a hard material is not any sort of advantage. All too often “hard” drivers sound, as the word suggests, hard, and traces of their aggressive breakup modes, inevitably not far enough out of their passbands, can be heard. The Nordic Tones, though a little brighter than what I am accustomed to, are definitely not hard in any sense. And indeed one can crank them up to realistic levels with no discomfort or sense of breakup or distortion at all.
The Situation in the Marketplace
The Nordic Tones occupy a curious spot in the marketplace/ perceived value milieu. In one way, the price of a decent car seems like a lot to pay for what are in effect off-the-shelf drivers, even if they are off the top shelf. But the truth is that driver manufacturers have taken a strong interest in making really good drivers, and they have commenced to be really good at it. As a result rather few speaker manufacturers make their own drivers, though they sometimes like to imply that they do (and some actually do, of course). The days when the only really good drivers were custom drivers seem to have passed into history.
In any case, I think that what one is getting here are not only really good drivers but also an enclosure in the absolutely top echelon of good cabinet behavior, and at a much lower price than is often charged. The Nordic Tone speakers seem to me to be fully competitive with much, much more expensive speakers where the specialité de maison is cabinet rigidity and, indeed, where often the cabinet is the only apparent justification of the ultra-high price. So if background silence that arises from nearly zero cabinet contribution is one of your major goals, this speaker can seem even something of a bargain, a startling idea for a speaker at its price.
Moreover, leaving detailed balance questions aside (which people seem hardly to notice often enough), the Nordic Tones seem to me impressively neutral overall compared to a great many high-end speakers, which can often strike one as looking for a distinctive sound of their own, rather than a neutral reference sound. The Nordic Tones are in particular to my ears considerably more neutral sounding than the DALI Epicon 6s, the GamuT S5s, or the Wilson Audio Duettes, to take three designs I have either reviewed or listened to carefully in a familiar home environment recently. On the other hand, the PSB T2s and T6s, also among my review items fairly recently, are more nearly neutral in octave-to-octave balance in particular, and at least the equal of the Nordic Tones in smoothness frequency-by-frequency so to speak, and at a far lower price.
The Nordic Tone design brief was to create what the company calls a “reference speaker.” To my mind, it has succeeded rather well overall, and in terms of cabinet silence very well. This speaker seems both good-sounding and accurate. It is possible that some audiophiles will listen to it and say, “But it does not do anything.” And that it true—it just sits there sounding like its input. In that sense, the Nordic Tones call attention not to themselves but to the music. I tended to find myself listening to the recordings critically rather than to the speakers themselves, which in that sense got out of the way. But to my mind this is what a speaker ought to do, and to do it to this extent is a remarkable achievement. This is a speaker one could just buy and get on with the listening to music. This is especially so if background silence and clarity are your primary goals. Top to bottom, the music is all there, sounding essentially as it should and remaining uncluttered and articulate all the way down to the bottom in a striking way. You won’t find it easy to find a forward-radiating quasi-point-source speaker that does the duplication of reality more convincingly, especially for large-scaled music.
SPECS & PRICING
Description: Three way, fourdriver/channel floorstanding box speaker, sealed-box (“infinite baffle) loading
Driver complement: Two 8" custom-design Seas woofers; 5" Scan-Speak Revelator midrange; 1" Scan-Speak Revelator tweeter
Frequency response: 30Hz to 28kHz, -3dB points
Crossover: 230Hz and 2.5kHz, slopes 12dB/octave
Sensitivity: 89dB (2.83V/1m)
Maximum output level: 108dB
Impedance: 4 ohms nominal, minimum 2.4 ohms at 90Hz
Dimensions: 14" x 42" x 20"
Weight: 165 lbs.