“And in this corner, standing 44" tall and weighing in at a trim 50 pounds per side is the Nola Contennnnnnnnnn-derrrrrrrrrr!” This playfully pugilistic loudspeaker theme (that I’ve admittedly been exploiting) began with the Nola Boxer, a two-way compact that I reviewed a couple years ago and that went on to nab a TAS Product of the Year Award for 2010 (Issue 209). Last year Nola released the subject of this review, the Contender in the middleweight ranks. And Nola’s “trainer,” aka owner/designer Carl Marchisotto, wasn’t done yet, as he recently introduced the $10k KO, built to compete in the heavyweight division.
Boxing metaphors aside, the $3600 Contender is a three-way design in a floor-standing, bass-reflex enclosure. Visually it maintains the no-nonsense, working-class silhouette that the Boxer exemplifies but with some critical differences. While the silk soft-dome tweeter from the Boxer is retained, this slender tower loudspeaker adds an additional 6.5" laminated pulp-cone woofer and downward-firing port. The identical upper and lower bass drivers are housed in separate chambers with non-parallel walls. In this instance the upper driver is ported to the rear, while the lower driver is loaded via the downward-firing port. The chambers are tuned to different frequencies to provide the smoothest and most extended in-room bass response.
Internally the Contender features two separate, shock-isolated, hand-wired crossover boards of a shallow-slope design. In critical areas, the Contender also uses Nordost monofilament silver wire—the Boxer does not. The Contender also retains the high 90dB sensitivity and 8-ohm impedance of the Boxer, so that any high-quality amplification beyond roughly 30Wpc will drive it comfortably. In dimensions, except for the extended enclosure, the Contender retains the overall footprint of the Boxer, making it an easy fit even in rooms that are normally uncomfortable with floor-standers.
The Contender is designed to fire straight into the room—no toe-in is recommended. This also yields the most expansive soundstage and most neutral treble response. But since no two rooms are identical, it’s always worth experimenting with placement. In order to allow the port to work properly, the included floor spikes elevate the speaker 1.5" above the floor. However, since this is a narrow-baffle speaker, special care should be used around rambunctious kids, pets, or over-caffeinated audiophiles. My suggestion is that Nola consider offering, on an optional basis, outrigger-style supports for additional stability.
I asked Marchisotto about the distinctive low placement of the woofer relative to the floor and he stated that “with a very low crossover to the lower woofer (about 60Hz), the wavelength is long at the crossover frequency (about 20 feet), and so I am allowed to mount the woofer low to the floor for best low-bass loading, while still maintaining a good phase match with the upper woofer.” He adds that “as in all three-way designs, the midrange quality and resolution will improve, as the upper woofer (midrange) covers less range than in a two-way or 2.5 way design. The lower woofer is also ported to the floor to better couple deep bass. Anyway the goal here was to produce a speaker that had the virtues of the Boxer with 90dB sensitivity, but with addition of bass extension to a usable 25Hz.”