Acarian Alón Li'l Rascal Mk.II loudspeaker Robert Reina wrote about the Nóla Mini in January 2006
In the December 2003 Stereophile I reviewed Alón by Acarian Systems' entry-level loudspeaker, the Li'l Rascal Mk.II, designed by Carl Marchisotto. Acarian Systems has since gone out of business, and in 2004, with his wife, Marilyn, Carl founded Accent Speaker Technology and began to design a new line of speakers under the Nóla name (footnote 1). When I contacted him to request a review sample of the Li'l Rascal's successor, the Nóla Mini ($695/pair), Marchisotto hesitated, saying that Accent was focusing its attentions on its more expensive designs. (He claims that his most popular speakers are the $126,000/pair Grand Reference and the $45,000/pair Pegasus.) He recognized that in recent years there have been significant advances in affordable speaker designs, and he wondered if the Nóla Mini could stand up to the competition. Having recently reviewed such speakers as the B&W DM603 S3 and the Amphion Helium2, I understood his concerns.
Although the Nóla Mini looks identical to the Li'l Rascal (the logo excepted), the speakers actually have little in common other than using the same 6½" paper-cone woofer. The Mini has a new, higher-resolution, silk-dome tweeter, as well as a crossover that Marchisotto claims has been upgraded in topology as well as component quality, though he refused to say more than that. The front-ported enclosure is of a different construction from the Li'l Rascal's and is manufactured in Accent's new factory in Connecticut.
Listening: With all of the recordings of acoustic music I sampled, and particularly with vocal recordings, the Nóla Mini's midrange timbre sounded natural and detailed, with a great sense of body and ambience. Dynamic contrasts were linear, organic, and wide, from the softest pianissimos to bombastic blasts. The higher resolution of the Mini's tweeter was readily apparent—the high frequencies were detailed, fast, airy, and extended, with tons of air and no trace of hardness.
Fans of jazz piano should appreciate the Nóla Mini. The pianos of Vijay Iyer (CD, Reimagining, Savoy Jazz SVY 7475) and Keith Jarrett (CD, Radiance, ECM 1960/61) revealed dense but delicate textures with vibrant dynamics and rich, natural, woody piano tones. The detail and transients on the Jarrett recording were dazzling, with tremendous decay and air. On all jazz recordings tested, the string bass was rich, tuneful, woody, and uncolored. I also loved percussion through this speaker. I found myself following different drummers' hi-hat techniques, and easily noting where on the ride cymbal their drumsticks struck. The transient detail and dynamics on vibes solos were stunning.
Classical music also fared well. In David Chesky's Violin Concerto, from his Area 31 hybrid SACD (Chesky SACD288), Tom Chiu's violin was searing and sweet, and the timpani passages were naturally detailed and dynamic, but without hardness of any sort. This concerto is my favorite original work by Chesky, as well as, to my ears, the best-sounding of his discs (and I listened to only the "Red Book" CD layer). The Nóla Mini's bass also seemed quite extended for a bookshelf speaker. On John Rutter's Requiem (CD, Reference RR57CD), my notes read: "Bloooom! All organ pedals breathy and accounted for, sir!"
I then played some high-energy rock. The angular guitar pyrotechnics on Oz Noy's Ha! (CD, Magna Carta MI 2308-2) revealed chilling transients and perfectly extended Stratocaster harmonics through Noy's cranked stereo Fender Twin Reverbs. At about 105dB, the tight, extended, crashing bass synthesizers on Kraftwerk's Minimum/Maximum (CD, EMI ASW 60611) brought back the fond memories—and ringing ears—of the Kraftwerk concert I attended earlier this year.
Comparisons: In addition to comparing the Nóla Mini ($695) with the Alón Li'l Rascal ($600 when last offered), I revisited the Epos M5 ($650), the NHT SB3 ($600), and the Amphion Helium2 ($1000). (All speaker prices per pair.)
The Alón Li'l Rascal's midrange was as neutral as the Nóla Mini's, but not as detailed. The Li'l Rascal's highs were noticeably brighter, however, and not as refined or as extended as the Mini's. The Alón's midbass was a tad warmer than the Mini's, which seemed to go a bit deeper—but they were very close in this regard.
The Epos M5's midrange was neutral, rich, very clean and articulate, and detailed, but the Nóla was still more detailed. The M5's highs were natural and detailed, but not quite as refined or extended as the Nóla's. The M5's transient and low-level articulations were superb and the equal of the Mini's, but the Nóla's bass seemed more extended, its high-level dynamic range wider.
The NHT SB3 also had a rich midrange that, while detailed, was still not as detailed as the Nóla Mini's. The NHT lacked the delicate high-frequency extension of the Nóla, which also bettered the NHT in ambience retrieval. The SB3's midbass was significantly warmer than the Mini's, and high-level dynamics, while quite good through the NHT, were better still through the Mini.
The Amphion Helium2 exhibited even more midrange detail and more natural low-level dynamics than the Nóla Mini. Its midbass was cleaner and more natural than the Nóla's, but the latter's bass was more extended. High frequencies were more natural and delicate through the Amphion but more extended through the Mini, and the Mini's high-level dynamics were superior. The primary difference between the Nóla and the Amphion was in textural presentation: the Mini's was warm and voluptuous, the Helium2's more refined but somewhat austere.
Conclusion: With the Nóla Mini, the Marchisottos can be congratulated on evolving the design of their entry-level design. The Nóla Mini nicely holds its own against stiff competition.—Robert J. Reina
Footnote 1: Nóla by Accent Speaker Technology, Ltd., Hunters Run, Suite 104, 181 Smithtown Blvd., Nesconset, NY 11767. Tel: (631) 366-3917. Fax: (631) 366-3919. Web: www.nolaspeakers.com.