A New Generation at NOLA?

There's an established standard protocol one observes when entering a room at an audio show. First, you stand in the doorway and listen for a couple of minutes, then check in with the exhibitor and if necessary, introduce yourself. Next, you exchange pleasantries and catch up while idly thumbing through whatever literature is displayed. Finally, and only at the exhibitor's insistence, you make your way to the best seat in the house while apologizing to everyone you step over, around, and displace. That's not what happened when I visited the NOLA room where Carl (left in photo), Marilyn, and Kristen Marchisotto (right) were overseeing the west coast debut of the $150,000/pair Baby Grand Reference Gold 3 loudspeakers, the midpoint of NOLA's reference series. Stepping into the doorway was as far as I got before bee-lining to the front and center, shoving aside anyone not fast enough to get out of my way.

Cat Stevens' CD Tea for the Tillerman was playing and I was immediately taken by a level and subtlety of detail and dimensionality that's all too rarely heard in well-sorted high-end systems and almost never heard at an audio show. Most striking was a dimensionality to the images and stage, a walk-into-it feel that once again, you just don't hear at audio shows. The same was true for a CD of Shirley Horn's first appearance set at the Monterey Jazz Festival, the result being a presentation that sounded a little more live and a little less like a recording than is usually the case. And Eric Clapton's new lockdown-era CD Lady in the Balcony? Well, let's just say that it sounded great, as did all the CDs that we listened to and leave it at that. CDs? That's right, CDs. Not high-res streaming, not master tapes, not even LPs and a great analog rig—just standard Red Book CDs played through an Audio Note Transport and an Ideon DAC.

Carl then walked me through some of the changes between the Series 2 and Series 3 and to be honest, it seemed to me like an entirely new speaker that just happened to look like the old one. There were new or substantially revised drivers, the crossovers were new all the way down to their passive components, and cabinets that were quite a bit larger internally than their predecessor and now had the two woofers each ported into an individual chamber. Even the cabinet bases were new, now being NOLA's Twin Ball-bearing Isolation systems. Carl went on to explain that in many cases, the Series 3 incorporated technologies that had been developed for the latest evolutions of the $350,000 Concert Grand Reference and the $500,000 Grand Reference.

The NOLAs weren't the only parts of the system making their debut. The system also included VAC's new Essence phono and line stages, $7000 each, and a pair of the new Essence 80 monoblock amplifiers, $9000 each. The Essence components (above) may be reasonably priced by High-end standards but the overall system's performance made it obvious that there were magical things going inside their understated chasses. I hope to corner VAC's Kevin Hayes before the show is over and get the full scoop on the Essence pieces.

georgehifi's picture

Love what they've designed here, looks like someone's thinking about the sound first, rather than what it looks like. (btw still looks good to me maybe not the wife)

Cheers George

Brian10925's picture

After hearing the Nola Merto Gold 3 at a show, I bought a pair. They accomplish sound like I’ve never heard before. I love them. I had a chance to audition the Baby Grand Gold3 prior to the show. They start where the Metros leave off and then a lot more. The room was on the smaller side, they didn’t over power the room. They can play to large rooms and smaller rooms. Nothing I threw at the Baby Grands made them sweat. And boy I challenged them. The Metros paint a beautiful musical picture. The Baby Grands paint a larger compelling, complex picture. And yet it all sounds also simple and pleasing. Check ‘em out!

Nirodha352's picture

Hi, isn’t the sound stage rather high?

remlab's picture

I was thinking the same thing.

georgehifi's picture

Submitted by Nirodha352 on June 25, 2023 - 7:34pm
Hi, isn’t the sound stage rather high?"

Yeah I though so too, but just tilt them forward slightly a couple degrees by the time they get to the seating position they'll be on the money.

Cheers George

Brian10925's picture

I thought the same, it’s not. The Raal tweeters have amazing dispersion. Imaging and sound stage impeccable.

georgehifi's picture

I believe they have good horizontal but poor vertical, so yes they need slight forward tilt, if they are to be on axis, or sit on a stool.

Cheers George

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

it's always good policy to ask the designer.
From Carl Marchisotto
"Yes the radiation pattern of the speaker places the image at a normal seating height
and not the height of the tweeters."

StereoJim's picture

The new Baby Grand Golds have "real life" looking over it's shoulder!

I've had the opportunity to listen to several, and I'm always amazed at how all of the Nola speakers bring that live spacious true to life sound. Don't let the size of these "Babys" fool you either. No, they are not too big for your room, and no you don't need a million watts to drive them. At this show they were running on 80 watts each. I heard these in Carl's listening room in his factory on Long Island (12'x 18' I think?) and at C.A.F. where the room was quite a bit bigger than the one at P.A.F. They did not overload his room and they weren't in my face at all. They don't seem to care where you put them as long as you put them 1/3rd out. It's no surprise when you see them that you will feel them in your feet even when standing a cement slab. What is surprising is how they do delicate too. They will hit you like a truck but they can touch you like a feather. Whatever is on the track, that's what you get. From an explosion to a pin drop in either order in a hundredth of a second. Dynamic and fast. They don't sound big, they don't sound small, they just sound and get out of the way. Isn't that what we want a speaker to do? Just tell it like it is? Are they expensive? Yes, but if you have the means you will not find anything that sounds better than whatever you can afford from NOLA!