Being an internet purchase virgin (at least to this level of expense) I was a bit nervous about buying these subs without hearing them but I'd spent a bit of time studying the design philosophy and communicating with the owner, Michael Barnes, before I proceded, so I figured I had managed the "risk" as much as possible and took the plunge.
Before I get into the review, I have to say that dealing with this company is an absolute joy - talk about service! Mr Barnes seems to be on a mission from God to revolutionalise (if not humanise) high end audio. He is readily available and his team put their heart and souls into the product and the service. I've had email communication on a number of issues including possible future enhancements. What other company offers this type of customer involvment in the development of products? They may exist but I've never come across them. Onto the review....
Although I enjoy and appreciate high end audio, I consider myself more a video/cinephile. So why did I buy a pair high end music subs for my Home Theatre? Because good sound is good sound and my basic philosophy is that the principles of high end audio apply equally to Home Theatre with some slight modifications (THX? - no way) . Although nOhr make some stunning natural wood cabinets I wanted a black finish for my completely blackened CRT centred home theate room. No problem, Michael suggested a black gloss finish as a compromise (although he was prepared to finish them anyway I wanted).
I was absolutely stunned when I opened the cartons. The black piano gloss finish was of an exceptionally high standard. It made my other equipment look pretty ordinary in comparison.
I'd already read that the build quality was of the highest level and the components were first rate, but I was really impressed when I saw the built in amps. These are not toys! I have never seen a subwoofer (regardless of price) that comes anywhere the quality of the amp in the nOhr.
I've run the subs for just over a month now and they are settling in nicely. These babies woof when they are supposed to, stop when they are supposed to, add no coloration to the main speakers (Paradigm monitor 9s)and never display a hint of distress. They don't knock you out of your seat, but they were never meant to and I didn't anticipate that an 8" driver was going to move prodigious amounts of air. Having said that I don't feel I am missing anything, in fact my set up sounds breath takingly natural, so perhaps my old sub was only producing noise. I had considered a single 18" Bag End sub (around the same price point, but you get two nOhrs for the price) and I still may proceed with this for the LFE channel (unless nOhr come up with an LFE design) but I have not regretted the purchase decision for one minute. The subs bottom out somewhere in the mid to low 20 Hz region in my room which is still impressive for an 8" cone and certainly the achievable volume levels (around 107db)are a function of having a pair of them but I have never heard a 12" design that reaches the levels of fidelity that the nOhrs deliver (and certainly not at the price).
What I have appreciated is that I have a newfound interest in music and the positive purchase experience of buying from nOhr and the affordability of their products have inspired me enough to upgrade as many of my existing components to nOhr as possible (I've got 6 nOhr 7.0 speakers, two more subs and 6 nOhr amps on my wish list).
Any bad points? Not really. A design philosophy issue - I really think that a product of this calibre should have a built in adjustable single pole passive high pass filter as well as the exisiting adjustable low pass filter for maximum flexibility and fidelity - but other than that, nOhr have got it absolutely right.
Mr Barnes, I'll be back!
Main speakers: Paradigm monitor 9.0s (6) Subs: nOhr subwoofer Mk11 (2), LFE: Velodyne (1) Processor/preamp: Yamaha AX - 1 Amps: Marantz MA500(6) Audio and VIdeo Cables: Audio/Video Quest Projector: Runco IDP980 Video Processor: iScan
Well, they finally arrived about a month ago after about 3 months of being on the waiting list. I got my order in just as the MK I was discontinued and the sub went in for a re-design to MK II. They were willing to honor the price for the MK I version & ship the MK II if I was willing to wait. I decided to wait. I have just started really living with the 2 subs, so this is more of a preliminary review than anything.
When the subs arrived, they were packed in heavy foam, boxed, and then boxed again, and all of it was inside of a very large crate, 1 crate per sub. Very heavily packed. Good thing too, as I saw the UPS guy literally drop one of the crates off the truck as he unloaded it! I unpacked it with some trepidation, fearing the worst. But everything seemed fine - and man are these things beautiful. I already had the nOrh 7.0 bookshelf speakers & was very impressed with the quality & finish on them. I sent nOrh some pictures of my speakers & they book matched the subs to my speakers. They did a great job, it looks perfect. I thought the 7.0 looked nice, but the subs are built to at least the same standard as the 7.0's. I am using the subs as stands for the 7.0's & they are just beautiful together. I hooked everything up and it sounded quite good, but I could tell that I needed to work with my speaker placement a bit more to get everything dialed in properly & sounding its best. A day or so later I turned the subs off when I went to work. When I turned them back on, one of the fuses blew and the switch did not quite feel right, it did not >click< from on to off position. I guess the UPS guy did manage to damage the sub after all. I talked to nOrh, they airmailed me a replacement switch and some extra fuses the next day. After replacing the switch and the fuses, it was obvious something else was wrong as the fuses kept blowing. I took the amp to a local tech to have a look at it. Turns out one of the wires to the output device had come loose from that fall off the truck & it caused the output device to blow out. Mr. Barnes, the owner of nOrh told me, "we don't fix anything on the board, we simply send you a new board & you just have the tech remove the old one & put in the new one". A few days later the board shows up, the tech has the old one out & the new one in within an hour. I change to a slightly higher rated fuse & the sub amp is working perfectly. Take it home, plop it in the enclosure & we are ready to go. nOrh paid for everything that was needed to fix the amp, including the labor fees of the local tech here in Denver. Overall I would rate the customer service from nOrh excellent. They did everything they could to help diagnose & fix the problem & were very apologetic about the inconvenience, even though it wasn't even their fault.
Anyway, back to the sub itself. 1st off, the MK II is a ported design, which is different from the MK I design, which was a small transmission line. nOrh needed some extra volume internally to lower the response to 24hz -3db & the TL was just taking up too much space internally. It is double braced internally with 1 inch thick MDF cross braces. And the amp on this thing!! The transformer is HUGE!! Even the tech I took it too had never seen anything like it & he has been repairing gear since the 70's. Anyway, suffice to say, this thing gets some serious ammounts of current to the woofer.
Speaking of woofer, the nOrh uses Vifa's best 8 inch woofer in the sub. It can take all the punishment that the amp can dish out. Which brings me to 1 of the 2 weaknesses that the sub has - output.
The sub simply does not have the output of a good 12 inch sub like the HSU or Paradigms 15 inch sub. These other subs are built for very high output, while the nOrh simply isn't. I was actually quite worried about the lack of output as I was able to bottom the woofer out at around 101 db with bass heavy music. That is only moderately loud. But after more experimentation, it turns out I had the subs placed in a bass null in my room. Moved them 5 inches & voila, much higher output. I can now get about 107-110db which is more acceptable. Truth be told, I don't listen to it that loud very often at all, as I live in a high rise apartment with neighbors all around. Granted there is a foot of concrete between each unit, but still the low bass just passes through the wall like it wasn't there. Still, the nOrhs do not have the output of the large subs like the HSU or Paradigm. I would not recommend them for HT if you want the entire house to shake. But for music, ah - they are the best I have heard.
Before I get to the strengths, I want to point out one more weakness of the subs. They are meant to be stands. As such, they are pretty difficult to position optimally - subs generally work best in a corner, while midranges and tweeters work best away from the corner. In a very real sense, the nOrh 7.0/sub combo is really a full range tower speaker, more so than a sub/sat combo. And they have a lot of the problems that are inherent in all full range speakers. But since the bass section is powered it has a crossover, phase switch, and a volume control (the volume control knob is solid stainless steel and is a switched attenuator - very nice & very expensive to make - the crossover selector knob is the same). This level of control helps immensely in dialing in the bass properly in your particular room. The crossover is 24db/octave (4th order Linkwitz-Riley)
Ok enough of all that, how does is sound?! In a word, great. For music, I have not heard better. I have used subs in my music system before, so deep bass is nothing really new to me. But, the precision, the sheer control is quite new. When a bass note is plucked, it issues forth with no hesitation, no bloat, no lag. And when it stops, it STOPS. No overhang. At all. The 7.0 and sub blend perfectly together. No suprise there, as nOrh designed them to be paired together. Overall the sound is very very very good. How good? Well, I no longer go to audio stores to listen to "what's out there". I am happy with the sound of the speakers I have. One of the nice things about the electronic crossover is that, unlike passive full range towers, the crossover does not cause any phase/timing errors between the upper and the mid/lower bass. So I am hearing bass lines as they were actually recorded, usually with quite a bit more "drive" than I am used to hearing. But of course the best thing is that the mids and highs on the 7.0 have somehow fleshed out even more and the spacial information in the music is more prominent. Of course the 7.0 still has phase errors because of its passive crossover, but never fear! I have the nOrh multiamp on the way which will bypass the passive crossover in the 7.0 with an active electronic crossover built in to the amp. Then I will be looking at a fully active system with all electronic crossovers, and 150 watts directly driving each woofer, 100 watts directly driving the midrange, and 100 watts directly driving the tweeter, and NO phase errors in the whole system. I cannot wait for the Multiamps to ship at the end of this month!
One last observation and I will leave off this rather long review. When I first hooked the 2 subs up, I had never heard bass that was so controlled and realistic/non-boomy. When one of them blew, I simply disconnected it, ran both signals from the stereo output on my amp to the single working sub. Fortunately it has a sum-er in it that will convert the stereo input to mono for the single sub to output the bass signal. With only 1 sub the sound was a less impressive. The sound was boomier & a lot of the extra spatial info collapsed. Don't get me wrong, it was still better than most subs in the "tightness" department, but it was not amazing like it was when 2 subs were going. When my other sub was fixed & everything was hooked back up again, amazing sound poured forth again. Moral of the story - whichever sub you have your eye on, when it comes to music play back I strongly urge you to try out stereo subs. They are a bit more of a pain to position, but are very well worth it when you get everything dialed in properly.
BTW, my second choice for a musical sub would be the REL.
My current system -
-nOrh Subwoofer MK II
-PSS Pure Silver Sound Octet Speaker wire
-PSS Pure Silver Sound Quartet interconnects
-Bryston B-60 Integrated amp (soon to be replaced by the nOrh Preamp and 2 nOrh Multiamps)