Heavy Hitter...
A high-end system that doesn't make you suffer for your art!
By Chris Binns
Issue 54, October 2007

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It comes as no surprise to learn that the man behind the Nola Viper Reference II loudspeakers, Carl Marchisotto, used to work for Dahiquist, a company that had considerable success in the seventies, their DQ10 achieving almost legendary status amongst audiophiles. What distinguished the DQ10 from other loudspeakers, and is a common factor with the Nola designs, is the use of an open baffle for everything but the bass, so there is no cabinet to speak of surrounding the mid and treble units. Carl argues that any driver must produce the same amount of energy from the rear of the cone as the front, and to successfully absorb this within a cabinet is bound to create resonances and reflections that will colour the sound. To that end, the Nola's consist of a conventional sealed enclosure to load the bass units, but the front panel is continued up to provide the open baffle for the other two drivers. With an 'S' curve at the top that matches the inset black acrylic around the bass units and finished in a lacquered rosewood veneer, the aesthetics are quite elegant, though a little ecclesiastical for my tastes.

The drive units are sourced from Seas and consist of two 220mm magnesium coned bass-drivers, coupled with a 110mm paper laminate mid and a 25mm metal dome tweeter, the latter two employing AlNiCo magnet assemblies rather than the more common ferrite composite type. The crossovers are unusual in that they are housed in separate enclosures that sit on spiked support plates, but decoupled with ball bearings to provide a degree of immunity to both structural and air born vibration. All wiring consists of Nordost monofilament cable.

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The Nola Vipers seemed to be immediately at home in my room. Maybe after so many ported enclosures I had forgotten the benefits of infinite baffle loading, but the bass was tight and controlled, and rolled off in a gentle and even manner that gave the impression of being more extended than it actually was. Partly as a result of this, positioning for the best mid and top performance was straightforward, with just a small amount of toe-in proving effective. Mid-band presentation was articulate and (as you would expect) open, with only very slight cone type colouration in evidence, and probably only noticeable due to the lack of cabinet resonances. The top-end was detailed, with an occasional mild metallic lisp apparent on speech and some vocals, and not quite as clean as I have heard from something like the Focal beryllium unit for example. But the overall effect is one of great coherence and an ability to engage while proving satisfying to listen to over long periods of time. A revealing feature of the system that reoccurred on many occasions was the way in which it dealt with poor recordings by glossing over the technical inadequacies; a good indication that it was the music that was getting through rather than the production - or lack of it. The effect was there with both old classical recordings and material as acerbic as an original pressing of Television's 'Marquee Moon' - even at antisocially high volume levels: gripping, exciting and a lot of fun.

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In many ways, it was the speakers that came as the biggest surprise; if I am honest I had slightly pre-judged them, assuming that they were just not going to be my kind of thing. But as it turned out...