Issue 181 / April-May 2008

Equipment Report
Just Right
Nola's Viper Reference Loudspeaker
Tom Martin

Let's get right down to it: This speaker sounds significantly different than most other speakers anywhere near its lofty $12,000-per-pair asking price [Note: Reference II is now $15,000/pair]. A natural follow-up question would be, "Is that a good thing?" And I'd give a solid "Yes" as an answer. I really, really liked listening to this speaker, and I can't say that about more than a few speakers in the $7,000 to $20,000 price range. Because the differences between the Viper Reference and other speakers are so big and so musically beneficial, I think every audiophile should consider the issues this speaker raises.


So the Viper is a different beast to be sure. If stunning transparency on the occasional recording is essential to you, the Viper is not your speaker. If you listen to a certain kind of music and must have some particular parameter just so, the Viper won't be your speaker either. If, on the other hand, you are frustrated by products that occasionally impress but don't really allow you to focus on the music, I think you'd find the Nola Viper to be a breakthrough. I did.

View the full review on

Manufacturer's Comment:

Many thanks to Tom Martin and the Absolute Sound for this wonderful and insightful review of the Nola Viper Reference. As Tom points out, our vision for the Viper Reference was to produce a loudspeaker that would elicit the same emotional reaction in a listener that a live performance would. This is our basic philosophy of design, regardless of model. Naturally the more ambitious models, with their less restrictive budgets, can come closer to this goal. Nevertheless we are very proud of the Nola Viper Reference and what it achieves.

One of the differences with this model that is commented on again and again is its ability to play recordings that are less than perfect in a way that still allows enjoyment of the musical content. While reproducing recording artifacts, the Viper Reference seems to keep these separate from the musical signal so that they are easier to ignore. We feel too many loudspeakers produce sound per se - but not music.

As an example of our differing design approach with a musical focus I would like to share this process.

In designing a new speaker a decision had to be made as to how many drivers would be employed. We wanted the speaker to reproduce realistic floor tom-tom drum sounds as say from the "live" Dave Brubeck Carnegie Hall disc. The computer said that one mid range and one ribbon tweeter would be sufficient to make the speaker flat. However, listening tests revealed that the drum sound was not completely convincing. We tried two, then three and finally four sets of midranges and tweeters before we were convinced that we had verbatim drum sounds. So the new design ended up with four sets of mid ranges and tweeters. That critical decision then determined the rest of the design.

Tom's closing comment was " I think you'd find the Nola Viper to be a breakthrough. I did." I agree.

Carl Marchisotto
Nola Loudspeakers