Morel Nova Speaker System
I've just ignored Morel's Nova system for more than a month. Occasionally a man of letters gets busy. An editor called: Have you got time for another assignment? Sure. A few more called: Can you get this, this, and this done in two weeks? Take the money and run, I always say. My column was due. My other column was due. I was putting the finishing touches on two books at the same time—please buy them both, they're very good—attacking printouts with a red pen to get myself away from the computer.
Eventually I came up for air and noticed something. The Nova satellites and subwoofer were still here. They had been dutifully serenading me as I typed and scribbled away. Twice a week, a friend would come over with a DVD, silencing the whir of the PC's hard drive and substituting the whir of an LG LCD projector. Movie dialogue was articulated, and effects blared.
I had hardly noticed the little round speakers, yet they'd become my life-support system, quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) delivering the intravenous drip of music necessary to keep me from hurling myself out the window. As much as I rely on my reference speakers, they went silent for a month of Sundays, and my music and movie consumption hardly skipped a beat.
The Nova was sufficient, and what higher praise can I give a $999 sub/sat set?
Sufficiency might not be the first thing you think of when you see speakers this small. How could anything so adorable be at all formidable? The SoundSpot LI-1 stands no more than 6 inches tall, and that includes 2 inches' worth of pedestal. Wrapping my tape measure around it revealed a circumference of fewer than 14 inches, although the diameter is more like 4 inches. Unpacking these things was like getting five dinosaur eggs for my birthday.
A milled-steel, half-sphere enclosure gives the SoundSpot a good heft, but it doesn't ring when knuckle-rapped. The pedestal sits on a rubber ring that would let it perch on a table without sliding around. It has a hole for single-screw wall mounting, and stands are also available. The gold-plated binding posts do not accept banana plugs (no hole in the back). I got by with pin connectors, and spades might work, but bare wire is probably the way to go.
The Nova—just typing the name makes me dream of smoked salmon—is an Israeli company's entry-level product. Designing atypical speakers in Israel could be the very definition of living on the edge. The two-way satellite has a coaxial driver array, with the tweeter mounted in the center of the woofer.
Was the coaxial array responsible for the warm coloration I heard within the first 10 seconds? There was no particular nasality—just a tubey (as in the sound of some vacuum-tube electronics) warmth. The SoundSpots have a nominal impedance of 6 ohms and demanded higher volume settings than most satellites I've used. I turned up the volume, and that was just around the time I forgot about the Nova and got on with my life.
The Fab 5.1
Part of my life consists of getting cheap deals on Half.com. I always have things on my to-buy list—Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones was on the list for 30 years before I finally bought a $3 street-fair LP (sorry, Sir Mick)—and lately I've been filling the gaps in my Beatles collection. The CD in heaviest rotation has been Let It Be Naked, the revised version of Let It Be in which Sir Paul McCartney stripped out Phil Spector's orchestration, delivering songs like "The Long and Winding Road" and "Across the Universe" as they were meant to be heard. Like any good boomer, I've committed every note of the original LP release to memory, and every so often a subtle change in vocal phrasing or an unfamiliar guitar solo would startle me—apparently, Sir Paul snuck in some different takes while remixing the album.
Those Northern English voices are among my oldest friends. When I thought about the Nova system at all, I was just grateful that it wasn't standing in the way of our reunion. Combining the point-source precision of coaxial drivers with the warmth of a tube amp, the speakers had a way of zeroing in on voices and beaming them right into my mind, delivering the Fab Four's matchless vocal harmonies while I rattled my jewelry. The soundstage was reasonably large, although a little diaphanous in the sweet spot. When I moved to an armchair to the left of the left speaker—sitting outside the soundfield—the mid-range was still intelligible.
This emboldened me to score the whole Beatles Anthology DVD set. Some of the early material is revelatory. Brighter speakers might have salvaged more of the submerged guitar parts, but vocals still knifed through the murk of ages, which proved a mixed blessing when the Beatlemaniac screaming started.
Surround mixes of songs first heard in stereo (or mono) were conservatively ambience-driven but welcome. What a brilliant idea to have George Martin calling out from the control room in the right surround channel. "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love," the John Lennon demos reborn as lush Jeff Lynne–produced Anthology DVD and CD tracks, sound more open and vibrant in DTS surround than in PCM stereo. (I still have a pair of round John Lennon glasses left over from my teen years. I got them in silver, just to be a little different, because John would have wanted it that way.)
If the canon started coming out on DVD-Audio, I don't think I could wait years for deep discounts on Rubber Soul, Revolver, The White Album, or Abbey Road. I'd buy them right away, along with Let It Be Naked (again). Pray it happens while Sir Paul and Ringo are still spry enough to participate in the mixing. If the surviving Beatles remix in surround, they could one-up the Stones, whose 1960s-era SACDs are in stereo. Just a suggestion.
Hell and Horses
The SoundSub's shallow cabinet is designer-home-friendly—it won't jut out too far from the wall—and it adroitly reinforced the bottom end of the vocal range without any noticeable degree of chestiness or the annoying one-note dominant frequency of the cheapest subs. However, it was a little too easygoing to reach the full dramatic potential of an action movie. For instance, when Hellboy force-fed it a series of abrupt thuds and low-frequency menace, I missed the extension and vigor of my two reference subs.
Hidalgo was the ideal movie for this system. Substitute horses, a lone cowboy, and Bedouins for the car crashes and detonations of modern moviemaking, and a system like the Nova just shines. It had no problem delivering a generic orchestral score, human voices, sword clatter, clip-clops, galloping, snorting, nickering, and the odd whinny. The Nova was right at home in the 19th century (let's face it, the way things are going, any century would be an improvement over the 21st).
See SoundSpot Run
What happens when I add the Nova to my ever-increasing frame of reference for sub/sat sets? I can think of several satellites that are brighter, more neutral, or softer, but none that has exactly this sweetly euphonic sound. The sub is just average—it's capable of vocal subtlety but not brute force.
Nothing I've ever reviewed looks like the Nova system. Like the cube speakers of a certain manufacturer whose name I won't mention, the SoundSpot satellites have a love-at-first-sight potential that could make them a big hit. They have the kind of look that makes people think: "If this thing sounds half as good as it looks, I'll be a happy camper." As it happens, these satellites do sound as good as they look.
* Mark Fleischmann is the author of Practical Home Theater, now in its fourth edition, and Happy Pig's Hot 100 NY Restaurants, both available through www.quietriverpress.com.
• If you notice them at all, you'd notice how cute they are
• The midrange has an immediately pleasurable, tubey warmth
• The sub performs adequately and does not stick out too far from the wall