Nola Grand Reference V Speaker System

Most speakers include drivers mounted on one or more faces of an enclosed box. But a few speaker makers take a different approach often called infinite or open baffle, in which the drivers are mounted on a flat board with no enclosure around them. One such company is Accent Speaker Technology, whose Nola brand includes the flagship Grand Reference V.

All speaker drivers radiate sound waves from their front and back surfaces. If the driver is enclosed in a box, the backwave is reflected around inside the box, interfering with the driver's vibration and thus coloring the front-radiating sound as shown in the left portion of this diagram. By contrast, an infinite-baffle design operates like a dipole radiator, allowing the backwave to go its merry way without interfering with the frontwave as shown in the right portion of the diagram. Of course, the backwave eventually hits a wall or other surface and reflects around the room, making placement of infinite-baffle speakers especially critical.

The Grand Reference V system consists of four towers altogether—two per channel—each standing seven feet tall. Each main tower weighs 300 pounds and sports no less than 19 drivers. Nine 4-inch ribbon tweeters and six 4-inch tri-laminate cone midrange drivers are mounted in an infinite baffle with their backsides exposed to the open air.

Two 8-inch magnesium-cone woofers are mounted below the tweeters and midranges and two more are mounted above, each in its own sealed chamber. Why aren't these drivers in an open baffle? According to the company, they must maintain a flat frequency response down to 40Hz, which is not possible without a baffle wide enough to avoid dipole cancellation of low frequencies—we're talking about a baffle that's five or six feet wide. And even with such a baffle, it would destroy imaging accuracy due to diffraction problems.

The separate subwoofer towers each weigh 400 pounds and house four 12-inch drivers in individual vented chambers to allow low distortion at high listening levels. Altogether, the system's frequency response extends from 12Hz to 46kHz, and it can output 120dB SPL from 20Hz to 20kHz.

That's a lot of grunt, and it ought to be for $189,000. But based on reviews of previous generations and the Baby Grand Reference ($55,000/pair) from trusted sources, I bet the Grand Reference V sounds incredible.

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uavtheo's picture

I have heard a pair of NOLAs the baby grand at Lyric Audio in New York. It was simply the best speaker I have ever heard with 2 channel classical. I've heard good imaging and soundstage and this destroyed any notion and brought it to a new level. The realism was like sitting in a concert hall and having an open window to the show. It was like hearing music again for the first time.

Granted the speakers were 5 feet into the room, driven by Audio Research separates and the entire room (including the ceiling) was tuned pristinely beyond belief. The oriental rug on the wall between the NOLAs was icing othe cake. I think the model below this was on display and it was unreal to see the open baffle and the presence these speakers have. Needless to say this is probably one of those rare exceptions where the price is justified by the performance. Just be prepared to throw another 180k at the room tuning and electronics. Gorgeous stuff but beyond my means by a looooooong shot. We can dream can't we?

Scott Wilkinson's picture
That's exactly what this blog is all about! Thanks for posting your own experience with Nolas; I hope it encourages others to post their experiences with products profiled here.
Jarod's picture

This is a first for me hearing about home speakers using an infinite baffle system. My love for audio started when I was really young and I was into car audio. In many car audio sub-woofer installations, alot of installers would use an infinite baffle system for the subs in say a hatchback car or even in a car with a trunk and using infinite baffle subs to fire into the cabin and use the trunk as the box. These Nolas sure are beautifull!

Timian's picture

I've never had the pleasure of hearing the Grand Reference system in person, but I have had several really *outstanding* experiences with Nola/Alon speakers over the years, and that makes me optimistic.

As I understand it, the subwoofer towers are essentially four Thunderbolt subwoofers stacked atop each other. And since I myself have enjoyed owning two Thunderbolt Mk IIs for several years now, I can only guess at how awesome having the equivalent of eight of them might be.

I spent nearly a year auditioning probably a dozen different subwoofers before deciding on the Thunderbolts, including subs from most of the big name companies. I was thisclose to buying a pair of subs from Genelec (whose products really are tremendous), when I heard the Nolas. Suddenly my choice was made simple: the Thunderbolts are extraordinarily agile and have very, very little personality of their own -- and all this at under 2k.

I find it remarkable that this level of performance is available at their price point, and without any of the whiz bang technology (I'm tempted to say gimmickery, but there has been plenty of progress made, so I guess that would be unfair) that has come to dominate the segment.

I also think no one in the business mates ribbons with cone drivers halfway as well as Marchisotto, so I'm betting the upper registers on the Grand Reference are no slouch, either.

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