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Product Review - NEAR 15M, 10MII, & JIB Loudspeakers - December, 1997

By Karl Suager

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near1015jib.jpg (6246 bytes) N.E.A.R 15M

One 1" Metal Dome Tweeter

One 6 1/2" Mid-range Driver

Rated FR: 42 Hz - 21 kHz (± 2 dB)

Sensitivity: 88 dB/w/m (8 Ohms)

Size: 5 ¼" H x 9 1/2"W x 12 ½" D

Weight: 24 pounds each

$799/pair (Black Ash)

N.E.A.R 10M-II

One 1" Metal Dome Tweeter

One 5 1/2" Mid-range Driver

Rated FR: 48 Hz - 21 kHz (± 2 dB)

Sensitivity: 88 dB/w/m (4 Ohms)

Size: 11 ¼" H x 7 1/4"W x 9 ½" D

Weight: 14 pounds each

$450/pair (Black Ash)

N.E.A.R JIB Center Channel

One 1" Metal Dome Tweeter

Two 5 1/2" Mid-range Driver

Rated FR: 42 Hz - 21 kHz (± 2 dB)

Sensitivity: 88 dB/w/m (4 Ohms)

Size:  7 ¼" H x 22"W x 10 ½" D

Weight: 36 pounds

$799 each (Black Ash)

 

New England Audio Resources, 12 Foss Rd, Lewiston, Maine 04240 USA; Phone 207-795-0609; Fax Fax 207-795-0613; Web http://www.nearspeakers.com; E-Mail near@maine.com.

If decadence is a sin, these speakers will end up in Hades. Did I give away too much too early?

NEAR, an acronym for New England Audio Resource, makes loudspeakers based on metal drivers. Metal diaphragms possess extreme stiffness, but if not well damped, can ring (like a bell) with very irritating resonance, sometimes generating substantial response peaks. The five NEAR visitors to enter my abode all wear metal in their façade. The JIB (as in the sailboat part) center channel speaker, as well as the 10M satellite speakers, and the 15M bookshelf speakers, use metal cone woofers coated with a ceramic damping material (aluminum oxide), in addition to an inverted metal dome tweeter, all spliced together with crossovers which end up with third order slopes after response tailoring. Before this paragraph gains a serious lame factor, let’s just get to the meat of it.

The quickest way to get to the bottom is to start there. The biggest bottom of this squat bunch belongs to the 15M “bookshelf” speakers. You’re going to need large shelves for these honeys. Aside from physically formidable dimensions (not huge, but considerable), they utilize a rear port which requires a bit of distance from the rear walls, at least 6 inches or so, to avoid changing the tuning of the cabinet. Although I’ve already considered shelves for acoustical reasons, all of my literature resides stacked on the floor in various corners as well as under my coffee table, which more often than not supports tea and/or hot chocolate. For lack of suitable shelves, I took a trip to the table saw with some glue and screws and whipped out some stands. Ah, the pride of a DIY project!  Take comfort in knowing that the NEARs work well without a cozy bookshelf, but that can wait.

We’re responsible adults who can abstain from fondling bottoms for awhile, right? Right? It’s my trip and I want to get tangential. For the moment, let us veer off into the construction of the 15 Ms. Pretty much an artful display of brute force. They’re black boxes made out of MDF. All the drivers mounted flush to the baffle surface (to avoid diffraction anomalies.) No gimmicks, no flashy curves. If it weren’t for the gleaming Cyclops eyes (tweeters for the metaphorically challenged), they’d be downright puritan. After removing the woofers and peeking inside, I must amend. They’re absolutely Teutonic!

Besides a 1” thick baffle and side walls, a shelf brace in the middle, and a clump of crossover components with carefully placed inductors (reducing magnetic flux interference between themselves), I found what appeared to be car-audio power amps. Printed on the side of these massive heat sinks, “Tekna Sonic.” “Oh, yeah, I remember them. They make those doohickeys that do that thing they do, that thing, you know, that makes speakers way better?” Vibration control devices some call them. Essentially, while a cabinet may possess its own internal damping, bracing mostly spreads out the resonance of the cabinet into higher frequencies. These devices supposedly absorb cabinet vibrations and turn that energy into heat instead of radiating it into the room. I’ve heard of people putting them on their speakers, but I’ve never seen them inside a speaker before. I can only conclude that the doohickeys work because the 15Ms wear some of the most inert cabinets I’ve applied knuckles to.

I wondered if NEAR tried to pull a fast one with the review sample, so I called them on it. Lee Lareau, the helpful veck who answered my other general questions, said that after listening tests and verification by accelerometer measurements of cabinet vibration, they decided to include the vibration absorbers with some of their speakers. To the best of his knowledge, and mine, NEAR is unique in this practice. Enough dawdling, let’s get on to fondling bottoms!

The 8008BB, an amplifier known for its own nice bottom, played conductor for the majority of the performance, and the 15Ms didn’t drop any balls.  Or, rather, they dropped them quite well. Not to say that the earth itself will shudder with the impact of a giant squeezed into a moderately sized package, but they can pull the scalp off of a head of thunder. While bumping to an electric bass solo of Brian Bromberg, they caught a fair share of the lower octaves. Transient response wasn’t superb in the nether regions, but neither did the speakers impart a muddy, bosomy, or otherwise gaudy character. In fact, it came across as a mild warmness complementing much of the lower mid-range. Vocals generally maintained a somewhat rich character without bloating like an Elvis impersonator. The upper mid-range, compared to an all out exuberant yet unfatiguing treble, lays back slightly, but doesn’t hide in the shadows to forsake attention. You can see the room response in the first review we did of these speakers by clicking here.

Judging by the tone of their voice, they do love attention. Like bubbling cherubs, beaming with their one good eye, they sing, “Listen! Listen! Listen!” I have listened, and I pronounce them good. They are not evil, no matter what your conscience might tell you. They are pleasant storytellers, without foul temper, but possessing enough bite to give life to many a musical passage. The black boxes unfurled an even soundstage with a spacious, open presence, much like a large juicy meal laid out on a picnic table. The level of raw detail approached or equaled the M&Ks, and came close to the Infinitys in direct A/B comparisons.  The more substantial sonic differences mostly a matter of taste and character.  Both the M&Ks and Infinitys held a more neutral tonal stance, remaining relatively aloof from the music (here it is whether you like it or not), but the NEARs plunged in, determined to make that 110% soap commercial.

In the Home Theater setting, the whole group definitely holds its own. The 10Ms and the JIB are giving me dirty looks. Too bad. I'm not going to fall into a redundant description solely for their sake.  Well, just a bit.  It won’t surprise many that they sound like the 15Ms. Funny, perhaps, but that’s a major requirement for a theater application. The forward nature of the M&Ks, by comparison, did provide more benefit to low-level dialogue intelligibility. But, at normal levels with channels properly balanced, the whole scheme filled out well. I rented "Cut Throat Island", and the NEARs kept me entertained enough to withstand at least half of that horrible, horrible movie before admitting that I wasted $3.50. It was a horrible, horrible, horrible movie. I can’t believe they made it. "Swingers" didn’t give the NEARs much show-off material either, but they did their duty well. "Men In Black" I liked. Dynamics won't be a problem except for the future hearing impaired.  Both the 10Ms and the JIB also give up the bass extension of their little fireplug cousins. The 10Ms don’t include Tekna Sonic doohickeys, but their smaller boxes offer less radiating potential which minimizes the need, and are solid to begin with. The 10Ms did get a little more playfully aggressive in the upper range, but not much. The JIB wasn’t an absolutely identical speaker to either of them, but the acoustic effects of a television will swamp the small sonic differences between the JIB and either the 10Ms or the 15Ms, and, if you’re using a projector which doesn’t require shielding, just match it with an identical speaker anyway!

Whether or not they fit your needs, only you can decide. Things to consider -

They are moderately efficient. At 88 dB/w/m, I’d recommend at least an honest 80 watts into eight Ohms, preferably more (watts). It depends on how loud you like it, and the power supply behind the spec. The impedance is relatively sane but not a cakewalk (the 10Ms are rated at 4 Ohms, but are more like 6 Ohms). The Denon AVR-3200  used at the time didn’t pull any disasters. The Myryad MI-120 pulled out warm and sweet without sucking, but the 8008BB lit them off like a firecracker.

Even though a sub would be nice, the 15Ms can do without one (but NEAR makes one if you're interested). The 10Ms can rock almost as hard when required, but I’d really suggest supplementing the foundation with something decent.

They’re not going to win any aesthetic awards for appearance. They ain’t ugly, but neither would I call them “chick magnets.” All of you guys who went out and bought a Suzuki GSX-R750 solely to cruise at 25 m.p.h. wearing a tank top and sunglasses need not apply.

Conclusion: Even if you aren't looking for new speakers, if you've got the time and transportation, go pay homage at the closest temple of NEAR. If,
for some reason or another, you are looking for new speakers, go give these some serious flirting. You might just get lucky.

Components used for this evaluation (Translated to Car Audio Talk, "My current system consists of . . .?")

Myryad MC-100 CD Player
Myryad MI-120 Integrated Amplifier
JVC XLZ-1050 CD Player
Denon AVR-3200 Receiver
Aragon 80088BB amplifier
Passive attenuator (50kOhm Nobel pot)
M&K S-85 satellite speakers
Infinity Renaissance 90 floorstanding speakers.
Bybee/Curl power purifier prototypes
Bybee Technologies shielded power cords
API Power Pack V line conditioner
DH Labs Silver Sonic interconnects
Three parallel runs of DH Labs Silver Sonic 14 awg speaker wire w/Apature banana connectors

Karl Suager


© Copyright 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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