Product Review - Neosonik Z3 Floor-Standing Speakers - March, 2001
(Note: This product is no longer available.)
John E. Johnson, Jr.
Neosonik Z3 Floor-Standing Speakers
2 1/2 Way Ported System, Crossover Point 2 kHz
One 1" Silk Dome Tweeter, One 6" Mid/Bass Driver, One 6" Woofer
MFR: 32 Hz - 20 kHz ± 2 dB
Sensitivity: 89 dB
Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms
Size: 44" H x 11" W x 14" D
Weight: 74 Pounds Each
MSRP: $3,800/Pair Gloss Black, $4,200/Pair Gloss Rosewood
Do you remember a few years ago when so many speakers were made with black vinyl-covered enclosures? Then, everyone got sick of them, and woodgrain vinyl made an appearance. At first, they looked fake, but after a year or so, they started looking pretty good. Lately, real wood veneers have started coming back, and even black is in fashion again, but it is a gloss black laminate.
When I first saw Neosonik speakers at the CES a couple of years ago, what struck me immediately was their shocking good looks. They seemed more like a work of furniture art than audio equipment. The young fellow attending the listening room was the artist who was responsible for their beauty. The black was as glossy as I had ever seen, and the rosewood almost looked liquid. Later, when I had a pair delivered to the lab for testing, the cabinet maker explained to me that the enclosures have a piano finish on them. Not a plastic laminate (veneer), but an actual set of three black paint coats, followed by three clear coats. Each coat hand finished with buffing. No sharp edges anywhere. After listening to them originally at the CES, I had assumed these speakers were in the $10,000/pair range. My jaw dropped when I was told they were just shy of $4,000 the pair.
Neosonik's drivers are all custom made, using neodymium magnets and Carbon/Kevlar cones. This is supposed to produce a more concentrated magnetic field than standard ferrite magnets. The cone material is stiff, yet does not ring, and has very low harmonic distortion. The tweeter uses doped silk. The enclosures are made from medite, which is denser than MDF. They are trapezoidal in shape, helping to reduce internal standing waves.
The crossover design is rather unique. The tweeter and mid/bass drivers are governed by a two-way network, and the bass driver is crossed over at 100 Hz. But the mid/bass driver does not have a filter at its low end. It rolls off by itself. The parts include polypropylene film capacitors, air-core inductors, silver/copper wire with Teflon dielectric, and silver solder. Gold-plated binding posts are on the bottom-rear, just below the two ports. The grilles are round, with tiny magnets that hold them by attachment to the magnetic screws of the drivers. This exposes the maximum amount of that piano finish. Spousal approval is just about guaranteed with these speakers.
All of this sounds very expensive to manufacture. I wondered about how the heck they can sell these for $3,800/pair. Well, Neosonik seems to be a limited distribution manufacturer, with the cabinet makers sharing in the revenues. They don't have a warehouse full of inventory. They make just a few at a time, and deliver them right away (the "Just in Time" principle that has made some computer companies famous). Sound like an unusual way to do business? What it sounds like to me is a smart way to do business.
Since these speakers are 4 Ohms nominal, and modest sensitivity, it is important to use them with a fine amplifier. They are not really for a mass market receiver, unless you have a good outboard power amplifier. However, Neosonik told me that they tested the Z3s with a small receiver, and didn't have any problems.
I auditioned the Z3s with an Audio Alchemy CD transport, Perpetual Technologies DAC, Balanced Audio Technology VK-5i preamplifier, and Balanced Audio Technology VK-75SE power amplifier. Cables were Nordost throughout.
There were two things about the sound of the Z3s that I noticed right away. One was that I did not have to sit directly in front of the speakers to hear everything. In other words, the sweet spot was very wide. This is very important when having a pair of speakers in the living room for family listening. My wife and I both like to listen to music in the evening, mostly classical, but some popular as well. With my reference speakers, the venerable Monitor Audio Studio 20SEs, we have to make a compromise in the positioning, because their sweet spot is narrow. But, with the Neosoniks, I could sit well to the side and hear all the detail. I think the reason for this is the way the tweeter is mounted.
In the photo above, you can see that the tweeter dome (black) is in the center of a slightly concave (gray) dish. This dish allows for dispersion of the high frequencies (crossover is 2 kHz) throughout the room at a wide angle. Most speaker designs try to limit dispersion, as the sound waves interact to cause diffraction. What is the price for wide dispersion? I would have thought that detail might suffer, but that was not the case. It seems that planned dispersion includes careful design of how it is dispersed. I imagine the shape of the tweeter dish is the result of lots of computer simulations.
The second thing I noticed about these speakers was an extremely full bodied midrange. Since the midrange is where our ears are most sensitive, you would think that every speaker designer would make this area forward. Well, lots and lots of speakers have a recessed midrange, probably because the mids can become congested with harmonics if the drivers are not absolutely top notch. Also, manufacturers assume that we will listen to loud music from time to time, and so, if the mids are recessed a bit, this will limit distortion. They are just being conservative I suppose. But the Z3s are not that way at all. Voices are right in your lap. And, my four main areas of concern - boominess, chestiness, nasality, and sibilance - were near perfect with the Z3s. This indicates low harmonic distortion and good crossover design. It also means a sound that is natural. A sound that keeps you in the room.
For the first time in a long while, I was perfectly comfortable playing speakers (the Z3s) without a subwoofer. Normally, I like to have a small Sunfire or small Velodyne behind the couch, taking up the slack in the 20 Hz - 40 Hz range. But, that extra 6" driver dedicated to 100 Hz and below seemed to do the job to my satisfaction.
Frankly, I am very surprised that the Neosonik line has not been reviewed before. They are really good! On the other hand, it is one of hundreds of speaker manufacturers out there. The Z3s would make excellent home theater speakers, because of that wide dispersion. Maybe you like to sit in a tiny sweet spot all the time, but in my home theater, the whole family is there, and the coffee table occupies what might be the sweet spot for many speakers. I am sitting to the left of the screen in my Lazy Boy chair, and my wife is sitting at one end of the couch.
Neosonik also makes the Z1 and Z2 bookshelf models, as well as the Z Center.
The real world is an imperfect place, and it is great to see a manufacturer taking that into consideration. I have always been a fan of mavericks, and Neosonik is one of them.
- John E. Johnson, Jr. -
© Copyright 2001 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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