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Product Review - NEAR - 15M; Bookshelf Speakers - April, 1996

By John E. Johnson, Jr.

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NEAR 15M

NEAR - 15M; Bookshelf speakers; One 1.1" titanium inverted dome tweeter; One 6 1/2" aluminum ceramic coated (aluminum oxide) cone woofer; Frequency response 42 Hz - 21 kHz + or - 2 dB; Sensitivity 88 dB/w/m; Power handling 200 watts; Nominal impedance 8 Ohms; Size 15"H x 9 1/2"W x 12 1/2"D; Weight 21 pounds each; $799/pair - black vinyl finish; New England Audio Resource, 12 Foss Road, Lewiston, Maine 04240; Phone 207-795-0609; Fax 207-795-0613.

New England Audio Resource, or N.E.A.R. (nice acronym), has been in business since 1988. That is not a very long time, but the upside is that they don't have any old design mindsets or dogmas to get stuck in. Their products utilize Metal Diaphragm Technology (MDT - tm), which simply means, metal cones. These cones are very rigid and have low mass, with the idea being that sound will be transmitted quickly and thoroughly, having low energy storage in the cone itself. This results in a lower "Q", which is the ratio of energy storage to energy dissipation, or reactance to resistance, at the resonance frequency. A low Q means that energy is dampened quickly because there is less energy to be dissipated. The drawback of metal cones is that they are like bells. They ring. Aluminum cones, such as in the 15M, usually have about three frequencies at which they will ring when vibrational energy is applied (the music). If the cone is made from an aluminum-magnesium alloy, this will reduce the number of ringing frequencies to one. However, this alloy is extremely difficult to work with, developing cracks as the cone is formed. Thus, many of the alloy cones are thrown away, making speakers with such cones very, very expensive. With the aluminum cone, the price is within reach of everyone. But the ringing . . . what to do about the ringing? Well, much of the technology here is proprietary, but there are several obvious ways to mitigate the problem. One is to have the crossover frequency of a driver below the ringing frequencies of that driver. Another way is to use a notch filter (this absorbs the signal at the ringing frequency, allowing signals above and below the ringing frequency to pass). This will help, but because the ringing can still be induced by sound emitted from the other driver(s), it does not completely eliminate it. So, one lives with the ringing, reduced by careful design, but not totally absent.

The enclosure is MDF, covered with generic black vinyl. There is a 2" port on the rear, along with one pair of 5 way binding posts. The crossover network is third order at 2.7 kHz.

We tested the 15Ms with the McCormack SST-1 Drive and DAC-1, Yamaha 630 preamp, and Carver Silver 9t Monoblock power amps. Cables were all Nordost Red Dawn. The speakers were placed about 8 feet apart, on stands, toed in at about 20 degrees. Listening was done at about 20 watts/ch.

All lab members who listened to the 15Ms felt they were spectacular! The sound stage was about twice the physical separation of the speakers (we test this by having the listener sit with eyes closed and point with both hands at the left/right extremes of the sound stage). Of course, the room has something to do with this, but not all of the speakers we test have this wide a sound stage, so it also has a great deal to do with the design of the speakers. The entire spectrum of frequencies was very fast, very detailed, and very clean. Female voices were natural (no chestiness, which as you may know by now, is a factor that I personally find extremely irritating when it is present). The bass was nice and tight. The tweeter is an inverted dome, which, along with the aluminum woofer, is made by NEAR in their factory. When you think about it, an inverted dome is quite logical, because the air is being pushed by a cup, just like the woofer (actually, the NEAR tweeter is more saucer shaped). The high frequencies were clean, and not "tizzy" as they are with some titanium tweeters.

Dukas' "La Peri" is a magnificent piece for listening to brass instruments. If there was significant ringing in the 15Ms, this music would have brought it out. However, there was no audible ringing (to my ears). I don't know how NEAR accomplished this, and I really don't care. These speakers are wonderful! The 15Ms also performed well with pop music; again, female voices were without that chesty sound that would otherwise make you infer that the singer has been smoking three packs a day for twenty years. We could crank the 15Ms up quite loud, without any noticeable harshness. However, for the sake of your ears, don't do that on a continual basis.

The frequency response test results are as follows:

Near Field (1 meter, left speaker only, 1 kHz set at approximately 80 dB):

Frequency: 31.5 Hz 40 Hz 50 Hz 63 Hz 80 Hz 100 Hz 125 Hz 160 Hz 200 Hz
dB: 67.6 67.1 61.2 70.3 69.0 79.0 65.0 75.6 79.5
Frequency: 500 Hz 1 kHz 2.5 kHz 5 kHz 8 kHz 10 kHz 12.5 kHz 15 kHz 18 kHz
dB: 66.8 79.0 68.5 71.8 71.9 75.5 73.2 74.5 73.1

Far Field (12 feet, left speaker only, 1 kHz set at approximately 80 dB):

Frequency: 31.5 Hz 40 Hz 50 Hz 63 Hz 80 Hz 100 Hz 125 Hz 160 Hz 200 Hz
dB: 83.5 75.6 63.4 77.5 82.9 83.3 73.3 82.0 82.1
Frequency: 500 Hz 1 kHz 2.5 kHz 5 kHz 8 kHz 10 kHz 12.5 kHz 15 kHz 18 kHz
dB: 69.8 78.2 67.2 77.5 78.6 80.7 76.8 74.4 74.2

In summary, the NEAR 15MS are very fine speakers. At $799/pair, they are a steal. A set of four, along with a center channel speaker (or not, if you prefer phantom mode), and a subwoofer, would make a dynamite home theater package. But, one pair is just fine for outrageous stereo. Highly recommended.

John E. Johnson, Jr.
Editor-in-Chief

Reference: http://rsphysse.anu.edu.au/~bill/dipole.html


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