Paul White tries out a pair of West Coast hi‑fi speakers from the USA, and finds that they are much like Californian wines — a hint of presumption with no breeding, but you'll be amused by their impertinence.
Most main studio monitors are designed specifically for just that — studio monitoring, but when it comes to nearfield monitoring, there's less of clear dividing line between hi‑fi speakers and dedicated monitors. Indeed, Yamaha's NS10 is a classic example of a speaker that has actually managed to cross the line: it started life as a hi‑fi speaker, but is now built and marketed as a studio nearfield monitor.
The speakers under review here come from NHT (Now Hear This — it could only be a West Coast company!), a Californian manufacturer. Unported, two‑way units, these speakers are conventional in most respects, although the 10‑litre cabinets are quite distinctive in appearance, with the front baffles angled so that the drivers face inwards towards the listening position. This geometry also helps prevent standing waves inside the speaker cabinet, with the aim of lowering colouration. Because these speakers are designed for the home, they have a rather sophisticated gloss black piano finish, which doesn't look out of place in the studio.
The driver setup comprises a 6.5‑inch polymer‑cone woofer with a soft rubber roll surround, while the top end is handled by a 1‑inch soft‑domed fabric tweeter. A passive 12dB/octave crossover comes in at 3.1kHz, which keeps it clear of the most vulnerable part of the vocal spectrum, and the circuitry contains damping compensation to help keep the drivers under control. The result is a response extending from 55Hz to 25kHz, +/‑ 3dB, but the efficiency is a little low at 86dB, 2.38V at 1 metre. Nevertheless, the speakers are nominally 8Ω, which means that most hi‑fi amps will drive them quite effectively. The maximum power handling is quoted as 150W, but in the nearfield, I felt they were quite loud enough driven from my trusty 75W Yamaha test amp.
Connection to the speakers is via rear‑panel terminals mounted on a recessed plate. These terminals accept banana plugs, but there is no provision for bi‑wiring. A pair of clip‑on speaker grilles is included for domestic users.
The manufacturers obviously don't target the studio market, as the USA warranty excludes any form of commercial use, but in the UK, warranty laws are different. In practice, the speakers turned in quite a good performance as small studio or nearfield monitors. Because these are physically small speakers, they don't have the same 'in your face' bass response as midfield or main monitors; nor do you get the familiar 80Hz thump, as the cabinets aren't ported. On the other hand, when you have a ported design, there's effectively no loading below the cutoff frequency of the port. The 1.3As' lack of porting produces a smoother bass response that extends further down the spectrum, and perhaps more importantly, the air loading on the bass driver cone is maintained down to very low frequencies.
The top end is bright and detailed, and to be honest, I think the voicing is just slightly on the bright side of natural — not at all uncommon for West Coast speakers. Even so, the use of a soft‑domed tweeter has managed to keep the tonality reasonably smooth. The monitors only start to sound really aggressive when you put up a mix that isn't balanced or EQ'd properly.
One really good feature of these speakers is their wide dispersion — you can move well to one side and still get an accurate tonal balance. This is important in the studio, where several people may need to be in a position to comment on the mix at the same time. Hand in hand with the dispersion goes good stereo imaging, and while the 1.3As aren't outstanding in this area, nor do they disappoint.
Priced at near to £400 a pair, the 1.3As face competition from several similarly priced, more established brands. I feel that the price is not unreasonable given the performance, but some users may feel that more bottom end would be useful. In that case, something like the Alesis Monitor Ones (reviewed in SOS January '94) or the KRK K‑ROKs (tested last month) might be better choices. On the other hand, if you're used to NS10s, but want something smoother and more accurate, with a similar overall tonality, then the 1.3As should interest you. Similarly, if you're using the same speakers for the home hi‑fi and for recording/monitoring, these speakers should fit in both sonically and visually. If you're pushed for space, you may be interested to know that the 1.3As measure only 7 inches wide, by 10 inches deep, by 16.5 inches high.
- Smooth, open sound.
- Compact, stylish cabinets.
- Good dispersion.
- Modest bass end performance, especially at low listening levels.
Good performers for their size. The overall tone is smooth and accurate and the bass goes down quite low — there's just not a lot of it!