Rockin' performance

The nOrh SM 6.9's inert and standing-wave optimized enclosure makes them vanish as apparent sound sources to an even more pronounced extent than we already expect of compact monitors. That's a bit spooky especially with your eyes open. The soundstage rises far above the speakers and on certain material, way beyond their outer edges. Images not only don't stick to the cabinets, they occur everywhere but on them. This is surely a direct function of extreme and unflinching mass and superior drivers.

Set up in my main room (13' x 19' x 10'), I positioned them with their baffles 7' removed from the front wall to create plenty of breathing room. One thing they don't require is bass reinforcement from close proximity wall placement. (For optimal in-room tonal balance and bass integration, experimentation with stand height and wall distance is mandatory.)

I was rewarded not only with excellent stage depth but wonderfully solid, agile and punchy bass into the high 30s. I inspected the turbine-shaped port with its 1.5" wall thickness, tapered compression effect and the absence of any internal filler or damping material. That seemed to explain this muscular tautness. It rendered thwacks and cracks with utmost precision. No overhang, stuffy reluctance, drag or vagueness.

A slight midrange prominence and excellent low distortion figures combined for a well-paced, robust and locked-in presentation that especially at higher output levels acquired a rather riveting, grab-ya intensity. This was the polar opposite of the ethereally bleached-out and spacey relaxation so beloved by certain audiophiles. You know the sort - a somewhat amorphous focus and endlessly artificial depth, all from a contoured suck-out in the upper midbass and lower midrange.

Much of the 6.9's inspiring performance reminded me of the Platinum Reference 1 of yore. This celebrated but pricey 5.25" two-way monitor was gussied up in a highly polished dual-layer Avonite/Corian chassis that looked for all intents and purposes like natural granite, weighed in accordingly and made quite the statement.

The Reference 1 was endowed with unbelievable bass slam and extension, blistering rise times, incisive transients, a very propulsive and energetic projection, and a ferocious ability to play silly loud without breakup. On these counts, the SM 6.9 signs off with startling likeness.

Where they markedly differ is in the treble. To my ears, the Platinum's titanium dome was a bit hot and in-your-face, with lesser recordings teetering precariously on the edge of stridency. The nOrhs' Vifa ring radiator is, if anything, just a bit recessed in the uppermost reaches and not quite as lightning-quick. Combine this with genre-defying bass extension, the benign midrange prominence and their distinct absence of cabinet echo. A recognizable sonic signature emerges -- superior transients, great clarity and focus, sock'em dynamics and a somewhat meaty image density.

Listening to music over the nOrhs is a near-to fullrange affair that only a few -- and mostly rather more expensive -- two-way monitors can equal. Their punchy and energetic mien produces plenty of excitement, but with less sparkle, shimmer and light than the inherently slightly treble-boosted French Triangles. As we will see, the pace-and-rhythm thang of tight stop'n'go really kicks in with a vengeance here, but for most impressive performance, the nOrhs want to be ever so slightly goosed.

It's not that they don't sound good at subdued levels. But turn the volume up a notch, and all of a sudden things acquire jump factor. Folks whose primary listening occurs at very moderate levels will miss enjoying the nOrhs at the top of their game.

I juiced them with the bridged Bel Canto eVo 200.4 and had a blast. These things love power! My 6wpc Art Audio PX-25 made sounds but didn't wake 'em up. The unbridged eVo at 120wpc was perfect for drive and control but the sonic hyper space in bridged mode really lifted my kilt.


Before we talk music, some practicalities. The 14.5" diameter and 19" deep nOrh SM 6.9 chassis is uncommonly sized. That, and being rear-ported, mandates a minimum distance of 3' from front baffle to front wall. A good-sized hutch or display table of appropriate height and width would serve perfectly not just as structural support but to enhance the speakers' unique life-style/art factor.

The spacing of those stainless steel footers exceeds that of most top plates on regular speaker stands. What's more, the elongated port section of the SM 6.9 creates a center of gravity that's not equidistant between the footers but much closer to the longer rear ones.
Madras Club Console with Marble Top by British Khaki

Careless kids, clumsy visitors with the grace of elephants or energetic pets on permanent adrenaline high could all accidentally bump the stand-mounted SM 6.9s and send their glorious 56 lb. each careening off their pedestals. My wolf dog Seneca is one of those happy-go-lucky and bouncy creatures. While testing the nOrhs in the unreasonably large quarters of my living room where wolves are welcome, I tied the little bulbous footers to the marble tops of my stands with twine - just in case.

I queried Michael Barnes on whether he had considered moving the rear footers backwards a bit. He had. Still, the scarcity of adequately sized top plates with the speakers' current foot print advised against it. My personal recommendation? If a stand is needed, shop an import store for marble or plaster columns. Or, purchase a matching stand from nOrh. One of those ubiquitous metal contraptions that pervade audiodom just won't look right - fine sculpture on top, crass functionality on the bottom.
The binding posts accept spades, bananas or bare wire and are cleverly belly mounted behind the rear footers. Stand-mounted, that portion of the port protrudes. The speaker cable hangs flat behind the upright column for a concealed and clean look. A pair of hexnuts behind the binding posts can be removed to install optional biwire terminals.

(I used my customary Analysis Plus Oval 9 biwire, hence the doubled-up redundancy to the left.)

The synthetic marble is highly polished even on the flat port surface and only rough on the narrow rim surrounding the felt-covered front baffle. There you spot small air inclusions like finely pockmarked Swiss cheese. I didn't find this at all objectionable even though I listened with the grilles off. Others who demand acrylic perfection and return a boutique leather jacket just because it exhibits perfectly natural flaws might feel differently.

When the grills are used, this cross-sectional rim isn't visible. Even aesthetic freaks shouldn't have any complaints. That is, if the nOrhs' unique looks don't tweak their sensibilities out of shape. The SM 6.9 is a very unusual-looking speaker, period. Reactions will be vehement either way. To be clear, my wife and I gave them a big hurray and enthusiastic applause: For their sculptural finesse; for their designer color options; and for what altogether is a long overdue good-riddance from the boring frustration of rectangular coffin staleness. Run circles around that, squareness!