Striking gold like those shiny phase plugs meant changing naught else. Cabling and front end remained as per usual for the most current iteration of downstairs: Allnic ZL 3000 loom with iMac/PureMusic, Soundaware D300Ref USB bridge feeding Aqua Hifi Formula DAC AES/EBU, Wyred4Sound STP-SE II preamp. Now the sonic flavour/gestalt had resurrected the system of a Swiss friend who, last I saw him before relocating to Eire, had run a Berning amp modified by Serge Schmidlin of Audio Consulting into Voxativ's 9.87 Pi system. His setup's very special qualities now played a few international borders across. These attributes included positively enormous soundstaging and lucid mode at max for incredible micro resolution. This ignited the spark of life or frisson to prompt easy emotional reactions. Most salient, it triggered a strong sensation of music waxing and waning like a breathing organism. It obliterated sensory remnants of physical boxes and mechanical devices. Music hung suspended like a pulsing bubble. Well-recorded soundscapes filled with Nordic moodiness like ECM's Jan Garbarek or Anja Lechner overlaid our Irish reality for virtual teleportation to elsewhere. This wasn't merely about crystalline sounds, their precise locations and interactions for a grand visual spectacle. Those things were just in the service of creating specific moods. Audio discourse often talks of the best hifis like time machines. They relocate us to a particular time and space. Conceptually this held true for Nenuphar but still missed the point. The actual experience wasn't so much translocating to another physical locale to be present during the fêted original event as that "I'm there" aha. The actual experience behaved more like a mood-altering chemical. It switched my psychic state to a different frequency. I felt emotionally dislocated. Though it could seem pure semantics, that was more than and different from just another time and space. For myself and Ivette who accompanied me for hours through the first very memorable downstairs session, Nenuphar acted like a benign psychotropic drug. It seriously put us into the zone. And it wasn't just one zone. Each track expressed its own climate to cause a corresponding very distinctive mood.

This was even useful rather than just juju that evening when Ivette was seeking musical atmospherics to accompany a thematic set of monochrome layered photo montages she'd worked on for an upcoming gallery exhibition. Her images are built up layer by layer to create specific feelings in the viewer. For that she wanted aural triggers to enhance the transmission which might cause the intended psychic shift. "No, that track is wrong. It's very beautiful but it makes me feel too joyful. It takes me to another place than where I see the image. I'm looking for something more Nordic." Reactions like these were very quick as I sifted through my collection. Aural tour guide like, I kept proposing tracks which might fit her emotional map and the inner journey her picture sequences are meant to engender. Of course looping the final playlist through a small ghetto blaster during the exhibit would reproduce most the raw sounds but not recreate the same psychic dimension. Still, it'd be the effort that counted.

A more prosaic benefit of maxed-out lucid mode was verbal comprehension. During Vicente Amigo's "Requiem", Ivette suddenly translated a section of the Spanish lyrics which had previously eluded her. Now they were as clear to her as day despite the Catalan not Colombian pronunciation she'd learnt during a 3-year stay in South America. It was a perfect aw-shucks moment. Very tellingly, it confirmed how Nenuphar operated at a higher level of resolution, insight and thus connectedness than our usual speakers with their additional drivers and conventional crossovers. This single-driver design smelled as far from garage DIY odour as is possible to get. In fact, it struck me as quite a breakout achievement. Of course Old Cynical in the mental attic needed to be sure that first impressions would be repeatable before any definitive statements could be made. The sheer fact however that nothing sonically intrusive had interfered during that very long first session suggested already that with the right amps—critically important!—none of the typical widebander liabilities factored.

A tableau Ivette composed to Vicente Amigo's "Requiem" track for this review. Her site is

The morning after. Old Cynical was chuffed. The same sonic conditions held. Whether they'd stimulate the same psychic displacement would naturally depend on personal availability and receptivity. One cannot put that burden on soulless machines. Many listeners who chase their zone have a preparatory ritual for how to get out of the mind and into the feeling dimension. Pinning review descriptions solely on the latter is simply of dubious utility. What gets people into the mood is unique to them. So is their zone. All I'll thus add to the above is that after 18 years on the beat, I've rarely felt this triggered and moved. Likewise for my aural companion Ivette. When these things happen, they mark special occasions. When they occur at this magnitude, they're like a lunar eclipse; once in a few years only. Returning to the harsh light of day and the mental dimension which dominates hifi discourse and its terminology, what hard facts characterized the purely sonic conditions which Nenuphar set up again? Let's start with bandwidth. Despite the 18kHz spec, my 1962 ears heard none of the typical treble roll-off effects like reticence, hoodedness, murkiness, darkness or softness. In fact, Nenuphar's lower treble was stronger than Druid's and Codex's. Grzegorz's baby whizzer was plainly doing the business. Whilst Zu's Radian compression tweeter and Audio Physic's 3rd-gen cone unit might have the edge in the high treble, my ears no longer track there.

As such, faint cymbal tickles, faraway high bell strikes, steep violin flageolet, the white noise surrounding a muted trumpet played hard and high and the piercing top register of Ulrich Herkenhoff's smallest pan flute all registered fully as per usual. Only direct contrast against a true 30kHz type tweeter like that of Æquo Audio's Stilla would have shown the most Platinum-tinged tail ends as missing. But in the timbres of instruments with their signature overtone content, those didn't really factor. None exhibited darkness from curtailed harmonics. There was no sense of absentee air and breath either. Tone textures simply didn't carry the gloss or sheen which dedicated top-end tweeters might add. Meanwhile an assortment of ambient fare with synth-generated infrasonics plus certain soundtracks with huge drums demonstrated frankly shocking reach into the low thirties. And they did so with real amplitude, not as mere suggestions. This categorically exceeded the Zu. Yet I couldn't physically see the drivers move. This indicated excellent self damping from a very powerful motor. It explained why despite low-power amps with high output impedance, the bass was properly controlled. It reiterated why copious extra damping on the amp side hit the brakes to enforce premature bass roll-off. Was Nenuphar then that mythical complete single-driver solution which hadn't really been true for prior efforts claiming it? Despite having the Submission sub wired up ready to rumble with the flick of a switch, I wasn't motivated to add it. Though I did just to satisfy curiosity, I soon turned it off again. When I noticed very little difference, it remained off. Grzegorz's ambitious in-room graph wasn't lying.

Rethm's lineup of widebanders progresses from 5.5" to 6.5" to 8" drivers. Which each increase of diameter, the midband grows fuller to move farther away from the nearly über-light ultra twitchy smallest unit. Years ago Jacob confessed to wondering. What might a 10-incher do on that vocal score? Jacob was quick to acknowledge the obvious engineering challenges to not lose treble. But might a 10 eclipse an 8 on vocal magic like his 8 betters his 6.5? Or were eight inches the ideal middle ground for optimal bandwidth in each direction? It's where most widebander units from sundry suppliers seem to agree. Now Nenuphar's 10er hadn't just scaled the treble hurdle whilst adding the desired extra reach in the opposite direction. The additional cone area also demonstrated a most attractive richness in the vocal band. As such, Nenuphar's built-in speed never felt sizzly or haggard like it could a bit in the upstairs experiment.

But can it rock? It's a typical question in this speaker sector. Using plain facts—being able to play loud and low without distress or distortion—answers 'sure' without hesitation. Why would a speaker be biased toward certain music genres? It's a dumb mechanical contraption. It wouldn't know the difference between Bach, Bartok and The Beastie Boys if you scratched their names into these gorgeous smooth lacquers. Just so, there's justifiable reason for the widebanders-can't-rock belief. Imagine going to a Rock concert in a symphony hall. All the gals show up in gowns, the lads in suits and ties. Before the first number and between each following, you could hear a pin drop. Is that Rock's native milieu? Does it remain recognizable without the far higher noise floor and rowdier crowds singing with the tunes, cheering, snapping selfies and more? The band must play louder just to overcome that din. Transplanting Rock into a concert hall spells somewhat antiseptic on a few counts. Hearing it over a widebander of Nenuphar's calibre so pristine, crystalline, pure and maximally resolved applies the symphonic makeover. It plays all the right notes at room-filling loudness but with a certain fish-out-of-water gestalt. Grit, grunge and dirtiness which are part of the experience are scrubbed off. Physical gut punches from amplified big-woofer'd bass which push massive amounts of air are diminished to something tamer and more polite. At least that's my take on this subject. It's why I suspect that such music won't feel quite right to listeners who reference outdoor stadium or big club events. They'd want a different type of speaker like a Heco Direkt Dreiklang, Ubiq Audio Model One or Zu Definition to reproduce their experience. Nenuphar would lack the raw shove/crunch factor. With it, that 20-something vitality inherent to Rock and related genres is toned down and rendered as too civil and sophisticated.