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Amped up. In an attempt to shed more light onto what factors might determine ideal Nenuphar mates, I ran a few FirstWatt amps through their paces. Because the SIT-1 had made such potent magic, they remained set up as baseline comparators. Hard specs for them are 10/8w into 8/4Ω power, zero negative feedback and a tube SET's typical 4Ω output impedance for a damping factor of 2/8Ω. First alternate was the SIT-3 stereo. Its hard specs are 18/30wpc into 8/4Ω power, no feedback and a 0.25Ω output impedance for a damping factor of 30/8Ω. This became very comparable performance though not identical. The stereo amp was somewhat darker, a bit drier or more robust and with it, slightly earthier. The monos were airier, more light-filled/sky-bound and with it, cast the even stronger relief and stage float. This of course was entirely academic when the discontinued SIT-1 had become unobtainium whilst in August 2018 the SIT-3 was current, willing and available. For these purposes the SIT-3 should be thought of as virtual stand-in and direct SIT-1 successor with a special bonus: being priced 60% lower! Its voltage gain into this load was lower, too. That gave me well more than 10 extra clicks on the volume; practical for those with very hi-gain sources. Whether higher damping factor, higher power or lower 2nd-order THD accounted for the SIT-3's subtly drier reading was immaterial. Both amps operated smack in the heartland of Nenuphar's ideal performance.
Next up was the F7 with hard specs of 20/30w into 8/4Ω power, negative/positive feedback and output impedance of 0.08Ω for a damping factor of 100/8Ω. Would anything about the sound telegraph that the latter already fell outside Nenuphar's ideal window? Or did one need output impedance figures with at least two zeros behind the comma like the Kinki/LinnenberG brigade before things compressed unacceptably? With the F7, bass was less massive and buoyant and the overall gestalt decidedly more dry, rigid and staid. Without impacting any of the panoramic soundstage mapping or set-back depth perspective, the musical feel was less elastic, free and gushing. Now vocals even as cultured and in control as Luciano Pavarotti's exhibited mild sibilance. I did suspect that the DF=100 was responsible for devolving certain aspects of Nenuphar from the extraordinary to the more common. The finalist was the F5 with hard specs of 25/40wpc into 8/4Ω power, negative feedback and output impedance of 0.1Ω for a damping factor of 80/8Ω. Though very similar to the F7 on paper, its THD behaviour is more pentode than triode. The bass-shy far brighter fully balanced very powerful class AB Liszt monos too were of that persuasion. Should that have predicted at least echoes of their considerably sharper, pricklier more incisive behaviour? Not! The F5's more lit-up high frequencies and general brilliance very unexpectedly compensated for the F7's tighter more restrictive demeanour by injecting more air and inside-out illumination without stifling the bass and tilting up dynamics in the bandwidth's upper half like the Liszt and to a slightly lesser extent the Kinki had done. As a result, my progression of most to least favourite Nenuphar candidate was SIT-1, SIT-3, F5, F7, XA-30.8, EX-M1, Liszt; with a line break after the first two to signify a delta.
Far from exhaustive, this list does suggest a few things. 1/ 10 watts are well sufficient to rock down the casbah. Or as Grzegorz Rulka and this photo would remind us, "at HiFiDeluxe 2018 we used a 3wpc Tektron 2A3 SET which really was sufficient. We even tried a 45 replacement with half that power but preferred the 2A3 sound with our setup. But the 45 didn't lack for output." 2/ single-ended 300B-type output impedance seems ideal. 'Text-book perfect' figures of 0.0003Ω as some class D proposes actually castrate this speaker. 3/ mild 3rd-order pentode flavour is perfectly copasetic as long as #2 is obeyed. 4/ zero negative feedback can pay dividends with this observant a loudspeaker. This becomes a basic road map for any prospective Nenuphar owners. For today's review, it leaves as the final action item a bullet-point breakdown on how Nenuphar differed from and/or improved over our Audio Physic Codex. Because at least in my book, if you pay more, you should get more.
• Bass. Codex went marginally lower and had the tauter more damped grip. For drum machines which are common with techno and ambient, Codex cracked harder where Nenuphar played it more rotund and elastic. Think of the essential difference as that between an acoustic plucked upright versus a slapped/popped e-bass. To get that violent snarling e-bass crack from widebanders requires active bass à la Rethm and Voxativ.
• Treble. For 50+ ear years, Nenuphar's extension was perfectly on par but certain Platinum-tinged tail ends on metallic strikes for example were MIA. In the lower treble however, Nenuphar was more energetic and dynamic to give things like cymbal stick work greater visibility whilst struck triangles had fierier rises.
• Midband. As the lion's share of the music, this region overlaps with a speaker's general gestalt or character. Here Nenuphar had decidedly more gush, out-of-box freedom and the greater absence of mechanical reminders. The suspension of disbelief—music as a force of nature like a breeze dancing inside a room with the windows closed—was higher.
• Soundstaging. Nenuphar's literal point-source dispersion staged wider, taller and deeper with more accurate mapping and location specificity.
• Resolution. Nenuphar's ability to resolve musical plankton at the micro detail level and keep it discretely separated out was noticeably higher.
• Timing. Nenuphar's transient fidelity was better, giving percussive accents steeper rises to poke out more cleanly and visibly from surrounding legato thicket or the drone of standing chords.
• Dynamics. At our levels, Nenuphar's dynamics were superior to scale up bigger. More importantly, the microdynamic flickers of artistic emphasis inside a melodic cadence were more developed. At SPL beyond our consumption, I'd suspect Codex to move ahead because the dynamic load then gets segregated across multiple cones. For our use which considers 90dB peaks at the ear very loud hence rarely invoked, this was purely theoretical.
• Whisper levels. In keeping with a typical widebander strength where ultra-potent motors transfer the tiniest voltage flickers into appreciable sonic equivalents, Nenuphar came on song sooner to make for amazing late-night 'zoning'. If it happened during earlier hours, you'd call it daydreaming.
The upshot of it all was that this Polish widebander made for the more immediate quasi hardwired musical connection which floated the bigger freer more compelling illusion. In moments of the appropriate personal receptivity, this could approach seeming like a mood-altering drug injected straight into a vein. But there was a flip side. More robotic industrial music felt better served by the more contained/restrained metronomic control and damping of Codex. Now programmatic style and speaker gestalt overlapped. They pulled in the same direction. The most potent 'aha' moments for Nenuphar occurred with moody acoustic fare; with organic ambient where real instruments are subtly augmented by synth atmosphere; and with classical music of any persuasion including movie soundtracks. Perhaps somewhere in there lies cause for the assumption that widebanders are for old geezers only who no longer listen to any hard-edged stuff. That has a kernel of truth; not that one must be old to fancy that other kind of music; or that widebanders won't do Techno. They do. They just present it differently than most of its fans expect.
Pharout. Across six pages, Nenuphar inspired a meandering journey. That included a detour into less copasetic amplifier mates which caused the speaker to perform less special or outright skewed. Though the 93dB spec should suggest more of a soundkaos than 100dB Rethm/Voxativ personality profile, Nenuphar belonged squarely into the latter class but introduced to it a unique 10" platform. Zu have their own but belong to a different class/type. With membership in the 100dB club comes clear preference for high-impedance amps. In parallel, there could be a small bias towards zero negative feedback amps. Unlike Rethm and Voxativ who have embraced active woofers to augment the LF performance of their best widebanders, Cube Audio's best hits very similar bandwidth without. Where competitors finally gave up on the mad dream of what modern music demands of a single driver to call it complete, our Polish designers stubbornly persevered. Theirs isn't a me-too clone based on dismantling another's unit, then doing it for less in Eastern Europe. It's a rethink on what a 21st-century full-range driver can be. It incorporates clever engineering not seen elsewhere. And it works. Beautifully. Demonstrably. Addictively. It's not a small speaker but makes up for it by being unfussy about positioning. Close to the wall is allowed. Its geometry is a basic box of considerable depth but the lacquer finishing is first rate and even extends to the driver baskets.
The cult movie Highlander introduced the notion of a late-time Quickening. Then there could only be one immortal man (don't ask). In our niche or perhaps cult genre of the unassisted widebander sans tweeter/woofer helpers, Nenuphar is that one at the end when all other contenders to the throne have been decapitated. That's from the movie again where film royalty Sean Connery lost his head. Musically, it's about the Quickening where higher speed and resolution improve our perception because we actually hear more. But it goes beyond that. Hearing more could end in sensory overload like going nowhere fast. What would be the point? Nenuphar's way of presenting more serves our psychic connection to the sonic mood that's encapsulated in a given track. It's not just about raw sounds and placing them assiduously inside a vast three-dimensionally levitating panorama. Yes, these true point sources do just that. It's not only about purity, directness and freedom from compression. They do that, too. In the end, during the time of the Quickening—which in this instance could be anytime you choose as long as you're properly attuned—it's about the sounds talking to us whilst slipping past the mind with its judgments, beliefs, comparisons, worries and constant thinking. Like Connery, we too lose our head. Now the sounds can take us to elsewhere and with it, change our state. And for mere mechanical appliances doubling as pieces of audio furniture, that borders on the magical; not magical thinking but magical feeling. And that's far out: Nenuphar out.
Our very rare lunar eclipse conjunction—when all six moons align just so—signals a few things. 1/ Nenuphar and its F10neo driver far eclipse the Bliss C model I awarded last year. Where to go from a Blue Moon award? 2/ It marks a bona fide furtherance of the art in the glacially moving micro sector of widebanders without auxiliary drivers. 3/ It acknowledges significant R&D and engineering equity which Cube Audio invested without any guarantee of widespread success when this sector is seriously beleaguered by misconceptions, strong bias and obviously flawed lesser examples. 4/ The rarity of our conjunction (the last one happened in 2015 with Vinnie Rossi's Lio) properly reflects the rarity of the actual experience which Nenuphar engendered. It was a personal highlight in going on two decades of reviewing here and elsewhere. Congratulations to Grzegorz Rulka and Marek Kostrzynski for creating a true breakout product.
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