Reprint from Positive Feedback Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 2
By David W. Robinson, Editor-in-Chief
The Nova USA Rendition Loudspeaker
Email. I get email. Positive Feedback gets email. Lots of it. So much so that it's an effort to stay up with it. The average working day generally requires that I spend 1-2 hours per day online, just to avoid falling behind. Sometimes it's subscribers with questions about reviews or equipment; other times it's one of the PF editorial tribe, submitting an article, making a suggestion for a project, or sending in some item of business.
And every now and then, Positive Feedback is contacted by a designer or manufacturer for a review via email. As I recall, that's what happened in the case of Nova USA back in the fall of 1996. Kevin Lee, a member of Nova's operation in Texas, got in touch with me to see if we were interested in reviewing a speaker, the Rendition, that they were coming out with at CES. I called Kevin for details, which he supplied in the course of a pleasant conversation.
It sounded very interesting: A three-way, five driver array sporting a soft dome tweeter, two midrange speakers, and two woofers. A hefty and beautifully finished cabinet with vented design. Middling sensitivity; a serious price ($18,900/pair). All from a company that I had never heard of...
As usual, I requested a product packet to evaluate whether or not PF should invest the time and effort that a review of speakers - especially larger ones like the Renditions. The sheet that arrived simply confirmed the basic specifications, made it clear that the Renditions were the kid brother of Nova's flagship, the Evolution, and said that they would be released at the CES in January of 1997. The speakers would be available in the early spring.
OK, so I'd bite: I agreed to do the review.
One Side For Monkey Coffins!
The Renditions arrived right on time, as Kevin Lee promised. I've seen a fair amount of packing material in my time, and a few speaker boxes... for what it's worth, I'd have to say that the Nova's arrived in as sturdy a packing container as I've ever seen for a speaker their size. Or as one PF'er put it: "Yow! Monkey coffins!" Each container tips the scale at almost 350 pounds, which makes you bloody glad the wooden carrying handles on either side are sturdy.
Here's a hint for you - at no charge. When the time comes for the unpacking and placement of components as large as the Renditions, cogitate, don't herniate - invite your friends to help! Let 'em earn that beer! PF's Jennifer and Michael Crock helped me do the deed this time... many thanks, amigos. Removal of a multitude of wood screws around the base of the container allowed us to lift the top completely, and remove the speakers from the foam pads on which they lay. Off came their protective plastic wrapper, and into listening room number one they (grunt!) went.
Specifications, Room Characteristics, And System Notes
The Renditions are handsome speakers. The first thing that Jennifer, Michael and I noticed was the quality of the workmanship. Their finish is nicely done rosewood veneer, covering a thick MDF cabinet. When the speaker grills were removed, Jennifer immediately said "Neat! Scanspeak drivers!"
The speaker array consists of two 8" coated subwoofers at the top and bottom, over and under a pair of 7" bass/midrange drivers, which are in turn over and under the 1" soft dome tweeter. The accompanying literature states the mid/bass drivers are carbon-fiber filled composites; the tweeter features "dual rear chamber pressure release" with "rigid machined aluminum front plate." The crossover is acoustically 4th order Linkwitz-Riley. Claimed frequency response is 25Hz - 25kHz (+/- 3 dB); sensitivity is 88 dB/Watt/meter; while the nominal impedance is 4 ohms, with a claimed dip to a minimum impedance of 3.2 ohms. Nova USA recommends a minimum of 100 Watts to drive the Renditions, which fit in very well with the associated gear in listening room one. Binding posts are gold-plated 5-ways, with two pairs for bi-wiring or bi-amping.
Over the years, I have become convinced of the supreme importance of acoustics and the properties of one's listening room. The listening room is more than simply another component; it is the foundation - the bone and muscle - of the music that takes place there. Positive Feedback's listening room number one is a fully dedicated space, 18' x 10' x 9.5'. Left and right side walls are lightly non-parallel, sloping outward toward the listening end of the room; the ceiling is cambered, and rises upward towards the listening position. The floor is five inches of solid concrete, with a thin carpet pad and berber carpet over the top. The walls are "wall within a wall" construction, with offset studs and double insulation. Since this listening room does not share a common inside wall with the rest of the house, it is both quiet and isolated; it is built for listening without being distributed by, or disturbing, others.
Listening room one has 4 fully dedicated 30 amp, and 3 fully dedicated 15 amp circuits. All have been pulled from the same pole of 400 amps of brand new electrical service, and have been tested for proper ground and polarity.
At the time of this review, components in this room included:
Turntable - Linn LP-12 Sondek with Ekos tonearm, Lingo power supply, Cirkus suspension.
Digital- Vimak DT-800 CD player/digital preamp; Panasonic SV-3900 DAT.
Analog tape - Revox B-77 Mk II half track 15 ips/7.5ips; Pioneer RT-707 quarter track
7.5ips/3.75; Nakamichi Dragon cassette deck.
FM receiver - Magnum Dynalab FT-101.
Preamp: Coda Technologies 02B; phono amp is the Coda 03P in balanced output mode.
Amplifier: Coda Technologies System 100 (100 Watts per channel, pure Class A, MOSFET design)
Power conditioner and cables: Tice Signature III Power Block; all power cables, interconnects, and speaker cables by Cardas Audio.
Room and acoustical treatments: ASC Tube Trap/Corner Traps (earlier in the review sessions); RoomTune Corner Tunes and Echo Tunes (later portion of the review, and at present).
System Enhancements and Accessories: Taddeo Digital Antidote II, custom modified by Jennifer Crock; six Shakti Stones and six pairs of Shakti Onlines at the critical points in the signal path; Vibraplane isolation platform under the Linn turntable; Black Diamond Racing "The Shelf," No. 4 cones, and "Those Things" between the turntable and the Vibraplane; Bedini Ultra-Clarifier for CDs; JENA Labs Esoteric Mist for CDs; Torumat CD spray; component racks by RoomTune (older style, soon to be updated) and Target; VPI model 17F LP cleaning machine; Sumiko Flux Buster; isolation platforms by Bright Star and Townshend Audio (early portion of the review; removed for later sessions, and at present).
This proved to be somewhat trickier than expected, for reasons that will be explored in future issues of PF. Listening room one doesn't have quite the lateral space that I would have preferred (four more feet in width would have been welcome, had it been feasible). Nova recommends placing the speakers 3-4 feet from the side walls, and about 8 feet apart; this was clearly impossible in our listening room.
I started with the venerable "rule of thirds," and placed the speakers roughly where my TDL Reference Standards had been, about six feet from the back wall. The Renditions were toed in towards the primary listening position, 7-8 feet away. Soundstaging was bit closed in with that, so we opened up the speakers a bit, gaining some width.
After placing a set of speakers, I usually spend 2-4 days breaking them in. The normal routine is to use Jim Aud's useful Purist Audio Break-in Disc. I have gotten fine results with Jim's product, which has done splendid work in helping us to bring components up to speed rapidly over several years now.
Jennifer, Michael and I couldn't resist, though; we really wanted to hear what the Renditions sounded like. (This requires a bit of gumption, too; many speakers are miserable to listen to without local break-in. I don't know about you, but frankly, lousy sounding speakers discourage the hell out of me.) On went my XRCD(tm) of Everybody Digs Bill Evans; cut 4, "Night and Day."
Yes, children, YES! Within seconds, we all knew that we were listening to one bloody fine recording, through an extraordinary loudspeaker! Not sucked out or lean; not harsh or forward; not veiled or muddy. It was extremely articulate, something that I've rarely heard in a new speaker. (As a matter of fact, I suspected that Kevin Lee's associates at Nova must have put some break-in time on the speaker, a fact that he confirmed shortly thereafter in a telephone conversation with me.) Whatever...it was great! After a few more cuts and further encouraging impressions, I put the Purist Audio disc on, and let the Renditions run for 48 hours; this was followed by two more days of "real music" to complete the break-in process.
My impressions in the weeks after their arrival fall into two phases: the first was up until mid-July; the second phase began on July 12-13, when some fundamental changes were introduced there. (These will be covered in detail in our next issue.)
The Renditions are clearly an extremely articulate speaker. All frequency ranges - bass, midrange, and high frequencies - struck me as rich, full, and properly balanced. The midrange is true, without either a nasal presentation or noticeable coloration. The high frequencies were extended, though I found myself wondering if the listening room wasn't holding things back a bit. PF's Associate Editor Lynn Olson wondered the same thing when he listened to it shortly after it arrived: "Hmmm...I don't know what it is, Dave; something about the tweeter. Hmmm..." There was just a touch of the upper ranges being restrained; more on that momentarily.
The bass? Well, I have to say that the lower ranges were simply stunning. Tight, focused, and powerful bass, with a rare mix of authority and adroitness. ( I should note that I am deeply in love with full range loudspeakers and high-current amplifiers - which should NOT be taken as a rejection of anything else!) Clearly Nova had worked carefully to get deep bass, without resorting the extraordinary mass of their flagship, the Evolution. In my judgement, they accomplished this objective in an impeccable manner.
As the weeks went by, I was more and more impressed with the well-integrated and revealing articulation of the Renditions. Whether they were helping me to appreciate a new batch of Mobile Fidelity CDs, or that latest DCC re-issue vinyl, they let me hear everything as clearly as a typical monitor would, yet with full-range authority and presence. Timbre was rendered tactile; I could hear extraordinarily far into fine recordings, while poor recordings were revealed for what they were. (This is, by the way, my good friend Scott Frankland's key determinant for true reference system: will it let you tell the differences between and among recordings? The Renditions in my system most certainly did - does yours?)
Soundstaging and imaging were excellent, and improved as I continued to work with placing the Renditions. I found that my initial placement was too conservative; I could get closer to the walls in my listening room and somewhat closer to the listening position and improve both depth and width of presentation. Your mileage may vary; remember that this is much easier to do in a fully dedicated and heavily constructed listening room than in a room with multiple purposes or compromised boundaries.
There was no doubt about it in my mind. I have listened to a number of full range speakers over the years; the Nova USA Renditions are clearly world class designs, worthy of very serious consideration by anyone looking for superior music at its price point.
At the risk of committing a high-end review cliché - but, hey, what the hell! - Positive Feedback is purchasing the review set.
As a matter of fact, the Renditions did such a good job of sounding good, that they finally got me to do something that I had been thinking of doing for quite a while: fine-tune my listening room number one to match the quality of the speakers.
View the Rendition Specifications
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