Many years ago when I was a wee little lad, I came across the most interesting looking speaker at a dealer's shop. The speaker was conventional rectangular box, but had an externally mounted midrange and tweeter, housed in what looked like a flat cut-out of a person.
"What are those ?", I asked innocently. The dealer in his usual gruff manner replied, "Alon speakers." I did hear them off and on for the few years that they sat in the shop. Nice speakers.
Fast forward to the present, and Alon is no longer in business. However, Carl Marchisotto, principal and designer of Alon, now designs under a new company - Nola (Alon read backwards).
The Boxer S1 is a 2 way bookshelf speaker that is part of Nola's Boxer Collection. The cabinet measures 15 1/2 inches (H) x 8 inches (W) x 11 1/2 inches (D). Rated impedance is 8 ohms, and frequency response is specified as 44 Hz - 28 kHz. Sensitivity is high at 90 dB.
The 6.5 inch bass driver utilises a laminated pulp cone, while the high frequency unit is a silk dome tweeter. The tweeter face plate incorporates a shallow wave guide and a felt ring to control diffraction. A detachable black cloth grill is supplied.
The S1 is a bass reflex design with a rear firing port. A single pair of high quality binding posts are located on the rear panel of the speaker. It is worth a mention that the terminals are mounted directly through drilled holes in the cabinet, and not large plastic terminal trays used by much of the competition.
Compared to the base model Boxer, the S1 gains Mundorf oil caps in its crossover and internal Nordost mono filament wiring.
The review sample I received was finished in a glossy piano black finish.
The cabinet was not as rigid as I would have liked, with a lively response to the audiophile knuckle rap test. The quality of the supplied grills were also not up to mark with the rest of the cabinetry work. They imparted a veil over the high frequencies and were left unused in the box during the review period.
The S1 is positively setup friendly. An initial placement on my 24 inch Partington Dreadnought Broadside stands about 6 feet apart sounded fine, and a little bit of adjustments in placement and toe-in (about 15 degrees inwards) completed the setup process.
Choosing partnering equipment for the S1 was similarly drama free and I got good results with both my Gryphon Diablo integrated amp and Job 225 power amp. Both amplifiers were fronted by a Antelope Audio Zodiac Platinum. In the case of the Job 225, the Antelope's excellent volume control stage handled preamp duties. I had a slight preference for the Gryphon, and used it for most of the review.
The S1 was tonally on the warmer side of things, with a large and musical presentation.
Bass quality was good with weight and a nice bloom that gives the S1 a scale that belies it's physical size. I did notice on certain tracks though, a slight trace of colouration in the mid-bass. This was not always noticeable and seemed to occur only at certain frequencies. Cabinet resonance at play perhaps ?
Midrange deserves a special mention with the S1 reproducing the midrange with one of the most liquid and buttery smooth presentations I've heard in its price range. It reminded me very much of the tone from a good paper-in-oil capacitor. This gave vocals an anlogue and grain-free presentation although there was some trade-off with microdetail.
Interestingly, the S1's high frequency response was extended, clean and quite prominent. This gave the S1 a "U-shaped" tonal balance. I've heard plenty of smooth performers, usually to the point of boredom (especially if the treble is rolled-off). However, the S1 manages to sound smooth and laidback, while having a certain amount of liveliness, sparkle and air in the upper registers.
In terms of staging, the S1 presents music with a slightly forward perspective, almost like sitting in the fourth or fifth row of seats in a concert hall. Soundstage width is good, but with some truncation in depth and height perspective.
Imaging was also good, albeit not to the superlative degree of the KEF LS50, or the Sony SS-NA5ES which I recently reviewed. Image sizes were slightly larger than normal.
Resolving power was good on the top end of the frequency spectrum, with some loss of microdetail and articulation in the midrange and lower frequencies.
Listening to jazz quartets as an example, the performers sounded "big" with impact from the double bass, low piano notes, and the kick drum. The brass instrument had a warm and laidback glow, while the percussion work on the cymbals rang loud and clear.
Moving to violin solos, the instrument had a fuller tone than usual, with a sweeter tone and less "bite". Similarly, vocalists had a chestier quality, and singing techniques like vibrato did not come through as clearly as they should.
The S1 is a very enjoyable and musical speaker. It may not be the most neutral or detailed speaker around, but it sounded good across a wide genre of music. It made an admirable attempt to communicate the music in an engaging fashion, regardless of the quality of the recording.
If you are looking for a speaker that errs on the warm and forgiving side of things, the S1 will likely please. It is a fuss-free speaker that will just let you sit back, put your feet up, and relax while enjoying your music. It's been a while since I had so much fun.
While I did find the S1's performance compromised in several areas, I found the overall strengths of the S1 to outweigh it's shortcomings.
The Nola Boxer S1 is carried locally by Horizon Acoustics and lists for SGD 3,450 (with stands). The review sample was supplied by Horizon Acoustics and thanks goes to K.M. Poon for making the necessary arrangements.