Return of The thin White Duke…

T&T’s Nel Signature Loudspeaker

By Roy Gregory

There is a long and honourable tradition of loudspeaker manufacturers evolving multiple versions from a single model. At its simplest level, the number of ‘Special Edition’ versions on the market, touting upgrades to everything from cables to cabinet materials, connectors to surface finish are too common to count. At the other extreme, companies have evolved a ladder of carefully considered performance levels, based on a single ‘platform’. Perhaps the best known of these is the Living Voice Auditorium/Avatar series, four outwardly, virtually identical models in which the R25 at the entry level and the OBX-RW4 at the other end of the range share not a single component, except the spikes on their plinths! It’s a marketing approach that, outside of the motoring world, would probably be struck down at the planning stage, but this being audio, these things are rarely planned and just kind of evolve – a situation that end users both understand and seem entirely comfortable with.

T&T Enceintes Acoustiques is a small, French manufacturer who has followed (or fallen onto) that familiar, evolutionary pathway. Based in Valence, at the centre of the Rhône valley, it produces seven different versions of three distinct models. The diminutive Joy, a two-way stand-mount, offers two levels of performance. The flagship, three-way floor-standing Nora exists in splendid isolation. But in between, the heart of the range revolves around the Nel, a slim and rather beautiful, two-way floor-stander that exists in four distinct versions, spread in price from €7,100 to €14,800 (inc tax.).

All four Nel models use essentially the same 17L, ported enclosure. The small internal volume, floor-standing format and sloping front baffle combine to create a slender cabinet. The speaker’s plinth is almost square, measuring 255mm wide by 265 deep, but despite a baffle that’s 195mm wide, the cabinet’s top-plate is only 100mm deep. That tapered, almost canine profile (tooth that is, not dog) is as unusual as it is strikingly attractive. The top corners of the baffle are heavily facetted around the tweeter in order to reduce diffraction effects and control off-axis response. Together with the unusual, matte metallic shades adopted for the paint finishes, the singular cabinet design creates an aesthetic that somehow manages to be both cleanly modern and unobtrusively classic – a VERY neat trick if you can do it. Despite the small dimensions, each cabinet uses a 30mm MDF front-baffle and 22mm enclosure walls, extensively stiffened with plywood braces, weighing in at a surprising 18kg. At least, it’s surprising when you go to pick one up!

The Nel story starts with the base-model, which combines a 170mm aluminium coned mid/bass unit with a 29mm, fabric diaphragm ring-radiator tweeter. The crossover operates around a low 2kHz crossing point, with variable slopes to maintain phase coherence and limit intrusive out-of-band output. It is decoupled from the cabinet and designer Pierre Faverieux also seeks to minimise awkward impedance characteristics in order to ease the driving amplifier’s task. The end result of this considerable attention to detail is a speaker that offers a bandwidth of 40Hz-30kHz ±3dB and an efficiency of 86dB – numbers that are achieved through the use of a large diameter, downward firing port. Despite its discrete dimensions and appearance, the Nel delivers a lot of performance and finish for its €7,100 price-tag.