What the Nel Signature can’t do is match the dynamic range, absolute scale and sheer impact of larger, wider bandwidth (and inevitably much more expensive) speaker systems. Nor can it match the ability of a small box like the Stenheim A2 or the original Wilson Duette, when it comes to allowing the music to swell. Those speakers managed to expand and fill the listening space with the scale of the music, without sounding small or forced. THAT’s their super-power. The Nels approach the problem differently. They can’t grow in the same way, but they can increase the energy level and intensity within the stage they’ve established, relying instead on their innate musical integrity to anchor the louder end of the scale.Although, having said that, T&T suggest that the Nel works best in rooms of between 20 and 40 square metres. The room I listened in was nearer 50 square metres and having spent time with the Nel Extremes in a smaller space, I suspect that they fill those smaller volumes more comfortably. As with any speaker, it’s a case of matching it to the room you’ll use it in…
But step back from those larger musical demands for a moment and it soon becomes apparent that within their dynamic envelope, the Nels let the music breathe with a freedom that’s as unusual as it is engaging. The size of that envelope – and just how far it stretches – will depend on the driving electronics. Just don’t confuse a loss of control with increased dynamic range. Instead, enjoy the fact that the T&Ts scale a recording so precisely, maintaining its inner logic and the instrumental proportions. Of course, step away from acoustic recordings and you leave the issues behind, the sense of organised, focussed and properly concentrated energy generating a sense of substance and musical impact that easily overcomes any perceived loss of scale. It’s noticeable on the Jackie Leven album. It’s even more noticeable on really large but largely synthetic soundscapes like The Thin Red Line OST (BMG 09026-63382-2). In the same way that the Nel’s project the sheer vigour, emotional range and musical intensity in Jordi Savall’s recordings, they capture the building tension, power and emotional intensity in a track like ‘Journey To The Line’. They may not match the massive space projected by full-range systems, but absent those systems, you really wouldn’t know, such is the musical impact. The Nels might not go HUGE, but they go big and they do go surprisingly loud. The rumbling, crunching textures of the synth bass on ‘Journey…’ – replayed at anti-social levels – had me worrying for the health of the mid/bass drivers, but they survived without aural or physical complaint. Scandi electro jazz and German synth-driven avant-garde were handle with equal aplomb, the speakers inherent musical integrity allowing it to rise to almost any musical challenge.
This speaker offers a surprising and, arguably, near perfect balance of virtues – especially given its compact dimensions. Clearly, there are things it can’t do, heights it can’t scale, demands it can’t fully meet. But it’s almost preternatural sense of pattern and pace, its ability to capture the character of a performer, shifts in density and the explicit nature of the musical picture it paints, add up to a level of musical communication and insight that are genuinely remarkable at the price. Like any product that punches above its weight and size, and as I’ve already pointed out, it is demanding of set up and partnering equipment. But so clear are its attributes that it has rarely been so easy to hear what steps are required to achieve that set up, while the character of the driving electronics is at least as important as the absolute quality. You don’t need a super expensive amp to make Nel sing. You do need to expend the requisite care, but that comes free.