**CALIFORNIA RESIDENTS SUBJECT TO SF SALES TAX**
I'LL IGNORE LOW BALLERS!!!!
Like fine wine, the work of many of the best designers in the audio arts
appears to improve as they age and are able to bring to bear their
wealth of experience, aided by years of experimentation, testing, and
critical feedback. Indeed, Nola's Carl Marchisotto cut his teeth helping
to develop the classic open-baffle Dahlquist DQ-10 with Jon Dahlquist
in the early days of high-end audio (reviewed by HP in Issue 4).
Throughout the years, I have been very impressed by the sonic
naturalness, expansive soundstaging, and engaging musicality of Mr.
Marchisotto's loudspeakers. He seems to be able to get them to perform
admirably even under the most adverse room conditions (more on that
later), and they have been among my favorites at shows. Carl's designs
have continued to garner accolades throughout the decades in these
pages, most recently with his new Reference Series loudspeakers. JV
raved about his Baby Grand References (in Issue 205), commending them on
their octave-to-octave coherence, ability to disappear, phenomenal
soundstaging, exceptional resolution, realistic dynamic range, lifelike
timbre, and sheer listenability "even at the loudest levels."
Additionally, the compact stand-mounted Micro Grand Reference
"electrified" HP (Issue 210) with its soundstage, sonic purity, and
"ability to unravel dense and complex orchestral textures."
So here comes the Metro Grand Reference, the Nola model between
these two fine loudspeakers in its Reference Series. Given its lineage,
one might easily assume the Metro Grand would also be a top performer,
but the high end is littered with inexplicable "duds" in otherwise
preeminent product lines. Indeed, the design challenges for Marchisotto
in the development of the Metro Grand were formidable. He wanted to
offer a large measure of the grandeur, scale, and impact of his Baby
Grand in a much smaller package, while also preserving the magic of the
smaller Micro Grand but in a full-range floorstanding loudspeaker.
To achieve these somewhat conflicting design objectives, Marchisotto
used the same quality drive components and crossover topology in the
Metro Grand as in the Baby and the Micro Grands, including the marvelous
custom 4" Raven "true ribbon" tweeter and the same proprietary 4.5"
dipole midrange drive unit with a large Alnico magnet. Both tweeter and
midrange units are mounted on an open baffle, but the Baby Grand
incorporates four Raven tweeters and four Alnico midrange units per
side, whereas the Metro and Micro use one of each. Both the Baby and
Metro Grand utilize an effective double-platform ball-bearing isolation
base to further reduce coloration, as well as separate enclosures within
the cabinet for each of their two magnesium-cone woofers-6.5" units in
the Metro and 9" woofers in the Baby Grand. Because of its smaller
enclosure and Marchisotto's desire to maintain reasonable sensitivity,
the Metro is separately ported and each chamber has non-parallel
partitions with different volumes and tuning frequencies. This approach
helps to minimi.ze standing waves and other cabinet resonances, yielding
smooth in-room bass response to a reported 26Hz. I was shocked at the
deep, powerful, and satisfying bass emanating from such relatively small
woofers, including all but the deepest pedal tones of the pipe organ on
James Welch's Music for Christmas [Wilson Audio].
To help preserve the magic of the stand-mounted Micro, the Metro
Grand has the same width and only 1.5" more depth than its more
diminutive sibling. The relatively small footprint of the Metro
(approximately one square foot) helps keep its physical presence from
interfering with the radiated sound and enables this speaker to
"magically" disappear like the Micro. The Metro Grand excels on
small-scale works like the Beethoven Quartet No.9 [Columbia], conveying
the intensity of the instruments so well that you can almost see the
rosin fly off the bows!
Since its custom tweeter and midrange units are mounted on an open
baffle, cabinet resonances do not interfere with the Metro's sonic
purity in those ranges. Indeed, the highs are of reference quality,
reproducing the overtones of instruments and voices with stunning
realism, delicacy, and fine detail. Moreover, its top-shelf top-end
mates seamlessly with a wonderfully open, quick, and seductive midrange
that helps the Metro Grand reproduce sound effortlessly. This seamless
driver integration is quite an amazing design feat since the custom
ribbon tweeter and cone midrange have different radiation patterns, yet I
cannot hear any discontinuity between them. In my experience, no other
multi-driver speaker combining either a ribbon or planar tweeter with a
cone midrange does this better. Paul Motian's brushed cymbals on the
Bill Evans Trio's Portrait in Jazz [Riverside], Hilary Hahn's violin on
Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending [Deutsche Grammophon], and the
singing tone of Jeffrey Biegel's piano on Bach on a Steinway [Steinway
& Sons/ArkivMusic] are eerily like the real thing and help one
become mesmerized by the music.
The Metro Grand's dynamic headroom is startling for a speaker of
this size, and it does not sound congested when the action gets complex
on big-band jazz recordings like Still Harry After All These Years
[Sheffield Lab]. Macrodynamic swings are reproduced without a hint of
hardness on good source material, like those outstanding tapes from The
Tape Project played back on a great open-reel deck, such as the
UHA-Phase Six gem from United Home Audio. Admittedly, the larger Baby
Grand has more impact, owing to its ability to move more air, but the
Metro comes closer than you might think. Additionally, on recordings
like Exotic Dances from the Opera [Tape Project 007] massed strings are
absolutely gorgeous with full-bodied yet detailed richness and an
incredible sense of spaciousness among the performers. Few speakers can
replicate the sound of mass strings as well as the Metro Grand -- the
sound floats on a cushion of air just like it does in a good symphony
One of the Metro Grand's most compelling sonic attributes is its
uncanny ability to transport you to the recording venue, as well as
deeply into the performance. These speakers make you feel "as one" with
the performer, as if you've climbed into the artist's skin. Some
loudspeakers really impress for the first few minutes, but after an hour
you're ready to throw in the towel. Not the Metros! I can listen to
them all day, which is also a reason I love my Quads.
One of Carl's key design objectives was for the Metro Grand to work
well in small-to-medium-sized rooms, and it does that with aplomb.
Moreover, the Metro performs amazingly well in other challenging
listening environments that would undo many' other fine loudspeakers. I
heard the Metro Grand sound marvelous without any fancy room treatment
at the 2011 Munich High End Show in an impossible room that reminded me
of an airplane hanger! In my own 22' x 16' room, they produced wonderful
results using the Rule of Thirds to position the loudspeakers.
While the Metros excel in most areas, they are merely "very good" in
a few others. The midbass is rich, full, and highly musical, yet it
falls short of the reference-quality neutrality, clarity, and lack of
time smear of the far more expensive Magico Q5, as well as the new Sonus
faber Amati Futura. In comparison, the piano's lower registers on the
Metro can sound slightly thick at times. While its enclosure may not be
completely inert, the bass of the Metro Grand still sounds very natural
and engaging and some may prefer the added richness in this region.
Indeed, the plucked strings of the bass fiddle on Yeah! Charlie Rouse
[Epic] have terrific transient quickness and sound like the real deal.
Despite exemplary integration between its ribbon tweeter and cone
midrange, the Metro Grand falls slightly short of the "whole cloth"
coherency of a full-range electrostatic or single driver system. One of
my audio buddies describes the Metro Grand as "a bit midrangey," a
common complaint about one of my references, the original Quad. Oddly
enough, I consider this a compliment since the midrange is where most of
the music lives. However, listening to the Shostakovitch Symphony No.5,
I was impressed by the Metro's overall superiority over the Quad in
full-range extension at the frequency extremes and more. While you can
get a lot of what the Metro Grand does so very well in the less
expensive Quad ESL-2905s, the Nola has considerably more dynamic range
and bass power and extension. Moreover, the Metro's airy, ethereal highs
are to die for. The Quad wins in terms of microdynamics and the ability
to sound full at lower levels, one of its major strengths. Indeed, I
found the Nolas needed a bit of juice to perk them up. Though they can
sound marvelous with as little as 40 watts of triode power from the
PrimaLuna Dialogue Seven monoblocks, feed them something like the VTL
ME-18S Series II Signature and they can be even more dynamic, thrilling,
and controlled on all types of power music.
The Metro Grand not only makes ravishing sound, but in its striking
rosewood cabinet, it is also lovely to behold. I find it more attractive
than some of Nola's previous open-baffle speakers, such as the Viper
Reference that Tom Martin reviewed in TAS. My wife loved the small
footprint and surprisingly big sound of the Metro Grand, and I suspect
it will find its way into far more living rooms, and certainly
apartments, than many larger and more expensive speakers.
Just as I was about to submit this review, after some unavoidable
delays on my part, I learned from HP that he had just been loaned the
Metro Grand Reference Series II. Carl confirms that the new version of
the Metro Grand in current production has modifications in the crossover
and in the Nordost wiring that reportedly improve the speaker's overall
tonal balance and coherence, most notably in the midbass. If these
enhancements are anything like what I heard on the Baby Grand Series II
versus its previous incarnation, they should significantly improve the
speaker's midbass balance and clarity, removing the slight added warmth
in that area and helping to make the Metro Grand sound more of one
cloth. I'm looking forward to auditioning them!
With the Nola Metro Grand Reference, master loudspeaker designer
Carl Marchisotto has successfully created a loudspeaker with much of the
performance of his impressive Baby Grand Reference loudspeaker in a
smaller package that should be at home in smaller listening
environments. The Metro Grand offers a tremendous sense of spaciousness,
air, and naturalness, and has an uncanny ability to transport you to
the concert hall. This fine loudspeaker, which could be called a baby
"Baby Grand Reference," produces beautifully lifelike, dynamic sound,
and does a wide range of music very well -- from small-scale works to
large ones in all musical genres. It should definitely be on your
short-list. Like the Dahlquist DQ-10, Nola's Metro Grand Reference may
one day become a classic.
Frequency Range: 26Hz to 45kHz
Impedance: 8 ohm nominal, 4 ohm minimum
Drivers: Two 6½" magnesium woofers, one open-baffle Alnico midrange, one open-baffle true ribbon tweeter
Finish: True Piano Rosewood with True Piano Black bases is standard
Dimensions: 9½" x 45" x 13½"
Weight: 85 lbs.