NSR Sonic Research D3 Sonata Loudspeaker

New Technology Gets Results!

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I want to preface my listening impressions by saying that I found the D3s to be extremely revealing yet extremely musical speakers. I used 3 different preamplifiers during my evaluation, two solid-state and one tube unit, and found much greater differences in their sonic signatures than I had previously noticed. The same held true for interconnects, and amplifiers, which again, sounded very different from one another when using the D3s.

The VMPS RM30 ribbon hybrid speakers have been my reference for about 3 years now and I have always been very pleased by their enormous detailed and lifelike presentation. In my 14’ x 30’ listening room (with high vaulted ceiling) they provide an expansive and dimensional soundstage. In addition, they are very dynamic and are able to fill the whole room with sound at healthy (though not ridiculous) volume levels.

In many ways the D3 Sonatas have similar attributes. They are every bit as dynamic, throw a huge stereo image, and will fill the large room with sound at a healthy level, provided you feed them enough clean power. This is not difficult to accomplish because at 93.7dB/watt, they are nearly 3dB more efficient than my RM30s. This means the D3s can play just as loud using about half the power.

For the sake of consistency, I mainly used the Rega Apollo CD player as a source, though I also tried some vinyl on the Michell TecnoDec with the Benz-Micro Reference 3 Copper low-output MC cartridge. The preamps I liked best were the B&K Pro 10 in its buffered-passive mode and my custom-built, dual-mono, transformer coupled (single tube) 6SN7 tube line stage.

For most of my evaluation I used the Nuforce Reference 9V2 SE monoblock amps; although, for a brief time, I tried PrimaLuna Dialogue Two tube amp (using EL-34 output tubes) to see how it would handle larger speakers in a big room.

For my tests, the speakers were positioned along the shorter wall. The inside rear of the speaker cabinets was roughly 42” from the front wall; the apex at the mid top point of the speakers was 40” from the side wall, and the spread between the speakers was about 72” midpoint to midpoint. A moderate toe-in was applied and my seat was back around 9’ from the frontal plane of the speakers. This is the minimum distance I’d recommend and at times I found myself sitting a few feet further back in a moveable chair and really liking the presentation. A fair amount of toe-in results in more extended high frequencies, so you’ll want to experiment.

The Pith:
One of the first things I noted about the Sonata D3 is that its overall balance is a bit different than that of the VMPS RM30. However, bear in mind that the RM30 has both a tweeter level and a midrange level control that allow a broader range of adjustment to the upper midrange and treble. The main thing that vexed me about the Sonata D3s, was that I found it difficult to adjust the tweeter level control to provide enough high-frequency extension without causing the lower treble to sound somewhat forward and bright.

This did improve over time with judicious break-in. Also, substituting my previously described tube line stage for the B&K Pro 10 helped to provide the best lower to upper high frequency balance. The D3s treble-level control also helps to fine tune the treble. Setting the dial between 1 and 2 o’clock worked best for me. At times changing cables or equipment necessitated having to reset the level control to restore the best balance.

The D3s are extremely sensitive when it comes to minor positional tweaking. Like a dipolar or electrostatic speaker moving the speakers and/or changing the angle of toe-in results in dramatically different sound (involving bass quality, frequency balance, imaging, and focus). If you don’t like your results, just keep moving them.

Once set, things began sounding very good. The D3’s more present (more linear, no doubt) lower treble served to highlight detail both in instruments and in vocals. Vocals in particular had immediacy to die for. I listened to many male and female performers on the D3s and I have to say that not only do voices sound natural, they sound hauntingly real as if the singers are in the room right in front of you. An example of this came on CD #2 of Regina Spektor’s Begin to Hope album [Sire 44315-2]. On “Music Box,” the intonation and naturalness of Spektor’s voice is beyond impressive. The quirky expression and dynamic variations in Regina’s unique voice were vividly portrayed. Spektor physically singing right in front of me could not have sounded any more real.

Delving into the D3’s midrange, things begin to get interesting. Whether it’s due to the driver selection, the inner cabinet’s anechoic panels, or the premium crossover components (including the new Clarity capacitors) I don’t pretend to know, but the D3s simply grab hold of instruments and make them their own. From the piano to the brasses and the strings, the D3’s will provide more crystal clear harmonic information and texture than any other speaker I’ve heard to date.

Moreover, imagery of each individual instrument in space is captured and clarified to an unprecedented degree, especially with channel-to-channel effects. I found an excellent example of this on the Rodrigo y Gabriela CD of the same title [ATO records 88088-21557-2]. I can’t recall the exact track, but there was a vivid sequence where Gabriela (stage left) y Rodrigo (stage right), were furiously playing on their acoustic guitars. I could hear the individual plucked strings alternate back and forth between the left and right channels in rapid succession. Not only was this great musicianship, it was an effect that had eluded my attention when I had played it on other speakers. This was only one of many recordings where I was able to notice greater inter-channel coherence and detail. I remember it mainly because of the skill and artistry it demanded of the talented musicians.

I have to say that the bass of the D3s is fantastic. It is powerful, nimble and extended. Instruments like drums, double bass, and bass guitar are articulate and well defined; plus, their exact placement on the multi-layered soundstage can be clearly discerned. When I tell you that the D3s are the best imaging speakers top-to-bottom, that I have personally heard, I am dead serious.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention my experience with Cake’s Fashion Nugget CD [Capricorn P2 32867]. The pounding on the drums was extremely lifelike on cuts like “The Distance,” and the electric bass so powerful that it gave the feeling of being at a live concert. The midrange was extremely dynamic and almost creamy sounding as the horns and guitars launched themselves at me. My ears told me I was listening at a level a bit louder than I should, but the quality of the sound was so mesmerizing I was like a deer in the headlights and couldn’t manage to budge from my seat to turn it down.

Turning to my vinyl collection, I pulled out one of my favorites. Spinning Stravinsky’s L’ Historire du Soldat from Stravinsky Conducts 1961 [Columbia MS 6272], I recall that the violins sounded oh-so-sweet. I could easily hear the rosin on the bow as the fiddle told its tale and it never sounded strident as it sometimes does through other speakers. The woodwinds entered vividly, and the brasses had body texture and bite. All of a sudden a blast of drums clobbered me with their apt tonality and holographic presence, which uncannily materialized behind the plane of the speakers. I had never heard those drums sound so well defined and palpable.

Perhaps the best characteristic of the D3 Sonata’s imaging capability is their surprisingly wide and non-critical sweet spot. Once you get back more than 10 feet from the speaker’s frontal plane, you can sit or stand virtually anywhere between the speaker boundaries and hear a credible, well-balanced stereo image. This is a great quality to have, especially when you have your friends over, and you’ll want to do that.

During my early evaluation, I noticed that compositions rife in very high-frequency content did not produce quite the same level of air and shimmer as the RM30s or other reference quality speakers that I had heard. This was evident on known hot tracks such as the Ray Brown Trio’s “The Real Blues,” from Live at the Loa/Summer Wind [Concord Jazz CCD-4426].

As mentioned, I had tried different preamps, amps, and interconnects in an effort to achieve the best possible treble performance. Still, it wasn’t happening for me.

Late in my evaluation, I repositioned the speakers slightly wider apart with a greater amount of toe-in, which helped a bit. But then I stumbled upon a tweak that worked like magic. On a whim, I put all my original cables back in the system, then I went to my big box-o’-cables and dug out two Stealth Audio power cords and plugged them into my NuForce amplifiers.

All I can say is Viola! Suddenly the D3s uppermost octave came to life producing the proper amount of air and shimmer from cymbals, percussive instruments and even synthesizers. At last the treble sounded clear, natural, and proportionally correct; and I’m very glad to have made that discovery. Listening to the tonality of the drum kit and the cymbals shimmering on Branford Marsalis’ Trio Jeepy [Columbia CK 44199] sent shivers down my spine, and the crazy percussive effects on a popular Fat Boy Slim CD never sounded so fast, detailed, and distinct. The fact that NSR designer John Tabernacki had been using Stealth cables all along should have tipped me off sooner, I guess.

Curiously, when I switched from my CD source back to my turntable, I found the sound was actually dull with the Peterson Emerald interconnects. So I tried the Signal Cable Analog Two cables and the presentation improved considerably. Switching to the SC Silver Resolution cables produced a sound that was too sibilant and bright in the lower highs. So I shifted back to the Analog Twos for the best recording-to-recording balance. Note that the SC Silver Resolutions proved the best match on the CD player. The differences between these interconnects in situ was very clearly revealed by the Sonata D3s.

Amp compatibility and more:
For those who are curious about the comparison the D3s provided between the Nuforce Ref 9V2 SE amps and the PrimaLuna Dialogue Two, let me add this about that. The Dialogue Two sounded quite lovely. In fact, the Dialogue Two was powering the system when I made my earlier comments about how strikingly realistic Regina Spektor’s voice was portrayed.

The Dialogue Two is noticeably less forward in the lower treble. It sounds softer and silky smooth as it reaches into its airy upper highs. As expected, the NuForce amps had more dynamic clout, can play much louder, and have tighter, better-defined bass. Methinks the low-power Dialogue Two was running out of gas on dynamic power peaks. The midrange of each amp is gorgeous, and too close to call a clear winner.

I would not recommend using the D3 Sonatas with a low powered tube amp unless you have a smaller listening room or prefer moderate to low listening levels. Bear in mind that your room can’t be too small because the D3s will want to be a fair distance from the front and side walls. Additionally, the recommended minimum distance from speaker to listener is 9 to 10 feet. Farther back in my long listening room the imaging was excellent and the sweet spot extended even beyond the speaker boundaries.

My listening room does not support ultra-low bass, yet the D3 Sonatas were able to provide strong output down to 30Hz. I have no reason to doubt the designer’s claim that in rooms capable of supporting ultra low bass, the D3s will provide laudable reproduction down to 20Hz. More importantly, the quality of the bass is superb. And when putting my ear right up to the APL during loud, low bass passages, I did not hear any chuffing or extraneous noises.

The Scoop:
NSR’s designer, John Tabernacki, has painstakingly developed novel and effective technologies, which blend together to create a speaker system that transcends many of the shortfalls of competing speaker systems. The D3 Sonata’s broad dynamic range and mind-blowing resolution will not be easily equaled, while its captivating full-range imagery and superb bass articulation are unsurpassed in my experience.

Since the D3s are hand made a pair at a time, the paint and workmanship are excellent; and I find the modern, sculpted look of the speaker to be very appealing.
Tabernacki has gone out of his way to use the finest quality internal wiring and electronic parts available, and the proof is in the listening experience.

Those who have large rooms and want to use the D3 Sonatas with a tube amplifier will likely need an amp rated at 60 watts or higher into 4 ohms. High-quality solid-state amps work very well, and preceding it with a sweet sounding tube preamplifier produced deliciously engaging sound during my evaluation.

Be advised that while the D3 Sonatas proved to be fantastic sound reproducers, they are not for the faint of heart or those who lack patience. Every component in your electronics chain will become critical in your search to find just the right synergy. Expect that it will take some time and experimentation to sort out the best blend of cables and components as well as the optimal speaker placement.

On a fair number of occasions, I’ve heard audiophiles proclaim that in the last 30 or 40 years there have not been any true advances, only refinements, in speaker design. In my view, John Tabernacki’s development of the patented Acoustic Projection Lens along with his implementation of the proprietary internal Acoustic-Comb panels represent a significant step forward in speaker design and performance. They are among the most revealing and musically compelling speakers that I’ve encountered in my many years as an audiophile and reviewer.



Frequency response: 20Hz – 40kHz
Low pass crossover: 6dB/octave at 226Hz
High pass crossover: Custom Linkwitz-based design, 12dB/octave at 3,200Hz
Sensitivity: 93.7dB @ 1 watt/1meter
Impedance: 5 Ohms nominal

Dimensions: 48”H x 11.5”W x 16.5”D
Net weight: 100 pounds each
Shipping weight: 117 pounds each
Price: $5,995 for the standard model, $6,995 for model with Reference Crossover


NSR Sonic Research
8616 Sheffield Ave
Dyer, IN 46311-2757
Phone: 219-308-4980
e-mail: :info@nsrsonicresearch.com

Web: www.nsrsonic.com/index.htm