Canada Hi-Fi - Reference 3A
productreview
Reference 3A Nefes Loudspeakers
Malcolm J. Gomes
There is little doubt that most audiophiles
regard crossover networks in loudspeakers as a necessary evil. A few hate them
with such a vengeance that they opt for
panel or single driver speakers just to
avoid the downsides of crossovers. Advances in crossover designs over the past
decade have minimized and in some cases
eliminated many of their inherent ill effects but I do not know of anyone who has
yet come up with a crossover network that
does not in some way distort the signal being delivered to the driver units. Bad as it
is with two-way speakers, it tends to get
significantly worse with three-way and
four-way speakers.
Some speaker designers have opted to
transcend the disadvantages of a crossover
by doing away with them completely and
instead, utilizing full range driver units.
However, here again, there are unavoidable compromises like anemic reproduction or total absence of the bottom octave
of the audible frequency spectrum.
Every once in a while, we find a speaker
designer that decides to take up the challenge of designing a multi-way dynamic
loudspeaker system with no crossover. I
have auditioned a few of these valiant efforts but hitherto, although I have found
them to have benefited in some respects
from eliminating the crossover, there were
far too many tradeoffs in terms of sonic
performance to tip the overall balance in
their favour.
This being the case, when Suave Kajko,
the publisher of CANADA HiFi requested
me to review another loudspeaker system
with no crossover, I was a bit skeptical.
However when he mentioned that this
model, under the Reference 3A moniker,
has been designed by Tash Goka of Divergent Technologies, it perked up my interest. I have a lot of respect for Tash and I
thought that if anyone could successfully
pull off a loudspeaker design without a
crossover, Tash could. This loudspeaker
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retails for $9,950/pair and answers to the
name of ‘Nefes’, which means ‘breath’ as
in the “the life giver” to the wind instruments used in Sufi music. I wondered if
the Nefes would be the first loudspeaker
system without a crossover that would
take my ‘breath’ away.
The Reference 3A brand has its roots in
France where in 1959 it was set up by Daniel Dehay under the name 3A, which stood
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for Applied Acoustic Arts. The company
was then relocated to Switzerland in the
late 1980s where the name was changed to
Reference 3A. After changing ownership
a few times, Dehay once again acquired
the company in 1992. The company is
currently located in Kitchener, Waterloo
in the Canadian Province of Ontario and
is managed by Tash Goka.
design | features
Tash and a colleague delivered the Nefes
to my auditioning facility, which is just
as well because although they are not
extremely heavy (130 pounds), they are
a bit too large (10 X 16 X 45 inches) for
a single person to carry alone. The set-up
was quite straightforward and the heightadjustable feet made it quick and easy to
achieve perfect alignment.
This speaker is equipped with two 8-inch,
full-range, hyper exponential woven carbon fiber drivers that have been developed
specifically for the Nefes and which are
directly coupled to the amplifier. These
are complemented with a pure Beryllium
tweeter assembly in a ‘D’Appolito’ array.
The cabinet is reassuringly rigid and inert.
The overall design goal was to eliminate
the crossover network altogether in order
to avoid possible signal interruptions and
phase errors for a more coherent sonic
performance.
To compensate for the lack of a crossover network, the Beryllium tweeter is
protected by a high quality non-inductive
silver-in-oil capacitor that acts as a highpass filter. The tweeter is mounted behind
an exponential acoustic wave-guide to
achieve better time alignment and more
uniform dispersion.
The core center of the woofers is
equipped with a patented surreal acoustic
lens which is designed to dissipate any
vortex that could form as a result of air
turbulence, thus minimizing any related
noise that could be generated by the cone
shaped drivers. According to Tash, eliminating this vortex allows the driver units
to perform with enhanced clarity, natural
tonal balance and wider dispersion.
The inside of the Nefes binding post
connectors have a patented magnetic conduction signal wave-guide. This is a first
in Reference 3A speakers. The strong
magnetism of this wave-guide keeps the
electrical signal flow aligned. It also mini-
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mizes the random pathways for electrons
within and along the conductor and promotes signal transfer where resistance to
the signal is highest and where the greatest
losses can occur. According to Tash, this
has been done to deliver a more dynamic,
open and spacious sound with greater detail retrieval.
The internal wiring comprises specially
selected, cryogenically treated, OCC single crystal pure copper conductors with
Teflon dielectric. These wires have been
precisely calibrated to optimize signal
transfer to the drivers.
The Nefes cabinet is finished in a durable anthracite coloured, suede textured
Nextel coating, which absorbs not just
sound but also light, rendering the cabinet
acoustically and optically quiet. This cabinet finish is very workmanlike and will
not appeal to everybody. It is also likely to
have a lower wife acceptance factor. Both
my wife and daughter felt that it looked
like an unfinished surface.
The inside of the cabinet comprises of
very dense panels and several perforated
braces at critical points on both the horizontal and vertical planes. The vertical
spine brace is off centered to cancel out
potential resonance noise. The drivers are
anchored to this vertical spine with large
brass bolts, which mechanically ground
them. The vertical braces are perforated
to avoid contact with the cross braces and
also to increase the surface areas that dissipate vibrational energy. The cross braces
are also perforated with different size
openings and are arranged so that they
are not parallel to the side panels. This
minimizes unwanted sound wave deflections. To avoid corner nodes as well as to
improve rigidity, solid planks of triangular
gussets have been placed on all the inside
corners of the cabinet. To spread out any
potential thickness related resonances,
board materials of different thicknesses
have been employed.
All this extra attention to the internals
of the cabinet is meant to reduce superfluous vibration energy inside the enclosure
so as to allow the speaker to deliver better
clarity. To free the main drivers from sympathetic frame vibrations, the mechanical
grounding system has been configured to
drain mechanical vibrations from the drivers thus allowing them to perform at their
optimum level.
Upon completion of the production
of each Nefes speaker system, they are
placed on a break-in rack and fed highlevel test tones for a minimum of seventy-two hours. This is followed by several
tests during which the two speakers are
matched to tight tolerances to try and
squeeze out the most realistic renditions
of harmonics and spatial sonic images.
performance
I auditioned the Nefes connected to my
reference system which consists of the
Bryston BP26 preamp, the Ayre V3 (SS)
power amp as well as the Ars Sonum
Filharmonia integrated tube amp. My
sources included the NAD C565BEE (SS)
CD player and the Bryston BDP-1 digital player, connected through one of my
DACs which include the Calyx Femto, the
Mytek Stereo 192-DSD and the Resonessence Labs Concero.
All this attention to detail enables the
Nefes to sound surprisingly good right
out of the box but I followed Tash’s suggestion that the speakers be broken in for
another 200 hours to help them reach their
peak performance level.
The Nefes is capable of delivering a
frequency response of 28 Hz to 40 kHz
plus or minus 3 dB. It has above average efficiency of 92 dB. It also presents
amplifiers with an easy impedance load
of 8 ohms with very little deviation irrespective of the frequencies it is fed. It
can handle up to 150 watts RMS per channel. These speakers come with a five-year
parts and labour warranty against manufacturing defects.
Based on guidelines from Tash, I positioned the Nefes well away from the back
and side walls of the listening room and
at a distance of around three meters from
the sweet spot, with the listening position
and the two speakers forming an equilateral triangle. The speakers were toed-in
to have the tweeters pointing at the sweet
spot. The metal stabilizers and the height
adjustable brass floor spikes with a locking ring make it easy to perfectly level and
align the speakers. The speakers are supplied with a protective grill, which I chose
not to use during the audition as they did
adversely affect the transparency and definition of the sound.
Before I get into details of the Nefes sonic performance, I need to disclose that I
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have a preference for soft (preferably silk) for many years and so I have a very good
dome tweeters to metal dome tweeters be- mental reference of what a piano should
cause, to my ears, they tend to integrate sound like and whoever voiced the Nefes
better and sound more natural. In contrast, probably tickled the ivories as well, to
metal dome tweeters be they aluminum, have gotten it so right.
titanium or beryllium, tend to sound harsh
This speaker is very capable of proif not implemented well.
ducing male vocals, which it does with
Of the three, beryllium generally sounds amazing palpability. Female vocals are
smoother because this metal allows for also rendered with a good deal of finesse.
domes that are lighter while still offering Acoustic instruments sound taut and crisp
superior rigidity and damping. They also while string and wind instruments come
break up much higher in the audio band. through with a degree of presence that is,
Beryllium is around seven times more at times, quite startling. Though not conrigid and propagates sound waves around gested by any stretch of the imagination, I
three times faster than titanium or alumi- would have liked a little more air between
num. Beryllium tweeters are also quite ex- and around the instruments and voices.
pensive and usually found in higher priced
The Nefes is particularly adept at conspeakers. During the recent past, I am glad necting you emotionally with the artiste.
to see many of the better known speaker When listening to Aus Misa Criolla Kybrands switch from aluminum and tita- rie by Jose Carreras, I could easily feel
nium tweeters to silk or beryllium dome the incredible emotion in his voice as he
tweeters.
belted out this well recorded track. When I
I must say that the tweeter in the Nefes played Die Tanzerin (The Dancer) by Ulla
is one of the best implementations of a Meinecke, although the song is in Gerberyllium transducer that I have heard. It man, which I cannot understand, I totally
reinforces my view that a huge part of a enjoyed the experience because the emoberyllium dome tweeter’s performance is tions of the lyrics came through in spades.
in its implementation. Kudos to Tash for Track after track, the Nefes delivered rich
delivering the smoothest, most precise harmonics, accurate tonality, precise imand coherent performance that I have hith- aging, well fleshed out timbre and soul
erto heard from a beryllium tweeter.
satisfying musicality.
My first impressions of the Nefes perThe clean and relatively artifact free
formance is their sound stage, which is sound that you hear from the Nefes makes
wider than any other speaker that I have it the ‘I told you so” speaker for the audioauditioned in this price range. What is phile segment that is not partial to crossalso remarkable is their ability to sonically over networks. The ease and effortlessdisappear, despite their large cabinet size. ness of delivery gives this speaker a very
The tone and timbre is very natural and low fatigue factor and I was able to listen
will appeal to those who are looking for to it for hours without feeling I have had
a neutral speaker but may be less appeal- enough.
ing to those looking for a more euphonic
The leading edges of music notes might
sound or bass that is exaggerated.
be a tad too prominent for some, while the
This speaker is very adept at retriev- presentation is a smidgen on the forward
ing micro details in the recording with- side though never in your face. Dynamic
out sounding overly analytical. They can contrast is well above average compared
also play surprisingly loud before I could to other similarly priced speakers.
detect any hint of compression or distorThe Nefes needs a good-sized room to
tion. They have one of the best mid-range realize its full potential. A room that is
reproductions of any speaker in the very less than 4,000 cubic feet will cramp its
crowded $10,000 price point, although I style. It also deserves very high quality
have heard a few similarly priced speak- and very neutral front-end components
ers with more saturated and fuller mid and and good speaker cables and interconupper bass.
nects. Tash provided me with Reference
The Nefes delivers a very good rendi- 3A speaker cables and interconnects and
tion of the piano, which is one of the most although they worked well with the Nefes,
difficult instruments for a speaker to get I heard distinctly smoother, more coherright. I played the piano for a rock band ent and better-defined sound when using
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the Tellurium Q Black Interconnects and
Ultra Black Speaker Cables.
The Nefes bass reproduction would
satisfy the vast majority of audiophiles
but for those who find music incomplete
without the bottom octave, a superior subwoofer would be a good partner for this
speaker. I tried mating the Nefes with a
pair of JL Audio Fathom f112 subs and
the results were most satisfying, providing a great foundation to the overall sonic
image, improving definition and authority in the bass while adding exponentially
more depth to the sound stage.
If you are looking for a pair of speakers
in the $10,000 range and have neutral upstream components and a good sized listening room, don’t pull the trigger till you
have heard the Nefes. As its name suggests, it just might take your breath away.
quickinfo
Reference 3A
www.reference3a.com
(519) 749-1565
Reference 3A Nefes Loudspeakers
Price: $9,950/pair CAD
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