My Video Review:
Were you ever surprised by something you’ve haven’t heard of? It happened so many times in my life, not only in Hi-Fi. Having big budgets for expensive marketing, some huge banners waving on top of the tallest buildings or the biggest pixels nailed on huge Hi-Fi websites can guarantee good sales numbers, but excellent performance? Not every single time. There are many music lovers out there that have a fire burning inside them and a huge passion to create new things, showcasing them to the world, especially fresh and young companies that want to be different, outlining their charisma and distinct attitude. The freshest HiFi brands always struggled finding their identity, a cult following and confidence from customers…some of those brands will be giving their last dying breath showing to the world that good sound can be obtained from less known brands too. It almost feels like I’m writing about myself, I know the struggle, I know the work and dedication that it involves to be seen, to be heard and to be believed. From shy, independent but hobby-driven individuals there is a long way ahead to success.
Today, I will be writing about a young and fresh team that isn’t known that well outside China. People might know them by NS Audio, others by Natural Sound, they already tried murky waters with several IEMs, they already have 5 units in their product portfolio. Recently they released two pairs of passive loudspeakers, proving that IEMs were only their fire starters as they had bigger and brighter plans down the road. Their lower-tiered NS16 uses coaxial drivers with a sandwiched 5” woofer on top of a silk tweeter, all wrapped in a small and elegant enclosure that weights as little as 5.5 Kg per unit. For their second model, Natural Sound wanted to express themselves, exposing their true nature and the meaning behind their brand name, by going with a wooden 6.5” woofer and with a bigger 1” silk tweeter on top, all inserted in a much bigger enclosure weighing some whopping 12 Kilos per unit. I was given the honors for a world-first review for their best passive loudspeakers yet that are called NS17, but don’t you worry as I’ll go in-depth, I’ll describe their sound down to the smallest details and I’ll add a comparison for good measure. NS17 are going for $2299 (including shipping) and that is already dangerous territory, but are they worth it? That’s the big question that I’ll try to answer today.
NS17 came in an huge box as I needed to give a helping hand to the courier, so we can get it inside. The whole affair is double boxed and it is filled with a lot of hardened foam as an extra protection measure. Shaking the box isn’t moving anything inside, strengthening the idea that NS17 is well protected from the outside world. The centerpiece is of course the speakers themselves; I’ve got the white version to match the white speaker stands that I was using with the KEF LS50 Meta and LS50 Wireless. You’ll also find two fine looking magnetic grills; some bass port foams and that is it!
Build Quality & Looks
Natural Sound is offering two color options: an ebony look or a white gloss finish. I have a soft spot for everything that is colorless, white and black always appealed to me and since I’ve saved those white speaker stands from my former KEF loudspeakers, white gloss seemed like a natural choice. Their fit and finish is great, thick MDF boards (21 mm in thickness) were used for a better dampening, offering a stunning first impression. Although they might look small in pictures, in reality NS17 are huge and heavyweight, looking massive to my former KEF LS50 Wireless and Buchardt S400 bookshelf speakers. Their back-plates are looking good, their speaker terminals are firm and strong. There’s a switch that works as a hardware equalizer for its treble output, 0 dB is the default setting that I’ve enjoyed the most, add or remote 2dB to make it more extended or more relaxed in that region, according to your setup and to your needs.
The uniqueness of NS17, comes from their big 6.5” wooden woofers, something that I’ve never experienced, nor seen as far as loudspeakers go. What you are seeing are 20 extremely thin layers of wood sandwiched together coated with dampening material to improve its midrange delivery and have its distortion under a strict control. I get it now why they went with Natural Sound brand name and I cannot wait to give them a longer listen.
Apart from all this, NS17 looks like a traditional 2-way bookshelf loudspeaker that is heavy absorbing its own vibrations and that is carefully build to the smallest details. Its XL-sized cabinet made a positive first impression, as usually speakers are sounding directly proportional to their size. Measuring 370 mm tall by 230 mm wide by 295 mm deep and weighting 12 kilos a piece, make sure you have the right speaker stands and surface area to accommodate them. They will hardly work in a desktop environment, but they might if you have a bigger desk, just make sure to leave at least half a meter behind them for a clearer bottom end.
Overall, I find them pleasing to the eyes, modern and minimalist looking, they remind a little about my former loudspeakers, I just wish the white version would come with white face plates instead of black, they would look nicer that way.
Technology Inside NS17
As I’ve mentioned before, a slightly bigger 6.5” woofer is being used versus a traditional 5” or 6”, it’s made out of 20 extremely thin layers of wood glued together and I’m pretty sure that woofer will be sounding like mother nature itself.
Their tweeters are made out of silk, another sign of what should be expected sound wise. I’ve owned several loudspeakers that had silk tweeters and from my own experience, you cannot get a lusher and more believable sound from different materials. Some are associating silk tweeters with a rolled-off treble and what is why Natural Sound added a switch on its back, just in case you’ll need a little more bite and treble presence. Each 1” soft dome tweeter is loaded with 4 rounded neodymium magnets that lead to a higher magnetic flux and to a much faster treble response compared to traditional silk dome tweeters.
Natural Sound are tuning their hardware crossover for more than a year now, you can spot high-quality ceramic resistors, two custom built and hand wound inductors, several metal film and electrolytic capacitors. Its crossover point sits at 2.5 kHz, which is 5 times the resonant frequency (500 Hz), resulting in a very low harmonic distortion. Internal wiring is made out of high purity silver-plated single crystal copper wires which are normally used in high-end loudspeakers.
There is indeed a sweet spot while listening to them and staying On-Axis unlocks the best sonics, the good news is that its sweet spot is wider, due to its bigger cabinet size, so you can enjoy music with your friends from the same couch. You don’t need to stay exactly in the middle for the best results, I’ve tried multiple positions and it wasn’t as bad as it was with KEF LS50 Meta that sounded great in the middle and somewhat disjointed while doing Off-Axis listening.
What I really like about NS17 is their higher impedance of 6 Ohms that isn’t leaving a huge burden on your amplifiers, you can even use low-budget Class-D amplifiers with great results. I have actually tried them out of several amplifiers and the most affordable one (SMSL DA-9) did a wonderful job, fully driving them to very loud levels. With a sensitivity of 87 dB, NS17 is neither too easy, nor very hard to drive, they sounded by 1 dB louder to a pair of KEF LS50 Meta at the same power output.
It isn’t a secret anymore that I have a fetish when it comes to digital sources, some of them have great preamp stages, some of them have a streamer inside and I wanted to know if those would be any good, great or plain bad with NS17, so I’ve tried all of them. From Matrix Audio Element X, to Gustard X26 PRO and X16, to Audiobyte’s HydraVox and then to Gold Note DS-10 PLUS driven by PSU-10 EVO, NS17 was tested with them all in a span of 10 days.
As for power, NS17 were first used with a Naim Uniti Atom all-in-one that performed a 7-day break-in period, then I moved it to a SMSL DA-9 just to make sure they can work with less impressive Class-D amplifiers, then I’ve moved to a Class-A integrated amplifier and to a Class-AB power amplifier (KECES S300) that squeezed the last drop of performance out of them. If you’re wondering what was the best combo I’ve tried with them, Gold Note DS-10 Plus + PSU-10 Evo with KECES S300 impressed me the most, as this setup fully unlocked their true potential. Alright everybody, enough with the talk, let’s have a good listen to them.
I. Preliminary Impressions
Having wooden woofers, silk tweeters, film capacitors and being powered by high-end electronics that are offering a few juicy Watts in Class-A, If I would describe the whole experience with just a single word, unsurprisingly that would be natural, with a few more it would be dynamic, vivid, and alive with zero listening fatigue. If I would add some more, that would be expanded in all directions, airy, very punchy and nimble sounding all the time. NS17 reminds me a lot about higher-tiered Dynaudio, about Harbeth and Wilson Audio to some degree. There is always an overwhelming sensation of rendering the music as an act of pleasure, of pure joy, as a complete relaxation of body and mind. NS17 are not only smooth and outrageously natural sounding, but also extremely engaging due to an instant rise of dynamics when the music is asking for it. I am comparing them for two days straight with a pair of KEF LS50 Meta and while I’ll tell you more in the latest chapters of this review, I can tell you right now that LS50 Meta sounded small, bi-dimensional and quite shy when it comes to low-end delivery, while NS17 sounded expansive, much bigger and much closer to my KEF Reference 3 loudspeakers. Their low-end delivery was spectacular down to around ~35 to 40 Hz, something that I’ve experienced only with Dynaudio Contour S 1.4 and to a smaller degree with a Buchardt S400 if I’m taking into account only bookshelf speakers.
NS17 sounded highly engaging, always toe tapping and never pressing the brakes when it comes to dynamics. Considering the materials being used, it was unusual hearing a very good transparency and detail retrieval, they didn’t sound at all like my old silk-dome tweeter equipped loudspeakers. There was more clarity, more presence and more bite in the top octave and you can even add 2 dB if you’re listening on a turntable for a bit more sparkle up top. Honestly, I wasn’t prepared for a sound like this, because I never heard about this brand, about its past doings and I never experienced a wooden woofer before. From a somewhat plain and polite sounding LS50 Meta, NS17 added additional layers of depth information, there were several layers of music closer to me, some layers behind the loudspeakers that created a very clear three-dimensional map of my music. In all fairness, NS17 sounded more like a well-made stand floor loudspeaker, than like a traditional bookshelf. The music itself was bigger, the bass notes hit harder and everything felt just breathing around me, they even sounded by about ~1 dB louder to the KEF LS50 Meta, putting a lower pressure on the amplification stage.
When I’ve engaged some of the faster electronica that I know for more than a decade, I was surprised that it delivered bass notes in a nimble and impactful way, pushing plenty of air around the room that glasses in the kitchen started dancing to the rhythm of the music. The low-end delivery was definitely one of the biggest surprises…I’ve personally moved to a stand floor loudspeaker system, because bookshelves couldn’t deliver the full frequency response, I wanted more treble and more bass energy, but if I had something like NS17 before, I don’t know if I would have the urge to upgrade to bigger speakers anytime soon. The higher magnet count on NS17 compared to a traditional loudspeaker, made them a tad faster sounding, decaying at the right time, that you no longer need a lot of power to fully control their drivers. While there was a minor lag and sluggishness when I moved to a Class-D SMSL DA-9, dynamics didn’t collapse at all as it happened on the Buchardt S400, making them extremely easy to pair with less than perfect amplifiers.
II. System Matching & Power Requirements
NS17 is the definition of warmth and naturalness in a loudspeaker form. I didn’t expect this sound signature from a Far-East company, I always believed Eastern countries enjoy a treble oriented sound a little bit more, but I guess not everybody is the same. Having a warmer tonality, system matching becomes a much lesser concern, as you can use your standard equipment and still get a life-like sound out of NS17. Even using an ultra-revealing setup like Matrix Audio Element X, powered by the SMSL DA-9, I really enjoyed the final outcome. That duo altered its tonality a bit, becoming faster and lighter on its feet, but heavy-weight textures and natural overtones didn’t run away. SMSL DA-9 was more than capable of unleashing good dynamics and high-volume levels, while keeping distortion at bay. It was more than decent, but higher priced units still sounded better to me.
For giggles I’ve tried them with a small Class-A integrated amplifier called KECES E40 that outputs as little as 50 Watts per channel and again they were kicking and pounding like a stand floor speaker. They sounded more saturated, richer in tonality, a lot more colorful in this setup, there was more contrast, even a deeper bass and a lusher midrange, there was more meat on the bone that relaxed its treble output by a little. E40 works best with lean or bright loudspeakers and NS17 is the opposite of that sound.
I believe one of the most balanced setups I’ve tried was Gold Note’s DS-10 Plus driven by a single KECES S300 power amplifier. NS17 sounded just right from the get go, I’ve fulfilled my need for speed, mimicking the nimble approach of the first setup, while preserving the richer tonality of the second rig, without rolling any treble information. Dynamics were through the roof, as I couldn’t stop moving my feet to the rhythm of the music. This setup worked the best for me and this is what I’ve used 90% of the time.
III. Transient Response
I seriously think arming them with 4 magnets around their tweeters unlocked the fifth gear when it comes to transient response, because usually silk tweeters cannot compete with Air Motion Transformers (EMT), with electrostatic or with plain planar-magnetic or ribbon tweeters when it comes to speed and decay of the notes. The same can be said about its wooden woofers, those are made out of 20 layers of extra thin wood and only thinking about it isn’t inspiring a lightning quick transient response, but let’s think outside of the box, as everything is possible with proper engineering and with a well-made hardware crossover. I still own one of the fastest loudspeakers there are and being a transient response junkie, I just couldn’t send the Reference 3 back after 2 weeks of listening, so I decided to buy them, I’m about my KEF Reference 3 that are playing tunes for almost ~6 months now. Obviously, NS17 cannot compete with something that costs 6 times their price, but I can safely say that they stood their ground firmly compared to something like KEF LS50 Meta or Buchardt S400.
Be it rock, electronica or modern jazz, they just kept going, never losing a beat, always sounding snappy, fast and impactful no matter the track. The low-end made its presence in the room like a rock star stage diving into the crowd. I cannot ask for more from a bookshelf loudspeaker, it was highly impactful with my music, preserving the speed and the slam that followed. Several people came for a listen at a glass of wine and we all agreed that the keyword for NS17 is not only naturalness but also dynamics, which kept rising and rising with crowded impactful tunes.
When Daft Punk – Doin’ it Right (Qobuz / Tidal / Spotify) made an appearance on my playlist, the vocal synth and the drum beat put on repeat, went smooth as a summer rose wine and hard kicking as a glass of whiskey after a few rounds of beer. Its slower tempo made me appreciate the low-end delivery a lot more, it came in waves towards me, which felt gratifying and really amusing. I could easier focus on the hyperactive top octave or on that huge blob of bass that moved slowly, but punched hard. There’s something catchy about this one, those telegraphic chopped voice lines were perfectly rendered, exactly as I know them to be on a high-end setup. The layering of this oddly satisfying track felt like a stroke of genius, it is that kind of track that makes you listen to a song over and over again, humming it to yourself for at least two days in a row and I believe that NS17 fully preserved the soul and the energy of this track.
IV. Soundstage & Depth
When I’ve moved from Wharfedale Diamond 11.2 to KEF LS50 Wireless and then to Buchardt S400, it felt like I was gradually increasing my listening space, sounds were better filling every corner of my room, portraying a more precise pin-point image and a bigger picture in front of me. What S400 did to my former speakers is what NS17 is doing to the S400. I am having a sense of Déjà Vu all over again as Natural Sound made them big and expansive sounding with the right music and gear. I’ve checked their specs again, including that hardware crossover several times and I don’t know how they did it, but I’m presuming a bigger cabinet size improved the sound pressure level and those bigger 6.5” woofers were easier moving air towards my cozy listening spot, subsequently improving the depth and the stage size. This is where a nicer and more powerful amplifier shined the most. When properly driven, I felt a better control of the drivers, but more than ever the sounds were flying further away, bass felt more robust and more powerful in a way. If I would put them closer to the wall, say half a meter, low-end would become too powerful and all over the place, but placing them a little farther away…suddenly order and control were fully restored. When it comes to scale, they sounded good out of entry to mid-level power or integrated amps and outstanding while being powered by nicer amplifiers.
The most impressive part was listening to crowded or to overly dense music like orchestra or live recordings. Instead of sounding cluttered and a bit shy as LS50 Meta did, NS17 were at least twice as big sounding, placing every sound where it belongs in the scenery with a charming ease and without overlapping them on top of each other.
I cannot stop listening to Måneskin – Coraline (Qobuz / Tidal / Spotify) for the last few days, it just stuck inside my head and doesn’t want to leave, it feels like a comeback to golden age of Rock ‘n’ Roll that I’ve grown with. NS17’s melodic, meditative and hard-hitting nature highlighted the band’s energy and depth. This track can be split in two, first part feels relaxed and melodic and a minute later dynamics go with a bang sending tremors in the room, making me jump to the rhythm of the music. With a track like this, NS17 easily shown the brighter and the darker side of the moon. A faster pace in a crowded track didn’t pose a problem, as NS17 were both gentle and hard rocking, infusing a bit more soul into that music and more dopamine into my blood stream. I’m putting this track on repeat for the third time and you should probably do the same.
V. Detail Retrieval
Natural Sound, as their name suggests, made sure their loudspeakers would awake emotions, by highlighting the weight and texture of all the notes, by making them vivid and alive. I never felt that the leading edge and contours were less impressive or defined in a way, but those were certainly less sharp and outlined as they were on my Reference 3 loudspeakers. I believe that NS17 offered a detailed and transparent presentation, without going overboard to the bright side, sans being aggressive, clinical or sharp sounding. I could easily catch all the tiniest nuances like butterflies on Que Sera Sera by Pink Martini (Qobuz / Tidal / Spotify). NS17 were exactly as clean, as detailed and nuanced as LS50 Meta were, there were plenty of sprites to my left and tiny sounds that were rendered crystal clear without stressing myself too much. However, you won’t find an abundance of details on a micro-scale as it might happen with electrostatic, EMT or ribbon tweeters. To some degree, my former Burchard S400 and Dynaudio Contour S1.4 carried the same sound signature, highlighting all the fun, while running away from linearity and dullness.
As a small detour, I find my Reference 3 only by a hair more detailed and sharp sounding, their metallic drivers are rendering trebles with a clinical accuracy and with a faultless precision, NS17 aren’t exactly at the same level, but are approaching dangerously close without sounding metallic or overly sharp.
Tool’s - Chocolate Chip Trip (Qobuz / Tidal / Spotify) is a dynamics monster that could easily cripple smaller sized speakers. On regular bookshelves, it doesn’t sound as impressive as those are heavily sacrificing low-end, layering, micro-dynamics and just pure raw fun-factor. With NS17, I was air drumming like a mad man, mid-bass sounded chest pounding and extremely powerful. While it was a forgettable, plain and boring experience on LS50 Meta, this track transformed into something entirely different on the NS17.
Bookshelf speakers and bass were never best buddies for life, it is one of the reasons I’ve moved to stand floors so I can have the full frequency response and a huge hole in my pocket due acoustic treatments (Those are incoming soon…don’t remind me) that are needed to be done. There were small exceptions from this rule, my former Buchardt S400 were quite amazing in this department due its massive passive radiator on the back. While NS17 doesn’t have that, it is gifted with a bigger bass driver, with more powerful magnets, it has a bigger cabinet size and all that translated into an extended bass performance. Usually, I cannot mention a single word about sub-bass with bookshelves, but it made an appearance several times always giving my eyes are on you look.
NS17 have the luxury of having the quality, but also the quantity when it comes to bass. I was one of the few that used a subwoofer with the KEF LS50W, so I could feed my hunger and have the same experience I am getting from headphones and by that, I mean a wider frequency response. Easier said than done, because that never worked out amazingly well, a low-pass filter did wonders in that setup, but two woofers of different brands can have a different timing, sound signature and decay, so I wasn’t truly satisfied until KEF Reference 3 hit the floor and the glasses in the kitchen. While NS17 is nowhere near as bold and hard punching in the bass, they are coming incredibly close, easily outperforming the likes of LS50 Meta or even Reference 1 when it comes to fun factor. As for the low-end itself, it has a slightly longer decay, but it is fuller and much weightier compared to what’s coming out of metallic woofers. It has a natural tonality, organ pipes sound just right, cellos and piano aren’t easily rendered and yet NS17 carries their melancholy, offering a gradual decay of those notes, letting you enjoy every second of those moments.
If you want to experiment with something different, try Better Together by Zoli Toth (Tidal / Spotify) and be amazed by the capabilities of your speakers when it comes to bass, impact and pin point location of all the notes. Treat it accordingly, it is an experimental electronic album filled with a lot of sounds you normally wouldn’t find in your regular tracks. The bass output is strong in this one, there is plenty of mid-bass, but especially sub-bass is flying easily around carrying small pockets of air. NS17 were able to push those air bubbles down low and show their exact location. An outstanding tour de force, proving that bass quantity and quality can be obtained even from a loudspeaker of this size.
Say it out loud with me: a wooden woofer…and then think about musical instruments that are made out of this wonderful material. It is unsurprising hearing an Outstanding (with a capital letter) midrange performance. This is by far, the best part of this loudspeaker. While its low-end delivery impressed me immediately, all the spotlights were moved to its midrange section. Vocal performance was immaculate, there is weight and authority with male voices, sweetness and refinement with female voices. Musical instruments sounded like there is no digital to analog conversion happening, those sounded at present tense, like everything was happening right now in my room. Be it Pink Martini, Gothart, Junior Wells, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald or anyone else, NS17 were able to highlight the beauty of their voices and the natural overtones of their instruments. Midrange felt bold, full-bodied, there were butterflies in my stomach, I could almost touch those notes. For me, midrange performance is the most important part, as if you do it right, everything else remains less important.
What was kind of interesting, it that raw and slight harsh nature of several rock albums were fully cured, never to be bright and harsh ever again. I could listen to all that without clenching my teeth or without lowering the volume too much. NS17 don’t care about linearity/neutrality, they want to be fun, awakening emotions deep inside you. Still, if you need more technicalities, use a revealing setup and you’ll have all the details combined with emotions in a single package.
The newest DorDeDuh – Har (Tidal / Spotify) is not an album for the faint of heart, to be listened with your kids or neighbors, so be warned. This a progressive metal album filled with folk motives, with images of our ancestors and grotesque thoughts of the old gods. While I almost can’t listen to it on my KEF’s due to a its raw and unpolished nature that was made on purpose, NS17 are adding a smoothing and beatifying filter all over it, making it a lot more manageable, highlighting the good and hiding away the twisted nature of this album. What I want to say is that if you’re an avid rock, metal, jazz or instrumental music listener, NS17 will be showing the beautiful side of those genres, by boosting natural textures and underlining everything that’s happening in the mid-region.
What wooden drivers did to the midrange is what its fine silk tweeters are doing to the treble. At 1” those are slightly bigger to regular tweeters, add four magnets around them and you can expect a powerful, crisp, detailed and an extended treble delivery. I have tried everything on NS17 in a span of 10 days, from soft relaxing music, to fast and aggressive tunes and to me they always appeared as capable of showing tiny nuances in the top octave. While it isn’t the most extended, nor the sharpest or most detailed treble I’ve encountered so far, it offered a non-aggressive and life-like treble performance that I could listen to several hours straight without any listening fatigue. At times they might appear as having a gentle slope in the top octave, smoothing razor-sharp notes, making them more manageable in the long run. The top octave felt clean, detailed enough and it was breathing pushing more air in the treble. The only difference compared to a coaxial driver is that I’ve heard a less defined leading edge and contour of those notes, that could come as a plus or as a con, depending on your preference.
IX. A Comparison
KEF LS50 Meta ($1499) VS Natural Sound NS17 ($2299 including shipping)
When it comes to looks and material choices, I really don’t know anything cooler and more unique looking than the KEF LS50 Meta. There is something that always drags my attention to them, their soft white matte looks and that coaxial UNI-Q driver always fascinated me. LS50 Meta are looking flawless from any point of view and are built to very high standards. NS17 are nice looking too, but its white gloss body and black face plate aren’t doing the same chemistry for me, I find them good looking but not as great and charming as LS50 are. Its thick MDF boards and huge cabinet size makes them more serious and audiophile oriented, while LS50 are looking more like high-end furniture in a living room, being design oriented more than anything else.
LS50 are office friendly speakers due to their small size and stealthy looks and the other ones not so much, as you’ll need a bigger desk space, or you’ll need to put them on a stand, providing a bigger space behind them. When it comes to packaging and accessories, both models are tightly secured from the outside world, but Natural Sound added two magnetic grills in the package, that could be easily attached and detached.
When it comes to sensitivity and system matching, NS17 are slightly easier to drive (87 dB VS 85 dB), they worked considerably better with entry to mid-level amplifiers that were plain boring on the LS50. I volume matched both pairs using a MiniDSP EARS system at 85 dB and commenced my listening session.
KEF LS50 Meta are fine sounding, they have a great sense of speed and a super-fast decay. They have an immaculate tempo; pace, rhythm and timing, an awesome pin point location of the notes and I find them quite detailed and clean sounding. They struggle a little in offering a bigger image, especially with live music they sound a little congested and closed-in. Swapping them with NS17, the scale is doubling in size, there are more sounds around me, those are more defined and carry more weight. NS17 placed all the sounds precisely around me, some were closer to me, some behind the speakers, some farther away to my left of right, creating a three-dimensional image with just two loudspeakers, something that LS50 couldn’t do even with top-class electronics. By comparison LS50 sounded almost flat and bi-dimensional, in my 35 square meter listening area LS50 are doing a fine job and NS17 a masterful job, filling every corner of the room with sounds. When it comes to depth and soundstage size, there is no contest as NS17 is just bigger and deeper sounding in every possible way.
Another standout was the low-end delivery that felt powerful and hard-kicking on NS17 and quite shy on LS50, especially when it comes to sub-bass. LS50 renders music starting with mid-bass, skipping the lowest notes entirely, while Natural Sound starts with sub-bass and slowly moves all the way up to mid-bass, delivering a chest pounding impact, something that LS50 couldn’t do even with electronic music. Besides putting more bass notes on a plate, those were better layered, more scattered around, there were breathing, moving fast and decaying naturally. LS50 delivered mid-bass in a lightning-fast manner, decaying it almost instantly, leaving little to no time appreciating organ pipes of cellos. Realistically, LS50 delivers bass notes starting from 80 Hz and NS17 from around 40 Hz, covering a much wider region.
I always loved the way KEF rendered the mid-range in clean, refined and natural way, without going overboard to either side. However, NS17 brings more warmth, more emotions, it’s denser sounding in here, males are more courageous with their solos and females perform sweeter and gentler, always touching something inside. LS50 goes for a neutral sound signature, leaving all the magic to the equipment that is connected to them, while NS17 has an opposite design philosophy, putting them at the centerpiece of your stereo setup. As much as I like the KEF midrange, I believe Natural Sound did a better job when it comes to tonality and midrange presence.
Treble is also rendered quite differently, LS50 fully preserves the shimmering and the metallic nature of cymbals, bells and tambourines…NS17 wasn’t that prodigious, dimming them a little, toning down the sharpness and the shimmering. With the wrong equipment and with some particular tracks, LS50 can become bright and fatiguing in long listening sessions, something that NS17 will never become. If I’m flipping the treble switch to +2dB position, then NS17 are taking a few steps towards the KEF sound, so if you need more treble presence for your turntable or tube-based amplifier, then +2dB will surely come in handy.
Another interesting aspect is that I’m using my stereo setup while watching movies on a TV for a better experience. The ones that made me jump from my couch, delivering real explosions, gun fires, better highlighting the action on Nobody (IMDB) were Natural Sound speakers. I’m always using my KEF Reference 3 while watching movies and I believe that NS17 approaches much closer to their thunderous performance compared to LS50.
Probably the most important part about loudspeakers is how engaging, how dynamic and involving they can sound and how good crowded music is being taken care of and this is where NS17 stands out by a mile compared to LS50. I love LS50 with the right setup, I’ve owned the active version for almost 2 years, I’ve formed a very strong impression about them, but NS17 is in another league and at a much higher level when it comes to dynamics. I’m literally all over the place when a snappy track hits my playlist with them and I’m sitting like an obedient child with the LS50 on those stands. I’m getting goose bumps once in a while with them and never with LS50. Crowded music is decompressed, putting every sound where it belongs in the scenery with NS17 and all that will sound closer and more congested with the LS50. You get my point, for pure raw energy, NS17 are playing in a league of their own and I believe they fully deserve their premium price over the LS50 Meta.
It feels great listening to a fresh pair of loudspeakers once in a while, especially when the closest friends are coming for listen at a glass of wine. I personally didn’t expect much out of them, I didn’t know anything about them, but after pressing play and seeing my hair raising, I knew I’m in for a treat.
I liked a lot that I didn’t need the biggest and the baddest amplifier to awake higher dynamics and emotions out of them, something that I strongly disliked about my former loudspeakers. They sounded great out of a 50 Watt integrated, they sounded as good out of a budget Class-D amplifier and only by a hair better out of a powerful Class-A amplifier. They matched equally well with R2R, Delta-Sigma and software-defined FPGA DACs, with or without dedicated preamps, I really enjoyed my time with Natural Sound NS17.
This is my first contact with Natural Sound, but I’m hoping it wouldn’t be my last, I’m eager to learn more about their next projects, hopefully a stand floor speaker is being designed as we speak. NS17 have a tonality that is impossible to dislike, it sounds like real music and not a reproduction of it and I truly think they deserve their asking price. They just won a Gold Award for everything that makes them special. Congratulation to the team, they fully deserved it!
Natural Sound NS17 will cost you $2299 (shipping is included), as of right now they don’t have an official web-page, but they have an official worldwide distributor which is Aoshida Audio. They kindly provided the review sample which I’m thankful for and you can get them directly from their web-store. They are shipping them worldwide and free of charge!
One last thing…if you want the best out of them, never use their magnetic grills. In case you get a pair, please come back and leave a comment, I’m curious to know how they perform in your setup!
- Thick MDF boards, solid build quality
- Outstanding soundstage and layering
- Precise pin-point imaging that leads to 3D sound
- Great detail retrieval
- A see-through transparency
- An excellent transient response, pace, rhythm and timing (considering the drivers that are being used)
- Rich timbre, warm and full-bodied
- Highly engaging and fun sounding!
- One of the deepest low-end I’ve experienced out of a bookshelf speaker
- Easy to drive, doesn’t need the biggest amplifiers out there
- System matching isn’t a problem anymore
- Worth its asking price
- Small desktop setups cannot accommodate them
- Forget about linearity/neutrality with NS17
- DACs: Audiobyte HydraVox + HydraZap, Matrix Audio Element X, Gustard X26 PRO, X16, Gold Note DS-10 Plus, Topping D30 PRO, xDuoo XA-10
- Preamps: Benchmark HPA4, Topping Pre90
- Integrated Amps: Keces E40
- Power Amps: Keces S300, SMSL DA-9
- Headphone Amps: Benchmark HPA4, SparkoS Labs Aries, Flux Lab Acoustics FCN-10, Musician Andromeda, Singxer SA-1, Burson Soloist 3X, xDuoo XA-10, Topping A30 PRO, Gustard H16 & others
- IEMs: FiiO FA9, FH7, FH5S, FD5, Meze RAI Penta, RAI Solo, LittleDot Cu KIS, Hiby Crystal6 & others
- Portable headphones: Sennheiser Momentum 2, Meze 99 Classics
- Full-sized headphones: Hifiman HE1000SE, Susvara, Arya, Audeze LCD-4, Kennerton Wodan, Magni, Gjallarhorn, Vali, M12S, Erzetich Phobos, Mania, Fostex TH909, Quad ERA-1, Ollo S4X Reference
- Loudspeakers: Natural Sound NS17, KEF Reference 3, KEF LS50 Meta
- Interconnects: QED Reference (x2), Topping TCX1 (x2)
- Speaker cables: Kimber PR8, Audioquest Type4
- Power Cables: Isotek EVO3 Premier (x3)
- Balanced Isolation Power Conditioners: PLiXiR Elite BAC400