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CHRIS MARTENS’ BEST OF CES 2017: TRADITIONAL TWO-CHANNEL AUDIO

(2017-02-14 08:10:52)

MBL Noble N11, N31, and N15

Many audiophiles hold the German firm MBL and its vaunted omnidirectional loudspeakers in very high regard, but a challenge for any would-be MBL speaker owner is the admittedly thorny issue of how best to drive those speakers. Stated simply, when it comes to amplification MBL’s speakers tend to be demanding with a capital “D”! Naturally, MBL’s flagship range of Reference-line electronics are up to the task, but frankly those models tend to be physically massive and to carry correspondingly wallet-crushing price tags, so that’s what’s desired is a range of electronics that can make the top-flight MBL speakers sign, yet that are at least somewhat more compact and that sell for merely expensive (as opposed to ohmigosh-über-expensive) prices.

Enter MBL’s new Noble line electronics, comprising the N11 preamplifier ($14,600), N31 CD player/DAC ($15,400) and the N15 510-watt monoblock power amps ($17,800/ea.). Note that each MBL 101E MkII loudspeaker requires two N15s, so amplifier costs can add up quickly.

Having heard MBL’s 101E MkIIs driven by the firm’s over-the-top Reference-line electronics many times, I can honestly say the new Noble-line electronics give up very little in the way of performance vis-à-vis their larger and far more costly siblings. And that, I think, is the point. As you can see from the accompanying photograph, the Noble-line electronics can fit neatly on a conventional hi-fi shelf and look good doing so, whereas the Reference equipment is so big that your listening room might well wind up looking like a high-end audio ‘shrine’ (complete with ‘altars’ to the massive Reference power amps) and not a practical living space at all.

Well done, MBL.

 Chris Martens

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