Why, if man has put vehicles on Mars and mastered open heart surgery, can he not design an accurate loudspeaker? Even at the best of times, modern speakers are seriously compromised devices, and the prospect of getting one to work properly from 20Hz to 20kHz still remains fairly distant.
Given that moving coil drivers have all sorts of colourations to sully them, and that electrostatics only work effectively over a limited frequency range, engineers have to employ clever tricks to get the best from them. Back in the early seventies, Yamaha decided the answer was Beryllium domes, and the NS-1000 was born.
Using this expensive metal, Yamaha came up with treble and midrange drivers with extremely low levels of distortion, excellent dispersion and phase coherence. In fact, mated together by a complex crossover network, they behaved much as an electrostatic panel, but with more extended highs and better power handling. Matched with a fast, light, rigid paper coned 300mm bass unit, the combination was dynamite.
The first NS-1000s went on sale in 1975, built like the proverbial brick powder room and with HF and mid range trim pots built into the front baffles. At over £400, their price reflected their high tech engineering and superb 32kg per box build. They were quite unlike anything people had ever heard – best described as sounding like a Quad ESL with a ribbon super-tweeter and a sub-woofer to handle the lows!
In Japan and the States they were rapturously received, with recording studios and broadcast companies throwing their money at Yamaha. Quite simply, there was no other speaker to touch the NS-1000’s combination of transparency, speed and power handling. But over here, reactions were mixed. Reviewers used to soft, bland Bextrene coned BBC monitors found them forward and fatiguing, and prone to harshness and fizz.
The problem was that the Yamahas were utterly unforgiving of the amps that drove them. With high sensitivity and a relatively easy load, most Japanese audiophiles were using them with muscular valve amps with a warm, smooth sound. In Britain the fashion was for big punchy transistor power amps such as Naim’s NAP250, which without soft Bextrene or polypropylene coned speakers to hide behind, could sound – yes, that’s right – forward, fatiguing and fizzy!
In 1978 the NS-1000s gained slightly smaller, more rigid cabinets, black paint and an ‘M’ suffix. Re-reviewed by the UK press, they were decried as harsh – with the exception of Practical Hi-Fi, whose reviewer used them with the (then seriously unfashionable) Quad II and gave them a big thumbs up. Funny, that.
Because the last NS-1000Ms cost nearly £2,000 some twenty years ago, these are not cheap speakers second-hand; pay between £800 and £1,200 depending on age and condition. Look for ‘one careful owner’ and avoid examples that sound fizzy – it’s a sign of a distressed Beryllium driver just about to die. Replacements are now very hard to find.
In truth, the NS-1000Ms are one of the most transparent sounding speakers ever made, with dazzlingly fast transients, superb soundstaging and great clarity and detail. But they also have a JBL-like capacity to inject life, drama and scale into everything they touch – a formidable combination of virtues! Partner them with valves or Class A tranny power amps, turn the mid range trim pot down to –3dB (they do have a slight mid-forward balance, but this assuages it), site them on sturdy stands and you’ll struggle to find a speaker that’s as much fun. It’s a whole lotta loud!