KARRI acoustic Nullaki Loudspeakers Review
Let me start this review by simply saying that I’ve got a “thing” for home-grown HiFi manufacturers. And why wouldn’t I? Australia has a rich history in high fidelity audio and some of our brands are world-renowned. Think Continuum, Osborn Loudspeakers, Burson Audio, Halcro and so many more.
So when I was contacted by KARRI acoustic early this year, I was excited with the prospect of being among the first in the world to not only write about a new Aussie start-up, but also a world first in reviewing their current flagship loudspeaker, the NULLAKI.
Designed and hand-crafted in Western Australia, their range (which currently consists of just three speaker models at present) breaks the mainstream ‘monopole’ mould, opting instead for a ‘dipole’ design for both the midrange and tweeter. To better understand what that means, I’ll quote the KARRI acoustic website:
Monopole is the most common speaker design; the radiated sound field is primarily forward and to the sides.
Dipole (often referred to as ‘open baffle’) design means the radiated sound field to the back of the speaker is out of phase with the front of the speaker. This produces a unique acoustic short circuit to the sides of the speaker, to which there is a radiation ‘null’. As will be seen further below, this can be put to very good use in controlling reflected sound within the room.
There’s pros and cons in all methods and designs of reproducing sound, and we’ll discover the trials, tribulations, but also the moments of pure joy living with the NULLAKI in our acoustically treated demonstration room over the last few months.
Karri is a native Australian hardwood, found in the southwest corner of Western Australia. It is used exclusively on the KARRI range as a veneer on the cabinets, while the waveguide assembly is produced from Jarrah. Both timbers are of the Eucalypt variety; it doesn’t get more Australian than this.
NULLAKI is a 3-way loudspeaker, consisting of a bass reflex cabinet with two 8” SB Acoustics woofers, ported through the base of the enclosure. Bottom firing ports typically allow for more flexibility in room placement, but more on that later. The cabinet itself features a 32mm front baffle, and curved sides with immaculate attention to detail and quality of workmanship. Naturally the use of real timbers means that no two speakers will look the same, complete with minor imperfections in the grain, which in my view just adds to the authenticity of the finished product.
Perched atop the cabinet we find the dipole midrange and tweeter assembly that is the KARRI acoustic statement. Once again the workmanship is proudly displayed in the waveguide which houses the open baffle mounted 6.5” SB Acoustics midrange driver, and a forward facing 29mm ring-radiator tweeter. A 19mm rear firing tweeter completes the driver line-up, with all drivers cleverly housed with concealed wiring; a design feat in itself.
I’d had loads of phone conversations with Troy Hughes, the Principal and Head of Design at KARRI acoustic over the past months. With a background in electronics engineering and psychology (part of me always wondered if I was being psychoanalysed while we were talking), Troy talked of his love for audio reproduction and music, deciding to give away gainful employment in the lucrative mining industry to pursue his dream of manufacturing high quality, but affordable loudspeakers. Needless to say, he’s already realising his dream and by all reports is already enjoying early success with KARRI acoustic.
With this background, Hughes says:
The concomitant of this is a focus on psychoacoustics, and especially spatio-temporal perception. This is a speaker that, in addition to having the direct-radiating accuracy that one would and should expect, is incredibly controlled in terms of achieving accurate aural perception – which is, after all, our end goal.
By design, the NULLAKI arrangement provides acoustic nulls in the areas in which we wish to avoid reflections, yet maintains a balance of direct and ambient sound that is balanced, well-timed, and well-placed. By so highly controlling the dispersion of the speaker, the speaker interacts much more ideally with the room. In addition, we remove all box colouration, which is evident in the very fast, highly detailed midrange and treble response. The presentation of the decay of a cymbal, for instance, can be quite striking.
Troy’s inspiration for the NULLAKI was predominantly orchestral instruments. This reportedly flowed through the design process, and is now apparent in the lovely wood finishes and organic shapes.
On the business front, KARRI acoustic have adopted a model that is not new to the Australian market, selling direct via the internet. Akin to the age-old model used by Osborn Loudspeakers and many other Australian manufacturers, it keeps the price low and allows the designer and owner of the company to communicate directly with customers, offering true support and service, which is important to Hughes.
NULLAKI are priced at a very reasonable $6,595.00 including free delivery in Australia, along with a 14 day home trial program. Conditions of course apply.
The excitement grew as the TNT delivery trekked across the country towards our office, and upon arriving we were greeted with two very large boxes. Interestingly, the images you find online simply do not convey the stature of the NULLAKI, which ultimately stand quite tall and proud in real life.
Not one to normally comment on packaging (does anyone really care?), this however was worthy of commentary. Like something of a Tetris-inspired game, the packaging of the speakers was remarkable and ultimately gives confidence that your investment has arrived safely. Sadly, the anticipation of setting them up won over charging the camera’s batteries.
And this is where the tale takes a turn, albeit briefly. I mentioned earlier that down-firing ports generally eases speaker placement within your room. Unlike rear firing ports, there’s no need to place your speakers to take advantage of rear-loading. That’s a plus. Throw in a dipole midrange and tweeter however, and placement becomes critical.
My dedicated media room is 7.1 x 5.5m and acoustically treated. This in itself generally makes placement a little easier, but the NULLAKI would prove to test my patience. Typical speaker positioning in my room is around 1 – 1.5m from the rear wall which features a very heavy blackout curtain. Immediately I noticed a lack of focus and transparency of the sound. A few more hours would be spent trialling various positions without much improvement before a call to KARRI’s principal was made. On advice, which in hindsight makes perfect sense, I’d need to open the curtain that was acting as a diffuser and not allowing the rear reflected signal to do what it should. A hard surface for reflection, combined with moving the speakers closer to the rear wall would turn out to be the answer.
The obsessive nature of my listening habits meant a further few days of placement tweaking and measuring, until the NULLAKI were focused, tonally balanced, the speakers themselves disappeared and a depth and width of soundstage became apparent. In my room at least, they also required a reasonable amount of toe-in, limited to some degree by large bass traps I have in the corners. I’ve never come across speakers so critical of room placement, but believe me once correct, you’re in for a real treat.
The NULLAKI had arrived with running hours on them already, so no time was wasted getting into them. Perhaps it was coincidence or something more powerful at play, but I was greeted by a random delivery of Jimi Hendrix’ ‘Red House’. The raw, organic tone that presented itself just about stopped me in my tracks. With precise, pin point locations on the soundstage of Jimi and accompanying musicians I could tell the width and depth cues, are amongst the best I’ve heard. Ever.
First impressions are important but I try and get through the new product honeymoon stage quickly.
Adele’s ‘If it hadn’t been for love’ is a live recording from the Royal Albert Hall. The NULLAKI demonstrate believable height when it comes to vocal placement. Instruments are well placed and show good proportion, not smeared.
Katherine Jenkins, and her operatic rendition of 'Il Canto' is breathtaking. The scale of the accompanying orchestra is realised, and a seamless transition between the mid to upper registers indicates good crossover design. NULLAKI captures the emotion of the vocal to such a degree that one can look past the intricacies of the recording itself and simply appreciate the music.
When a stereo recording, playback equipment, and particularly the speakers come together as one, you’re met with a beautiful three-dimensional, audio image. I believe the dipole design of the NULLAKI creates extraordinary space, depth and ambience. I have to remind myself that there are only two loudspeakers in the room.
The NULLAKI loudspeakers are mostly transparent, in that they do disappear and get out of the way of the music most of the time. There’s just a hint of frequency steering, where a particular note or tone will sharply appear from either the left or right extremes and localise the speaker.
Harry James and his Big Band, The King James Version is a “direct from the masters” recording from Sheffield Lab. “Blues Stay Away From Me” is a foot-tapping delight, with the beautiful texture of the horns, delicate delivery and precision intonation. Instruments are once again well placed and clearly focused.
Angus & Julia Stone’s ‘On The Road’ from the Down the Way album really highlighted some of the strengths of dipole. Vocal texture and air is delightful. This track also demonstrated whole-room cues, an ambience, as if the NULLAKI loudspeakers had become one with the room. I can’t say for sure that untreated rooms would respond in the same manner. Dipole just does something that I’ve not heard from monopole or traditional speaker designs to date.
It’s important to have a vast array of music genres when evaluating audio systems, and not just renowned ‘audiophile’ recordings. This applies not only to professional reviews, but just as importantly when visiting your local dealer auditioning potential purchases.
Moving on to faster paced, energetic and dynamic material, its apparent there has to be trade off to offering a substantial, beautifully crafted and engaging loudspeaker at such an affordable price. I suspect the upper mid-bass is not entirely linear and at times sounds a tad bloated. As a result of playing bass guitar for many years (until I realised I wasn’t going to make it as a rock star) I clearly hear bass lines. Some bass notes just seem lost and lacking in definition. Yet other tracks have clear and punchy notes with just the right amount of snap.
With that said, it’s not a deal breaker and tracks such as Boris Blank’s ‘Electrified’, and even Aussie hip hop artist Vents with ‘Marked for Death’ are just great fun to listen to, albeit lacking ultimate real low-end extension.
I hate to pigeon-hole products, but I can see a trend with NULLAKI reproducing jazz, blues, acoustic, folk, vocal and piano recordings exceptionally well. Those listening to mostly rock may want to audition NULLAKI or one of the other models before committing to a purchase.
Going through my many pages of listening notes, the clear standout performance was ‘Eric’s Song’ from one of my favourite artists, Vienna Teng and her Waking Hour album. The NULLAKI effortlessly allow Teng’s voice to soar, conveying her breathe, and the movement of her lips, all elegantly supported by her melodic piano playing. Once more, the whole room becomes one with the artist and the instrument, just as it would were it a live performance.
NULLAKI are rated at a nominal 4 ohm impedance, and while efficiency isn’t stated, they certainly lapped up the 600 watts per channel (4 Ohm) of my AVM Ovation SA8.2 amplifier. Even at elevated levels they remain composed and unstressed.
The dipole design, along with the midrange/tweeter driver selection of the NULLAKI loudspeakers has certainly impressed me. Its inherent ability to recreate a soundstage that is convincing, engaging, faithful and revealing, along with the way in which it interacts with the room is remarkable. Never have I enjoyed listening so much to live recordings, particularly acoustic and piano vocal material.
At just $6,595 delivered to your door the NULLAKI is a loudspeaker that could easily be many times the price. If I’m to be critical I’d be content with just slightly more refined bass performance. The treble and midrange is breathtaking, the overall look is high-end, and the skill and quality of workmanship is clearly on display.
The KARRI acoustic NULLAKI is remarkable and I truly look forward to future releases from Karri Acoustic. I’m reliably informed there are more products in development.
- Unbeatable imaging, Beautiful tone and texture, Power handling, Exceptional value
- Challenging speaker placement, bass linearity
For more information visit KARRI acoustic.