Steljes Audio NS3 Active Bluetooth Speaker Review

Meet some small speakers with big ideas.

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

37

Best Buy
Steljes Audio NS3 Active Bluetooth Speaker Review
SRP: £200.00

What is the Steljes Audio NS3?

The NS3 is the larger of two standmount active stereo Bluetooth speakers from Steljes Audio. The market for these self contained active speakers has grown enormously in the last few years and you now have a considerable choice of models open to you at a variety of price points. We've looked at the KEF Egg Stereo system and more recently, the Yamaha NX-N500 which operate in this manner (although in fairness to Yamaha, it operates in a number of others too).

The problem for any new arrival in this category can be summed up in one and a bit words- Q Acoustics. The BT3 speaker that the company makes is- like pretty much everything else they put their name to- exceptionally competent, beautifully made, and keenly priced. Ten years into their quest to dominate the budget speaker market, they also have sufficient brand recognition to now be something of a go to brand for people as well. Anyone entering the market near them has to put their game face on.

Steljes Audio is a relatively new concern but it does have the backing of the Premier Audio Group who have been around for a number of years and the company's product portfolio is impressively comprehensive. The NS3 is pitching into a serious fight but it seems to be doing so well supported and with a little thought behind the design and implementation. Can it find a place in this contested market segment?

Specifications

Steljes Audio NS3
The NS3 is a two way active standmount speaker that stands at a commendably dinky 21 centimetres high. Like a number of designs at this price point, the Steljes is an active 'master' with passive 'slave' rather than two true actives. The main speaker contains a stereo amplifier and uses one channel for itself and sends the other speaker an amplified signal.

This is a system that might not be in keeping with a purist's view of what an active speaker should be but there are some considerable advantages. The first is that the Steljes only needs a single plug to function- and with it, only the main speaker needs to be anywhere near it. As the connection to the passive speaker is made using speaker cable, there is no sensible limit to where the other speaker needs to be. Steljes supplies a long run of cable with the NS3 but if that wasn't enough, you can easily use a longer run.

The amplification itself is a 45 watt unit of Class D extraction. This powers a 1 inch soft dome tweeter and a 4 inch woven fabric midrange unit. Steljes lists the NS3 as a 4 ohm device (which presumably is what the power output is measured to as well) and lists sensitivity at 85dB/w. This is not exactly featherweight sensitivity but given that the NS3 is tiny and self contained, hardly unexpected.
Steljes Audio NS3
In terms of connectivity, Steljes has done an excellent job with the inputs on the NS3. The speaker has a stereo RCA connection, 3.5mm stereo connection, optical digital input and of course Bluetooth. This is Apt-X capable, CSR Bluetooth that is capable of sending a lossless signal and means that the Steljes will happily work with Tidal and similar services. An equally welcome fitment is a USB-A type connector which will provide the necessary power to charge portable devices of the type likely to be providing a signal. It would be lovely if a USB-B connection for connecting a computer was on there too but at £200, it is fairly churlish to argue with this specification.

The final addition to the NS3's specification is a remote control. And judged by the standards of remotes that these products are generally supplied with, a very good remote control it is too. The lower chassis is made from metal and the whole affair looks and feels sturdier than the sad little plastic affairs you usually receive with products of this nature. The good news doesn't end there either. Steljes has seen fit to include a useful selection of functionality on the device itself. You can select inputs, pair the speaker, mute it and adjust the bass and treble. Even more exciting is that pointing the remote in the general direction of the master speaker and pressing a command will see that the NS3 actually does it. In a world where most of these speakers seem to be supplied with ineffectual plastic cards, the Steljes feels like someone cares enough to do a halfway decent job.

Design

Steljes Audio NS3
The NS3 is a fairly conventional looking device but none the worse for that. The speaker is almost as deep as it is long with a rear bass port to aid the low frequency response. The presence of the rear port does mean that the NS3 does its best work with a bit of clear air behind it but otherwise it doesn't seem terribly fussy about placement. The appearance is clean, modern and entirely appealing in the context of most normal rooms. If you are looking at some of the photos and thinking that the red is a bit sudden, the NS3 also has a bit of a trump card to play.

Whoever controls the purchasing and logistics for Steljes will be identifiable by a faintly maniacal gleam in their eye. They certainly have some mental fortitude because the NS3 is available in no less than seven finishes including a lively yellow option and something called 'Lagoon Blue' which looks very nice indeed. Quite whether the range charcoal black and 'Gunmetal grey' is unclear (Apple gets away with it but I'm not sure anyone else does) but Steljes gives you that option anyway.
The good news is that if the red samples sent for review are anything to go by, the resulting speaker is well finished and well built for the asking price. The Steljes looks and feels more expensive than it is and it combines elegance with useful levels of practicality too. One of the more appealing design decisions is the fitting of power and volume controls on the master speaker itself which means you can at least start the Steljes, rely on it auto pairing (and it almost inevitably does) and get listening without having to locate the remote. Against this, the lack of grills is a minor irritant but far from the end of the world.
Steljes Audio NS3
The NS3 is a fairly conventional looking device but none the worse for that.

How was the NS3 tested?

The Steljes has mainly been paired with an Onkyo DP-X1 Digital Audio Player which has an Apt-X capable output and doesn't receive calls every fifteen minutes unlike my phone. Additionally, an iPad Air and Lenovo T530 ThinkPad have been connected to ensure that the Steljes is willing to talk to more than one thing. For testing, the speakers have been placed on a pair of Soundstyle Z60 stands and linked by a run of Chord Company Rumour 2 speaker cable, not so much out of a belief it would sound better but as to avoid unwrapping the supplied run of speaker cable. The RCA input has been tested with a Naim ND5XS Streamer and the Numark TT250USB turntable reviewed recently. Material used has included lossless and high res FLAC, Tidal and Spotify and vinyl.

Performance with Bluetooth

Steljes Audio NS3
Pairing the Steljes is simple enough once you remember to press the 'Pair' button on the remote and not simply mash the Bluetooth button to initiate the pairing mode (I may have done this). While there is no touch to pair functionality, the process is painless enough to be second nature and the NS3 has paired with everything that it has been asked to. The range is also pretty good. The Steljes doesn't have the bombproof connectivity that some pricier devices have shown in the past but it is more than acceptable in the context of the price.

What is more than acceptable is the performance that the NS3 offers. This is a small speaker and judged by the standards of very large designs, it has to give some ground in terms of bass extension but it goes louder, hits harder and does a better job of creating a believable soundstage than you might reasonably expect. Their arrival coincided with a recent redisovery of the output of Arcade Fire (it isn't like I forgot they existed, more that I realised it had been years since I listened to any of their work which needed correction). With No Cars Go, the NS3 sounds punchy, engaging and believable.

Dig a little deeper and the reasons why the NS3 manages this is that it delivers the critical block of information from 90Hz to roughly 12kHz with an extremely even handed and impressively smooth way. Within this frequency is the information that really makes music believable and with almost every genre of music going, the 'markers' in the music that we respond to are here. The good news is that the Steljes does a very good job of getting everything across in a very organised way. It is important to point out that the NS3 comfortably extends past these points too- in fact some brief checks suggest it has bass response down past the quoted 60Hz figure used in room without significant roll off.
Perhaps as importantly, the NS3 sounds like it is having fun while it does it. The Steljes manages to sound lively and dynamic without tipping over into sounding bright or harsh and even poorly recorded material is delivered in a pleasing way. Some quick tests using the same tracks on the Onkyo back to back with Spotify and Tidal suggest that if the extra information is there on the recording, the NS3 will be able to make use of it in its performance. Equally- with one eye on their target market- the performance of the NS3 with compressed audio is far from unimpressive.

Performance across other inputs

Steljes Audio NS3
Most sane people will most likely not bother to connect £3,500+ of Naim streamer and power supply to a pair of £200 Bluetooth speakers but the good news is that if you do, the Steljes does a commendable job of showing the benefits of the Naim's extra performance and when given a little high res to play with- in this case a spirited run of Muse's The Second Law, the Steljes manages to show up some of the benefits when compared to the same album on Tidal (although this is as much down to the mixes being completely different).

When you connect the equally affordable Numark TT250USB to the same input though, the results are, if anything, more impressive. This is a very affordable pairing and the limitations of the Numark are still present but as a pair, they deliver a little dose of analogue, helped in no small part because both products work very well across the critical areas of listening. Sure it has flaws- bass response as a pairing is weaker than via digital and the top end becomes a little brighter but as a fully working vinyl system for £420 (that still has spare inputs and Bluetooth), you'd be pressed to buy better new.
The optical input finishes the Steljes off nicely, being able to take the signal from a Sky HD box and deliver decent performance across a spread of TV programs. There are any number of real world situations where the NS3 will be able to carry out all the functions that an owner might reasonably need.
Steljes Audio NS3
It goes louder, hits harder and does a better job of creating a believable soundstage than you might reasonably expect

Verdict

9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Excellent sonic performance
  • Useful feature set
  • Superb value

Cons

  • No USB Audio input
  • Some limits to bass response
  • No shortage of competition

Steljes Audio NS3 Active Bluetooth Speaker Review

Right at the beginning, I noted that any new arrival in this category has to be a convincing alternative to the Q Acoustics BT3. I'm not wholly sure what I was expecting with the Steljes Audio NS3 but this speaker manages to make a compelling case for itself. For £200, this is a well built, well specified and well implemented speaker system that feels like some care and attention has been lavished on it construction. It has connectivity sufficient to work with a variety of equipment and sounds extremely good while it does so. Given the bang for your buck on offer here, the logical conclusion is that the Steljes Audio NS3 has to be considered a Best Buy.

MORE: Hi-Fi Speaker Reviews

Best Buy

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
.
8

Sound Quality

.
9

Ease of Use

.
9

Features

.
.
8

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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