Steljes Audio NS6 Powered Speaker Review
There’s plenty of sound for your pound here
What is the Steljes Audio NS6?The Steljes Audio NS6 is a powered pair of loudspeakers that offer a selection of inputs, allowing them to function as a complete system without the presence of a standalone amplifier. They join the ranks of equipment being made available that subtly changes the dynamic of how you can go about creating an audio system. If you wanted, the only additional object needed to make the NS6 functional is a smartphone or other Bluetooth device. As such, it will be interesting to see just how well this minimalist approach to two-channel audio works.
It isn’t the only point of interest with the NS6 though. At £450, it finds itself priced as a credible alternative to a soundbar and equipped with connectivity that isn’t too dissimilar. Can the NS6 make an argument for two long thin boxes on the vertical axis rather than a single one on the horizontal? If so, what are the tradeoffs? The final point of consideration with the NS6 is that there is some precedent for it to be pretty good. The NS3 we looked at in September last year was unreasonably good for the asking price. Does the NS6 take everything that makes its little brother a steal and make it bigger or is this a driver too far? Time to find out.
SpecificationsThe Steljes is a powered speaker rather than a true active – an example of which in the form of the Acoustic Energy AE1 Active it went through at the same time as. An amplifier is carried on board the speaker to power it but this is mounted in front of the crossover. As such, the NS6 is a conventional speaker but one that has the amplification present in the cabinet. Crucially, this is not symmetrical. The amplifier is a stereo unit and is placed in one of the cabinets. As well as providing power to that speaker, it additionally powers the other speaker via a run of speaker cable that goes from output terminals on the amp plate to a conventional pair of terminals on the passive speaker.
The amplifier itself is a 60 watt unit and, like the NS3, the impedance of the NS6 is quoted at 4 ohms and the speaker itself has a given sensitivity of 87dB/w. This means that 60 watts should go reasonably far and give a useful amount of headroom. The frequency response is given as 50Hz to 20kHz which isn’t exactly seismic but gives the NS6 a potential low-end response that is some way below what most soundbars can achieve without the aid of a supporting sub.
The driver complement that achieves this is conventional enough. A 25mm soft dome tweeter that appears materially identical to the one used in the NS3 provides the upper frequencies. The mid-bass drivers seem to be somewhat different however. In place of the woven, textured unit in the smaller speaker, the NS6 has a pair of 5 inch units that appear to be a plastic type unit. These are supported by a front mounted bass port that doesn’t seem to be particularly forceful in use and of course, keeps the rear panel clear for the amp plate and allows for the NS6 to be placed close to a wall.
The connectivity offered is – perhaps unsurprisingly – much the same as the NS3. You get an optical connection, an RCA analogue input, a 3.5mm stereo input and Apt-X Bluetooth. The only additional connection is the fitment of a coaxial digital input which does at least give the possibility of the NS6 handling a Blu-ray source and a set top box of some description at the same time. As well as the connection to the second, passive speaker, there is also a subwoofer output for a bit more low-end if you want it.
The controls for the NS6 are largely focussed around a remote handset that covers the functionality you are likely to need. The NS6 also has some pleasant touches that aren’t normally a given at the price. You can select each input discretely and there are bass and treble controls too. Once you get into the swing of pointing the remote somewhat further off to one side than you might be used to, it works well.
DesignSteljes Audio hasn’t taken too many risks with the styling of the NS6. It’s a compact floorstander with rounded edges – the effect is very Q Acoustics 3000 Series – and a choice of finishes. The standard is a white gloss finish but a range of gloss colours are also available and help the NS6 look smart in an inoffensive sort of way. The speakers ship with a detachable plinth that adds a little stability to them and helps the aesthetic. Grilles are also supplied. I’m not sold on the copper coloured mid-bass drivers but the overall effect is pleasant enough.
In construction terms, the Steljes feels… ok. Some of the things that aren’t really an issue on the £200 NS3 start to have more of an impact here. The cabinets are finished to a reasonable standard but feel a little on the light side. The input indicator will show you that the speaker is switched on and there is a specific indicator for the Bluetooth but not for any other input which can be an annoyance. The starting volume after powering on appears to be fixed and is a little on the high side and given, like most devices going on sale now, it has an auto power off, this can’t be easily avoided. This is a lot of product for the money but you can see where some details have been skimped slightly to do it.
On a personal level though, I think the NS6 looks better than most soundbars around for the same price. They will need more space (although space in a different aspect) and there will be more visible wiring (don’t forget that cabling will need to be run to one speaker) but with a bit of thought, they could be installed in a number of situations and look pretty smart while you did so.
On a personal level, I think the NS6 looks better than most soundbars around for the same price
How was the Steljes NS6 Tested?The Steljes was connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Sigmas mains conditioner and tested with a feed from a Panasonic GT60 Plasma, routing Sky, Blu-ray, Netflix and Amazon Prime via an optical cable. A Simaudio Moon Neo MiND streaming transport has been tested via the coaxial connection and a modified Audio Files Audio Technica LP5 has been connected via its internal phono stage to the RCA input. Bluetooth testing has been via a Motorola G4 Android phone. As such test material has included, lossless and high-res FLAC and AIFF files, Tidal, Spotify and vinyl, with Blu-ray, Sky, Netflix and Amazon Prime also being used.
Sound Quality – BluetoothThe simplest means of getting sound to the Steljes is via a Bluetooth equipped device. Connection is straightforward and streaming the cheerfully deranged Channel the Spirits by The Comet is Coming is a pleasant experience. The Steljes is possibly not the last word in absolute neutrality but it captures the pounding natural bass line and massed instrumentation extremely effectively. Where the Steljes instantly has an effortless upper hand on a single point speaker is that there is a width and spaciousness to its performance that is in keeping with ‘proper’ hifi. There is also a sense of fun that makes itself felt with a wide selection of material. This is a speaker that manages to get the head nodding and deliver a genuine sense of fun with it. The integration between the three drivers is good and there is no sense of any unwelcome gaps in the frequency response.
The mechanics of the Bluetooth connection are also good. The range is perfectly acceptable and the connection has been completely stable in use. Even wandering around with the phone in your pocket won’t affect the signal unduly. Turn the NS6 on and it will automatically re-pair without any input from you. It might not look like a ‘normal’ Bluetooth speaker but it works extremely well.
Sound Quality – Film and TVConnecting the Steljes to the Panasonic GT60 is simple enough (just make sure that it is set to output a stereo signal as the Steljes can’t decode a multichannel one). If your set has the ability to strip a digital signal from the incoming HDMI connections and send it on the NS6, the result is potentially rather elegant. It sounds pretty good too. There is no form of surround processing so the material is in front of you but once you dial into it, it is capable of drawing you into the performance extremely effectively. The Fuji Circuit race sequence in Rush has plenty of scale and enough of the fine detail worked into the mix is captured and delivered in a way that really involves you.
Critically, there is enough of a sense of soundstage that you are drawn into a believable portrayal of the events on screen. Watching The Handmaid’s Tale, the Steljes does a good job of delivering the brooding world of Gilead and handling the mumbled vocals (always with the mumbling) in such a way as to make them easy enough to understand. It does its best work with a bit of volume behind it but the NS6 has proved an effective partner for both TV and film.
Sound Quality – MusicMoving over to the Moon Neo MiND which is purely a head unit and has no decoding of its own, the NS6 reveals itself to be a pretty capable bit of kit considering that the amount of budget that must be allocated to the DAC has to be pretty small. The NS6 is 24/96 capable and handles the high res version of Massive Attack’s Blue Lines with a pleasing combination of that sense of fun that was present when listening via Bluetooth and the scale that a speaker of reasonable size can bring to a performance. Hymn of the Big Wheel flows and delivers all of its curious combination of influences in a very effective way. Again, for a speaker of these relatively generous dimensions the bass should be seen to be good rather than great but it is always well controlled.
No less useful is that the NS6 is extremely forgiving. Switch over to compressed material and it keeps its fundamental qualities. You can be critical of manufacturers for voicing with this in mind but the NS6 is far more likely to spend its days hammering Spotify playlists than it is Tidal Masters. It sounds good doing this and it manages to be respectable with higher quality material too. It’s also pretty good fun with vinyl. The feed directly from the back of the modified Audio Technica LP5 is consistently entertaining and the NS6 manages to capture the deck’s excellent bass response and propulsive sense of drive.
This is a speaker that manages to get the head nodding and deliver a genuine sense of fun with it
- Lively and spacious sound
- Good selection of inputs
- Fairly attractive
- Some limits at frequency extremes
- Connectivity offset to one speaker
- Bulkier than soundbar equivalent
Steljes Audio NS6 Powered Speaker ReviewI have been tempted at various stages writing this review to use the phrase ‘cheap and cheerful.’ I haven’t done for a few reasons. First up, £450 isn’t that cheap. I’ve been looking at some pricey products of late and it is easy to lose sight of the fact that spending £450 of my own money on something is a very considered purchase indeed. There are also some criticisms that need to be taken into account. The NS6 feels a bit lightweight and not every part of the software feels completely bulletproof. They also take up more space than many wall mounted soundbars and are a more visible presence in the room. Finally, if you want virtual surround or video switching, you’ve come to the wrong place.
It isn’t perfect but its flaws need to be judged against the correct level of competition. It doesn’t have the bass extension that a pair of conventional £450 floorstanders have but these require considerably more in the way of supporting equipment. Compared to products from Yamaha’s sound projector range or other soundbars with virtual surround processing, the sound is entirely in front of you but it’s wider, more immersive and more involving. There’s also something more cheerful than cheap about the NS6. It sounds fun and makes music a consistently pleasurable experience. If you’re looking for plug and play solution to getting more out of your TV and music, this is a very fine place to start looking. It isn’t quite as outstanding as its little brother but the NS6 certainly warrants recommendation.
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