Node Audio is a brand-new operation that’s both radical and unusual. Situated a few miles south of Cambridge, Node shares an advanced manufacturing facility with a hi-tech engineering company. Its two key principals are Ashley May and David Evans: essentially hi‑fi enthusiasts who have operated successfully as industrial design consultants for nearly a decade. However, the company has also brought in the established and experienced acoustic engineer Christien Ellis to help with the design technicalities, a name that will be familiar to anybody who recalls Mission in its pomp.
Together, the three have created a new and decidedly unusual loudspeaker called the Hylixa, which combines wide bandwidth with compact dimensions. (The name is initially a play on the word Helix, referring to the ‘Helical Transmission Line that lies at the core of this design’s good bass extension.)
The egg-shaped styling is striking (albeit somewhat reminiscent of the Japanese Eclipse brand), with a shiny reflective boss housing the drivers on the front, giving the speaker something of a ‘War of the Worlds’ appearance. The rest of our sample’s enclosure came finished in high gloss black, though any colour may be specified, in either gloss or ‘soft-touch silk’ finish. Ultimately, the Hylixa is arguably one of the very few audio products that might appeal to those who also have to live with the results. In less ‘woke’ times, this was known as WAF, or ‘wife acceptance factor’.
The enclosure’s helical transmission line is created by a process known as ‘Selective Laser Sintering’, a version of 3D printing in which tiny (0.2mm) particles of glass and nylon are alternately fused by a laser under computer control. The result is an enclosure which has virtually zero cabinet coloration, and because of the shape also has virtually perfect acoustic distribution.
The down side, however, is a very high price tag that starts at £27,000 per pair, which means that it’s possibly the costliest speaker to come my way in forty odd years. There are plenty that are larger, heavier, and more expensive still, but this is certainly a genuine high-end speaker nonetheless, albeit rather different from most in philosophy and manufacture.
I regularly use two power amplifiers. The Naim Audio NAP 500 DR is rated at 140W/channel, whereas my Howes single-ended PX4 triode monoblocks have just 3.5W output. For reasons of long-term reliability I tend to use the Naim most of the time, but I am very conscious that the valve amps not only sound rather sweeter, but also go loud enough for most purposes.
How much power do we really need? Not very much, it would seem. Furthermore, sensitivity tends to be inversely proportional to bulk, so why not sacrifice some sensitivity in order to minimise bulk? Instead of having a considerable excess of power available to drive a pair of average sensitivity loudspeakers, let’s reduce both the sensitivity and the bulk of the speakers (this could be called the LS3/5a syndrome!).
The BBC LS3/5a might be the classic example of accepting low sensitivity in order to minimise bulk, but much the same could be said of this Node Hylixa. While it does resemble the Eclipse speakers, the resemblance is purely superficial because this is actually a three-way design (as distinct from an Eclipse’s single full-range drive unit).
Which should not imply that the Hylixa is in any way conventional – quite the reverse, in fact. Operating below 200Hz, the bass driver is hidden within the enclosure, and is loaded by a helical transmission line that actually exits through a ring surrounding said bass driver. Nor is that the only unconventional element, as the midrange drive unit is a BMR (balance mode radiator) device, with a diameter of about 4.5cms, running from a low 200Hz up to a high 5kHz. Only the tweeter is a relatively conventional device, as it’s simply a soft fabric ‘doughnut’, held between a central ‘spike’ and an edge surround.
Furthermore, the Hylixa comes complete with its own integrated stand – arguably essential in view of its egg-like shape – and this adds substantially to the elegance of the whole package. A solitary pillar, shaped and slanting backward from above, drops around 60cms below the ‘egg’ before spreading out into a tripod with an unusually large footprint that measures roughly 37cms wide and deep.
The spiked feet themselves are both very decorative and large in diameter, as is their locking arrangements. A single terminal pair is fitted at the lower part of the hollow stand/pillar, which also accommodates the necessarily complex three-way, second-order crossover network.
This undoubtedly complicated loudspeaker incorporates a great deal of advanced detail design and engineering. The crucial question therefore has to be whether or not the sound quality can measure up to the excellent presentation – or indeed the hefty price.