When the head of PR for NEAR (New England Audio Resource) approached me this summer about reviewing a set of the company’s outdoor speakers, I’ll admit that my response was probably not what he expected. Nor was it within the bounds of proper etiquette.
NEAR’s LB 8 all-environment outdoor loudspeaker “I’m not burying any subwoofers again for a very long time. Sorry.”
I live in Alabama after all, and the idea of spending any appreciable amount of time outside to even audition a set of outdoor speakers is a little daunting. Throw manual labor into the mix and a simple speaker review could quickly become hazardous to my health and well-being.
“It’s funny you mention that,” he said, “because the speakers I want to send you are big boys. They don’t need a sub.”
Granted, if I had put much thought into that fact, it probably would have occurred to me sooner that NEAR’s LB 8 all-environment outdoor loudspeaker has to be pretty hefty, even by outdoor standards, to generate any appreciable oomph without a subwoofer. It’s a big boy, indeed, boasting an 8-inch MDT/MLS (metal diaphragm technology/magnetic liquid suspension) woofer and a coincident-mounted one-inch inverted-dome titanium tweeter, all packed into a capsule-shaped, mica-loaded polypropylene cabinet measuring 10.25 by 17.9 by 11.75 inches.
What I’m trying to convey here is that “blending in with its surroundings” probably wasn’t high in the list of criteria when NEAR was designing the LB 8. Yet, despite their heft, I found the speakers to be incredibly, refreshingly easy to mount and install. Even in the baking heat and suffocating humidity. And much of that is due to their innovative design.
The three largest LB series speakers (including the LB 8 and its littler siblings, the 6 and 5) essentially come in two pieces: the speaker itself, and a little hollow hockey-puck-shaped bracket clamp that houses the physical speaker connections inside. From there, a watertight, screw in plug-in connector runs to the back of the speaker from one side, and from the other side, you route your speaker wire from the bracket clamp to the amp.
The bracket clamp has a nice rubber gasket around the bottom to keep the elements away from your speaker wire connections, along with four boltholes for mounting. After getting my physical speaker connections made, I bolted the devices to the brick wall surrounding my patio with some masonry screws, then slid the speakers into place. It seems like this would be unwieldy; after all, you’re connecting big, heavy speakers to a little cast aluminum puck by way of a channeled groove through which the speaker bracket slides (the bracket basically looks like a carrying handle and is rotatable). It’s actually harder to explain than it is to do, though. Within seconds, I had the speakers completely installed and secured.
NEAR also sent along its 6XL amp for testing, which turned out to be just as easy to install and configure, despite the fact that it weighs a ton (plus-or-minus 1954 pounds). Connections are pretty straightforward: you get a pair of XLR ins, a pair of unbalanced RCA ins, a pair of speaker connectors, a ground terminal, high- and low-pass filters if you want to use one channel for 70v sats and the other for a sub, a stereo/mono switch, independent channel level controls, and a sleep mode switch. Around front, there are two powerful but pretty quiet fans protected by removable grilles and replaceable filters.
The 6XL is designed for use with either the 70v or 8-ohm version of the LB 8 (the latter of which NEAR sent me) and is capable of delivering 600 watts of clean power per channel (with the LB 8 capable of handling 700 watt peaks).
NEAR’s LB 8 all-environment outdoor loudspeakers in a patio application In my initial setup of the speakers, I chose to aim them pretty much directly at my patio swing, using them like regular indoor speakers. That was a mistake on my part. With the tweeters aimed directly at me from such a short distance, the speakers were simply too bright for my tastes. There was plenty of low-frequency energy down to 45 Hz, but it was overwhelmed by the tweeters. It turns out, I was simply sitting too close to them, but moving them further away wasn’t a viable, labor-free option, so I loosened the clamps on the speaker brackets and gave the cabinets a bit of a spin to aim them over my head. That, plus a weensy bit of equalization from the iPhone I was using as a source did the trick. That really flattened the speakers out and put them, quite frankly, in the same sonic league as a pair of very good indoor speakers. I should note, though, that the equalization was only necessary due to the relatively small size of my patio. Moving 15 feet or so away from them also helped.
Either way, outdoor environments are so variable that shooting for flat frequency response from every conceivable listening position is probably folly. What surprised me most about the speakers is just how excellent and consistent their off-axis response is, not to mention how wonderfully time-aligned, coherent, and stunningly detailed they are. I queued up “Shake Your Rump” from the remastered version of Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique and was positively blown away by the fact that the subtle, artificial vinyl surface noise that persists in the background of the track was delivered superbly by the LB 8. Even in the open air, with thunderstorms brewing in the sky and the annual swamp cicadas screeching in the trees. That’s the sort of detail I only expect to appreciate through my hi-fi setup or through a good set of headphones. Furthermore, the speakers proved perfectly capable of cranking out every ounce of the track’s bumping bottom end.
Likewise, the swirly, “phasey” wind noises at the start of Frank Zappa’s “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” cut through the actual environmental noises in my backyard like a hot chainsaw through peanut butter, as did the “boop”s that punctuate the later bits of the song.
It did take the right EQ setting to make the droning drums of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” keep up with Lindsey Buckingham’s jingle-jangle rhythm guitar, but I was pleasantly shocked that the speakers could manage it at all.
So the lesson learned here is that if your customers are ultra-picky about tonal balance, you might need to be careful to either give the speakers a good bit of breathing room or plan to add some equalization to the mix. But ask yourself this: would you rather go through that weensy bit of trouble, or do you want to bury another gigantic subwoofer?
Me? I’ll take a pair of NEAR LB 8s any day.
The NEAR LB 8 manages to do what so few outdoor speakers do: deliver exquisite detail and gorgeous imaging, with plenty of bottom end and no audible distortion, without the need for a subwoofer. Installation is also a breeze due to the speaker’s innovative bracket-mount design.
One does need to give careful consideration to placement. Stand or sit too close to the speakers and the tweeter can overwhelm the woofer a bit. The inverse of that, of course, is that they’re excellent at delivering really nicely, tonally balanced sounds from quite a ways away.
• Frequency Response: 45Hz to 19kHz, ±2dB
• Sensitivity (1W/1M): 91dB
• Dispersion: Minimum 120 Degrees, Horizontal & Vertical
• Power Requirements (LB8 @8 ohms): Up to 175 Watts (RMS)
• Power Requirements (LB8T @70V): 64W, 32W, 16W, 8W, 4W, or 8 ohms
• Power Output: 600W per channel @70V/8 ohms
• Input Sensitivity: 1V
• S/N Ratio (20k BW): 104dB ref. 70V, Full Power
• Class of Operation: H
• Product Weight: 46 lbs./20.86kgs