Node Audio Hylixa Loudspeaker Review
This quirky high-end British loudspeaker is a technological marvel, says Jay Garrett…
£30,000 depending on finish
I first became aware of Node Audio in 2018, when I spotted its £30,000 Hylixa loudspeaker at London's Festival of Sound – actually, it was quite hard to miss! The company is based just south of Cambridge, thus conveniently situated amongst some of the UK's leading science and technology industries; indeed, Node shares its advanced manufacturing facility with a high tech engineering specialist. It's the brainchild of two industrial design consultants – Ashley May and David Evans – who share a love of hi-fi. They brought in experienced acoustic engineer Christien Ellis who was with Mission at its height, and more recently worked on the excellent Q Acoustics Concept 300 – so the Hylixa already has plenty of top hi-fi DNA.
One look at this striking design and some seasoned speaker fans might be thinking 'Eclipse TD'. It's true that it shares a similarly ovoid shape to this well-respected range of Japanese loudspeakers, but there the similarity ends. Actually, the Hylixa is a three-way, as opposed to the Eclipse's single full-range driver approach. It also sports a cutting edge Balanced Mode Radiator (BMR) mid/bass unit, and unique helical transmission line loading. Advanced manufacturing technologies are used in the cabinet construction, too.
Starting with the latter, Ashley May tells me that this speaker can be custom finished; customers get to choose the colour of the organically-shaped cabinet with options of gloss or 'soft-touch silk' finish. There's also a choice of metallic bits such as nickel or gold for the baffle and feet. Each cabinet is said to take forty-five hours of laser sintering nylon and glass particles together in 0.2mm passes; this results in a monocoque that's devoid of flat or parallel surfaces. It's a remarkable, cutting-edge process and entirely unique, to the best of my knowledge.
The 960x433x278mm (HxWxD), 15kg speaker includes a 30mm soft fabric ring radiator tweeter which goes down to 5kHz, whereupon the 46mm modified Tectonic Elements BMR does the job down to 200Hz; a backwards-facing 140mm bass driver hidden inside the cabinet then does the heavy, low-frequency lifting. If unfurled, the helical transmission line built into the chassis would measure an incredible 1.6 metres long. All of which gives a claimed in-room frequency range of 39Hz to 25 kHz (-6dB). As you'd expect of a three-way with smallish drive units, quoted sensitivity is poor at 82.4dB/1w/1m. That's BBC LS3/5a territory, and means that tube amp fans need not apply; you'll need a punchy Class AB or Class D solid-state design here whether you like it or not!
Finishing the Hylixa's construction is its sleek integrated aluminium stand, which is isolated from the head by a compliant Sorbothane gasket. The speaker stands on a beautifully shaped tripod that can be fitted with wooden floor-friendly feet or spikes. The aerodynamically shaped stand rakes eagerly forwards, which gives the product a purposeful stance that's not unlike a classic sports car.
As well as supporting the laser-fused cabinet, the pillar is home to the sophisticated three-way, second-order crossover. Eschewing the simplicity of a printed circuit board, Node has formed the point-to-point soldered Mundorf components in a specially-designed cartridge that slips into the stand. To the rear, at the pillar's base are a pair of silver-plated wire terminals with + / - printed into the post. This took me all of five seconds to figure out – the top one is the positive terminal – but gives even the back of the Hylixa a clean, symmetrical aesthetic. It's this sort of attention to the smallest of details that really delights.
My review sample came in a high-quality piano gloss black finish, with classy looking rose gold fascia and feet – and the overall effect was nothing short of stunning, albeit in an eminently tasteful way. There's no denying the Hylixa is an epic piece of industrial design, and its sublime finish and organic shape blends surprising well into any domestic environment. Full marks for this then, but I suppose you'd expect nothing less at £30,000 per pair!
The Hylixa is not only seductive to look at, it's an equally enchanting listen. I kicked my audition period off using the capable YBA Passion IA350 integrated amplifier, but it was soon apparent that it was a little out of its depth. A Boulder 1110/1160 pre/power amplifier combination was duly hauled into my listening room, and soon I began to explore this loudspeaker's true potential. I then hooked up Anthem's potent STR integrated, which also managed to make these babies boogie. It was fascinating how clearly the Node signposted the differences between these various amplifiers, showing me how well it was able to discern the smallest musical details.
Along with transparency, the essence of this speaker is speed and agility. The upshot is that the listener is presented with an impressive dynamic range, fooling him or her into thinking they're hearing something altogether bigger. Indeed, the Hylixa performs far better than its diminutive dimensions suggest. Also, thanks in large part to its cabinet construction, and use of a BMR I suspect, this speaker is a poster child for so-called 'out of the box' imaging. Close your eyes, and stereo image location is so precise that you can point to each member of a rock band in the record acoustic, or hear an orchestra just as it should be in the concert hall. Indeed, you also find yourself hearing things on a far larger scale than you'd believe possible considering its physical dimensions.
Tower of Power's Oakland Stroke showed me this speaker's pin-sharp timing and rhythmic agility; I found myself nodding my head in time in a satisfying way. It was such fun that I stayed around for the other tracks on the album, and Can't You See (You Doin' Me Wrong) highlighted the Hylixa's bottom end tautness. The bassline was enjoyably weighty and engaging, turning Francis Rocco Prestia's remarkably cool and melodic bass lines into even more of a treat.
Midband is seriously impressive too, being smooth and even yet dedicated and textured. Vocals proved lifelike, immediate and tingle-producing as the initially unlikely duet of Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue filled the room with Where The Wild Roses Grow. Cave's breathy vocals were full and rich, but it was Kylie's range that really played to the midband driver's strengths as her intimate voice sent a shiver up my spine. The accompanying musicians weren't short-changed, either. The acoustic guitar shimmered, and the violins came through with the vibrant realism befitting a high-end speaker such as this. All the while, a solid bass performance underpinned the track – one that is often ignored or overblown by lesser performers at this price.
The Hylixa loves to organise and reveal. Feed it with complex musical arrangements, and everything is laid before you in a tangible and – more importantly – enjoyable way. The classic Rush instrumental YYZ came across with a vast soundstage that gave the three musicians as much space as they needed to chop through the variety of meters, dynamics and themes that are compressed into this classic four-and-a-half-minute rock track.
This speaker proved almost bewilderingly impressive at conveying a recording's sense of scale. Roger Waters: The Wall on Blu-ray sounded monumental via my Oppo UDP-205. I find it hard to think of a similarly-sized transducer capable of producing this level of atmosphere, emotional energy and feeling of 'being there'. Percussion and bass guitar thumped through, giving the helical transmission line plenty to do, while cymbals, snare drum and guitar were catered for perfectly further up – and hung in space in an ethereal way. Vocals were never out of the limelight either; harmonies were all-encompassing, but with such detail that you could pick out any individual's voice should you so wish.
Node Audio's Hylixa is proof that there's still room for imaginative, intelligent engineering in the world of loudspeaker design. The Cambridgeshire-based company has produced a cutting-edge product that presents an aural image that is far larger than the speaker's physical size, as well as being highly detailed and engaging. Furthermore, this is achieved in a beautifully finished and unusual looking package; rather than conspicuously cluttering up a listening room, it actually adds to the overall aesthetic.
It has remarkable abilities then, but so it should at this price – and the problem is that this sort of money means it's playing with the big boys at the top-tier of the loudspeaker world. That's why I would suggest you hear the Hylixa for yourself, to see whether its distinct and admirable talents suit your way of listening, music taste and, of course, home. To my ears, it was an unalloyed success and thus a worthy recipient of StereoNET's coveted Applause Award.
For more information, please visit Node Audio.
StereoNET UK’s Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He’s captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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