REVIEW: TDG Audio Gold Series NFC-83 installation speakers
The in-wall/in-ceiling loudspeaker category is quite competitive and new manufacturers are coming and going on a regular basis. This one, though, appears to be different. Stephen Dawson puts the Gold Series in-wall speakers from The DaVinci Group to the test.
A sad fact of life is that for most people the experience of in-wall or in-ceiling speakers is dominated by those horrible things in the ceilings of supermarkets and other retailers. These tend to be low cost single cone units built for longevity and little more, and tasked only with producing muzak between calls for price checks and assistance.
But installation speakers can serve not only a place in the home, but produce fine quality sound while they are at it.
Of course, there are significant challenges in producing good performance. The first of which is that, unlike with regular loudspeakers, which come with their enclosures already fitted, the installation speaker maker doesn’t know a great deal about the surroundings with which their products must cope. Perhaps the only strong likelihood is that they are going to have a large baffle. A very large one indeed, something like the size of a whole room’s ceiling.
But one point of consistency with regular home theatre loudspeakers is that quality costs.
Which brings me to these installation speakers, the TDG Audio Gold Series NFC-83, from a surprisingly new company.
TDG stands for The DaVinci Group, a company that started only in 2012 with a view to focusing on the kinds of loudspeakers that are suited to installation. And not just in-ceiling models, but also outdoor speakers too.
While the company, based in Ontario, Canada, is a new startup, the principals have many, many years of background in the industry, principally in the well-known US company SpeakerCraft, in design and product development. Since forming in December last year, the company has already launched more than a dozen products, some under TDG, the others under the Blue Aura and Vanguard labels.
But we’re here for TDG’s ceiling speakers.
The NFC-83 speakers are part of the Gold Series, which is presently the company’s top shelf range. (The Platinum range is due early in 2014.) They are distinguished by their 200mm Kevlar bass drivers and titanium dome tweeters. The Silver and Bronze models use different materials and are available at lower cost.
The drivers are mounted in a well-built frame of something which TDG calls PRX. This seems to be an ABS-like plastic, fairly dense and quite dead in sound when rapped (as it should be). The structural parts – the basket, mostly, and the front ring – are very solid. A thinner plate of the same material sits above and around the working parts when the unit is mounted, like a partial backcan, largely protecting it from falling dust. The sides are somewhat open, so there is still room for material to enter if there is much air movement in the ceiling space.
Behind the cone in this space is a substantial looking crossover network to divide the sound appropriately between the tweeter and the woofer. There are also two good sized gold-plated spring-loaded speaker posts. These offer a hole more than 4mm across, large enough for hefty wire or even a banana plug. The spring loading is quite strong, so once you’ve got some wire in there it should remain fairly immune to accidental tugs.
Four clamps are mounted around the cage. When you turn the associated Philips Head screws set into the main face, these swing out into the correct position to clamp the ceiling panel as they are tightened. You don’t need to go into the ceiling to install them.
The unit needs 111mm of space beyond the front face of the surface in which it is mounted. That’s likely to be a close call for walls, but should be okay for just about all ceilings.
The tweeter is mounted into a bar that stretches across the front of the woofer and can be directed somewhat in a specific direction. There is what looks to be about 5-10º of tilt available in any direction.
You can also trim the tonal balance by means of two switches, both accessible from the front. One raises or reduces the level of the tweeter by three decibels from the neutral position. The other does the same for the woofer. Combined you can tilt the difference 6dB one way or the other.
The face of each unit is nicely flat so at most it should stand no more than a millimetre forward of the surface, not counting the grilles. TDG calls this a ‘Smooth Visual Flangeless System’. The grilles also are shallow at just 4mm thick. They are made from a perforated metal with a thin layer of foam on the inside. The grilles are secured by means of eight button neodymium magnets in the surround, so of course the grilles are made of some ferrous material. They are paintable.
A word of caution here: just as the makers can’t be certain where you’re going to mount these, neither can I. In fact, I did not install them in my ceiling since they would have to go back and my ceiling could do quite nicely without 10” holes. I installed them in a large panel, not an enclosure as such, so there would have been some leakage of bass at the very deepest of frequencies. I figured that they would rarely be placed such that the users are on direct axis from the tweeter, so I had them well off that position, but with the tweeters swivelled as closely as possible towards where I was listening from.
Feeding them a clean, un-equalised and otherwise processed signals of stereo sound, they sounded really quite sweet. They were well balanced and with a good, extended treble performance.
Both male and female vocals were clear and without any nasty peakiness. They sounded quite natural, and a bit surprisingly, there was even a respectable stereo image.
The bass was quite good, the way I had them, with some nice upper bass grinding and easily followed bass guitar. But I don’t think my installation quite did them justice, in part because even with the large panel there would have been some loss of energy in the lower reaches, and also because they didn’t receive the natural bass boost to a speaker that comes from close placement to a room boundary.
I’m not saying they are subwoofer material, but I think will a proper room installation they’ll do a decent job on the kick drum and just about all the musically important bass.
They seemed perfectly happy to receive quite a lot of power from my home theatre receiver (it’s good for about 150W into 8Ω). The importance of that is that you can expect decent volume levels. They maintained their composure, too, delivering high levels without stress. TDG says that they can handle up to 175W of power, which is pretty impressive.
Ceiling speakers for enthusiastic stereo listening?
But I for one would be very happy with these speakers in two different functions. One would be as second zone speakers in one or more rooms. They’d be ideal for room-filling quality sound for various parts of a home.
The second would be as surround or surround back speakers, possible front height speakers, in the main home theatre room.
Well built, offering plenty of volume and good tonal balance, they’d be excellent for both jobs.