Legends exist of people finding a Roland 303 at a garage sale for $15 or a 909 in a pawn shop for $50. Supposedly this type of thing was common during the late 80′s and early 90′s when analog went digital. But it’s hard to imagine, now that this same gear goes for $1000-$2000 on ebay. So evertime I would pass a second hand store, I would stop in and look for that one last 303 or 909, hidden from society for the past 25 years. Unfortunately the closest thing I ended up with was a Nakamichi Cassette deck. Not bad, but no 303. And then luck struck.
I had just moved across town and was looking for some furniture at a thrift shop when I noticed a conspicuous pair of speakers on the shelf. They had the Yamaha logo on the grills so of course, I went in for a closer look. I turned one around to check out the back and bingo, NS10. One microsecond later those grill covers were off and was happily blinded by those beautifully sterile white woofers. These weren’t no TB303, but I’ll take them. Asking price: $25.
Later that day my new system up and running. I decided the best place for my new old NS-10′s would be the main room. At first I played the NS-10′s without a sub and was honestly a little underwhelmed. They wasn’t much bass, but the rest sounded good. As soon as I got the 8″ sub running, it was a whole new story. These NS-10′s now sounded great.
The sound was impressive enough to intrigue me. So I decided to some research online to learn what made these NS-10′s tick. As usual, I somehow ended up at the gearslutz forum, learning that this $4K amp is better than this $5K amp to power the NS-10′s. While reading, I began to realize something very interesting. It seemed that the NS-10 monitors could very well be the industry standard of industry standards in pro-audio. What an unlikely suspect. So now it was time to figure out why an out of production $450 studio monitor is such the studio standard.
From what I read, it seems that the mid-bass reproduction of the monitors is what sets them apart from dare I say, all others. This ability to accurately reproduce the frequencies just above the bass arises from the unique paper cone woofer used in the NS-10′s. Supposedly, this paper cone has a special ability for producing mid-bass frequencies with ease. And it’s these same frequencies that are usually the main problem area for other monitors. After listening to them, I would have to agree. There is not much bass at all, but the mid-bass sounds fantastic. The sound seems to be reproduced with ease while also blending nicely into the higher frequencies. This paper cone is also the reason it is no longer manufactured. Apparently, the trees that are used to make the woofer material are no longer available.
Though these special paper cones play a huge role in the NS10 sound, I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving them all of the credit. Speaker design, like musical instrument design is just as much as an art form as it is technological design and manufacturing. The sound of the NS-10′s is too cohesive to be just the woofer. There is obviously a well thought out crossover network and a tweeter that works very well with the woofer. One interesting thing to note as well is the size. The NS10 is somewhat larger than modern bookshelf speakers, yet still much smaller than towers. They are almost like a miniaturized tower design. Very cool and very Japanese. From the paper woofer all the way down to the “spec sheet” label on the back of one of the pair, the NS-10′s are a unique and cohesive whole or in other words, a great design.
There are certainly much better monitors out there such as the Genelecs, etc. But only the Yamaha NS-10′s can make the claim of being a standard in recording studios for over 25 years. It’s almost as though the world would not be the same without them. I never would have known why until I owned a pair. Like most things that become standards, they extend beyond what they are. Beyond the frequencies and paper cones, these speakers from Yamaha do something special to the music that comes out of them. This is usually a trait reserved for speakers costing several thousands. But there is one very big difference between a pair of thousand dollar speakers and the Yamaha’s. When I’m listening to my NS-10′s, it’s nice to know that what I’m hearing is probably pretty close to what the producer’s of the music themselves heard while making the music… using their NS-10′s.