Just when you thought that Yamaha NS10Ms were going the way of the dinosaur, Avantone has introduced what appears to be a redux. Engineers across the world are rejoicing, while at the same time engineers across the world are vomiting.
Arguably the second-most iconic piece of studio gear next to the upside-down U87 displayed in every music video ever made, the NS10 (without the “M”) was introduced in the late 1970s as a home hi-fi speaker. It didn’t exactly light the audiophile world on fire the way, say, the BBC’s LS3/5a did. In fact it was kind of a commercial failure.
Somehow, in the early 1980s the NS10 started to appear on meter bridges of mixing consoles everywhere. Legend has it that Bob Clearmountain was one of the early adopters and carried a pair around with him. At some point the design was revised for increased power handling and a tamed HF response so that engineers everywhere could remove the tissues covering the tweeters and use them to blow their noses.
People have described the NS10M as a revealing, accurate speaker. Bunk. I wouldn’t trust a tracking session to those things if my life depended on it. You want revealing? Get a pair of Neumann KH310s or Focal SM9s—they’ll tell you exactly how much the drummer’s kick drum pedal is squeaking. I doubt you’ll hear that on a pair of NS10s, “M” or otherwise.
However, if you want mixes that will translate just about anywhere they are played, that’s where the NS10M shines. They’ll make you work hard to hear what’s going on because if you don’t work, you ain’t ‘gonna hear it through them. Your efforts will be rewarded with mixes that sound equally as good in the car as they do on a snootie-patootie high-end home system. That’s where the value of the design lies.
Yamaha ceased production of the NS10M in 2001. According to urban legend, the paper used to manufacture that snowy-white woofer cone was derived from a tree that was placed on the endangered species list, and, unable to match the sound of that woofer using replacement materials, Yamaha decided to retire the NS10M.
Since that time, NS10Ms have appreciated in value, a phenomena I find laughable as you have no way of evaluating how well or poorly a used loudspeaker was treated just by looking at it—not to mention the manner in which temperature and humidity affect paper cones. And just as the “sound” of a vintage Neumann U47 is a moving target (because who the heck remembers what it sounded like 65 years ago when it was new), ditto the NS10M.
Devotees are relieved to find that Avantone now produces a drop-in replacement woofer for the NS10M, though I cannot speak to how much it does or does not sound like the original. Nevertheless, for those who always wanted a pair, you can now purchase the design brand-spanking new and experience all the joy and misery that comes with using them. A final caveat: Be sure to drop some dough on a serious power amp to accompany them.