At first glance the Node Hylixa is a variation on loudspeakers we’ve seen from Bowers & Wilkins, Eclipse and a few others, an aerodynamic ‘head’ style cabinet with a pair of drivers at the front. The difference here is that not only is there a third driver in the Hylixa but it also has a rather ingenious transmission line cabinet. You get a good idea of how the bass driver is arranged from the cutaway image, it faces backwards towards the rear of the cabinet where its output hits the entry point of a helical transmission line that spirals around a 1.6 metre long waveguide and escapes through a circular vent around the mid and tweeter. The airflow graphic gives a good sense of how this works but not why it was done.
If you read our piece on Node Audio you will know that the cabinet for the Hylixa is made of glass and nylon particles that are fused by a laser sintering process that takes 45 hours per cabinet. The result is a monocoque that’s devoid of flat or parallel surfaces and has the helical line fully formed within it, in fact the whole thing is fully formed but it takes a few more stages to become a finished loudspeaker. It’s the creation of Ashley May and David Evans, industrial designers whose core business includes making attractive salad servers but whose ambitions are clearly a bit less down to earth. For the Hylixa project they enlisted the services of loudspeaker designer Chris Ellis who has worked with a number of brands including NXT, which explains the use of a BMR midrange driver in this speaker. NXT developed this technology back in the 90s and a few companies have used it including Naim in their Ovator models but the rather different way in which it operates has limited popularity among speaker designers.
A BMR or Balanced Mode Radiator doesn’t move pistonically like a cone or dome but consists of a flat diaphragm that bends to create sound, the higher the frequency the smaller the area of the diaphragm that moves. Here a 46mm BMR crosses over to a 30mm ring radiator tweeter at a very high frequency, circa 7kHz, and hands over to the bass driver at 200Hz. So the BMR is doing a lot of the work in this arrangement, leaving only the heaviest lifting to the bass driver and the very high frequencies to the tweeter, this plus the compact arrangement of the drivers makes this three-way close to being a point source.
The cabinet has obviously been designed to look great but it’s rounded shape means that there are no edges to produce diffraction, a scattering of sound that occurs when a sound wave hits any edge and which undermines image precision. The price you pay for this is less output for a given wattage, the same is true of transmission lines so the low 82.4dB sensitivity of the Hylixa is hardly surprising, in fact it’s higher than expected given that TLs with direct radiating bass drivers have very similar sensitivity.
The stand is an intrinsic part of the Hylixa, it is made of aluminium and more laser sintered material and incorporates the crossover, a part of the design that shows more thought than I’ve come across in virtually any other speaker. The crossover is not on a PCB as is usually the case but in a casting that physically separates all the components and puts the most sensitive ones on the ends. The components which are made by the highly regarded Mundorf brand are soldered together in point to point style on the back of what is effectively a cartridge that fits into the base of the stand; speaker cable terminals go straight into it. Silver plated single wire terminals at that but not colour coded ones, instead there are rather small plus and minus marks on one side, small enough to miss in low light in fact.
The speaker and stand come with alternative flat and rather stylish spike feet for its three legs that are finished to match the facia plate. The main body of the speaker can be had in piano gloss or silk finishes with the metal facia plate available in polished metal finishes plus anodised black. If you want something more fancy Node are only too happy to help, they produced a specially engraved and colour coded version for Bentley which is rather classy.
As with all transmission line type designs the Hylixa’s need a bit of driving to get them jumping, it’s not just a power thing either, you need amplification with enough gain. Which is where my combination of passive Townshend Allegri+ pre and ATC P2 falls short of the desired mark, the power amp only has 24.3dB of gain and this speaker needs something closer to the 29dB that is almost a standard. Initially I got over this by using an ATC CA2 active preamplifier but later in the review process I borrowed a Bryston 4B3 power amp and tried a Lyngdorf TDAI-3400 integrated. Whatever amplification was employed it was evident that this speaker is very fast indeed, the combination of cabinet design and material plus the choice of drivers mean that there is little if any blurring of note edges, the attack and decay of every one is preserved so that they are clearly defined. Which makes the Hylixa very good at timing, and bands like the Tord Gustavsen Trio deliver a degree of coherence that is intoxicating. The trio is the perfect size for an improvising band and when the musicians are as good as those on the album The Other Side the way they weave the tune around the piano, bass and drums is something like alchemy.
The shape of the Hylixa cabinet means that it can produce substantial and precise images that totally escape the speakers themselves, close your eyes and it’s difficult to establish exactly where the sound is coming from. This is also because the cabinet does not vibrate in the way that a wooden box does, where each face radiates its own vibrations albeit at a much lower level than those coming from the driver. I put on a recording of Arvo Pärt’s music by Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova with conductor Paavo Järvi (Onyx), and this reached the ceiling and touched my emotional core with equal ease. This speaker is also very strong on vocals, Van Morrison’s voice on ‘Snow in San Anselmo’ (Hard Nose the Highway, Warner) was astonishingly real thanks to the immediacy and projection that it produces. All of which might suggest that the Hylixa does mid and treble well as you might expect from a speaker of its size, but when bass notes come along you know all about them, they are deeper and more controlled than a conventional loudspeaker of similar size.
Another distinct quality is that the denser the music gets the better they sound, which is the opposite of what you get with most speakers. It’s hard to say what aspect of the design contributes to this the most but it might just be the BMR midrange because this driver operates in such a different way to most. It’s probably a result of many factors though, if BMR was a silver bullet technology then there would be a lot more of it around, little after all is conventional about the Hylixa. The only characteristic that I came across in several weeks of listening was a tendency to highlight midrange sounds slightly more than usual, saxophones and voices being the most likely to jump out of the mix. But whether this was a good or bad thing was highly dependent on the music being played, a great vocal such as Lana del Rey’s on NFRwas totally captivating and almost viscerally real whereas some voices and the saxophone on Conjure’s Big Mouth (American Clavé) were a little too prominent. On the other hand this album was one of those that revealed the speaker’s remarkable calmness under fire, so it could just be a more accurate rendering of the recording than usual.
With the Lyngdorf amp and using the RoomPerfect ‘room correction’ option the result was also very engaging, with decent gravitas and loads of space on the more reverb rich music played. This amp is a bit drier and darker in balance but had no trouble in getting the speakers to ‘disappear’ from the sonic picture, even with them placed close to the wall. I got particularly good results with an old favourite in Wesseltoft and Schwarz’s Duo album, the track ‘One One (Live from Cologne)’ proving particularly captivating because the system delivered the scale and energy of the live event so well. The low sensitivity of the Hylixa means that bigger ported speakers such as the B&W 802 D3 I use as a reference will deliver more realistic energy levels from a good recording and deeper bass too, but the price you pay is a significantly larger speaker in the room.
Node developed the Hylixa to provide high sound quality in a package that doesn’t dominate a room, far from it in fact, this is a remarkably well thought out and compact loudspeaker and stand system. In technological terms it is truly cutting edge and anyone who wants to enjoy great sound without cluttering up the living room with big boxes should give them a listen. Node’s approach is more like B&O than B&W, these speakers are as much an aesthetic treat as they are a sonic one and the work that has gone into them is advanced by anyone’s standards.