Why I returned to S-400s (this is long, please do something else if you have spare time)

Well, just to introduce the proper climate for such an uninteresting topic (please leave now, reader, if you think you know how this is going to end), my friend Dr Mark, who will be staying with us for a few days in April, has expressed the hope to still find the Ovators here when he arrives.

More seriously, I am eager to share the reasons for this choice of mine, because they equally divide between acutely sensible and unbelievably silly, and it will be up to the reader's acuteness to tell which is which.

In casual order (but who can say if chance rules when thoughts can only come to the threshold of the conscious mind one at a time and some form of hierarchy obviously takes place?):

– I cannot stand plain parallelepipeds; after 80 years or so of speaker design, is there a real necessity to design a squared coffin just because it's cheaper, then fill it with costly (?) drivers and wrap it with specious motivations (we designed them using Naim amps) ? What's more – as I have learned in 64 years of attentive aestheticism – everything (including discs and sopranos) sound exactly how it looks, and I always know, when I am facing a parallelepiped, that I'll get that sound. This made me exclude ProAc, Kudos, Spendor, some Focal, Monitor Audio, sadly Credos, and an infinite numbers of others.

– The same for semi-parallelepipeds: like when makers add a slope or a voluptuous curve to suggest that they have gotten rid of stationary waves while cunningly adding to the beauty. Like, say, Apertura, or Wilson Benesch, or some Thiel or B&Ws or Usher; or Cantons, which make such a wide range of models to flag almost all the quoted categories. Not to mention, last, the most dishonest concept of all history of loudspeakers: Sonus Faber and its medicine man claim that imitating the shape of a violin will make a loudspeaker sound musically. Absurd, mystifying.

– All loudspeakers referring to musical or, worse, Operatic terms. So, let's take Norma and Pavarotti and Cremona and Liuto and Callas and so on and let's fill a container to the brim, destination hyper-space.

– Speakers whose enclosure costs more than the sum of all drivers, claiming the use of aerospace, hi-tech medicine, military-grade materials as resolutive (hey, knowing that I am listening to something whose assemblage technique comes from the way they assembled weapons used to make tabula rasa of mid-eastern villages populated with women and children gives me a real thrill..) for the (usually) unprecedented performance of the design. So, thanks Wilson, Magico, YGAcoustics, you can continue your personal triangular war to sell the costliest speaker on Earth but I won't be in the audience.

– Harbeth. I swear to that guy I sometimes quote improperly and uselessly, I did everything I could to like them. I tried, and I tried and I tried, but I can't get no... You know the tune. Harbeth claims the best midrange on Earth, but then try to have tight, tuneful bass or the sound moving a few mm outside the speakers. Alan Shaw has my unconditioned admiration when he explains the reasons behind his design, and even more when he posts that he has spent a Sunday taking long walks in Lindfield, taking beautiful pics of that idyllic village and ending the day with a pint at the local pub. He's a very smart guy, but I need some adrenaline once in a while.

– Stand mounts. It is enough for me to take a look at the System Pics thread of any audio forum on the Planet Earth and the will to live abandons me a little. This will not justify the unforgivable acquiescence with which many (too many) owners of audio choose what their wives choose (the mere facts that choosing a loudspeaker is much more difficult than choosing a wife [and, anyway, it's much less often done while being drunk] should establish some hierarchy after all), but it is a given fact that stands for small speakers are among the ugliest things ever invented. It took Naim to design a graceful foot for the N-Sat. For that, it took Naim to design a stand mount so graceful, curvaceous, elegant to be able to make the LS3/5A and its absurd history, comparable to the one of the dinosaur being revived from a mosquito in Jurassic Park, disappear forever. And yet, the LS3/5A is still around while the prettiest small speaker ever made is discontinued. If I hadn't bought five pairs of them I sometimes would almost believe they never existed. The world is a strange place. Before someone at Naim patiently remind me that they were discontinued because they didn't sell enough, well think of me: two of the five pairs I bought new.

– Now, the difficult part: previous Naim speakers. I have had many, if not most of them. I have owned two pairs of SBLs, one of Arivas, I have tried here the Allae (screaming), the Credos (unfortunately belonging to the parallelepiped type, and sounding too much ProAc-style), I have had five pairs of Sats the last of which is here and won't go anywhere (they have great qualities, but lack some important others), and two pairs of Ovator S-400. I have heard (and quickly laboured to forget) the NBL, and my only encounter with the DBL was in the carpentry of Naim where a pair was playing driven by an olive Nait2. Playing is perhaps too much; they seemed to talk, in a sort of tuneful and mannered way. In the end, the SBL is a masterpiece of its time, but it's not its time anymore and I don't belong to the Cult Of Vinyl. I adore the mess one has to pass through for the setup, I like the silicone and the pads thing, I love everything about them but they look like little robots and we are in 2017. I also liked the IBLs, but never had the nerve to buy some – I mean, would you date Björk lightheartedly? So, one morning I simply found myself with a brand new, triple boxed, immaculate Luxman L590 AX II that had took me exactly three days (hey, you, who believe that you must give months to a piece of equipment for it to reveal its true nature, have you ever tried to conduct an orchestra and have milliseconds to decide if an instrument, or a section of instruments, is playing the right notes, is in tune, goes together and is playing the way then composer intended?) to decide it was not for me. So I went to my dealer, who is sufficiently greedy to promote the costlier things and let the really good ones gather dust in a corner until the proper buyer appears, who still had a gorgeous pair of Rosewood S-400s unemployed, so to speak. And told him straight: my Luxman for your Ovators. I knew I was perhaps losing something, but it's Spring here, and I am convinced that these are the only speakers I could reasonably have. Plus, they are beautiful, and I am very happy that Naim was the only one able to make a quadrangular coffin look like a really cool (or posh, like HH would say) piece of furniture. So, who cares?

Best

Max

 

 

Original Post

My S600 were like an irritating house-mate Max. Fun to be around sometimes and other times just plain exasperating. All good sense suggested their little brother should have been more irritating - but no. They are definitely part of our 'family' now.

Thanks for the post.

G

Hungryhalibut posted:

It's intriguing how people chose things, a mixture of the rational and the, to some, irrational. It's a fascinating post and I sincerely hope that the new arrivals will provide long term enjoyment. 

ps - I'm still waiting for the postman  

 

Oh...Something interesting on the way HH?

G

Caro Max

I too adore my Ovators S-400

I clearly remember when they arrived in our flat for the extended demo. Once they've warmed up, my wife came to me one day and said - they do sound wonderful, but I'm lucky I don't have to look at them Zebrano black looks like a melted mix of bitter chcocolate and some milk one thrown in for a good measure... Taking my wife's comment for a seal of approval I went ahead and bought them 

Ovators now happily reside in our library / music room providing countles hours of listening pleasure.

Ciao,

Adam

PS. Love the prose - you should really write that book....

Adam Zielinski posted:

PS. Love the prose - you should really write that book....

I would suggest 'Adam Z' to be a personality in your book. It gives an immediate Kafkaesk flavour which I suppose is very much in line with your style.

When I finished reading the epistel, my first thought was 'here endeth the first lesson'.

Max your energy and commitment to the fight are admirable,  the loudspeaker is the final frontier and as you say can be harder to find than a wife (as they both sometimes emitt such non sensical and repetitive noises) I agree with you regarding Harbeth's and Spendor's but some other square boxes are fine speakers.  The perfect speaker though like the perfect spouse are mythical creatures that live only in fairytales.

Some might doubt that this topic should reside in the HIFI Corner. To those I want to say that the word Fidelity should not exclusively used for an ever repeating discussion about beloveth black boxes.

Maybe listen to 'Die Post' (Winterreise) from Schubert? Good old nostalgic 19th century longing for something which might arrive - or never arrive.

I enjoyed the read and can understand why the DBLs didn't work for you if they were plugged into a lowly Nait 2, but when properly powered they are truly awesome.

As for the SBLs, if you can cope with the silicone etc., surely you can forgive their appearance? Their sound was exceptional for a speaker so small. I so wish it were still available. Despite enjoying my current NBLs, I now regret selling my SBLs, which had a gorgeous walnut finish.

I had the same experience when I upgraded my old SBL to Sl2,i always enjoyed with my old SBL and less with my current SL2, I think it`s very hard to get a good balance with large speakers on regular room,probably you need larger room for those speakers, but it`s only a guess, for sure you need luck to have a good sound system in your specific room, and that`s what I had before,but life is going on, and i also need to continue, sometimes you up and down.

Max,

Excellent post.   My experience of Naim speakers is minimal and certainly not such that I could make a truly objective judgement.  

But on one occasion I took my TT in for a cartridge refresh and after fitting we sat down with a 252/250 into a pair of Neat XL6s and what came of the system was just sublime.  On the way back to the demo room from a coffee refill I noticed a pair of 600s and out of  curiosity asked if we could switch.  True they looked superb but I could honestly say I'd rarely, if ever, heard such a drop in performance.   The treble was suddenly harsh, the middle confused and bass had just gone into the bowels of the earth somewhere.    Now I'm not in the "all Naim speakers are ----" camp but on the evidence of that session I find it hard to believe anyone would invest in that speaker. But in a different environment?  

The irony of this is that I promised myself that when I eventually changed speaker I would have Neat Ultimatums at the top of the list.    But, when the moment came we had both XL6 and XLS on home demonstration and - well -  they were never going to work in our lounge. 

C'est la Vie.  

Regards,

Lindsay

GraemeH posted:
Hungryhalibut posted:

It's intriguing how people chose things, a mixture of the rational and the, to some, irrational. It's a fascinating post and I sincerely hope that the new arrivals will provide long term enjoyment. 

ps - I'm still waiting for the postman  

 

Oh...Something interesting on the way HH?

G

Maybe it's the stands that Max's wife had picked out for him.

Max

Very interesting, and something i can relate to...

During the last 3 years i have been doubtful about my SL2s. I bought a pair of Neat Petites SX and listened to them during the last 2 years. Less room interaction, etc, but never the same emotion.

Before selling SL2s, i recently reinstalled them in passive version. They don't integrate that well with my room (no speaker i tried does, because there is some boominess), but it was obvious from the first seconds, that even with the known problems of room interaction, they CONNECT me more to the music and, take to me places that the Neats don't know that exist. 

So, because YES, SL2 stay and Neats go!

I would rather buy an Ovator S400 than any other speaker (i also have IBLs); there is something very special going on when you put Naim speakers at the end of a Naim system, the "TEMPO" is just better, and i just can't loose this; THIS is what drag me to Naim in the first place.

Regards
Rui

Tabby,

yes, I did (although I admit this is a slightly deceiving question because it can be interpreted both positively or negatively..).

I listened to them a few times in the shop, with CDX2 and an assortment of speakers (Canton Reference 7 K, Harbeth SHL5+, perhaps the 400s themselves; and a few times at home. What changed was never, obviously, their sound, but something I can't describe only as 'my idea that that sound was what I liked in that moment'. I have liked and disliked an infinity of audio things in my life - and done a comparative number of experiments. What is constant is Naim. Within Naim, I have some instinctual attractions, that facts sometimes confirm and sometimes deny. Among these, are the S-400s. The fact that this time the choice was not based on an idea (and destructed by impatience) but on a persistent 'retinal/aural impression' should guarantee a decent future in the same room for them.

Thanks to those who were so kind to appreciate my prose. I am verbose and probably too self-conscious, but I adore writing.

Max 

Thank you Max.  What a lovely post to read after a fairly chilly day baby-sitting a Bentley at the Acoustica show.

I also liked the IBLs, but never had the nerve to buy some – I mean, would you date Björk lightheartedly?

Very nicely put. It made me smile. Many an IBL admirer would be nodding their head at this...

Bart posted:
GraemeH posted:
Hungryhalibut posted:

ps - I'm still waiting for the postman  

 

Oh...Something interesting on the way HH?

G

Maybe it's the stands that Max's wife had picked out for him.

No it's something involving a cork, something to remove it and glasses to help the content to remove most of the last months' memory and pain for a hopefully merry evening (or afternoon). Count on it.

M

Max_B posted:
Bart posted:
GraemeH posted:
Hungryhalibut posted:

ps - I'm still waiting for the postman  

 

Oh...Something interesting on the way HH?

G

Maybe it's the stands that Max's wife had picked out for him.

No it's something involving a cork, something to remove it and glasses to help the content to remove most of the last months' memory and pain for a hopefully merry evening (or afternoon). Count on it.

M

I've just realised it's that time already!

G

Made me smile. And it's good to see that apparently there are more people ten me who exclude brands purely on subjective grounds. 

I mean, when I was in the process of replacing my ProAcs, somebody suggested Usher and Klipsch. "Kliepsj." I just couldn't take that name seriously. Discarded. Usher, well, no explanation needed. Discarded. 

There are more. Schiit, they did it on purpose. Funny for maybe 2 seconds.  Horning, eh, well, that's my dirty mind. 

It's not just stupid names. There was a 42Labs hype going on a couple of years ago. Tin can with some wires. No, no, no, I'd like to pay for quality, which includes casework and internals. Specially at that pricepoint. 

I can go on and on about this sort of thing. 

During typing I just realize that it just doesn't make sense. Naim is just as a unfunny joke. Hm. 

 

 

Max,

Thanks for such a nice reply to my question.

I suppose what your saying with Naim it's a comfortable place to be again backed up by your experience over many years of experiment.

Loved your thoughts about the cabinet enclosures costing more than the components inside with regard to Magico and Wilson.Also your observations about  Sonus Faber and how making a loudspeaker enclosure to mirror a violin will make people think it's a musical instrument.And their operatic names brought a big smile.

Wishing you a good weekend listening to your 400's

Cheers Ian

They are a remarkably good speaker on other manufacturers' electronics–a facet of the development process which is often lost or communicated less-than-effectively–and benefit greatly from proper optimization that might (at first glance) appear at odds with that of traditional Naim loudspeakers.

I listened to S400's only once, for about 20 minutes, at the end of a Super Uniti, in my dealer's listening room.  I didn't like them much, but such are speakers and preferences.  I  DID like the look; I'd be happy to own them looks-wise but they did not scratch the itch I was lookin' to scratch at the time.  

Finding something . . .  anything . . . that we like as much as Max likes his speakers is fun to read about.  Carry on, Max. Cheers!

Max, loved your write up. My Ovator400s are the end point of my Naim "soup to nuts" system. And despite the humble lavender interconnect and plain A5 speaker cable, they disappear into the music. I can't understand the antipathy towards these speakers from some quarters. They sounded very nice last night with a decorked Barolo. ATB.

Richard Dane posted:

Thank you Max.  What a lovely post to read after a fairly chilly day baby-sitting a Bentley at the Acoustica show.

I also liked the IBLs, but never had the nerve to buy some – I mean, would you date Björk lightheartedly?

Very nicely put. It made me smile. Many an IBL admirer would be nodding their head at this...

Indeed.

Willy.

Dear friends,

I am really happy that many of you enjoyed my write up. I have been crossing a strange moment since one month ago, and things of all sorts – mental, emotional, communicative – are changing before my own nose while I live and do my usual things. I like the 400s seriously, they are getting better each day and what I realize most is how they manage to simply sound full, balanced, ready to music but never 'on speed'. I am sorry I gave upon so soon years ago with the first pair; these, anyway, do sound different. I suspect Naim did something in between.

Best

M

 

Kiwi cat posted:

Max, loved your write up. My Ovator400s are the end point of my Naim "soup to nuts" system. And despite the humble lavender interconnect and plain A5 speaker cable, they disappear into the music. I can't understand the antipathy towards these speakers from some quarters. They sounded very nice last night with a decorked Barolo. ATB.

Not antipathy, just don't like the sound or looks as much as other speakers, but totally appreciate why others might choose them. As ever, "chacun â son gout"!

Tony2011,

I had to google soupy and I am not sure I understand what you mean. If you think it's been dragging itself for too long, we can ask Richard to move it to Padded Cell or to create a new forum, Speakers' (Amen) Corner, where we'll only discuss discontinued models in total and happy uselessness.

Or else, what did you mean?

Ciao, Max

Max_B posted:

Tony2011,

I had to google soupy and I am not sure I understand what you mean. If you think it's been dragging itself for too long, we can ask Richard to move it to Padded Cell or to create a new forum, Speakers' (Amen) Corner, where we'll only discuss discontinued models in total and happy uselessness.

Or else, what did you mean?

Ciao, Max

No need to move the thread IMO, several of us appear to be enjoying it!

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