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?