If not Ovator or SBL then ?

Noogle posted:

Had Ovator S400s for a while and they certainly rock.  Switched to Kudos Super 20s which I never liked as much - in particular earpiercing brightness in the top end that I could never tame.  Now running Focal Sopra 1s and loving them - they have a totally sublime midrange and the sweetest, most open treble on the planet.  You need to like speakers that look like Daleks but on the upside they do a funky orange finish.







ova tots

Funny I thought exactly the opposite between the S20s and Sopra 1s. 

RichJ posted:

Hi Rob,

I was wondering.. when did your SBLs last received some tlc... You mentioned that you haven't looked at the speaker market for about 10 years. I've got a pair of '87 mark 1's which I've been running for years and whilst keeping everything else serviced, left them unattended. Inspired by others on various threads I had them spruced up about 18 months ago.. Darran from class A fitted new tweeters and supplied me with new crossovers from naim. They've been singing ever since like I've never heard before! I have an NDX/82/SC/250. From what I’ve read the SBLs are generally considered to work well with even best of the lasted naim electronics, but I guess they have to be at their best too.. Maybe I'm still be living the '80s from a speaker perspective, but it'll take a lot wean me off my SBLs. I just love what they do!


A good speaker in the 80s, or 90s or 70s, can still be every bit as good and able to hold its ground against younger speakers, subject if necessary to replacement of deteriorated parts, most likely (but by no means inevitably) crossover capacitors and deformed or perished cone surrounds.

Never, did I say, NEVER, underestimate SBL's. Its not being stuck in any era, they rock like nothing I have ever heard, period. Perhaps we are lucky with the room we have, I set them up like an anorak too, nothing difficult, but set up witht the upmost care and attention to details. IMO of course it was a shame Naim ended up in this confusing position re speakers, ownership and divided priorities, but not in their total control I guess, I heard there were issues in the past with cabinet quality etc.

Afternoon All

Apologies for the late reply, been a manic few weeks with work etc.

So to recap the last couple of weeks.

The s400 went and now have a nice home in a mate systems and are sounding good. Reflection on the S400 is  very positive, but some final playing with position revealed they where at there best a bit to far into our room to be practical.

The SBL's went back in, position checked, seal checked and listening commenced. Just before the break from the SBL the system was moved onto Fraim, not the best timing but these things cannot be helped. The difference from the Fraim was obvious from the first note, deeper more controlled bottom end, more clarity in the mid range and better separation. But there was the obvious drop in sound stage that the S400 brought, the music was a bit flat or 1 dimensional, lacked depth i guess is the right word. Also the harsh top end was back with a vengeance and just as bad as i remembered. I left it a week to settle down and while i could get used to the flatter sound stage the top end was frustrating and tiring.

Then came the NDX !! Moving from ND5/XPSDR to NDX/XPSDR - Wow. What a difference more of everything, some of the depth was back (not as much as the s400) and a significant taming of the top end harshness that was driving me mad. The music bounced along and the PRAT was spot on. I have had a few very pleasant evenings getting to know the NDX and i am very impressed so far, a massive step up  from the ND5 as nice as it was.

So where does that leave me ? There is still some more depth to the sound stage i would like to regain and still some of that top end harshness that grates. I have a morning  booked at my dealer to try a few alternate options to narrow the list before possible home demo. Also i have a generous offer from a customer of my dealer to loan a SNAXO 242, so with help from a mates system, I will also get to test Active SBL's at home to see how that compares. << Options for HiCap and SuperCap >>

For now its all about listening and enjoying what the Fraim and NDX has brought to the system.



PS -I have ordered a Torque set as well to check the SBL driver bolts !


I think your SBLs are showing up the ability or otherwise of your sources. They are very revealing. They will always be a bit 2D in terms of soundstage. If that is what you want then other speakers may be required.

Going active makes the system both more sensitive and even more revealing in my limited experience of them. Others may add more. But this also points to improving sources rather than going active.

Finally, they were voiced originally fronted by an LP12. I find a CDS3 also works well so they can sound good with digital. I simply don’t recognise the harsh top end that you and others report. Source first is no longer fashionable it seems, but SBLs are a product of a time when it was. 

It will be interesting to see how you proceed. Good luck in your search for a solution.


So the Journey continues this weekend. 

A very nice customer of my dealer has lent me a 242 and my dealer a 250DR and HiCapDR. So I get to test active SBL’s 😄

working with a close friend we will test. 

1. 135 > 250DR with full loom. Just for interest sake. 

2. active with 135 / 250DR

3. Active with 250.2 / 250DR

we cannot do full loom for active as short a speaker cable run and the extra XLR lumina. 

Will report back observations. 




One test I'd be interested to hear about, if you get chance, is whether you find much difference between 250.2 on treble and 250DR on bass/mid and vice versa.

The guidance is usually to use the best amp on the treble, but given your mention of perceived harshness I suspect you may find the 250.2 mellower.

Dave***t posted:

One test I'd be interested to hear about, if you get chance, is whether you find much difference between 250.2 on treble and 250DR on bass/mid and vice versa.

The guidance is usually to use the best amp on the treble, but given your mention of perceived harshness I suspect you may find the 250.2 mellower.

Dave. This is a test we are planning as well. Same with the 135’s



Evening all

I thought i would try to capture some of the thought from the weekends testing and listening. All kit is run in and all kit was kept warm or allowed to warm up before listening. Three / four pairs of ears helped form the opinions to ensure a balanced view was obtained. I apologies in advance for me terminology I find hifi hard to put into words at times. 

Starting Point for ease of reference for all - > NDX/XPSDR > HiLine > 52/SCap > 135 > SBL  - Fraim 

First test was more for interest sake and comparison of the 135 to the 250DR. As we had the cables we tried this a full loom setup (borrowed from a mate).

NDX/XPSDR > 52/SCap > 250DR > SBL  - Fraim - SL Full Loom

  • Harsh top end gone - check
  • Instrument separation and reproduction better - check
  • Overall engagement and drive - gone ! - Fail

While the 250DR was a very nice amp to listen to and did not have that fatigue / harsh top end that the 135's had it also did not engage you or provide the emotional connection like the 135's do. This was not unexpected 

Next came the first active test. As we did not have enough SL to full loom this and it would not be in the final system either we removed all SL and reverted back to HiLine and NACA5

First Test was 

NDX/XPSDR > HiLine > 52/SCap > 250DR(Hi) / 135 (Low) > SNAXO 242/HiCapDR > SBL - Fraim

Being my first listen to active SBL all i can say is wow !

All the Drive that was lost from the test above was back and the Instrument separation and reproduction was leaps and bounds ahead. Emotion, engagement both there in spades and just a delight to listen to. The harsh top end removed , just so easy to listen to. Base extension and definition was massively improved  and the overall sound stage increased.

There was little bad to say about this combination at this time ! Only comment in the room was the 1D nature of the SBL sound stage remained but all agreed it was a minor concern.


Second Test

NDX/XPSDR  > HiLine >  52/SCap > 250DR(Low) / 135 (hi) > SNAXO 242/HiCapDR > SBL - Fraim

The instant reaction was just No, this is not good ! That fatigue and harsh edge was back, not as much but it was back. The base definition and extension was reduced as well. The overall active benefits did remain around separation, dire, engagement etc.

After a few tracks it was noted that though a bit harsh the top end had a nice zing to it that was missing on the 250DR variant above. Nice Decay and nicer on the volcals when not really high notes.

I guess this shows the capabilities of the 135 over the 250DR  but also the weakness of the Olive 'sound' in this combination. It begins to suggest the harst top end if a result of 135>SBL combo in my room with the rest of the electronic.


Third Test - back to first active but added Full Loom to the 250DR on the high (as we had enough cable). The thought was to balance the results a bit from above.

NDX/XPSDR >  52/SCap > 250DR(Hi) / 135 (Low) > SNAXO 242/HiCapDR > SBL - Fraim - SL Full Loom (Hi amp Only + Interconnect)

So could we gain some of that top end 'zing'  that the 135 gave from 250DR and the Lumina, while keeping the base extension and removing the Fatigue/Harsh

Answer yes - not all but a good portion of it.

So far this was the best combination by a long way. We got the base and overall drive from the 135's and the nice top end from the 250DR/Lumina Combination

This setup sang very nice and was a joy to listen to for a few hours for sure.


Fourth Test - Due to rack space needed to test without the 135's 

NDX/XPSDR > HiLine > 52/SCap > 250.2(Hi) / 250DR (Low) > SNAXO 242/HiCapDR > SBL - Fraim

Options around rack space and integration into living space may mean keeping the 135's is impossible. So we removed the second Fraim stack (borrowed) and setup what could be the final system as a single stack. This would be the test bed for the next 3 days.

We had to choose a way around so started with the unconventional option of the DR on the Base.

While not quite as refined overall as the 135 option the combination of all classic series amps did seem to gel very well. The music flowed and tearing ones self away was very hard. 

I could very much seem this as the final solution to this quest!!


The Final Test will be the below but ran out of time - will try Monday Evening

NDX/XPSDR > HiLine > 52/SCap > 250.2(Low) / 250DR (hi) > SNAXO 242/HiCapDR > SBL - Fraim

Results: TBC


The tests are conclusive on the benefits of active - Stunning, even more so that when I heard the Kudos 707 go from Passive to Active. The instrument separation, decay, vocal emotion and overall engagement from Active is hard to compare or even put into words.

It does raise a few question and i will start a new thread to consider those. The interesting thing is it seems the Harsh top end is, for me, a combo of the 135's and the SBL's. The mate who lent me the 250.2 is trying the 135 in his system (S400) and does not report the same issue at the top end. 

The journey continues, I have a speaker demo booked in two weeks to be sure on the way forward but Active is going to be hard to beat.

I must say its been good fun so far...

Thanks for reading



Thank you Mort, very interesting write up.

I am surprised about the 135/SBL shortcomings based on how common this system was back in the day. I personally use a non DR 300 passive and there is nothing bright or tireing to the sound I get.

I look forward to the remaining findings with interest.


Dave***t posted:

Thanks for the thorough writeup, it sounds like you enjoyed it all.  It does make me wonder (perhaps it's been mentioned and I missed it) whether the 135s have been serviced?

Did you get chance to see if the torque wrench made much difference?

I wondered the same so checked my memory. They where serviced in 2013 so should be all good. 

Torque wrench has not arrived so still on the list of things to test 


stuart.ashen posted:

Thank you Mort, very interesting write up.

I am surprised about the 135/SBL shortcomings based on how common this system was back in the day. I personally use a non DR 300 passive and there is nothing bright or tireing to the sound I get.

I look forward to the remaining findings with interest.



Surprised myself as well, maybe a room thing 

Will write the up the last test tonight  



Geko posted:

If you don't think Quads do bass you should hear my mates 2905's on the end of his full 555/552/500 system. They get very close to my DBL's. Also remember that Naim always wanted to build electrostatics but they couldn't build them to the scale and price needed.

One thing to mention is that Naim adjusted his 500 so that he didn't have an involuntary indoor firework display, which is what Quads do when you introduce a 500 amp at full chat - apparently it becomes a mini arc welder!

the 2912 quad does real bass which doesnt resonate   they do a metre   behind them   even better with soundwave squares to absorb back refection.   all for £38

Evening All

I just wanted to bring this journey to conclusion and share my thoughts on where I end up.

The final test on active was:


NDX/XPSDR > HiLine > 52/SCap > 250.2(Low) / 250DR (hi) > SNAXO 242/HiCapDR > SBL - Fraim

As predicted swapping the old and new 250 around has a significant impact on the sound. Lost a lot of drive and low end definition, but gained so much on the top end it really shows how good the 250DR really is. Separation, decay, emotion was much better with the DR on the top end, made anything instrumental, vocal etc much more involving.  Anything that needed to rock seemed a bit slower and the base lines less defined. I am not sure which i would call better, it as very dependent the track / genre being listened to. 

After this the SNAXO etc had to go back and as a mate was liking the 135's I went back to a non DR 250 passive. This change really brought home just how good the SBL's are when driven active, everything was flat, lifeless and a bit boring to listen to ! saying something given the cost of the kit still in place! That said after a few days i was able to appreciate the 250 for what it could offer, it is a very nice sounding amp and it solves the harsh top end issue that started all this, just does not have the control or drive that the 135's had but then its not serviced for 17 years and is not DR so...

Next step - Managed to borrow a NAP 300 just to see.... I must say given it was a passive setup the 300 (same age and service status as the 250) was a very impressive. Brought all the drive back that the 135's had but with even more control of the lower end. I would say the mid /top end was better than the 250DR, I dont have the words to describe the overall effect of the 300 other than 22:30 became 01:30 without me even knowing it, just one more track....! Overall a very nice amp that could of ended up being a final resting place.

Today me and the wife visited my dealer to complete the final step and demo some new speaker options. Having not heard much other than SBL's for years (except a brief listed to Kudos 707 a couple of months back) i wanted to get an idea of what newer designs could offer.  Kudos S20a,  Shahinian Arcs and PMC 25.24 where on offer hooked up to the following boxes 

 NDX/XPSDR > 52/SCapDR > 300

I very enjoyable time was had playing a bunch of our favorite songs. To cut a long story short my preference order was

PMC > S20 > Arc


We both agreed we found the arcs just not interesting enough for our taste. The S20A a bit uncontrolled at the bottom end but had the best drive. The PMC overall the best option of the 3.

This said non of the 3 (Even with the 300) could compare to the 250 Active SBL's. I would say the PMC would of made a nice choice to replace passive SBL and if i had never heard active would of been very happy. But as they say somethings cannot be unheard.

So this story ends with the 135's being traded in against a new SNAXO 242 / HiCapDR / 2 x 250DR. By far the best option considered over the last few months and resolves the core issue of top end harshness and allows the SBL's to really sing. Anyone who has not tried active really should, i was not prepared for how good it was going to be. Who knows once the Kudos 606's are released i may be interested in testing them active in place of the SBL's but that is for another year !

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this and other related threads on this forum

A Massive to thanks to Rob from Adventures in HiFi, Chester for providing the opportunities to conduct all this testing and his advice over the last 10 years or so. I am not sure i have seen customer service like this in any other area of retail, something we should never under appreciate or forget.

Now the wait, curse them Uniti boxes keeping the factory busy. 



Dave***t posted:

Thanks for the write-up, Rob, very informative, and great that you covered various options so thoroughly.

Hope the wait isn't too long. At least you've got something really nice to look forward to over Christmas.


Sat listening to a ‘lowly’ 🤔 non DR 250, cementing decision on how good the SBL’s are, untouchable by 5k of modern speaker !



Thanks for taking us on your journey with the SBLs.  I too have taken then from passive to active and had to deal with a number of different applification configurations.  I was very keen to hear your preference on where to put the “better” amp.  My last SBL configuratation was an olive 250 and a 300.  My preference was, against generally held views, to put the (better) 300 on the bass.  I felt that the 300 did a lot to give the bass better definition and perhaps make up for one off the SBL limitations (given its relatively compact size).

You don’t hear much about DBLs these days, but I am going through the same conundrum with them. 



Just for future reference. Some of the finest speakers I have heard of late are by a company called Atohm, along with Proac and Dynaudio. All excellent, and all can work close to wall, depending on the room.

And all work extremely well with Naim. I have had personal experience owning two of the three brands mentioned.

If you fancy spending £10grand on a pair of speakers....check out a pair of Linn Exakt floorstanders. I had a Linn dem the other week and was totally blown away. Unfortunately I'd never get sign-off from the missus (she would divorce me) so it was just a pleasant afternoon listening to some great music. He (the dealer) sells both naim and Linn and suggested naim can work well through exakt speakers (I mean why wouldn't they?!?).

Oh....and as an aside, my Ovators (400's) are in dark ebony. Not the most attractive finish (but for £1100 I had to get them) so simply popped to my local garden centre and purchased five tall indoor plants (I already had some spare pots) to place around them (basically to hide them). Presto my other half is totally happy (as you can barely see them) and we have an Orangery with some extra foliage 😁. Cost....an extra £90! 

Sometimes you have to think outside the box. 

Likes (0)