Naim SBL vs LS3/5a

I have been listening to the Sound Artist and Falcon LS3/5a, the Falcons lent to me by Trevor at Guildford Audio, and thought I would put them up against the SBLs.

I used a pair of weighty stands positioned three feet from the rear wall and side walls. I have to say that in order to install the speakers badly I think you would have to actively TRY. Placed to form a triangle with your listening position and angled towards you these deliver.

The speakers would now be powered by my Naim 300DR, in concert with my autoformer based Icon pre-amp.

I started with the Falcons and opened with ‘Twist in my Sobriety’ by Tanita Tikaram. The singer was ‘in the room’, startling. This was aided and abetted by an excellent sound stage, this reminded me of when I used Focal 10008be. I followed this with Leather by Tori Amis and “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” by Tracy Chapman. These repeated the strengths of the first track, which included a wealth of fine detail.

What surprised me was the tonal similarity to my usual Naim SBLs.

The Naim SBLs are an interesting speaker that can image well. With a digital source, they can be rather flat with rock and pop. Not so the Falcons. In fact when I later tried the speakers with my Oppo/Lexicon AV front in I was VERY pleasantly surprised.

I moved on to some Telarc Qobuz sourced recordings. These are excellently recorded, including some wonderful resonant bass. I concentrated on a series of movie themes conducted by Erich Kunzel with the Boston Pops Orchestra, ‘Star Trek 1: The Klingon Battle’ uses a number of electronic effects that I found wholly distracting via my Chord Mojo2/Quad ERA-1s, not so here. The resonant bass sweeps worked far better. The orchestra was well presented in both width and depth and, as with the earlier pop music the various instruments were well differentiated, such that the detail of the strings and sound boards were very well produced, rosin rosin everywhere.

I then moved back to modern fare with Roger Waters’ ‘Perfect Sense, Pt 1’ from ‘Amused to Death’. This was simply breathtaking, the sound field was holographic with the storm swirling around the listening room. When played through my Quad headphones the sound field is rather flat, as it is with the SBLs. I got a fresh connection to a track that I thought I knew well.

‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen’ by Sam Cooke is a track that through the Naim SBLs can show a slight sibilant edge, as it does through the Falcons. As I wrote above, the tonal similarities between the speakers was surprising. However, their presentation is somewhat different, apart from the imaging. The Falcon LS3/5a reveal a mass of detail in the upper mid region, this is not thrown at you but it’s there if you listen for it. The Naim SBL mid/bass driver is larger and simply moves more air, this aids the mid bass and gives instruments in that area a touch more dynamic and present impetus.

Dusty Springfield’s ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ is a real tour de force, and one with a fantastically inventive bass line, although one that is somewhat set back in the mix. The Naim SBLs have a phase coherence that clearly reveals the fine musicianship. The Falcons presents the bass as somewhat larger but a tad unfocused, losing some of the detail of the playing. Swings and roundabouts.

Now it was time to move on to the Sound Artists. I repeated the order of the tracks I listened to. The female singers again stood forward, but the voices had a very slight tendency to sound a little strained and the detailing was reduced. This slightly obscured presentation could work in their favour, as with the Sam Cooke track where the slight sibilant edge was gone, but then too was the magic from ‘Perfect Sense, Pt 1’. In terms of the sound staging they do not produce the music with the same magic as the Falcons, they tend to be slightly more bound to the speakers giving you more left, right and centre. These speakers are very presentable and do not plumb any depths of trouble, but neither do they soar.

Having explored the digital I decided to move to the analogue. Here is where the true heart of my system lies. My Linn LP12, Naim ARO, Linn Troika, Naim Armageddon and Tron 7 G.T. Phono Stage form a hugely synergistic partnership with the Naim SBLs. The sound field, detailing and dynamics are superb. Could the LS3/5a compete?

Well, certainly NOT the Sound Artists. Here the SBLs entered into the imaging territory of the Falcon LS3/5a and retained its phase capabilities in the bass, giving it a shade more transparency and punch.

The Falcon LS3/5a are not a cheap speaker by any definition. I was surprised by how much they echoed my Naim SBLs tonally. Their verisimilitude with the human voice and the construction of a sound stage are excellent. Were my Naim SBLs to die then I think I have found the speakers that I would be buying to replace them; but then my Focal 1008be were killed by the cats and these would probably go the same way!


Nice right up Mr U!

SBLs do have a bit of the BBC about them, certainly with vocals. I suspect most of the differences were largely due to a boundary design vs free space. I would also expect the SBLs to have a tad more scale. Great that you have found speakers to replace the SBLs if it were ever needed.

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…except those pesky cats! :wink:

The ‘replacement’ came far too close a few months ago. I was listening to a new Gallium Nitride power amp and the damn thing threw a load of DC through my left speaker. Burned out the mid/bass driver - yes, from the last set of original drivers that Naim sold!! :sob:

Omg :flushed:

Well, there was a bright side - I ended up with a proper Mk2 pair of fully veneered SBLs.

I had bought a new pair of tweeters, and now I have three pairs, and one spare Mk 2 mid/bass driver.

The pair of SBLs had had the drivers replaced, just not quiet as recently as my old ones.


Good to hear, that you have gone SBL again after the incident.
Here the late ones are really hard to get … but some day will come :o)

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Those are two very different loudspeakers, both in terms of size and design philosophy, so I’m rather surprised that you found them interchangeable.

The combination of Falcon to Naim is truly spectacular - the Falcons LS3/5a really stand out - I had friends over to compare directly to Harbeth P3ESR, Graham LS3/5, Graham LS5/9 and Devore O/96. On my LP12 Klimax/Aro/Kandid with 52/SC/250 the Falcon were my preferred speakers with the right combination of life, detail and tonality. I think your review is spot on.


Interesting post Mr U.

Some years back I had received an offer for my early gold label Rogers LS3/5as that was substantial enough to make me consider selling them on. However, I decided that I needed to do a test against my SL2s, just to be sure. Like you, I was surprised at just how similar they were tonally around the midrange and with voices. In the end I felt that the SL2s were overall at least their equal, and in other areas superior to the Rogers, so I sold them on for enough to buy another brand new pair of SL2s!


Perhaps the key to this is the Linn Kans…? They were once the ‘starter speaker’ for many Naim based systems - and are derived from the LS3/5A design. I believe early ones actually used LS3/5A cabinets…?

So may be its not so surprising how ‘good’ an LS3/5A based speaker can be - or how similar their voicing is to Naim’s own speakers…?

YMMV as always… :crazy_face:


I’m not sure that interchangeable is accurate. IF the SBLs die, and IF I can’t get another pair then the Falcons certainly work well in my room, which is on the smaller side.

While they are tonally surprisingly, to me, similar there are differences.

The Falcons are better, gasps and clutches his side in pain, with digital sources WRT imaging. Although even this has some nuance. The Falcons are better with imaging rock/pop. With music with a real acoustic, such as classical, the SBLs are fine. When I switch to my LP12/ARO/Troika the SBLs move into a higher gear and are excellent and are fully on a par with the Falcons.

WRT to musical reproduction the SBLs have deeper AND better controlled bass, but the Falcons have a slightly more informative upper mid-range.

I enjoy both speakers.


Get thee behind me!


Hi Ian,

I used the Kans for many years on the end of: LP12/Ittock/Karma; 32.5, HiCap, 250. Can’t say I enjoyed them as much as the Falcons, but that was in a different room.

Unfortunately I sold the Kans about five years ago, having had them boxed in the loft for twenty years! Just seemed such a waste. When I set up a nearfield system I kicked myself, and am tempted every time I see a pair of Kans for sale.



I had Linn Kan’s from 1985 to 1999, with an LP 12 into Naim 42/SNAPS/110 - then 72/HiCap/250. Replaced by Royd Doublets in '99 - then with Kudos X3’s in '21.


I had a pair of Kans for many years. I bought them S/H in a pretty scruffy state for not a lot of money (although the speaker units were working perfectly). I then carefully and lightly sanded them down, filled a few dings in the woodwork, then applied a non-gloss varnish. They looked (and sounded) lovely.

Some years ago, I loaned the Kans to my son, when he bought his first house in London. He has paired them, very successfully, with a brooding black glossy Naim n-Sub (of which I am now very envious).

I have resigned myself to not getting the Kane back, and have recently ordered a pair of Kestrel LS3/5As - which were the inspiration for the Kans in the first place.


Well I can sympathise with that situation. As you might have seen from another post. I actually sent a mk 2 driver to falcon acoustics to see if they could replicate the design…… they couldn’t and only latterly have managed to find a replacement pair of sbls with mk 2 drivers. Worth waiting for in my opinion. Though in my case it was my ancient 250 that blew one of the drivers. 250 since repaired !!

Interesting. I will hopefully have some Harbeth P3ESR on loan at some stage this year. I am surprised about the boundary usage statement though, which would be preferred from my perspective over speakers that need to sit way into the room. I guess they also benefit from a bit of free space.

Are all the alternatives similar or will they all have completely different voicing.

I’m not trying to derail the thread but Falcon have a new speaker which I’ve been told offers more dimensionality and digs lower.

Obviously it will offer a different presentation from the ls3/5a but the ls3/5a is a BBC licensed design and has a complicated crossover to compensate for some peaks and troughs. Food for thought.


Funnily enough, guess what I am currently listening to. :wink:

Oh do tell :rofl:

Looking forward to hearing your impressions