Having toyed with buying SBLs for years and decided not to, having left the main Naim fold, I had a zero risk opportunity and this is a report on them in a VERY non-Naim system.
My previous speakers were the Focal 1008be which went through an evolving time in my system. I was immediately taken by what the did well, before being irritated by some downsides which took over a year to sort out. The Focals are very revealing of what is in front of them, and in an aggressive and destuctive way; when things are wrong boy do you know about it. I used the Focals with a BK 400DF sub, which was fast enough to keep up with them. I was happy, then the cats intervened.
The SBLs were offered and I grabbed with both hands. They come with a rep for being complex to set up. In fact there is a lot of help online and I found that the setup took two hours, mainly getting the bottom boxes level and close enough to the solid brick wall that my Victorian house is built of. I set them up 4" from the wall, which was one of the recommended distances, other advise being 2", or simply as close as you can get, this is something I will have to revisit in due course, but I am so happy with the current setup that I am in NO hurry.
My listening was done with the following:
System1: Oppo 105D > Nord One Up NC500 > SBL via A5;
System2: Linn Klimax DS/1 Renew > EAR868PL > Nord One Up NC500 > SBL via A5;
System3: LP12/ARO/Dyn DV20H > EAR868PL > Nord One Up NC500 > SBL via A5.
In due course I will swap out the Nord for an EAR534 & bolt together NAP CB250.
Kicking off with the Oppo I was taken by just how good it sounded. The SBLs do not have the 3D qualities of the Focals, but the project a wider soundfield and where the music has depth it is present, if not so holographically presented as the Focals. However, if the soundfield is not so pronounced on teh SBLs the vocals are, in fact while I thought this was a strength of the Focals the SBLs are better, and are simply better with male vocals. The frequencies are presented very even handedly, perhaps due to the quality of the bass. The bass is simply stunning to my mind. There is no bloat or bloom, what is present is sharp and to the point, by which I mean it takes of at speed and stops on a sixpence; this gives you true insight into what is happening in the lower frequencies.
Having lived with the SBLs I thought it was time to revisit the BK sub. This is dialed into the SBLs using the Hi-Level input fed off the SBLs. For the Focals the cross-over had been set to to 70Hz, I lowered it to 30Hz and lowered the volume, using the REL reference CD to dial it in. I later adjusted the crossover back up to 40Hz and lowered the volume further. I am now pretty satisfied with the support it is giving in the final octave without annoucing itself or slowing down the action.
One of the joys of the SBL is their absolute speed. It allows you to hear what musicians aredoing in terms if double and triple timing, and the subtlties of the drumming and percussion.
Initially I thought that the Focals were transmitting more shear excitement, but as I have settled into them I realise this is just plain wrong, put on some Thin Lizzy and you will be absolutely there.
So how revealing are this bad boys? I think they are extremely transparent. Moving to System 2 I was immediately aware of the increase in detail and texture, not to mention an uptick in soundstaging. So this was revealed as simply better than the 105D? Well, generally yes, but there are some tracks that I do prefer via the Oppo. I THINK this is due to the control that the Linn Klimax brings to the table with Space Optimisation. That takes a vice like grip on the bass, with some tracks I prefer the added bloom of the Oppo.
The LP12 gets rare outings but a friend came over and INSISTED, what a pain …oh, that is VERY nice. Is it the combination of eighties front end playing eighties media through eighties speakers? Perhaps. Anyway the LP12 was that bit faster and bouncier than the digital front ends, although I have tuned them further since then.
I will be continuing to ring the changes, and have an uprated crossover being made. Will I try active? Perhaps, I have a brace of CB250s, so it is not out of the question; but I suspect growing the box count will outweigh the temptation; and, anyway I LOVE what these things are doing passively.
Best I give those cats some treats.