Naim NBL loudspeaker Page 4

I discussed the NBL's tonal balance with Phil Ward, who said that the speaker had existed in active form for some months before the passive version was finalized, and that the control settings arrived at under active drive provided a "target function" for the speaker's passive balance. It's my suspicion that an active system can get away with being more "forward" than its passive equivalent, simply because the absence of passive crossover components invariably makes the sound inherently cleaner. A slightly more restrained balance might be more acceptable in the marketplace.

Stereo imaging is not a quality one normally associates with Naim equipment, but the NBLs delivered very good stereo in most respects, aided by the very low cabinet colorations. In fact, they sometimes generated audible images outside of the physical positions of the two speakers. Large acoustic spaces like well-miked cathedrals were also reproduced with excellent conviction, again thanks to the ultra-clean bass.

Indeed, the NBL repeated a particularly neat trick I've often heard Naim components perform: They made it very easy to get into unfamiliar music. I found myself spending an unusual amount of time eavesdropping on Radio 3 (the BBC's "serious" music station), just because the NBL's wide, clean midband dynamic range was so convincing on all sorts of acoustic music—even difficult stuff like choirs and brass. At the same time, pure electronic instruments were reproduced with the sort of realistically sharp stop/start edges that reason dictates but that reality rarely reproduces.

While it hadn't quite the dynamic vigor and drama of very-high-sensitivity speakers, the NBL's exceptionally wide dynamic range provided fair compensation, and proved extremely effective at revealing the differences between hi-fi components and recording environments.

The Naim NBL is a good-looking speaker that should fit unobtrusively enough into any decent-sized room, especially as it is intended to be positioned close to a wall. And considering the considerable complexities of the cabinetwork and decoupling arrangements, its price seems very realistic. The NBL's closest competitor is probably B&W's Nautilus 801, at an almost identical US price, but the two designs are so distinct in appearance and sound that each will appeal to a quite different taste.

I was mildly frustrated by the anomalies in tonal balance, but then, I've yet to encounter a loudspeaker that meets all of my criteria (which include relatively easy setup in and removal from the listening room). Like earlier Naim speakers, the NBL does seem rather stronger in the mechanical aspects of its design than the acoustic aspects, but its magnificent dynamic range, its bass clarity, and its sheer enthusiasm for music-making place it much closer than most to my all-around ideal.

I've spent two months with the NBLs, and my affection and respect for them continue to grow. I'll be very sorry next week when the truck comes to collect them.

Naim Audio North America
2702 West Touhy Avenue
Chicago, IL 60645
(773) 338-6262