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This review first appeared in the July 2010 issue of hi-end hifi magazine of Germany. You can also read this review of the Naim Ovator in its original German version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with the publishers. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of or Naim Audio. - Ed.

Reviewer: Ralph Werner
Sources: Analog – deck - Acoustic Solid MPX; tone arms - Phonotools Vivid-Two, SME M2 12-inch; carts - Denon DL-103, Ortofon MC Rondo Bronce, Zu Audio DL-103; phono pre - SAC Gamma Sym; digital - audiolab 8000CD, HIFIAkademie cdPlayer
Amplification: Pre - Octave HP300; power - Electrocompaniet AW180; integrated - Denon PMA-2010AE, Lua 4040 C
Loudspeakers: Ascendo System F, Thiel SCS4
Various cables, racks and sundry accessories
Review component retail:
Starting at €8.198/pr

Our developers of England’s Salisbury have cranked out novelties at quite a heady clip. Three years ago, they added two models with the Supernait and Nait XS. Machines like the HDX hard-disc player, all-in-one Naimuniti and Unitiqute and recently the Naim DAC addressed the hot topic of streaming audio. The high-quality Superline phono stage should have appeased the diehard analogue contingent. Then about half a year ago, Naim added a new loudspeaker - the Ovator S-600.

“About time” is how brand fans might have reacted given that the Brits’ last speaker introduction dates back to 2004’s Ariva which enjoyed only very limited production and played in a rather lower league than the new Ovator. For something priced similar one has to rewind to the SL2 of 2002. This would peg the Ovator S-600 a successor of sorts but in concept, there’s a fair amount of divergence from earlier models. More than tradition, it invokes a new generation and indeed, there’s talk of a complete Ovator range, which would make the S-600 merely the first-born.

A fundamental new wrinkle for Naim should have the majority of hifi friends yawning. The Ovator S-600 is meant for free room placement. That’s supposed to be novel? Yes if you remember that Naim’s prior credo was “against the wall!” Their speakers were deliberately designed for close-wall proximity. Assumptions that this came in response to typical British living rooms—crammed and overdamped—are likely not far off. The Ovator takes a few steps away from the front wall to delve deeper into conventional hifi. The Ovator S-600 even claims proper performance with non-Naim electronics. Good grief, has Naim finally gone mainstream?

Basic concept and drivers
: Not really. Technically the new speaker is quite unconventional. This does maintain company tradition but also incorporates some utterly novel solutions. First off, the Ovator is quite the humdinger. Weight is 60kg per, height 116cm and maximum width 30cm (front and back 25cm). Depth is 40cm. A visiting handyman opined “what a beast” when catching a glimpse. Quite, but for speakers in this class not out of the norm. That’s less true for its two-way architecture. While far from exotic per se, in this price class and size the market prefers three- or more-ways. What’s more, the Ovator is a sealed box.

A dime a dozen you protesteth? Sure? As the heavy shipment arrived, I thought hard on the last time had welcomed an acoustic suspension design and vaguely reckoned it had to have been quite a while ago. Double-checking with our secretary in the archives, it actually was a first. To seal off enclosure internals against the outside world would seem more eccentricity than norm. Why the Brits favor it we’ll appreciate shortly. While both previously tested Ascendo C8 and System F were indeed sealed alignments, they’re also coupled to band-pass woofers. Zu’s Presence was sealed too but semi-active, not fully passive like the Naim. Incidentally, the Ovator’s crossover hides in the plinth, not main chassis. Easily accessible, it can be conveniently converted to active drive – unusual again but religiously Naim.

To recap then, this is a passive and sealed two-way floorstander whose close to 7 upper octaves are reproduced by a widebander that’s neither a cone, dome or electrostat but flexing flat panel. It’s arguably the Ovator’s core novelty. Dubbed BMR for balanced mode radiator, it’s a joint development between Naim Audio and the German speaker designer Karl-Heinz Fink. Applying nomen est omen, radiator is obvious even to us Germans for Strahler. Balanced mode is less intuitive, hence requires a small explanatory detour.

The BMR driver consists of an 85mm Ø flat disc that sandwiches a Nomex honeycomb core with paper layers. Driven from a voice coil, the disc clearly is dynamic by nature.  Below 380Hz, the BMR indeed duplicates a standard cone by working pistonically. Above 380Hz however, the BMR converts to a bending-wave radiator. This simply means that the driver decouples mechanically to start flexing its actual disc membrane. All drivers do that - eventually. But it’s usually verboten, with much effort expended to move such break-up modes outside the operative bandwidth. The BMR strategically exploits them.

The obvious challenge was that certain frequencies activate actual standing waves where steady-state input generates disproportionate amplitude. This initially meant anything but flat frequency response. Standing waves of course are often referred to as modes particularly with room acoustics. This now segues straight back to the ‘M’ in BMR. Suddenly ‘balanced’ becomes intuitive as a corrective procedure. Naim balanced out problem zones to achieve flat response from a claimed 380Hz to 25kHz. This balancing act of the actual driver development took three years and danced around marrying a number of variables.

Those included disc diameter, material disc makeup, motor strength, voice coil weight, suspension compliance… and even counterweights. Akin to tyre balancing, there are eight diaphragm weights – two left and right on the front, six on the back.