Because I compare almost everything to cars, I found that the Naim Arivas had an easy parallel in the automotive world-the Lotus Elise Sport. Just like the Lotus, the Arivas are compact, precise and offer an amazing level of performance for a small speaker. Using a pair of 7" woofers and a ¾" tweeter (sourced from Vifa), the Ariva is a two-and-ahalf- way speaker, where the low-bass and mid-bass woofers both work together up to 150 Hz, with the midbass driver continuing to provide output up through the mid band. The crossover is a Naim design arranged so that the low-bass driver is lowpass filtered at 150 Hz and 6dB/octave, the mid-bass driver is low-pass filtered at 3 kHz and 12 dB/octave, and the tweeter is high-pass filtered at 3 kHz and 18 dB/octave.
My pair arrived on a Thursday afternoon and the box containing both speakers weighed only 55 pounds, much to the enjoyment of the UPS man who has been lugging some pretty heavy stuff to my door. If you purchase a pair of Arivas, hook them up in a corner, out of phase, throw a blanket over them, and leave a CD on repeat for about three days. Right out of the box, they sound a little scary, but after a few days your patience will be rewarded.
No disrespect to the folks at Naim, but the Arivas sound like a giant pair of minimonitors, especially in their ability to disappear in the room. They throw a nice, BIG soundstage with great depth, yet have much more low-frequency capability than a pair of minimonitors ever could. The longer I listened to these speakers, the more I enjoyed them. I used the Sumiko Primare A21 integrated amplifier that I am reviewing for our sister publication The Absolute Sound to break them in and listen for the first week, just to get a basic feel for the speakers and experiment with placement.
The test pair came finished in cherry veneer and were attractive, with basic black grilles. (I preferred them with the grilles off, but if you have animals or young children, you may not have this luxury.) The cabinets are sturdy and pass the knuckle rap test with ease. On the rear panel is a single pair of banana jacks. Naim believes that the precision of their crossover network makes bi-wiring unnecessary.
My favorite feature of the Arivas was their detachable base (plinth) that allows you to adjust the spikes with an allen wrench. If you happen to have a laser level, you can adjust the tilt on each base to exactly the same amount. With the base a separate component, it is easy to move the speakers without worrying about the spikes getting in the way. The bases have five dimples that look like large ball bearings that couple to the indented areas in the bottom of the speaker cabinet.
I had the best results in my listening room with about a half degree of tilt up. The instruction manual suggests that the Arivas will sound their best placed 6 - 24 inches away from the back wall, and I agree. Placing them farther out in the room will diminish low bass somewhat, but might be the ideal setup if you add a subwoofer. I found the optimum balance between good bass extension without clouding the midrange at 16 inches and no toe-in. Should you purchase a pair of Arivas, gently tighten the bolts on the woofers with a 3mm allen wrench. And thanks to Chris Koster at Naim USA for the tip!
While Naim is known for its high-quality solid-state amplification, I felt compelled to try the Arivas with a number of different amplifiers, both tube and solid state. Though I tend to lean toward tubes, I found that I preferred the sound of the Arivas with solid-state amplification; I also used my ModWright model 9SE line stage (tubed, but very neutral) and a combination of analog and digital sources. These speakers are very fast and filled the room much better with a high-current solid-state amplifier. Some of this is probably owing to their 4-ohm impedance, which I suspect might even dip a bit lower at certain frequencies. This can wreak havoc on a tube amplifier, but will be no problem for a well designed solidstate unit.
Because the Naims have good low-frequency extension, you should be able to achieve good results with a wide variety of music. Thanks to their 88dB sensitivity, the Arivas will play very loud with 50-100 watts per channel. I did most of my critical listening with a Threshold S150 series II amplifier that is rated at 90 watts per channel.
Initially, these speakers seemed to sound a bit thin. I got out a test CD and sound-level meter to confirm that they do go right down to 30Hz, but not much more. What is amazing about the Arivas, though, is the quality of the bass. This is an accurate speaker that does not have a hump in the midbass region at all. Listening to the new Chemical Brothers CD, Finger On The Button [Astralwerks] was a bit disappointing because of this lack of midbass bloat. But when I switched to King Crimson's Thrak [Virgin] featuring Tony Levin's bass, it was apparent just how much information was there. Going back to the record collection for different favorites that have a good share of low bass proved to me that the Arivas reproduce bass texture, attack, and weight quite well.